In today’s content marketing era we’re seeing a metric ass ton of content being churned out daily, but how many of these creators are actually considering the message their audience wants to hear or the medium they want to consume their content through? In Episode 12, our host Will Davis sits down with Cathy McPhillips, VP of Marketing at the Content Marketing Institute, to talk about how to break free of today’s content shock phenomenon through effective content creation, repurposing, and anticipating what’ll come next.
Will Davis: Welcome. With me today, Cathy McPhillips, VP of Marketing from the Content Marketing Institute. Cathy, thanks for joining us today. Really glad to have you.
Cathy McPhillips: Thank you.
Will Davis: We always like to start beyond the intro of your official title of VP Marketing. We’d like to get to know a little something about you. So we’d love for you to share a fun fact about yourself.
Cathy McPhillips: Sure, I don’t think there’s a fact or a quirk but I live about two blocks from Lake Erie. So I usually start my day with heading down to the water, clearing my head, going for a little loop around the park and the beach, and come back and sit down and start working.
Will Davis: Get a little start of the day refresher close to the water. That’s great.
Cathy McPhillips: Yes, I love it.
Will Davis: Good. Well, I’ve talked about Content Marketing Institute. It’s probably unlikely that anyone listening to this doesn’t know about CMI at this point. But if you want to tell people a little bit about CMI and what you do there.
Cathy McPhillips: Sure. So CMI is a marketing education and training company. We have a number of different properties that I’ll go into in a little bit. But I run marketing for the whole company. So between our magazine, our in-person events, Content Marketing World, and ContentTECH Summit. We’ve got a content marketing university program, a lot of things that are content marketing something related. I run marketing for all of that. We’ve got a nice team of people on it but I oversee all of that.
Will Davis: That’s exciting. So what’s your background? What did you do that kind of led you to where you are today?
Cathy McPhillips: Sure, I went to college at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, as a journalism major, and really didn’t know what I wanted to do in journalism because I didn’t want to write for a newspaper or be in front of a camera. So I ended up going into media planning, passed in the program, and started out of college at two different agencies. And then in ’99, I started my own business. And that went up throughout 2012. And I was really lucky. I had a lot of clients who were former agency clients, friends, actually, people that had left the agency that were doing their own thing that was giving me some work. And then I met Joe Pulizzi on Twitter. Joe Pulizzi is the founder of CMI. And it was really funny how it all worked out between Twitter and my brother in law who had said I might be able to help him out. That’s how I’m here.
Will Davis: Wow. So a social media success story.
Cathy McPhillips: It is, it is. I went to the interview wearing orange, so I think that was like, I was a shoo-in.
Will Davis: That’s a way to seal the deal. Great. So you’ve been involved with CMI for a while and in content marketing overall. We were talking earlier about sort of the first Content Marketing World and how things have grown since then. So what have you seen some of the biggest changes in evolution in content marketing over the years?
Cathy McPhillips: Well, to your point, you know, 2011, when Content Marketing World first launched, Joe and Pam, who was running operations, they were just crossing their fingers hoping would 100 people show up to Cleveland, Ohio, to talk about this content marketing thing. And 660 people came and they said, “Oh, we might be onto something.” So they were really excited. They, from this event that was going to be like a little side project of the overall Content Marketing Institute, it took over as now that we everything we do revolves around the event. So I kind of got off topic a little bit.
But the biggest changes that I’ve seen in the evolution of content marketing over the years is probably less is more. When I first started with CMI it was writing a blog post every day, pumping out that blog post on every single channel at the same time with the same message, doing more and more and more and more of the same. But I feel like now we’re seeing less blogs. We’re seeing more video, more audio, kind of replacing the daily blogs and even some of the white papers, you know. We’re talking to a lot of our sponsors and customers right now who are still really involved with lead gen and they know that’s so important for them to grow their business. But I just don’t see white papers performing like they used to. So maybe the next big thing is what’s going to replace white papers. How are we still going to get the leads and keep our customers engaged and happy?
