Jasmine Granton podcast interview – progression & management in Digital PR

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Hello new subscribers and hello 2022…the Azeem Digital Asks podcast is BACK with a bang! If you listen on Spotify, you can now get a video version of this podcast.

Joining me on the first episode of season 3 is the awesome Jasmine Granton, Digital PR Team Lead at Evolved, conference speaker, and co-founder of Chalkboard Creative.

Listen/watch now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

In this episode, we discuss:

-What Digital PR is, and the changes she has seen since she has been in the industry.
-The things she has learned from changing jobs in the last 12 months.
-What routes are available for people working in Digital PR to progress into.
-Advice for a junior level Digital PR do to gain those management skills .
-What she things makes a good Digital PR manager, and leader.
-How to balance being friendly with professionalism.
-Her idea of ‘how you can help yourself and make sure you’re helping your manager help you be promoted’ – and how to do it.
…and much more!

As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks
My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital
My website: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/
Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/
Jasmine’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrantonJasmine

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello. And welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks, all-round digital marketing podcast. Who would’ve thought that a little project that I started in the first lockdown a couple of years ago would come back to a third season. Thanks to incredible guests like the one that I’m about to introduce you to, and awesome listeners like yourself.

Azeem Ahmad:
And hopefully for the first time, all being well, I now have access to video podcasts on Spotify, and I’ll get this on YouTube as well if my editing skills are up to scratch. So if you are watching, hello!

Azeem Ahmad:
I have a wonderful guest for you today, so I will shut up in a second. We’re talking all about progression and management within digital PR. My guest is the awesome Jasmine Granton, who’s the digital PR team leader at Evolved Search. Co-founder of Chalkboard Creative. She’s spoken at Brighton SEO and she’s basically a celebrity in this industry. So I’m very pleased to have her on the show. And if I could rate her out of 10, solid 9.9. The only thing that really lets her down is the fact that she chose to support Tottenham Hotspur. So if you do know her, just ask her about that decision. But yeah, Jasmine, welcome to the show.

Jasmine Granton:
Thank you very much for having me. I’m glad we’ve got the Spurs stuff out early. Our relationship is built on mutual hatred for each other, so it’s nice to be doing something that isn’t just abusing each other about football for a change.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely. And joking aside, thank you so much for joining me. For those people listening who do not know who you are, their loss. Would you mind giving a quick intro to yourself for me please?

Jasmine Granton:
Yeah, sure. I think you did a great job. But I’m Jasmine. So I’m the team leader at Evolved Search. Previously I worked at Aira Digital for a couple of years, making my way through the different roles there in digital PR. And as you said, I’m also co-founder of Chalkboard Creative, which is a video production company. So spinning quite a lot of plates at the moment, but it’s all good.

Azeem Ahmad:
That’s what we like. So yeah, even after hearing that, I’ll say it again, thank you so much for joining me. So let’s just dive in right to the meat and bones of the episode, talking about progression and management within digital PR. For those listeners who’ve got a broader digital marketing knowledge, would you mind giving a quick intro to digital PR. What it is, how long you’ve been in the industry and the changes that you’ve seen throughout your time in digital PR?

Jasmine Granton:
Yeah, sure. So I think it’s worth saying that a lot of what we’ll be talking about today is really transferable across all of digital marketing, and even non digital roles to be honest, because management is a big part of a lot of different people’s careers.

Jasmine Granton:
I myself have been in digital PR for about four years now. So I started off in traditional PR and then, like I said, went to Aira. For me, the biggest changes has been, I guess, how we look at digital PR. It’s gone from being link building, which was a small part of an SEO strategy, into something that’s a broader topic. So for me, it’s still an integral part of the SEO strategy and we link build for that purpose. But it’s also part of content marketing as well. It’s become far more creative.

Jasmine Granton:
So when I first started, it was a case of outreaching, infographics and giving journalists linkable assets. And whilst that’s still a key goal of ours, we also look at other metrics like search visibility, relevance of links. And really just the change has been the change with Google and making sure that those links are as strong as possible and that they’re read by Google in the best way. So there’s been a huge amount of change.

Jasmine Granton:
I think the understanding from clients as well, it’s still a relatively new industry. And again, it’s changed from the old school link building techniques that people used to use to what it is today, which is straddling the SEO as well as the traditional PR content marketing side.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. Perfect. Thanks very much for sharing that. So in terms of progression and management, somebody listening to this in terms of where they are in digital PR, what routes are available for people to progress into?

Jasmine Granton:
I mean, I think it depends if you’re looking at agency or in house. I’ve been in house quite a few years ago now, and then I’ve stayed in agencies for the last few years. So I guess it depends on what your skillset is.

Jasmine Granton:
So within digital PR there are a ton of different heads you need. So there’s a really creative side, which is coming up with the ideas, and working with designers and developers. And then there’s a stage which is very almost journalism focused, of writing up the story, the press releases, the copy. And then there’s the reporting, the delivery, the working with the SEO team to work out whether a campaign was successful. So it really depends on whereabouts you sit on that spectrum of skill sets. And you can be quite niche and narrow down your specialism.

Jasmine Granton:
So I was an outreach specialist for a while and really built relationships with journalists and aimed to build the links. Versus some friends of mine who are more data and research driven and they’ll come up with the ideas. So it very much depends on your skillset, but it also depends on what your end goal is.

Jasmine Granton:
So there are ways that you can go down the management route, which is what I chose. But it’s a great industry, that you don’t have to be a manager to progress. I don’t think everyone should be a manager. There are certainly some really poor managers that I’ve experienced in my time.

