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Creating Content That’s True to Your Brand

Mary Becker, Ronell Smith, Chris Wilks


Solving for B°
Creating Content That’s True to Your Brand

When you set out to create content for your brand, it’s vital that every piece not only reflects the brand voice but also expresses its core values. And the only way to achieve this is by truly understanding your brand and its target audience.

In this episode of Solving for B°, Content Marketing Specialist, Mary Becker and, special guest, Ronell Smith to discuss how to:

  • Deliver meaningful interactions and experiences to your audience
  • Create branded content through an iterative process
  • Find sources of inspiration that fuel ideas for content creation
  • Avoid common mistakes when devising a content plan

This is a must-listen-to episode for brands ready to their content marketing efforts to the next level.

Read the Transcript

Person working on a content marketing piece for their brand

*This transcript has been edited and formatted for readability.

The Importance of Brand to Content Marketing

Chris: Let's start by asking, why is it important to stay true to your brand when creating content?

Ronell: First of all, it's important for people to know what you stand for. If you think of it holistically, it's important for you and the people at your business, from C-level on down, to know what comprises the core of the business: “Here's what we're doing, here's what we're trying to accomplish and here's the audience we're going after.”

Once you have those things in place, it makes it much easier for things to flow, specifically the content you share or social media posts. It's your marching orders. Most people who are experiencing a brand for the first time, or the first couple of times, like to see some level of consistency.

If you have a blog set up and you start sharing content that's all over the place, then people never get a sense of what you stand for, what your core values are or how you can help them. I think these are important marching orders.

Mary: I like what you said about the holistic approach because it really is. That's something we always strive to educate our clients on; the content and the brand experience should both be one holistic and seamless approach. That's what we all strive for in our content marketing strategies.

Where Do You Start?

Chris: While keywords are important to this whole process – and you need to do your due diligence on that end – you shouldn't start at a keyword level. You should start at a brand level.

Ronell: The problem with keywords, specifically, is that they help once you have defined who comprises your core audience and what you stand for. If you don't have a goal in mind, you're never going to be correct in starting at a keyword level.

I can use myself as an example. When I first got involved in content marketing, I was all over the place in terms of “Here's what I'm good at and here's what I want to do.”

But I had to bring it back to “What am I known as? What would I like to become even more known as? What are the keywords associated with that?” And then, “Who is the audience that is consuming content in that area? Who is the likely audience for my business?”

Once you understand the audience you're going after, which is, again, tied to the goals for your brand, then you can associate some keywords with it.

Whether it's a Facebook group, a Google group, people in organic search or paid media, once you know who comprises that core audience, it's much easier to tie a message to your brand that should attract it. But you’ll never get there if you don't think in terms of goal first and then keywords.

But keywords are important. A couple of years ago at MozCon, Dr. Pete from Moz did a presentation in which he highlighted this seeming move-away from keywords. His talk was very pointed. He said "you can't type a concept." So you have to think about it from a keyword level.

But I don't think you should begin with keywords. I don't think your keyword strategy begins with you just typing out some keywords and saying, "Here's what I want to write for it.” It begins with you saying, “What are the goals for my brand?”

Mary: I agree. This “goal first, brand first” mindset was also a huge theme at Content Marketing World this year. Many brands that do not define their goal first create so much content that they end up creating noise.

They just push stuff out that ends up contributing to all this noise – which was another huge theme this year: quality over quantity. Brands with this “goal first” mindset that focus on creating high-quality content, even if it’s less in quantity, will resonate a lot better with their audience.

Ronell: That's my theme for the year. I've been pushing this rock up a hill and I've gained momentum with it and lost it, but I'm really for shorter, better content.

It makes it more palatable so that brands can be successful. The way I think about that – not to go off on a tangent – is it's easy for you to say, “Hey, you'll be in the best shape of your life if you train for a marathon.” Well, most people shouldn't or wouldn't be able to train for a marathon. That's the same thing with a 2,500-word blog post.