Will Davis: Yes, I think that’s interesting as you talked about, some that evolution. As one of the 660 people at that first Content Marketing World, I remember looking around going, “Wow there are other people like us that are doing this stuff, or at least want to do this stuff.” And that was pretty amazing. And we actually met Joe and Pam via social media the same way you did. So funny small world story. But shifting gears a bit, as you talked about, so much content out there, kind of the content shock phenomenon. You identified different content types and maybe a shift towards more video towards different formats from just the blog posts and the white papers. What else are you seeing as ways people are cutting through that clutter?
Cathy McPhillips: Now at CMI, you know, we’re embedding a lot of video into our blog posts now. Five, six years ago, it was just heavy text, few and just thrown in. And now we’re embedding video, we’re embedding SlideShares, we’re laying over some audio where it makes sense. So that’s all making a big difference, just breaking up all that text and keeping people engaged. But from a CMI perspective, and I’ll just give you our example, everyone … I write social media pieces and analytics pieces and someone else from our team writes about editorial and different things like that. But that’s one perspective from one company. We’re different folks but in it within the company, but we kind of all have the same point of view.
So we bring in other industry leaders to write for our blogs who have different points of view. And then we spend a lot of time, a lot of time digging into analytics. Doing some social listening and figuring out what our customers really want, what they’re craving. And then one thing we spend a lot of time doing over the past six to nine months is that we’re doing one on one interviews and conversations with some of our customers. Because sometimes analytics just doesn’t show that. And we will sit down and will say, “Are we really doing what you need us to be doing? And are you going somewhere else to do that? So how can we help you if you only have this one-stop shop so we can really help you grow your business?”
Will Davis: That’s great. And I think something a lot of companies can learn from when you talked about that process of social listening and analytics, and then, you know. Wow, what a novel idea actually talking to your customers and finding out what they want from you. And I think that’s really if you want to be relevant, if you want to create the types of things that truly do move the needle for your audience, it’s understanding what the customers want. And as you identify, like one of the best ways to cut through that clutter is be relevant, be amazing, be remarkable.
Cathy McPhillips: Right. And it’s interesting, we always have … when we talk to someone one on one, we will always say, “Can we send you a gift?” Or, we prepared for that. I budgeted money so we could send them gifts and everyone’s like, “I don’t want anything. Talking to you and having you actually care to listen is really all we need.” Which is pretty remarkable.
Will Davis: Yes, that’s great. One of the things we talked about more and more content, right, and every company is creating more and more content, it seems. And you talked about Content Marketing World expanding when we were talking off air from 600 some odd people to I think you said, what, nearly 4000 for the upcoming year?
Cathy McPhillips: I hope so. Yes.
Will Davis: It’s something kind of counterintuitive to some maybe is we talked about changing the frequency of posts. You identified things like you’re taking weekends off on sending email. What have you learned from that approach?
Cathy McPhillips: Well, that really wasn’t necessarily by choice, although it has proved very successful for us. We had some changes in our team structure. And some of our biggest writers from our team are no longer with the company. So we were trying to fill that gap. And we were filling the gap with content that just wasn’t our best work. And that’s just that’s the whole content shock thing. And we were publishing work that we weren’t proud of. So we looked at the numbers and we said, “Can we do this?” And I said, “Well, what’s the worst case? We try it, we realize there’s a big drop, and we have to figure things out. And we need to restaff, restructure, figure out new ways to generate some new authors for our blog.”
And what we realized was through the analytics there was a drop off in our visits, obviously, because we were publishing two less days a week, but it wasn’t affecting things like clicks and conversions. And ultimately, from a business standpoint, we want people to come to our event. We want people to purchase our CMI University program. So even though our website visits were down, people were still converting. Actually, it increased. Our conversions to our paid programs. So customers are happy because they’re getting content that they want. We’re happy because revenue has not taken a dip.
Will Davis: That’s great. And I think the idea too that you have experimenting there too, right? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen is we’ll learn something and we may have to change course. I think a lot of companies sometimes are afraid to take that leap. Because change can be scary.
Cathy McPhillips: Right. It’s so different than when I was doing media planning. And I was buying, you know, $1 million broadcast national broadcast buys. And once you book it, you book it and once it starts running, you can’t … you can change creative, you can try to tweak it along the way. But once you’re into it, it’s really hard to change. But with content marketing and social media, if something’s not working, stop. It’s really nice to have that ability.