Jasmine Granton:
So there’s also strategy roles, where again you can focus on what the bigger picture is for the client. What do those links actually mean for them. I think sometimes in the industry, we get a little bit caught up with being like, oh, I built 300 links on this campaign. But you need people to actually tell you what that means. Is it even a good thing. Because that can sometimes lead to negative things on sites too.

Jasmine Granton:
So I think there are strategy roles, there are creative roles, there are outreach specific roles. So it really depends on what you enjoy doing, what your skill sets are. And then you can hone in those niches or do what I’ve done, which is go down the management route.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. I’m going to put you on the spot and just pick apart and pick on something that you just said there. So in a second, I’ll ask you about people who are junior and new to the industry. But thinking back to something that you’ve just said there, if I, for example, am listening to this and I’m just about to finish uni and I really want to get into digital PR, but it seems overwhelming. As you mentioned, you’ve got to be creative, you’ve got to be data driven, you’ve got to be X, Y, and Z. What are some of the most common misconceptions in your mind about digital PR that you’d like to just address right now? So for anybody listening who’s thinking about getting into digital PR.

Jasmine Granton:
I think the biggest one is that you have to be good at all of it. I mean, if you’re a freelancer, that’s why, I mean, I hang my hat to freelancers if they’re doing all of those areas. I personally am absolutely terrible with data, numbers, it’s just not my bag. I’m definitely more on the writing side. So it’s really important to remember that you’re going to be part of a team. And that whatever skills that you are lacking, somebody else will make up. But you’ll also bring a set of skills that somebody else struggles with.

Jasmine Granton:
So finding those teams where you are going to bring something and you don’t have to have the whole skill set. If someone’s equally as good at finding data sources and turning them into stories and building relationships with journalists and writing, amazing. But that’s not me. And I don’t know too many digital PRs who can do all of it. So whilst it might feel a little overwhelming, I think it’s important just to recognize your own skills and know that there’s going to be somebody who takes away from your weaknesses if you do have some.

Azeem Ahmad:
Seven minutes in, and this is absolute gold. Thank you so much. So elaborating on the point about juniors then. Thinking about management specifically, the topic of the episode, if there’s somebody who’s quite junior in digital PR now, what would you advise to them to get their management skills, what would they do?

Jasmine Granton:
I think there’s quite a lot of things you can do within the role that you’re in. So mentoring is how I started. I don’t personally believe in just given someone to manage and being like, see if you can do it. Trial and error. Because that could be really damaging to the person who’s on the receiving end of that management, if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Jasmine Granton:
So I would speak to your line manager and show interest in the fact that you like to mentor or potentially think about putting together a training session on something that you’re really passionate about, and deliver to the team, show that you’ve got the strengths of training and mentoring and helping people progress.

Jasmine Granton:
I’d also be reaching out to other people on the team and seeing what support they might need. Check in on people if they seem a little bit off or down, it’s really building those skills that come naturally from empathetic people. Make sure that you’re being a team player.

Jasmine Granton:
But more than that, I think it’s really important to mention that there are management courses out there. I personally, haven’t been on one. I think that would’ve helped me early on.

Jasmine Granton:
Paddy Mogan, who I used to work for at Aira, is currently putting one on. Definitely check him out on Twitter. I don’t think it’s live yet, but it will be going live quite soon. He’s been working super hard on that. So definitely take a look at that. And any other management training programs that are out there.

Jasmine Granton:
And also, I think you can learn a lot from your manager, so speak to them and say, can I talk to you about the one-to-one process? Can I pick your brain on how you deal with certain situations? And I think when somebody is getting to that point where they’re thinking about management, try and think solution focused. So I think the biggest difference between a service provider, whether you’re a consultant or an exec, to a manager, is that quite often you need to be able to solve the problem yourself, or at least come up with a solution. So to start thinking in that way.

Jasmine Granton:
And also thinking about delegation, how many tasks do you have? Is there anything that you could be passing down to juniors, and showing them how to do it, and giving them the extra level of confidence and responsibility. I think with a lot of progression, it’s about starting to do the job you want before you’ve got it. And showing that you’ve got those positive attributes that make a good manager or whatever the next step is for you.

Azeem Ahmad:
Nothing to add. Absolute solid gold. If I was personally in digital PR in a junior role, I would hit pause, rewind, press play again, and just make tons of notes. This is amazing.

Azeem Ahmad:
So I wanted to go back to something that you said at the start of the episode. And you don’t have to go into detail, feel free to share whatever you’re comfortable with sharing. But you mentioned earlier on that you’d been through a few jobs last year and you’d been through different types of managers. Good and bad. What for you makes a good digital PR manager or leader, what qualities do you look for?

Jasmine Granton:
I think it’s the same thing that makes any good manager a good manager. I think my number one is trust. I know that the people on my team are better at their job than I would be at their job. And it’s knowing what their skillsets are. And it’s about realizing that everyone is really different. There are some people that I’ve managed who absolutely know where they want to be. They know what their skillsets are. And there’s other people who are slightly more reserved about it. And they don’t really see how strong they are. So it’s about giving everyone a tailored management experience. I don’t treat anyone on my team the same as somebody else necessarily because everyone needs something different from me.

Jasmine Granton:
So it’s about, I think for me, a good manager assesses that and changes their approach and adapts their approach to individuals. But I think trust is the main one.

Jasmine Granton:
Micromanagement is one of the main reasons I’ve left jobs because I don’t want to be spoken to in a condescending way. I’m an adult, I’m being paid to be here, it’s not school. So I think attitude of managers is really important.