2,500-word posts typically have the most links, they are often the most shared, but not necessarily the most read. So if you're saying that's the standard by which everybody is measured, then you also have to account for the fact that there are a lot of crappy 2,500-word blog posts out there. As a percentage, those don't rank any higher than some of the shorter posts.

When you think about it, when you look really closely at it – and I'm doing a post on this now – it's really a function of shorter posts being more difficult to write. People don't understand what you can pack into a shorter piece of content that will resonate that is also palatable for more and more people. So the shorter the better, that's my motto for 2018.

Chris: That’s a valuable point to take away from this: brands should not necessarily focus on what the big guys are doing but on what your brand can do, what you're capable of.

It’s great to have an end goal in mind, like reaching 2,500-word posts. But if you have to start at 250 words and you can get your message across – because there's an art in being succinct and thorough at the same time – it can get you rankings, visibility and a really strong brand association. And that will lead up to bigger posts.

Ronell Smith: The rise of featured snippets has put people back on their heels with the longer content. If we think about the ultimate goal with SEO – and Stone Temple Consulting does a great job at this – is hammering home relevance, authority and trust.

Snippets, for example. I want it long enough such that it can't all be shown in the result, and users have to click to go to my website. But I also want enough of it in that first couple of sentences to be so thorough that it answers their question, so they can be like, “I trust this brand.”

Even if they don't have a positive association with it yet, they trusted it enough to click on the link and go to the website. From there, hopefully, you continue to impress them.

This is making people rethink what better content really means. Many people are creating longer pieces of content, but if we're honest, a lot of that long content is not high quality.

Relationship Between Brand and Content

Chris: Let's talk a little bit about the relationship between brand and content. Content is often viewed as something you write. Can either of you explain why that's a little misguided and how content is more than just a blog post or a video?

Ronell: I did a presentation on this last year, and it has become the centerpiece of the work that I do.

Let’s think about it this way. If I'm a restaurant, writing a blog post is going to do very little to bring traffic to it. What really needs to happen is a process. After a soft opening, a few people come in and they enjoy that meal.

They share that with their friends. Those friends get on social media and engage in conversations that send more people to my business. Then they review my business, leave comments on my website and provide testimonials for me. Then I run ads.

When you think about it from that perspective, the word of mouth, reviews, citations and the associations that were created about the business are far more important than the content that is created by the business. Doing one to one reviews, testimonials, word of mouth on social media - especially for service businesses - it's going to be far more important than a blog post.

Now, a blog post to gain organic and continue organic reach is going to be important, but we have to stop thinking that content is something that's created by our business. It's often created for our business. Think about it, if you ask somebody to leave a review or a testimonial, content is being created.

When you make a decision to buy a product, make a purchase for a business or a service offering, and you type in a search query, you get the organic result and then you visit the website. But then you'll go online to look for reviews, you'll try to find a Facebook group and friends who are talking about it. You'll talk to friends on social media, even strangers. You'll try to find conversations about that brand.

Again, we have to stop thinking about content that's created by our business and focus on what's created for and about.

Chris: I'm really glad that you mentioned that because – going back to the holistic approach – it's not just about creating content. There's user-generated content, and the source material for that user-generated content is the experience that users have with your brand.

You need to impact that content as much as you can by delivering a great user experience, whether it's the restaurant, the food or the service. For every brand, whether big or small, it's about delivering a positive experience with your brand so that user-generated content can perform well on your behalf.

Mary: Another big part of this is brand trust. For example, I am getting married, so recently I've been looking at places to go to on my honeymoon. I heard about Sandals – these fabulous, world-class, resorts in the Caribbean.

But the deeper I dig in TripAdvisor for all their different resorts, the more I read about people’s negative experiences. So, I talk to travel agents and friends and they also have a bad opinion about these Sandals Resorts.

How am I supposed to trust this brand when I go to their site and everything looks fancy and sophisticated, but when I go to all these other trusted websites, like TripAdvisor, and talk to my friends and industry leaders, and they have nothing but negative things to say about Sandals? Brand trust is a huge component of content creation as well.