Will Davis: Yes. One of the things you mentioned too that you’ve been doing more of is more kind of auditing and updating some things and really looking at this great treasure trove of content that you’ve built up over the years, some of which is very popular but a few years old. Talk a little bit about that process. How do you go through that audit and update? What’s that approach?
Cathy McPhillips: Well, this kind of happened along the same time of are we publishing too much? You know, and we needed to practice what we preach, the fact, you know, publish your best work, publish epic content. So we looked at analytics and saw some of our best referral traffic was actually some of our evergreen content. It was our page, like what is content marketing, and blog posts from 2012, 2013 that were … are very educational in nature, very … some definitions, some terms, some templates, and things like that.
So, because we date our posts, we wanted to make sure that if someone was going to share something from 2013, they might pause and say, “Maybe I shouldn’t because I don’t know if this is really accurate.” So we went back and we either made sure it was accurate and changed the date or republished it. Or we went back to the author and said, “Can you let us know if this is still valid? You know, can you remove things like Google+ or things like that you may reference in your post so we can update it, and we’re republishing it.” And those are still some our best performers. It works well for us over the holidays, because a lot of our team takes a few weeks off over Christmas and New Year’s. But also just we’ve been scattering them in here and there when we have a hole or have a need. And people love them. And they’re still relevant. And it’s, those are the ones that are driving people actually to Content Marketing World’s website as well. So it’s a win for everybody.
Will Davis: That’s really interesting too. And then as you’re looking at kind of the ultimate success metrics, right? I mean, I think a lot of people look at publishing the content as their own success metric, but you’re really looking at much more from the business perspective of how did we create content that drove people through to take the business action we want them to take not just, you know, we got more views or more clicks or those kinds of really sort of pre-funnel metrics.
Cathy McPhillips: Right. One thing we’re doing right now, which is I have a few projects that I’m working on that are a just major time suck, but I’m really excited what the end results going to be. So we have this almost like a SWOT analysis where we have blog posts that are high shares, high views, low shares, low views and then high, low, low, high. So we’re trying to see if something’s a high share, low view, was it the author? Was it the topic? We’re trying to figure out what that sweet spot is, and how can we take some of those high-shared or high-viewed posts, and use them some more. Or what can we do differently from an editorial standpoint?
Will Davis: That’s really interesting.
Cathy McPhillips: As part of the audit process, which is, again, time-consuming, but once you get into the numbers, it’s really fun.
Will Davis: Yes, I nerd out on that stuff. One of the things in auditing and updating is a big, big opportunity for a lot of companies. I think another huge opportunity companies don’t take advantage is repurposing. So they have a video that they might be able to turn into a blog post, they have an eBook they might be able to turn into multiple infographics and maybe some other format. What have you seen that’s effective, whether that’s for CMI or for other companies?
Cathy McPhillips: Well, for us, we’ve been just … Just because we like to say that our content is epic. And we want to make sure you know, we don’t want to just use it once. So we’ll take a session from Content Marketing World and we’ll turn it into a five-minute teaser video for them to go read a blog post on a topic where we will break down the whole session into a blog post. And then we’ll take a photo. I mean, there’s all these different ways we’re using that 45-minute session. Or we’re taking a SlideShare presentation and we’re turning all of those pages in the SlideShare into JPEGs and publishing those on social media. So just because we’re sick of seeing it doesn’t mean our customers have even seen it once. So that’s something we try to keep in mind.
Will Davis: I think that’s a really good point, too, is as marketers, and you and I talked about this off air, you sort of get so overly sensitized to your own content that you think it’s been exposed too much, but it’s highly likely that most of your audience hasn’t seen it even once, even if you’ve seen it, what feels like 222 times.
Cathy McPhillips: Right, those lovely algorithms always throw us for a loop and they’re ever changing. So we just need to keep trying to adapt and watching our numbers.
Will Davis: So on the repurposing side, are there companies that you’ve seen that you would say, beyond CMI, are really standouts at this that are people to look at and like, “Wow, these folks are really doing this well.”