Jasmine Granton:
And also giving people the freedom to change their role if they want to. And I think retaining people is all about letting them grow and letting them adapt and not holding them back. If someone says to me, I want to do this training course or in six months I want to be here. It’s my job to help them figure out how we do that. And it’s we, it’s always a we. It’s not, okay, well, go off and do it. So I think it’s about giving enough guidance that they feel supported, but also giving them the freedom to be like, where do you want to be? Tell me where you want to be and we’ll get you there.

Jasmine Granton:
So I think the managers I’ve had in the past that haven’t been so great have definitely made me feel that I’m in my place, you stay in your lane, you do your job and you get on with it. Whereas I encourage people to try new things, to fail. There’s never any telling off. I never hold things back for one-to-ones or anything like that. It’s a very honest, open communication at all times.

Jasmine Granton:
And for me, it’s being vulnerable as well. I don’t hold back when I’m a bit stressed. If I’ve got something personal going on that’s going to affect me and my working day, I tell them because I expect that level of transparency to be both ways.

Jasmine Granton:
So it’s just treating people like humans and having respect for your team. There’s obviously some situations where being a manager can be really challenging if somebody is not performing super well. It’s also not being scared to have difficult conversations and acknowledging that, look, if someone’s not doing well in my team, a lot of that responsibility is down to me. How can I help them? Do they need more training? It’s probably not that they’re just not trying, it’s that they’re struggling. And that’s when I need to step in and do something about it rather than just letting them drown.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely. I don’t want to talk too much because this is your episode. But that human side of it is so, so important. So I’m really glad that you touched on that. I’m going to put you on the spot again, apologies. And there’s no way to ask this question without making it sound like it’s a job interview. I promise it’s not. But for me, I’m thinking about what you’ve just said. And certainly in my experience when I’ve managed people, there has been this moment, but I’d love to hear from you, there must have been a moment where you’ve had a really difficult situation and you’ve overcome that. And you’ve thought, okay, I can, I’m ready to become a manager, I am a manager. So essentially it’s a long winded way of asking, what’s the most difficult management experience that you’ve personally had? How did you get through that? And how did you feel on the other side?

Jasmine Granton:
I think for me, the harder management experiences is when someone is going through something really personal. Because it’s quite hard as a manager to have the boundary of not overstepping and asking too many questions, but also being supportive. But I mean, at Evolved Search now we have such a great culture of, look, if you’ve got something going on in your life, you deal with it, work isn’t as important as your mental health. Work isn’t as important as family things going on. And the last few years has taught us that even more so.

Jasmine Granton:
So for me, I think the hardest challenge is making sure that the team’s wellbeing is strong. Because agency life can be really stressful and work does need to be done and deadlines need to be hit. But it’s balancing that with people’s mental health and with their personal lives.

Jasmine Granton:
So I think for me, I don’t find it too challenging to deal with workplace scenarios, but when someone’s got something going on outside of work, I find it hard not to take that on and take it home. And I think, again, that’s something that you need to be prepared for as a manager is that you are everyone’s sounding board, you’re everyone’s counselor to an extent some days. And you need to be able to manage all of that stuff with delicacy whilst also, I’ve got a manager, I’ve got a boss to pass that information up. So it’s making sure that there are processes in place that the team feel they can come to me and talk to me about anything. And that there’ll be a level of confidentiality whilst also explaining to somebody else why someone’s not going to be in for a few days.

Jasmine Granton:
So I’ve definitely had situations like that where it’s just taken me a little bit of time to have a think about, right, what is my approach here? How do I have this conversation with them? If they’re off for a few days, do I check in with them or do I just give them space? And I think all of that is dealt with just by communicating and that transparency that I was talking about before.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. I’m quite enjoying putting you on the spot here. And I realize that we are coming towards the end of the episode, so I’m going to give you one more. Everything you mentioned there about being personal and the human aspect, how do you ensure that there are boundaries between being personal, but also making sure that the job gets done?

Jasmine Granton:
I think that’s probably the biggest challenge to be honest. But again, I do think it just comes down to communication. In one-to-ones, I have a section on how are things in your life? Not everything is work related. So I always ask, are you okay? How are things going? And that’s not, how are your clients doing, that’s how are you? And making sure that people are okay. And being hyper aware of whether people seem off. And for me, I work predominantly remotely, but I make sure to be in with the team at least once a month. So I can really have some face to face time because I think that’s important.

Jasmine Granton:
But in terms of client delivery, that needs to be done too. So it’s making sure that people have the resource. People are so overstretched in agencies and so overworked that they burn out. So it’s making sure to catch that earlier on. So again, letting them know that negativity isn’t a bad thing, you can come to me and have a moan. Let’s figure out, reprioritise, so that we don’t get to that point where you are completely burnt out. And it’s so hard to wind back.

Jasmine Granton:
Yeah, I think that’s a long-winded way of answering your question. But essentially the boundary is, they’re a human, they’re a person, to an extent they’re my friends. But also the client’s work is really important. So, me having a good relationship with the client services team, with the account managers, to make sure that I’m accountable for the success of the clients as well, even if I’m not directly working on them.

Jasmine Granton:
And I stay quite close as well. So I’ll do my best to be in the client reviews. And I’ll check over the work regularly. I’ll look through link trackers and make sure that the standard is high.

Jasmine Granton:
I mean, I’m super lucky that I have an incredibly talented team. It doesn’t take a lot of checking to be honest. They just crack on with their jobs amazingly well.