Ronell: I agree. With everything you do, you want to further instill brand trust. You should realize that very little of what you do has merit to people who don't know you. It's just like if I say to a friend or family member, “I think I'm a great guy,” and they'll chuckle because they probably agree.

But if I walk up to some random person and say, “Hey, can I borrow $10,” and when they turn up their nose, I say “I'm a great guy,” it doesn't mean I'm lying to them, right? But, they likely need the opinion of somebody else before trusting me.

What we say about ourselves holds far less value than what people say about us. There are brands that should not create content themselves.

If somebody gives me a budget of $2,000 and I say, “Hey, you know what? What I really like to do is create one big blog post a month,” and they're like, “Why would you only do one?”

I'm going to say, "Because you have to help me in this. You need to be doing amazing things online, offline, in your community…” such that when there's an organic result associated with your brand or there's a social signal that it's positive. Everything you're doing works in unison.

I've often felt that – specifically with agencies – there's not that level of understanding. They're not imparting that level of education to their clients. They should say, “Hey, we're in this together, and everything we do for you on your website – digitally and online – you need to be reinforcing offline.”

Chris: I agree with what you said because, as someone who's involved in SEO, I think about it from a search perspective. You can perform a search for XYZ brand, and maybe the pieces of content they wrote come up, but what's the rest of the other nine organic spots?

The brand is going to have reviews, maps, stories, things like that. It's not just about taking care of your little space online, you want to branch out and do good things everywhere you can.

Creating Content for Your Brand

Chris: Let's talk a little bit about creating content for ourselves, creating content as brands. What are some tips for creating content? Obviously, we want to be true to our brand, we want to provide great brand experience. But I've heard you talk about prioritizing inputs over outcomes. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ronell: One of the things that I constantly tell clients is to test and retest. I always say revise, iterate, and revise again. For every content strategy I've ever done, I've used the word “iterative.”

There have been clients who have forced me to read the entire content strategy audit to them, and I've never heard somebody say, “What does that mean?” Most people just gloss over it, but I explain to them that what we're doing today we won't be doing 30 days from now. We certainly won't be doing that 90 days from now. This is the learning exercise.

What I'm trying to foster in them is a code of testing because when a brand or a business comes to us, they need our help. They think we have the answers. We don’t. But we're going to find the answers. I don't know your business the way you do. I most likely know online marketing to a greater degree, but I don't have all the answers associated with your brand. I don't just magically know your brand’s needs.

But if you foster a culture of testing, you’re most likely going to be able to say, “Okay, there are 20 things we could work on. Let's choose three.” With those three things, we're going to assign a metric.

Let's say one is additional traffic. We're going have a goal – a specific number or a number of conversions – and then we're going to go from general to specific, instead of specific to general.

What often happens is it pulls people away from any one specific thing. For example, somebody may say “my conversions are down” without realizing that the reason conversions are down is that they don't have significant traffic to their site. And they probably don't have significant traffic because they may not be doing anything to generate significant traffic.

I call it input over outcomes, some people call it lead versus lag goals. I always use weight loss as an example. Instead of thinking about not eating potato chips or french fries, think about eating more vegetables to see what happens with your body.

If I’d say, stop eating french fries, you just think about the misery in the scale not moving. If I say eat more vegetables, you think, “Oh, you know what? I don't really like this, but I'm seeing the scale go down.”

Or not, right? It may be that you need to do more exercise. But when you foster a culture of testing, it tends to build cohesion. People tend to say, “Okay, you know what? He or she is in this with me.” And that level of buy-in can often give a brand a customer for the long haul because they come to realize, “We tested three out of 20 things and we saw some level of success. We didn't see the level of success we want, so we've got to test these others as well.” 

Once you start going down that path, it's easier for you to get buy-in on some of the bigger long-term projects. This also stops our clients from looking at it from the day to day perspective, “Hey, I'm not getting that weight loss,” or, “I'm not seeing a day-to-day significant traffic.” They realize that you're all working to get the same result, and things may be working but slowly.