Cathy McPhillips: Some of our speakers, I love seeing what they’re doing. Chris Penn, he does a video every week and then he actually does an auto-transcribe of his video. If you read it, it’s not exactly correct. It’s almost like an auto-corrected transcription. He just publishes that on his blog. And on top of it, it says, “This may or may or may not be accurate.” But if it’s not word for word, you know, take a listen. But he’s been doing that for SEO. He’s doing that just so he has some text someone can read. I think that’s brilliant.
Tamsen Webster, she does a video of her podcast. So she can upload the raw video to Facebook. She has the podcast, obviously, she can embed the audio on something. And people like Jay Baer, he’s so good. He had blog content that turned into book content that now turns into video content. And he’s telling the same stories over and over again. And I see them a lot only because I follow him everywhere. You know, and we’re kind of in that bubble where we see a lot of other stuff.
And then Joe, Joe Pulizzi, a lot of his … A lot of the blog content over the years turned into presentations that he was giving all over the world which turned into four books. So it’s not … If you go through his, Joe’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing,” it really is all blog posts, but he’s just, you know, revised just so it makes sense for a book format, but a lot of the same stories. So people that may not have seen the video or been to a presentation.
Will Davis: Yes, I think those are great examples of just really being smart about the fact that you’ve invested a lot of thinking and time and effort into creating this content and leaving it in only one format or one content type almost seems like a crime, right?
Cathy McPhillips: Absolutely.
Will Davis: So do you see a lot of missed opportunities? I mean, are there things where you look at that and you go, “Wow, that could have turned into just a bunch of different epic pieces, but they left it at a blog post or they left it at a video and didn’t do anything else.”
Cathy McPhillips: Some of the things that I see… And I don’t want to judge other marketers because we’re all trying the best we can, but…
Will Davis: We’re all trying to be our best selves.
Cathy McPhillips: We absolutely are. But if there’s a piece that you crowdsourced or you’re pulling quotes from someone else, and that you don’t reach out to that person and say, “I’ve quoted you in here,” or they don’t mention them, or they don’t tag them, or things like that, amplifying it through all the people that you’re including in there, it’s such a missed opportunity. Because those are those little micro influencers that really can help you a lot more than you think.
Will Davis: Yes, I think that’s a great example. Sticking with formats for a minute, what do you think are some of the most underutilized content types and formats? Where are people kind of missing out on finding some of that blue ocean?
Cathy McPhillips: I think a place that a lot of people miss and I would say we’re probably in that group as well is leaning on your employees more. There’s such rich stories within the companies and people that are subject matter experts within the companies that maybe aren’t the best writers. But you could be interviewing them and have someone else write it or have them try to write it and someone edit it. That they don’t need to be great writers to be delivering content to you. And then I said the micro influencers, Ann Gynn from our company wrote a big piece about how micro influencers are doing such amazing things and might perform even better than the big names. The Kardashians of the world.
Will Davis: That would be a whole other topic if we get the Kardashians of the world probably not for today.
Cathy McPhillips: Yes. I can’t believe I actually brought that up. But yes.
Will Davis: So in terms of content types if we’re talking about white papers, which you mentioned as kind of seeing some decline overall, though every company, every industry is different, are there emerging types of formats that you see that companies should keep an eye on as kind of, I hate to say the next big thing but kind of what is up and coming?
Cathy McPhillips: Well, that’s what I watch Tom Webster, and just read his blog posts and see what Edison is saying is coming up next, but this whole audio voice search thing, I just, I’m not there yet, one, because I don’t have any in my house and I refuse to. But I know there are some opportunities in that whole realm, voice search and things like that. But that’s probably what I would say, podcasts are making a bit of a resurgence. But just trying to get people who don’t have time to sit in front of their computer and read.
Will Davis: And I’m sure by the time this gets published, Google will have figured out a way to index all of the content we talk about today and make it highly, highly searchable.
Cathy McPhillips: Absolutely, that would be nice. I would do more interviews if that was the case.
Will Davis: So what do you think, sticking with kind of these how companies are seeing success or challenges, what are some companies missing out on as it relates to content marketing? If you were to say, you know, this is where some of the biggest missed opportunities are?