Jasmine Granton:
But it has been a challenge at times. And again, it’s just about being open and honest. And I think when you’ve built that foundation of trust with the people you manage, when you’re giving them criticisms, or when you’re telling them, look, you need to pull your socks up a little bit, we need to see a little bit more. Hopefully it comes from a place of, I want you to do well, I want to help you progress, and I want you to help yourself progress. It’s not a telling off because they’re not performing.

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing. Solid gold. And you mentioned it there. I was going to say it towards the end of the episode, but given that you’ve mentioned it, I’m just going to add to it. I think already from what you’ve shared so far, your team must be incredibly lucky to have a manager like yourself.

Jasmine Granton:
They’re bloody amazing.

Azeem Ahmad:
And even though this episode is literally about progression and management within digital PR, you’ve already shared so much stuff that’s so transferable across all the disciplines of marketing. Which I think leads me nicely on to my next question. So when we were talking about the episode, you mentioned about how you can help yourself and how you can make sure that you are helping your manager to help you be promoted. How would somebody do that?

Jasmine Granton:
I think there’s quite a few ways. Again, you need a good manager in order to do this because they need to be putting in one-to-ones, PDP sessions. They need to be actively working on it too.

Jasmine Granton:
But for me, I always was looking at the job spec above me or the job spec I wanted. And a great task is to highlight in green all the things you think you’re already doing, highlight in orange the things that you think you’ve maybe done, but need to work on. And red are the things, okay, I’ve never tried that before, I’ve never done that. And the red things are what turn into your goals or your objectives. So those go into your PDP.

Jasmine Granton:
So if the next step up from you is leading on a client, and you’ve never led on a client call, leading a client becomes goal number one. And you speak to your manager, how can I take on this responsibility?

Jasmine Granton:
And being open about where you want to be. Not holding back because you think it’s boastful. And bragging, you need to do your own PR. You need to come into one to ones with evidence. You don’t need to be writing constant notes. But I think especially as we’re quite polite when we’re in these situations, but you need to be a little bit tougher and be like, look, I nailed this, I did this really well. I tried this and actually I didn’t do so well at this, so I know I need to work on that.

Jasmine Granton:
It’s coming with a level of self-awareness. Because I manage a team of eight, and it’s quite hard for me to have tabs all the time on how amazing they’re all doing. I’ve got so many Slack channels and so much going on. So if you can come to me and be like, hey, this month I’ve done this, this, this, and this. I want to work on this, this and this next month. Then I’m a step ahead and can help you do that rather than having to draw it all out of you.

Jasmine Granton:
So make as many notes as you can, have a spreadsheet with monthly wins, have a spreadsheet with your goals and when you’re hitting them. And for me, that’s the best way.

Jasmine Granton:
And also, and it’s quite scary to tell your team to do this, you’ve got to have quite a lot of faith in the company you work for, but tell them to look at other job specs. If they’re going to be looking at other roles anyway, if there’s a role at another agency that looks like your dream role, and we don’t have that role, tell me about it. What about that role is really exciting for you? Because we could mold your role into that. You don’t have to leave in order to get it. Progression is not linear, there are so many different ways you can go as we started talking about at the top of the episode.

Jasmine Granton:
So it’s just about being really, again, transparency and open conversation about these things and being really clear about what you want to achieve.

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing. Honestly, we could literally talk for hours on this. Digital PR, it’s not something that I claim to know a lot about. But literally in the space of 20 odd minutes, you’ve taught me so much. This has been incredible.

Azeem Ahmad:
As I mentioned, sadly we are coming towards the end of the episode, but I always give my guests a chance to sound off, so it’s basically free reign. Anything else that you want to discuss? The floor is open. Within reason of course. So no Arsenal bashing. But is there anything that you want to discuss that we might not have covered already in the episode?

Jasmine Granton:
I don’t think there’s anything specific based on management. I guess in terms of what’s going on, obviously Brighton SEO is coming up. I can’t go unfortunately. But I would definitely encourage anyone who is junior to get to events like that, meet people in the industry.

Jasmine Granton:
I think the reason I enjoy this industry is because of the people in it. And I think the reason that I did manage to progress quite quickly was because I made connections. I learned so much. There is a ton of free information out of there. And I know that events like Brighton can be quite expensive. But again, speak to your manager, tell them that you’re interested in going to network and to learn.

Jasmine Granton:
And there are tons of free events, long, long lists of them. So it can be quite daunting, especially if you are an anxious person or you’re slightly introverted, it can be quite scary, but everyone is super friendly. So I would encourage anyone, especially juniors, to just get out there, talk to people on Twitter. I’ve made so many friends in this industry and have learned a huge amount from them. So yeah, I would definitely encourage that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Hopefully I am one of them. Fingers crossed. This has been brilliant. Before I let you go and enjoy the rest of your evening, the most important part is if people are listening to this and they would love to find out more about you, follow you on social media or connect with you, how could they do that?

Jasmine Granton:
@GrantonJasmine on Twitter, I’m on there far, far too much. So if you’ve got any questions. I will say as well, whilst it’s not about me recruiting, I am always there to sound any ideas from … if you need anyone to look at a CV, especially young women in the industry, I’m very passionate about helping young women make sure that they’re getting a fair wage and that they’re not being treated poorly as I have in past roles. So if you do need someone to talk to confidentially, just send me a DM.

Azeem Ahmad:
That’s brilliant. And I know that she means that because she really is genuinely one of the kindest people in this industry. I’ve got a lot of time for Jasmine. Although I do poke fun at her and I’ll continue to after recording, on the recording I will say that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Listen, this is it. This has been an absolutely brilliant episode. Thank you for giving me some of your time and the listeners to share what has been absolutely awesome. I could not think of a better way to bring in the new season of this podcast. The next guest has got a very high bar to live up to.