Mary: I agree. Testing is a big part of the process, or at least it should definitely be. Something we always try to educate our clients on – whenever we're delivering these content marketing plans and strategies – is that although this strategy is documented and official, it's always meant to be optimized.

This strategy should be a living, breathing document that can change as we're testing and optimizing, because we are not going to be creating the content we're creating now in six months, and definitely 12 months, from now. That strategy should be evolving.

Competitor research is a big part of content creation too. While no two brands can be compared apples-to-apples, there's no harm in brands looking to their competitors to see what types of content they are creating and what's working well for them. Maybe we can try to bake some of that into our process and then test it to see how it works for us.

Ronell: I like using the term "bake-in" because a lot of times a customer will feel like they know what you're doing.

You have a CRO, SEO team, content team, social media team, but how does all of this work together? I've had clients who wanted to see how the sausage was made, so to speak. But often, all these team members might not be in the room as I deliver a strategy, yet everybody's input is baked in.

One of the problems agencies face when working with a brand – the same when you work with an individual – is they have to get buy-in because it's a tough sell early on when they say, “Hey, it's going to take time.”

When you tell people it's going to take time, the natural association is that they’re not the right agency, they don't know what they're doing and it shouldn't take them much time. But everything takes time if it's worth accomplishing.

I always think in terms of what can I do to get them to see that I'm the right person and keep them on board. Many tend to hop from agency to agency, but those brands are not going to have lasting success. That buy-in is critical.

The Importance of Sticking to a Plan

Chris: That brings up a really good point that you mentioned in the pre-show prep. You talked about the ability to stick to a plan as crucial to success, right?

Ronell: Absolutely. When I wanted to get down to my college weight, I hired a trainer and a nutritionist, and I was like, “Man, this is interesting.” I remember him giving me a plan that highlighted the things I could eat every day. There was no magical food or magical vegetables. It was just something that I had to do.

Then over time, I realized that I had to come up with a plan that worked for me. As I lost weight, I had friends that were like, “Hey, what are you doing? What should I eat?” I would say, “No, no, no.”

A high percentage of people who lose 25 pounds or more gain it back. The problem is they've adopted a model that they can't be successful on. If you go on a plan where you don't eat french fries, you eat all these vegetables, but you still don't lose weight, you've just chosen the wrong plan for your goal.

Nobody is going to be successful long-term doing something they hate. We can do something we hate for a long period of time, but we're not going to find the level of success we want. It’s similar when working with brands and our clients are not adhering to our plan or strategy.

Take a step back and realize that we've just likely handed the wrong strategy, the wrong plan; one that they can't adhere to. At least not at this point in their maturation process.

I've had to take a step back and realize that myself and say, “Okay, it's not them. It's me.” But once you do that, you find a plan they can adhere to, they're not looking day-to-day and saying, "Hey, I had to eat all these vegetables.”

Or, “Hey, I had to do all this great work online” and “I had to hire another person to answer the phone.” Or, “I have to devote a person to social media to answer these questions.”

If whatever I'm doing now is leading to success, I'm not going to stop doing it. After a while, what early on seemed painful – like eating vegetables – all of a sudden becomes part of the process, part of the plan.

To me, the key to long-term success in content marketing is adherence: finding the plan that you can stick to long enough to have lasting success. If you keep jumping from plan to plan or agency to agency, you're not going to be successful.

Mary: Yes, I agree. Adherence and commitment to long-term are definitely key. 

Tips on Creating Content

Chris: This is a good segue into our next topic. We talk about trying to find a plan that works for a particular brand or particular company, but where can you look for inspiration or opportunities on what kind of content to create? Are there any tips on that?

Ronell: Absolutely, but I want to touch on something Mary said. Observe your competitors, don't copy them. Often, you won't know what a competitor is being successful with. You're typically going to have to guess, but you do want to observe them.

You have keywords, the concept, even specifics as H1 and H2s, what specifically you want to rank for, a scheme, all that. If you think about it from the standpoint of, “Okay, I'm going to do a basic search query that's optimized as much as possible,” see what pops up.