Cathy McPhillips: I would say I’ve been doing a lot of digging into some of the brands that don’t come to our events. And some of them are doing excellent content marketing, even if they’re not coming to us. Even if they don’t even know who CMI is. But I think a lot of brands still think that content marketing is talking about themselves. So taking the time to really know what their customers are looking for, what they’re into … I love REI. They’re one of my favorite companies and content marketing examples, but all they’re doing these videos and podcasts and things don’t talk about their product at all, but they’re really getting into the hearts and minds of their customers.
Will Davis: I think that’s interesting, too, because so many companies and I would posit to say agencies and I know you have an agency report coming out very soon, little plug there, think they’re doing content marketing or say they’re doing content marketing, but maybe they’re just doing advertising sort of disguised as content marketing. Are you seeing that?
Cathy McPhillips: I am, but it’s interesting. I was talking to Tom Martin from Converse Digital. And we were talking about I said, “Should I do a blog post on branded content versus content marketing and show some examples? And it should be calling it if they’re doing content marketing, they should be calling content marketing or vice versa.” And he said, “Do you really care what they call it or do you just care if they’re doing it?” I said, “Oh, my gosh, you’re absolutely right. I don’t care what they call it,” but they’ve identified that we’re doing branded content, we’re talking about ourselves. And then we’re also doing a program where we’re doing content marketing, we’re educating our customers then I think agencies just need to be able to tell their customers here’s what we’re able to provide for you. But it seems like a lot of agencies are kind of jumping on board finally. When I first started with CMI, it was advertising versus content marketing. And now we’re kind of all getting along, which is nice.
Will Davis: Yes it is. It is funny. I’ve had many of those conversations with other agency folks who were like, “Yes, we’re doing content marketing. It’s all about talking about our customers’ products.” And I was like, “No, I mean, that’s great. And it’s effective. It’s not content marketing.” I guess, to your point. I don’t know that it matters what you call it unless people think they’re buying something and then the ultimate delivery is something else.
Shifting gears for a minute, you and I talked a bit about personalization. And I know personalization is a big buzzword and a lot of the technology exists out there to make it at least a little more scalable than it used to be without hopefully being super creepy and being so personalized that people get freaked out or turned off. What are some of the things that you’re doing right now at CMI to take advantage of personalization?
Cathy McPhillips: We spent a lot of time over the past probably three years looking at our database and saying a lot of our points of entry from our subscriber standpoint is only their email address. And in one place that we ask for their first name just so we can even say “Dear Will,” and then the rest of the email is standard. But so John Hanson, who runs our audience development, he said, we have so many opportunities. So we actually went in 2015, from knowing 8% what we deemed as completed profile first name, last name, company, geography a couple of other things, job function. And I said, “Okay with 18 months.” 18 months ago 8% to 48%, where we can identify those fields for 48% of our database. And we did that through knowing what sessions they attended at Content Marketing World, knowing which emails they opened, and what category emails they opened, what their implied interest was. So we have taken all that information and we’ve tried to personalize.
We send our promotional emails out to over 100,000 folks every week. And for a long time, we were just sending everyone the same thing. But you know, I can tell you, between you and I, we’re looking at things differently. Even though it sounds like a lot of things we’re doing are the same. But we actually I just finished a project today where I did 27 versions of an email where I knew what industry you were working in, and I also knew if you were executive versus practitioner. So that was a huge project. And I would say, “Okay if you’re in this industry, and you have this job level, here are some sessions I’d recommend you attend at Content Marketing World.” So I hope that that, you know, all the time invested in that is successful and I hope people open it and say, “Okay, they really do know and care and are sending me relevant content.”
Will Davis: And after doing all that, finishing that project today, you deserve the rest of the day off, right?
Cathy McPhillips: I absolutely deserve the rest of the day off. Yes.
Will Davis: All joking aside, it would be great to dial back at some point and hear, “Okay, what were the results of that?” Because I think people get very excited about personalization. And then sometimes don’t follow up and say, what was the impact it made? Did it drive the results we were expecting? What can we learn from it?
Cathy McPhillips: Right. Well, and couple of things on that, I never say to someone “Because you opened this email or because you attended this session.” I really … even though we know that there’s a fine line between being intuitive and being really creepy. But yes, the two people that I’m working on this project with both emailed me. I sent them a nice thank you today and they wrote back and said this better work. So we’ll definitely go back and look at the numbers in a few weeks.