Azeem Ahmad:
So from me, thank you very much for being a brilliant guest. I’ll make sure to put all of your details in the notes of the show. And to the listeners, thank you so much for listening. We will catch you on the next episode.

Ross Simmonds podcast interview – getting content distribution right

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For the season 2 finale of the Azeem Digital Asks podcast, the incredible Ross Simmonds joins me on the show to discuss getting content distribution right.

Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

Spotify: Click here
Apple Podcasts:
 Click here

Use a different listening platform? Choose it here.
(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

If you don’t know or follow Ross, you absolutely should. He regularly shares content on multiple platforms that make you think differently about how you are conducting your marketing endeavours.


He is the founder of Foundation Marketing, a content marketing agency that combines data and creativity to develop & serve ambitious brands. Foundation Marketing provides content marketing services to organisations all over the world ranging from some of the fastest-growing startups & consumer products to global Fortune 500 brands.


Ross and the team at Foundation have launched marketing initiatives that reach millions of people on channels like Instagram, Slideshare, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Why content distribution is important.
  • How long it took Ross to understand the nuances of each channel.
  • Examples of brands/companies who’ve got distribution wrong.
  • How people can start to address their distribution strategies.
  • What advice he would give to those who feel the same message should be distributed across multiple channels.
  • How much distribution is too much – knowing how to balance promotion and over-promotion.

…and much more!

As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Ross’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheCoolestCool

The Azeem Digital Asks Podcast will return in 2022 – happy holidays!

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello and welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. I say this all the time, but I swear, I’m really excited for this episode. I have got an absolutely awesome guest, someone I’ve looked up to in the industry for a long time, puts out awesome content, and really when you’re scrolling through Twitter, for example, or any social network, and you see a piece of content from this man, it’s a scroll stop. It makes you think twice about everything that you’re doing. So my guest is the awesome Ross Simmonds. We’re talking all about getting content distribution right. Welcome to the show, my friend.

Ross Simmonds:
Azeem, thanks for having me on. I’m looking forward to it. I have mad respect for what you’ve been doing for the space, for the community, for the industry, for the culture. So I’m thrilled to be here and I’m excited to share today.

Azeem Ahmad:
Very glad to have you on. So for those in this industry who have been living under rock or might be brand new and who may not know about you and your awesomeness, please, would you give a short intro to yourself, what you do, and why you are such an awesome human being?

Ross Simmonds:
So, yeah, I think.. I appreciate that very much, but I would start with, I’m just an average guy who’s done some cool things on the internet. I am a digital marketing strategist by trade, but if you want to go deep into the DNA of me. I’m just a geek who loves the internet and loves playing and having fun with content. So I’ve started a company in the early days called Foundation Marketing, which is a B2B content marketing agency. We’re up to 30 folks today. We work with everything from some of the fastest growing startups and B2B all the way through to publicly traded cloud companies that are worth billions of dollars. And we help them create strategies for how they can acquire new customers or, in general, generate new leads or potentially shift the narrative around their brand as it relates to attracting talent and things of that nature.

Ross Simmonds:
But essentially we are a content marketing firm. We prioritize the development and creation of content, as well as the distribution of content. I’m also a public speaker. So I speak on marketing and digital. I’ve done this for years. And in addition to that, I’m a serial entrepreneur. I have a handful of other businesses that I’ve started. I’m an investor in startups and I’m an investor in real estate. I’m an investor in a handful of other things as well. I just love business. I love growth and I love pushing myself to a limit. And I’m also a dad and I’ve got three little ones and that’s one of my proudest joys.

Ross Simmonds:
And yeah, I’m just excited to be here. But I would say in the marketing space, one of the things that a lot of people get excited about that I’ve been really pushing forward is the idea of distribution. It’s for years been something that a lot of people have slept on. And one of the things that I think is the most important piece of the marketing mix, but often the most underestimated. And that’s also been what Foundation has really carved up a position in the market as being a leader in, which is content distribution. So enough about me, let’s jump in. I’m really excited to dive into the weeds of it. Let’s do it.

Azeem Ahmad:
So I have got quite a few questions for you, all about content distribution. However, before we get into it, I, in my head, need to make this an exclusive episode and it can only be exclusive if you share something with me that you haven’t shared on any other podcast, talk, or anything, public speaking opportunity, anything that you’ve done that could be as big or as small as you want it to be, but something you’ve never shared elsewhere. Putting you on the spot right now.

Ross Simmonds:
So here’s something that I have not talked about, but I had this epiphany yesterday, and I think it’s something that I never talk about, but it’s something that needs to be talked about. One of the keys to my success in life is not my consistency. It’s not my persistence. It’s not my ability to understand storytelling. It is the fact that I really did get lucky with an amazing partner who in the early days supported me and my dreams and my vision for where we wanted to go. I can remember… We met in high school. So we’ve been together for a long time, but I can recall a moment where the new PlayStation 3 came out and me and her went to the local mall and we stayed out overnight to be the first ones in line to get this PlayStation 3 because we wanted to flip it so we can make an extra like 300, $200, which at the time, was a whole bunch of money for us.

Ross Simmonds:
So both of us stay overnight and we’re sleeping in a bus shelter. And there’s like… Today, I’m like, whoa, that’s wild. Like, what was I thinking? But there’s all kinds of controversy happening all around us with a whole bunch of things that happened that night that we didn’t know existed, but it was scary. But she stayed there with me. And when the doors opened, she told everyone to go to one store and I sprinted down through the mall to get to where we needed to be. And we got the very last PlayStation and then we were able to flip it the next day, but she was like the Bonnie to my Clyde.