This typically gives you an idea of what's possible. If you have a brand that's competing in eCommerce and you see a lot of shopping items pop up, then you know the brands you're up against. That's the type of result that Google wants to reward.

That should inform your strategy. But the way to think about coming up with the best ideas for your brand is going back to where this conversation started.

What is the goal for your brand, and how does a specific piece of content fit into that overall strategy? How does a specific piece of content help generate social mentions and citations that hopefully generate back to your site?

It really begins with a discussion. You hear all the time, “You and your team should brainstorm.” That seems so simplistic, but I can tell you, I've interviewed over 300 marketers at over 200 agencies across the world and the most successful of them have an idea folder. They have a way of capturing these ideas.

For instance, every morning I try to begin my day by working out, but I keep a notepad with me because I'm very creative in the mornings. Often, it will be something that comes to me like the adherence thing. All of a sudden, I remembered I read Joe Pulizzi talk about brands being unable to stick to a plan long enough.

I'll write myself a little note on that notepad. When I leave the gym, after I shower and put clothes on, I'll take that over to Evernote. If it sticks with me until after lunch, I'll then begin a conversation with somebody online, somebody that I feel is an expert in either SEO, content marketing or in some realm of digital marketing.

I'll send a DM or an email and I'll post the topic, but I want them to vet my idea. From there, I'll often go into a Google Doc called “Blog Post Ideas.” Then I'll start sketching it out. I'll put a page, I’ll have my notepad in front of me, and I'll write the headline.

At some point I'll put all these documents together. It will be just like five or six scratch pieces of paper because I'm tearing the pieces every day in my gym. If I put a note down in my notepad, it has to come out with me. It has to be written down somewhere else later on. From there, it could be shared with the team. You can tear it apart and put it back together.

It's a very similar process that happens in journalism. For example, on ESPN there’s a show called E:60 where everybody sits around a table and they toss, pull and target these ideas until they come up with something that's workable; that would be palatable to their audience. All in efforts to generate the type of sentiment they'd like for their brand.

It's the same thing for your brand. You create what I call “idea tear sheets” and you keep them with you long enough to vet them. From there, you continue to build on them.

At some point, once you sit down with a team, you'll come up with a day of delivery where you say, "We have enough information here." Somebody will go away and write that piece of content and then the process begins anew.

It begins with you getting it written down. The key to writing it down, vetting it, and coming back to it later is that you need to see if it sticks. If you write it down and you take it to Evernote but two weeks later you’re like, “You know, I don't really feel like that's significant of an idea,” and it dissipates, then it means it wasn't as significant as you thought.

But you have to develop what Mark Traphagen at Stone Temple Consulting calls “Content Eyes.” I see ideas everywhere. I don't call it a content mechanism, but a content sieve where the best ideas stick in that sifter. The ones that don't, they flow through. Sometimes I take some of those ideas and I share them on social media if it wasn't significant enough for me to write a blog post about it.

Chris: Putting it out there in the ether like that, or putting it out on social media, that's a form of testing, right?

Ronell: Absolutely.

Chris: Yeah, that's seeing if there's a market for the idea. Big brands do it all the time with products, marketing initiatives and so on. They test these things with a smaller group and if there's something there, then they may devote their time and effort to them.

Ronell: Absolutely.

Chris: A lot of these things that you talked about –and we're talking about tips on how to create content – revolve around having conversations with people.

Whether it's people on Twitter, in your own industry, and – probably most importantly – your customers, it’s important to have those conversations.

Understanding Your End User

Chris: As a brand, you must wonder, what do consumers want to know? What are their problems? What are their pain points? What tips do they want? Whenever you're going to produce your best pieces, ideas should come from understanding your end user and trying to solve their problems.

Mary: Having these conversations with brands, customers or end users is one of the best ways for brands to understand their audience. We often get clients that think they understand their audience – some even think they know who their audience is, and it turns out they have no idea.

They could have been mistakenly isolating this group of people they thought were their audience, and as a result, every effort ends up misaligned. So, going out, having those conversations, being deeply engaged with customers, end users, is one of the best ways to understand your audience.

