If you’re not making great content, you’re not doing great marketing

This happened in 2011, the year I founded my former online marketing business, EuComunico. I decided that I needed to be creative if I wanted to start something new with no clients and no portfolio. I had the knowledge, but didn’t have anything to show for it. So, I decided to send an e-mail to no one else other than the guy I considered to be the BEST of the best: David Meerman Scott.

To my surprise, not only did he answer my e-mail readily, but he also agreed on lending me 15 minutes of his time for a Skype interview. Below is the original post that I published back in 2011 on my company’s now-extinguished website.

Without further ado, my first professional interview:

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At the beginning of this month I had the opportunity to speak through Skype with David Meerman Scott, marketing strategist, keynote speaker and author of 7 books – including the bestseller “The New Rules of Marketing and PR“. David’s blog – WebInkNow – is considered one of the best marketing blogs in the world, according to AdAge Power 150. David has presented speeches to companies like Cisco, HP,Microsoft, Ford Motor Company, U.S. Air Force e Dow Jones, among so many others.

And for this reason, I didn’t believe when he agreed to give me 15 minutes of his time to talk about Content Marketing. It was just enough time.

At the end of our conversation, David asked, with the politeness that’s characteristic of Americans that, in case I wrote or published something about him, that I used his full name – David Meerman Scott. Here you can see why: https://youtu.be/W0HgzS0QEY8

LARISSA FERNANDES – You are a great supporter of content as an effective way to engage clients, correct?

DAVID MEERMAN SCOTT – Yes, I’m a really big fan of content marketing, because it allows anybody: individual people or companies or non-profit organizations or governments, anybody, to reach the people that they want to reach through the search engines and through social networks when they create valuable content.

LF – When, in your opinion, did this phenomenon around content begin? I understand that the notion of content has been around for decades, but when did companies and agencies realize that content was so important in the age of the internet?

DMS – You’re right that content marketing has been around for a very long time. If you think about the Michelin Guide, that’s a print publication. That’s a form of content marketing, because it is a guide for restaurants and hotels created by a tire company. Very good example of content marketing.

In terms of the web, for the first 10 years of the internet, and I’m talking from 1995 – when the public web first exploded – into around 2005, people weren’t thinking too much about content. They were thinking about creating things like banner ads, newsletters. But content itself wasn’t very big.

I identified content marketing – although I didn’t use that term back then – as a big thing back in 2004. I wrote a book that came out in 2005 which is called “Cashing In With Content“. It’s a dated book now, it’s not appropriate so much now because so much has changed. But I was one of the first people to talk about content marketing way back in 2005. So that’s what, about 7 years ago? And at that time, people were very very skeptical, because there weren’t that many people connected to the internet yet. And it didn’t seem like something that companies should invest in.

Its only been in the last one or two years that content marketing has really taken of, and the main reason for that is because people now understand that term, “content marketing”. I’ve been talking about content marketing since 2005, but everything I was telling people to do since 2005, and I have written 7 books since then and given about 500 speeches, is that it’s all about content marketing. It’s about creating great content for your website, it’s about creating YouTube videos. Now that we’ve got social media it’s about Twitter feeds and getting a Facebook page and all of that.

There’s been people like me who have been talking about it that have helped. Some companies that naturally gravitated to it that have helped a lot. And its only been in the last year that it’s taken off as a name “content marketing”, that people in the marketplace recognize it. But they’ve been doing it for longer than they actually believe.

LF – Do you think that the fact that content marketing has had a boom in the past year has something to do with social media becoming actual means of communication between clients and companies?

DMS – I think they’re related. And the main reason why I think they’re related is because if you want to use social media as a form of marketing, one of the things that you have to have is valuable content to share using social media. So if all you’re doing is participating on Facebook and Twitter but you don’t have anything interesting that you’re creating, it’s very hard to build a following, it’s very hard to get people to engage with you.

But if you’re creating interesting videos, if you’re creating blog posts, and you’re creating photographs, charts or other types of information, and then you’re using social networks like Facebook or Twitter or other networks to share that content, then that becomes particularly valuable. And therefore I think that the rise of social networks and the rise of content marketing are kind of interrelated.

LF – On that topic, many new and usually small companies are using social media and content to get their businesses out there and to attract new clients. For people who don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience in this specific area, what traps or strategies should they avoid so they don’t scare away consumers or so that they don’t look phony?

DMS – The biggest thing, the most important thing, is that you should not create content about your company’s products and services. The reason I say that is because you actually need to think about who are the people that you’re trying to reach. Who are the people that you want to contact. And then you need to understand what problems those people have that you can help to solve. And you need to understand how they think. Then you need to create the content with them in mind.