Ross Simmonds:
And I would say like, there’s no question that, I would say, finding someone who supports you and somebody who helps elevate you and is there to be in your corner is another key thing that can ultimately be one of the biggest life hacks that you can unlock. So shout out to Chris. Shout out to my partner. I think if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I’d be. But yeah, that’s something I’ve never shared, but I think it needs to be stated because a lot of people get caught up in their feelings thinking, oh, I did this all on my own. And they oftentimes forget the fact that they’ve gotten a lot of support from other people as well.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah. That is wonderful. What a lovely story. Thank you very much for sharing that. I’m sure she’ll be pleased, more than pleased to hear that. So let’s get into it, Ross. We’re talking all about content distribution and I think the best place to begin is I’d love to know from you. Why do you think content distribution is important?

Ross Simmonds:
Yeah. So if me and you both created a piece of content and let’s say we were both living the exact same life, we had the exact same amount of followers, we had the same message, the same story, et cetera. But one of us happened to have an email list that had 500 more people, the person who happened to have that email list, even if they wrote the exact same piece of content, is going to get more ROI out of their content than in the person who didn’t have that 500 person email list. And I think that simple mental model you need to embrace when it comes to content creation, because distribution is oftentimes the key differentiator between a piece of content that thrives and a piece of content that false flat. I’ve written pieces of content in one year, and then I share it once and I forget about it.

Ross Simmonds:
But the moment I actually take that same piece of content that I published six or three or eight months ago, but I got too busy to actually share, and I reshare that intentionally in a community, in a forum, in an email, and I actually spend the time to distribute it, that same piece of content takes off. It’s not by accident. The reality is too many of us, as marketers, as creators, feel like the job is done when we press publish. But in reality, that’s when the job just begins. The job begins when you press publish. You have to now take that thing that you’ve created and start to spread it across the various communities where your audience is spending time. But so many of us get caught up in this idea of let’s start giving each other high fives. Let’s pop the champagne. Let’s get all excited because we press publish, but that’s not the completion. That is not the end of the job. The job begins when you press publish. And that is when you start to invest time in distribution.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. That is brilliant. I am definitely going to pick your brains more about that later on so hold onto that thought. I love the fact that you mentioned about the email list and branching out into another channel. I think that takes me quite nicely onto to my next question. I’m fairly positive that you are active on like every channel. So, and it’s not just a case of what you see other people do who will copy and paste the same piece of content and distribute it across multiple channels. I think you have the art of content distribution across multiple channels nailed down. So for me, I’d love to know and learn from you. How long did it take you to understand the nuances of each channel?

Ross Simmonds:
So it’s a continuous process. Right? Like it’s a constant curiosity and time and energy of studying the behaviors and the things that work on these different channels. And I would say each channel took a different amount of time. I would say I was able to specifically make time for myself. And I do these annually where I give myself a challenge. And the challenge that I give myself is I need to better understand a specific channel. I need to better understand a certain technique. And there’s typically been a direct correlation and relationship between my ability to thrive on a channel and that commitment to saying I’m going to spend some time learning it. So over the past year, I started to double down and spend a lot of attention to Twitter because I started to realize that was a channel that was generating a lot of business for myself and Foundation, but it also gave me the ability to build and develop a deeper connection with a lot of people who I would consider our ideal customer, but also just good people that I want to spend time with.

Ross Simmonds:
So I spent time diving deeper into understanding how to perfect my Twitter content. How can I be structuring my formats? How can I tell stories that are better, et cetera? And that methodology of just spending the time is so key. I would say on average, you’re probably going to need a month. And if you spend a month being consistent on a channel, studying the greats and studying the best on that platform, you can learn the codes to success on any channel that you can think of. Now, rather than just giving you a timestamp on how long it should take, I want to tell people the process that you would take to actually do it and do it well. So let’s say you are trying to unlock the best opportunities on Twitter or LinkedIn, and you want to figure out how can I create and distribute content on these channels in a way that is going to drive ROI?

Ross Simmonds:
What are you going to do? You’re going to do an analysis of people who are in your industry creating and distributing content on the same topic. But what you’re looking for is that best content that those people have created. So what I would do and what I did for a lot of these channels is I found people who had content excellence on these different channels. And then I reverse engineered over the past year what have been the best posts that this individual has shared and why are these pieces so successful? So I started to break it down and I started to look for trends and I started to look for patterns to better understand what type of things go into these types of posts.

Ross Simmonds:
How many hashtags do they use? Are hashtags even relevant on Twitter? How often does a Twitter thread include emojis? How do you format your tweets to make them engaging? How does controversial content work? How does statements work? Like what type of content resonates most? And when you start to pull out those different ideas and trends across the different channels, that’s when you start to find your way. Then you have to experiment. A lot of people just do the research and the planning, and they think that’s it. No. You have to experiment because in that experimentation, you’re also going to find your own voice and how you can take what you’ve learned and turn it into your own.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. That is absolute gold. Thank you very much for sharing that. And literally, as you were giving that answer, I was thinking like, look, nobody thinks like that. Nobody, certainly in my experience, thinks like you do. There was a talk of yours that I watched recently. And I think you explained it really well, where you talked about, I think you said you were speaking to somebody at a conference, but while you were having that conversation with the person, your brain was going off in a million different directions. And I was like, look what, that is amazing. So look, let’s touch on your career and why people don’t think like that. So you’ve had very long and sort of vast career. I’d love to know if you’ve got any examples of sort of brands or companies who get distribution wrong.