Ronell: I love that, Mary. Being engaged is very important. The thing is, we're often wrong. We can see somebody doing something and have no idea why.

My defacto mentor is Clay Christensen – and I say that because two of the most powerful books I've ever read came from him. One was “Disruptive Innovation: The Innovator's Dilemma” and the other one was “Measure Your Life.”

In these, he shares a concept called Jobs-to-Be-Done and he highlights an example that I use now when I'm talking to prospects or when I'm working with brands.

He was hired by either Burger King or McDonald's to figure out why their milkshakes weren't selling well. The company had one theory but he wanted to test it.

When he asked people, he found out that most milkshakes were being sold in the morning, not in the afternoon and the evening. And most people were buying them because they had long commutes and they were “hiring” these milkshakes to do a job that would distract them on a miserable commute.

In content marketing, we focus too much on the “what” and the “how.” “How did this happen?” and “What happened?” But one of the things I learned as a journalist is that it's tougher to tease this out as why: “Why is that happening?”

That's why I always say I'm not a slave to data because data can often be misleading. It can tell us to do something that's been done in the past and been done successfully, but not as if we tried something different or talked to the people who are actually engaging in that activity.

Whenever we work with a brand, we must ask ourselves, “What are they hiring this product or service for? What job are they hiring it for?”

We can see that we were missing it all along. The opportunity was right under our nose the entire time, but it takes for us to be willing to, as Mary said, engage with those people to get those answers.

We have to have those conversations. It's amazing what you come back with, how full your idea folder can become when you actually engage with people from your audience and the people your brand is working with.

Maybe you're talking to a C-level directors and you say, “Hey, can I interview some members of your staff?” You find out what's really going at the grassroots level can inform your strategy beyond what a director or a C-level person could have ever informed you to do.

Chris: That’s something that we always do here. Trying to get the heart of what their problems are. Ultimately, we try to use that for content ideas. We do like to talk to the C-suite, the upper management, but we always want to get some interviews with folks who are regularly interacting with the customers.

Ronell: Content strategy is a tough sell because we often have to explain to them what it is, what it does and why they need it. If you have to do all that, it's always going to be a tough sell, right?

What you have to do is get to their pain points. But that only happens by engaging with them and seeing what their needs are. From there, you can tell them what content marketing solves for them.

You don't have to call it content strategy, but you must engage them. You can say, “Okay, here's what I do for you. Here's why you need it.”

Common Mistakes in Content Strategy

Chris: We've talked about some ideas and some tips on how to look for inspiration for content. Let's talk a little bit about mistakes to avoid when it comes to creating not only a singular piece of content but a content strategy.

Are there any particular mistakes that you see regularly whenever you're putting together a content strategy?

Ronell: Yes. The single biggest one I see – and just about everybody makes it – is to think the content can do a very specific thing for them. When you have a strategy that's outlining that content, they don't always understand that everything works in unison. The whole SEO, paid media, SEM, PPC, content – this all works together.

The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I think that's much tougher for people to get because we're not always unified in beating the drum. We have to be willing to sit down with them and ask, “What do you think content strategy doesn't touch?”

Content strategy can inform their sales team. I'm going to talk to the salesmen and women and then have them highlight some specific conversation they're having to get a feel for the language that people are using this product or service. It informs PR and branding, obviously, because we want to be able to control the narrative in those discussions.

It works in SEO as well because if there's an organic result that's in the wheelhouse of our brand, I want us to show up prominently. But I want us to show up accurately as well.

I really like paid content because some of the things you can find out with paid social ads put you so much closer to the community. Being able to understand them makes you a part of those conversations. You can tie all of that together to define a “holistic content strategy.”

This way you can be sure that your goals are being optimized and that our needs are much more likely to be met. I can hand you a plan that you can adhere to. We won't struggle with coming up with content ideas. When everybody is on task and not thinking that content strategy does one specific thing, everything flows smoother.