So it’s very much like journalism. I actually call it brand journalism because when you’re creating content marketing you’re actually thinking like a journalist and creating content like a journalist. And it needs to be valuable for the readers. But most marketing people are very bad at that. What marketing people are skilled at is creating content about their products and about their services. But again, that’s not what people are looking for and that’s not going to be successful – if you’re only creating content about your products and services.

LF – There are many tools and platforms that help professionals organize and schedule content for social networks, blogs and websites, such as Hootsuite. Something that I have noticed here in Brazil is that professionals tend to schedule most of the content. Sometimes a week in advance, two weeks in advance, a month. Do you think this is a proper way to work? And do people notice when there are many programmed posts and tweets? Can they pick it up, that the content wasn’t created at that specific moment?

DMS – I think people do pick it up. If you send a scheduled tweet you have to be willing to react if somebody comments back to you. I think it’s OK sometimes to use a scheduled piece of content. I sometimes do a scheduled blog post, if I want to release a blog post at a particular time. I might do it myself. But it’s a good idea to make sure that if you do that, that you’re prepared if somebody comments that you can comment back, if they tweet back to you that you tweet back to them.

However, I think what’s really important is that every day, every hour, every minute there is something happening in social networks that you can comment on. So if your only strategy is to think two weeks ahead of time, you’re not living in the moment, you’re not living in “right now”. It’s right now when things are happening. So I think that companies who are only focused on long-term planning are much less successful than the companies that create content and use social networks to create information that’s going to be valuable right now.

LF – In that perspective, what kind of professionals do you think should be doing social media and content. Should the companies do it themselves? Should they hire someone specifically for that job? Should they hire a web company, an agency? It’s so new that people don’t know yet how to organize that part of their strategy.

DMS – I think that the most valuable person you can hire for your company is a journalist. I think that companies should all have journalists on staff. I actually think having a journalist is more important than having a marketer. So what I recommend to companies is that they hire either a former newspaper reporter or a former magazine reporter or even a former broadcaster or somebody who does television.That should be the person who creates the content. I’m not saying that should be the person who is active in social media. Maybe you could have somebody else active in social media. But a journalist is the one who should be creating your blog posts. A journalist is the one who should be creating your research reports.

Again, like I mentioned earlier, the most important thing in content marketing is you need to create content that is valuable for your audience. You need to be a storyteller. And a journalist is a professional storyteller. So I think companies should have journalists on staff. Either full time, if you’re a larger organization, or you if you’re a really big organization you can have many journalists. If you’re a smaller company, you can have a part-time journalist that you pay on an hourly basis or once a week. But that’s the right person to create content.

LF – Something that I notice here in Brazil is that people tend to focus on social media as the solution. In the past year and a half we have had social media courses, specialization courses and MBAs in Social Media. We have social media professionals and social media agencies. It seems like the use of social media is more important than the content that is created. Brazilian companies hire what we call coolhunters or trendhunters more often than journalists, writers and copywriters. Have you observed this in other countries? Is it because both things: content and social media, are so new?

DMS – Yes. I think it happens because it’s so new. And I think that companies that really dig into it realize that hiring people who aren’t skilled at creating content is not going to work effectively. By the way, you mentioned copywriters. Copywriters are the worst people to be creating content. Because they are people who are good at talking about products and services. And products and services are not the right thing you should be talking about when you’re creating content marketing. So the right people to hire are journalists.

You do need to have somebody to help create your social media strategy and execute with social media. But like I said earlier, there’s a combination of creating great original content and then sharing it through social media and that’s incredibly effective. Much more effective than just social media by itself without the content creation.

LF – In a perfect world all companies will try to communicate with their clients the best way possible through the internet. How do you think companies and public figures can stand out, when you’re competitors are already doing a great job at communicating with their clients?

DMS – I don’t think every company is going to do this. Just like every company doesn’t do television advertisement, every company doesn’t do other forms of marketing. I think that for a very long period of time going forward, everybody who creates great content will be rewarded because there are so many different marketplaces out there.

Anyone of us is in a niche market. We create some particular product, and we may have some competitors, but  when people are looking for our type of product the goal should be to just be the best content marketers to create the best information in our particular marketplace. You don’t have to create the best information in Brazil, you just need to create the best information about automobile tires – if you’re in that business – and that’s a lot easier than trying to compete with everybody. I think there’s room for great content, just like there’s room for many newspapers and television stations. I think there’s room for many companies to create great content.