Ross Simmonds:
Right. I think the organizations that traditionally get it wrong the most are media companies. I think a lot of traditional media companies, I think a lot of newspapers, I think a lot of the brands that have kind of been able to achieve success on the back of traditional distribution networks are struggling to keep up because for them and a lot of journalists and a lot of report and anyone with that type of experience and background, for a lot of them, what they don’t realize is distribution used to be baked into the newspaper world. Right? Like when it comes to press, you used to always have distribution because people subscribe to your newspaper and then that newspaper would be dropped off at your door. That’s the distribution. That is the original distribution. It was literally to your door. Now because of phones, because of computers, people don’t need it to be delivered to their door so they don’t read it.

Ross Simmonds:
They’re not consuming it. But in a lot of these traditional media companies, they over focus on the value of telling these interesting and unique stories and they put a bunch of money into this let’s tell a creative story. Let’s think about the hook. Let’s think about the angle. Oh, we need to have our stories told a certain way and it needs to be done in a gloss, flashy magazine. Like all of those organizations have this mentality that the content is still the most important thing that matters your business’s success. But what they don’t realize that if that content is really good, but it doesn’t actually reach the people that they’re trying to connect with, it’s falling on nobody’s ears so it is not going to be successful for them. So a lot of these old school businesses that I would say were thriving in the eighties, seventies, nineties even have started to dwindle and we’ve seen it consistently. Right?

Ross Simmonds:
Like I can remember so many magazines showing up at my parents’ door and I was obsessed with them. I used to get all of the Source magazines and I would read that content every single day religiously. I loved it, but those magazines and that content and their influence on culture has dissipated because they didn’t continue to focus on distribution. And as marketers and as brands and as creators, we need to be thinking the same way. Habits change very quickly. And when we start to see people’s habits change, we need to evolve with them as well. One of the biggest trends right now, and I say with confidence that not a lot of marketers are realizing this, but fast forward 10 years, a lot of marketers are going to regret it, myself potentially included, but look the world of TikTok and vertical video in short snippets are the new wave and that wave of content in that format in that style is resonating with a generation that is going to have influence in the future.

Ross Simmonds:
So if we think, oh yeah, it’s just a fad. It’s going to disappear, et cetera. I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s a mistake to assume that just because you don’t get something, as a marketer, that it is not something that we should actually be thinking about having fundamental cultural impact on the next wave. Because I will say with confidence that if you fast forward 20 years, the CMO of a Fortune 500 company is going to say that they learned marketing on the back of TikTok. They’re going to say they followed a bunch of influencers. They followed somebody on TikTok who showed them about creative brand strategy, who showed them about finance, who showed them about how to optimize an ad campaign. And it all happened on TikTok and we’re going to be probably retired, but we’re going to be thinking to ourself. We really should have thought a little bit more about short, sweet video content and how it plays a role in society and culture at large.

Azeem Ahmad:
That’s brilliant. Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. You made me think of a question which I think follows on wonderfully. So let’s take the pandemic aside for a second, because, so to give you a heads up, I’m going to ask you about ROI, but I want to frame this in such a way that we just put the pandemic to one side for a second. But I say that because I think pandemic has forced a lot of companies and media agencies and marketers to be very driven on ROI, pennies, dollars, cents are tight. They have to do that. That aside, in your experience and throughout your career, how much have you seen the metric of ROI change?

Ross Simmonds:
It has changed significantly. I got my start in the marketing world in traditional advertising. So I was working in the world of creative budgets, creative stories, run a TV ad, put up a fancy, cool billboard, come up with a cool snippy radio spot. And back then, it didn’t matter if you moved the needle in terms of revenue. It didn’t matter if you moved the needle in terms of profit. All that really mattered, I believe, back then was whether or not you made the client feel good and sound good and look good in front of their other execs on the team and whether or not you can make that CEO or the leader of the company feel like this was a good investment because somebody on their team text them or one of their friends text them and said I saw a year ad during the Super Bowl. Right?

Ross Simmonds:
There was a whole different dynamic back then. Today, I believe we are shifting a lot where metrics matter more than ever, and they have to be tied back to business goals. I think a lot of companies are seeing turnover in the C-Suite around CMOs because our CMOs for a long period of time have overindexed on brand without thinking about the actual business goals and outcomes. Is brand important? No doubt. Is brand a competitive advantage in boring industries in SaaS companies? No doubt about it. Is brand able to give you a competitive edge that actually sustains itself for hundreds of years? We’ve seen it happen, a hundred percent. Brand is very valuable. But there is a increasing desire with all organizations to be able to say that marketing is no longer just an expense. It is an investment. And when your CMOs and your C-Suite start to view marketing as an investment, the CMOs of the world, the VP of Marketing of the world now is in a position where they are not seen as just being a cost setter.

Ross Simmonds:
There is someone who is going to put in value in resources and get value back. Ideally 2X, 10X, whatever that may be on the back of their spend. Back in the day, you could just say we’re doing this every single month and it’s just a cost and we’re building brand. But when you are able to be more intelligent about your investments in marketing, in storytelling, in content, it’s going to do you a world of benefit when you fast forward over your career, because you are able to really speak to meaningful, measurable results for the companies. And that ultimately will ensure that you don’t get let go whenever there is a crisis.

Azeem Ahmad:
I love that. Thank you very much for that question and answer was fantastic, which made me think more about ROI, especially given your previous answer. On distribution then let’s say companies and brands are listening to this. And at this point in the episode, they’re thinking, look, we’ve got our content distribution strategy. We’ve got that wrong. We really need to rethink it. Hopefully that’s happened about 20 minutes into this episode, a little light bulb has gone off.