Chris: That's a great point because content marketing does permeate through a lot of aspects of the organization, if not all. It's a part of a bigger effort, which makes a lot of sense.

Being Realistic About Goals 

Mary: Another common mistake occurs when brands want to sprint before they've even started crawling. There's no way Usain Bolt became the fastest sprinter in the world before he could even walk.

There's nothing wrong with brands wanting to be aspirational. Something we discussed in the pre-show is that an HVAC company can't be like a GE, nor should they even want to be. They can't create the same types of content with their budgets. They just have, as we've been saying, different end goals in mind.

Again, there's nothing wrong with brands wanting to be aspirational or setting goals for themselves, but it also has to do with content maturity. Those brands are on two totally different maturity levels. Everyone is at different places in the process.

And that's something brands get confused about. Sometimes they want to create these massive, crazy videos and we have to say, “Hold on a second. You haven't done anything yet. We have no idea that could work.” And some brands need to be more realistic with their expectations for their content.

Ronell: This made me think about one of the most interesting talks I've ever had with a prospect who later became a customer of mine. We were looking at organic results and he was thinking he should rank above our competitor and I said, “What do you think it would take for you to earn the right to be there?”

He looked at me askance while I was saying they're there because they've earned the right. So I walked him through what they were doing. Their page was just so much better optimized. Their off-page and on-page SEO was ten times better. He saw it once I explained it to him.

Then I said, “You'll be successful when you find the thing you're willing to work hard enough and long enough at.” This goes back to what you were talking about, Mary. When you look at a competitor, you don't want to emulate them. You want to be informed by them. You have to walk before you run.

We tend to want to be where he or she is. In reality, we should be thinking in terms of earning it and then saying, “I'm going to find the thing that I can own. I'm going to find the thing that may not be exactly what he or she is doing, but that I'm willing to work long enough and hard enough to be the best."

That's just the way that I think about it, and it's won me some favor with prospects and customers. I can't say that it always bowls people over, but they get it.

Instead of them thinking, “Okay, I want to rank number one,” they're like, “Here's what I need to be doing to feel like I'm working in the direction to earn that result.”

Chris: We talked a little bit about adherence to a plan. This means that in order to get here, I have to do X, Y and Z. But instead of focusing on being number one, I should focus on accomplishing X and then move to Y, and then move to Z.

Comparing Our Efforts to Others

Ronell: Absolutely. That goes back to what we talked about a second ago with the adherence and the lead versus lag or what I call inputs versus outcomes. If we stopped thinking about the number one result and instead thought “Okay, here's the things that I think lead to that,” it would lead to me being the number one result.

Then I'm going to have a much more informed process. I'm going to be able to say, “Here's what I did. Here's what wasn't successful. Here's what I should try again. Here's what was successful. Here's what maybe I should do more of.”

The more we can focus on what needs to be done, I think we can be successful. When we look at somebody that's been successful – whether it's an athlete, an entertainer, somebody that has a piece of content that's ranking – we're seeing the end result. We're not seeing what went into that, right?

When I look in the mirror every morning, I'm judging myself based on yesterday. But I should be judging myself based on a year ago because I'm not going to change that much from one day to another. We should do the same thing with competitors.

We shouldn't say, “Okay, I just looked at this organic result yesterday and I'm still ranking number ten and this competitor is ranking number one.”

Maybe two years ago you were on the second page and they were number three. You won't know what they're doing to be successful, but you can know what you're doing and whether that's bringing you success or not.

It's not fair to any of us to compare ourselves to the competition at the time it has found its greatest success. It's the same thing with the brand. If we're not being successful, we should say, “Okay, here's what we should be doing based off what they likely did to some degree as well.”

Making Changes Too Quickly

Chris: We tend to assume that a particular strategy led them to success, so we're going to try to imitate. But then it doesn't work. The next step would be to adjust our strategy. But we have to give it time. Now if we had been implementing it for six months and we didn’t see anything, maybe we should consider shifting gears. “This didn't work for three months, let's shift gears on that.” It's about testing what worked and deciding to incorporate more of it into our process.