Will Davis: So, a question I always wrestle with, and I’m sure you deal with this every day, is it challenging to be a marketer marketing to marketers about marketing?
Cathy McPhillips: Well, there’s two responses I get, if I mess up something. It’s either well this is a direct quote from someone I got it probably a month ago. “How can you call yourself a marketer?” Because if there was an email … Yes, rough. An email went out that was, there was a mistake in it. And or people email me and say, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry. I’ve completely been in your shoes. I know how you feel, and mistakes happen. Everyone’s human.” So it’s either black or white. There’s not much in the middle.
Will Davis: So in that personalization and segmentation, are you thinking about segmenting out the people who respond in sort of Type A or Type B, of those response? The people who say how can you call yourself a marketer, you put them in a whole different track.
Cathy McPhillips: Well I actually respond back to them because I’m me. And I say “I screwed up. Sorry. And thanks for the feedback. And I proofed it 10 times and I totally missed it but you’re right.” And more often than not, they apologize for being a jerk.
Will Davis: Yes, I’ve said, there’s still, no matter how many times you’ve done it and how many years you’ve been in the business, there’s very few things more terrifying than clicking the send button, especially to a really important send or a really large list. And you think, “Okay, I checked this 100 times, but still, I’m getting a little bit of the shaky hand when I go to click that send button.”
Cathy McPhillips: Right. I was probably about a year into CMI, and I did something just … I sent an email actually to people that registered for Content Marketing World and said, “Because you can’t attend.” And I sent them a message. So people were emailing Pam and saying, “I thought I registered.” So it went to the wrong list. The suppression list went to they got the email. So I called Pam like almost on the verge of tears. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.” And she said, “Well, it’s good to know your human. Don’t worry about it. Move on.” So that was actually a very nice response.
Will Davis: Yes, that’s good. So kind of rolling into the technology aspect of marketing, what do you see as the role of technology and content marketing now?
Cathy McPhillips: I think the role of technology, for us at least, is to streamline some of the things we’re doing, make some processes easier. If we had some better technology, from automation standpoint, the email versions I did today probably would have been a lot … run a lot smoother. But … and analytics. I know Google Analytics well, Adobe Analytics I’m learning, BuzzSumo, even Google Drive, and Dropbox. I can’t live without those things because we’re a virtual team.
Will Davis: Great, that’s good insight in sort of the what tech can you not live without world too. So marketers are tasked with a ton of things. And we have a lot on our plate. And it’s exciting and every day is different. And that’s … I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m sure you’re the same way. But not everything is as impactful as we think it is sometimes. So what in marketing you think is just a waste of time that people keep doing?
Cathy McPhillips: I think any marketing they’re doing that they’re not excited about, if they’re just checking a box and going through the motions, stop doing it. And I think publishing something on a date that you just do it because you’re supposed to be publishing it. I just think life’s too short to create crummy content and to make … expect your readers to take time to read it.
Will Davis: I want that on a coffee mug. Life’s too short to create crummy content.
Cathy McPhillips: I can make that happen.
Will Davis: We’ll give you attribution on it. You own it, don’t you worry. Great. Well, one last question before we wrap up today, I like to ask this of everyone who comes on this podcast. What would the Cathy of today give as advice to an early career Cathy?
Cathy McPhillips: Probably work for good people, work for and with good people. The Pulizzis changed my life. They have been … I was actually contracted with them for about four months at doing 20-ish hours a week. And when I interviewed with them, Joe said, “Oh, I’ll have you full time in six months.” I said, “I don’t know who this guy thinks he is. But I really like doing my own thing.” And four months later, I was full time because everything’s about balance and family. And work is just secondary. Even if you love what you’re doing and you work too much.
Will Davis: Well, it’s been great to see from our perspective too there’s clearly not just the business relationship, but it seems like every time I’ve interacted with all of you all, you’re friendly and friends, which is cool, too.
Cathy McPhillips: It’s very cool. We’ve got a great and goofy company.
Will Davis: Excellent. Well, Cathy, thanks so much for joining today and hopefully we’ll talk to you again soon.