Ronell: Absolutely. It really does, as you just described. It really does all work together. I really feel like most of the customers that we work with tend to not give it enough time. They're not focused on the right things. They're optimizing for the wrong result.

When I first got into strength training, one of the quotes that got stuck in my mind – and I don't say this to people, I say it to myself – is, “The best training regimen is the one you're not on.”

That’s because you always look at somebody else and feel like they're being successful, and you think, “Oh, I want to do that,” not realizing that you're working towards being successful. As soon as you try to optimize for their result with the wrong plan, you're not going to be successful. It's just that whole plan-hopping thing.

Chris: There are a lot of moving parts, but I think we even – and I say we as brands who are trying to create content – over-complicate it. Sticking to a plan, it's as simple as creating a plan. If it's working, keep doing it and maybe experiment to try to improve. If it's not, change it up a little bit.

10X Brands vs. 10X Content 

Chris: We've covered a lot here today and I thank you guys for your time. One last thing I want to get to is something Ronell mentioned in pre-show that was profound. You said we need to stop focusing on creating 10X content. What we need to do is create 10X brands. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

Ronell: I'll credit Rand Fishkin (formerly) from Moz with this idea where he talks about the impact on Brian Dean from Europe's Skyscraper SEO. You basically find the number one result and you attack it. You define where it's weak and you try to create a better result.

The problem with that is you're often just going to create a result that's a little better, when you should actually try to focus on a piece of content that can outrank it long-term; you should focus on a piece of content that's way better. Rand came up with the idea of creating 10X content.

I've never liked that because when you work with brands, one of the things you realize is they have a very tough time executing their business plan.

Content is a huge add-on. For you to say create 10X content is the equivalent of saying that a three-year-old should be able to run a marathon. That's really what you're saying.

This is an example where good enough is good enough, especially when you start. When you realize that most content you create early on for your brand, no matter how successful you are, is not going to be the content you will create a year or two later, because you'll know more by then.

You have to take the mindset of, “Let's start somewhere.” Get it as good as it can be, and then get it better over time.

Ronell: Your real competition early on is 10X-ing your brand. That is, all the processes inside the company should be doing these amazing things so that when you create content, everything matches. You may have a crappy restaurant or crappy plumbing service but an amazing website.

That's not going to help you. People will find you, use you, but they don't use you again. They’ll leave horrible reviews, and then you have far fewer people finding you and using you.

If you think about it, going back and away from the 10X content, we should say, “What I'm really going to focus on is creating a 10X brand.” Meaning, create the best brand experience possible: that's my sales, PR, strategy, content and social media teams. It should be everybody.

Everything that people associate with my brand will have to adhere under one umbrella. Part of that has to be excellent in every area. If you focus on creating a 10X brand where you don't have any hole, where people aren't saying things even though you have a great website or an awesome, beautiful, or handsome CEO, then creating content becomes easier.

The content of your brand is far more appealing when you have a lot more to talk about. The content about your brand, what people are saying about you and the content created for your brand through social media, is so much better. Going forward, I'd like for us to focus less on creating 10X content and more on creating a 10X brand.

There's a lot of brands who are very successful who focus on creating a 10X experience, but the 10X content is not part of that equation. They have some 2X or 3X content, but they don't have 10X content.

Amazon is a good example. They're wildly successful, and I'll say they do everything correctly. But they focus enough on the online and offline things that adhere to their overall strategy and brand goal that they can have faltering content.

They can fall down in that area. I think we can all adopt a similar strategy where we're saying, “My content is only going to get better. I'm going to iterate, but I'm going to do everything that I can to optimize for and about content; the by-content will get better.”

Mary: A lot of this is tying into what Bo and Jonathan are always saying: “You don't own your brand. You manage it.” I think that's perfectly reinforced by what Ronell was just explaining regarding 10X brand.

Chris: Excellent, guys. That's a great note to go ahead and wrap up. I want to thank Mary and Ronell for joining us today. Everybody out there, thanks for joining us. We'll catch you next time on Solving for B°.