Ross Simmonds:
Yeah. Right.

Azeem Ahmad:
What would you say to them now? Where can they start to address their distribution strategies?

Ross Simmonds:
So the first thing that everyone is going to say, in as it relates to their content distribution strategy, is we don’t have time to do it. Like we don’t have time to distribute our content. We have so much more content to create. And by the time you’re actually listening to this episode, I would assume that over the last 12 months, you’ve probably created some content, maybe a lot of content. And I would say, you’ve probably not distributed the content that you’ve already been producing enough. So where do you start? You start with the content that you already have, and you start to look at what pieces of content that we publish in the past that we can start to distribute in the future and for the years, if not months, to come, because oftentimes we make that mistake of pressing publish and thinking that job is done and onto the next one. Let’s start creating more content and publishing more content.

Ross Simmonds:
What I would say they need to do is stop thinking they don’t have time into just potentially stop creating so much content. Scale back on the amount of content that you’re creating so you can actually allocate your energy and time to distributing some of content that you already have, because here’s the thing. That piece of content that you might have published in February, 2019 has not been seen by anybody who now follows you in March 2023. Nobody is still seeing that content. Yet the value, the asset, the pieces in that content that you created way back then is still just as valuable to your audience as it would be today. So what do you need to do? You need to take that same piece of content, update it with some new stats, if it’s required and if it’s necessary, but then you need to distribute it.

Ross Simmonds:
You need to share that on Twitter. You need to share that on LinkedIn. You need to take that same piece of content that you created back in 2019, and turn it into an email. You need to take sections of that same piece that you created back in 2019 and start giving them to your sales team so they can share them as LinkedIn updates with just screenshots. You need to take sections of that, turn it into a PDF that can be uploaded to LinkedIn as a carousel, or upload it to Instagram as a carousel. You need to then take all of those and screenshot them, turn them into vertical imagery, and start uploading those as a story on your Facebook account, on your Instagram account, on any of the platforms that allow you to have a story. You’re going to also take that same concept. And you’re just going to go on Twitter spaces and read the piece.

Ross Simmonds:
But you’re going to add a little bit of commentary around what this element was and what this thing was that you created. You’re even going to take elements of it and re-upload them to LinkedIn.com as a full article. You’re going to take that same piece. You’re going to update the date and you’re going to share it on Medium.com as well. You’re going to go into groups like Reddit, Facebook Groups, Slack groups. You’re going to go into Stack Exchange. You’re going into various communities where your audience is spending time. And you’re going to see that community with the same post that you published in 2019.

Ross Simmonds:
That’s not what you’re going to end with though, because there’s also a bunch of questions that that piece that you created in 2019 answers that your audience has also asked on a site like Quora. So you’re going to find those questions on Quora that people asked that this piece that you created back in 2019 answers, and you’re going to take sections of it. And you’re going to answer those questions on Quora with links going back to that original piece. When you do this, you have now replaced all of the time that it would’ve taken for you to create one new piece of content. But by doing this, you are now taking an asset that invested in back in 2019 and reaping the reward and gathering dividends from it in 2022.

Azeem Ahmad:
Solid gold, absolute solid gold, literally the blueprint there to go ahead and nail distribution. I wanted to hone in on something you said at the very start of that question though where you said we don’t have time to do this. People, listen. We don’t have time to do this. Often I’ve heard it in the past, we have this piece of content, content X. I’m a CMO. I’ve said, right, content X, put it out across every channel.

Ross Simmonds:
Yeah.

Azeem Ahmad:
Do nothing of what you just said. Just put it out on every channel. Scatter them. See what sticks. And we’ll do more of that. If there’s somebody listening to this who heard exactly what you’ve just said, but still thinks scatter gun approach, put it out, same message, multiple channels. What would you say to them?

Ross Simmonds:
The people who are consuming content on Twitter have an expectation for a certain type of content. The people who are consuming content on Instagram are expecting a certain type of content. People on LinkedIn are expecting a certain type of content. So when you make the mistake of assuming that everybody wants the same type of content served up the same way you’re going to fail. Right? Like you’re going to fail. You have to take the piece of content and tailor it for the audience and the channels that you’re going to be sharing it on. I have a very brutal experience with this. Like when I first got started on Reddit marketing, I took a piece of content. I used the exact same tweet headline, and I uploaded it to Reddit. And I included a link and I pressed submit, and I thought that I would break the internet. I thought this is going to generate tons of engagement.

Ross Simmonds:
You know what happened? I got banned. I got blocked from Reddit. They said, you’re out of here. Bye Felicia. Get out. You’re gone. You’re done. Like you are not allowed here because of what you’ve done. And that was a eyeopener for me that you have to realize, as a marketer, there’s people on the other end of the dashboard. There’s people on the other end of the pixels. There’s people on the other end of the keyboard. And when you put yourself in their shoes, what do you think they want? They don’t want the same exact piece of content that would be delivered on one channel to delivered on the next. You have to understand that every single channel is different and you have to deliver them different types of content.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. That’s brilliant. Thank you very much. Selfishly, and I’ve got you on the podcast and we’re crossing this divide.

Ross Simmonds:
Indeed.

Azeem Ahmad:
This is why the eye would definitely love to learn more about you from. A lot of my friends, and I had a conversation with one very recently, we were talking about this podcast and we were talking about distribution. And I have said, look, this is when I release an episode. This is how I’ll release it. And here’s how I’ll share it. I don’t think I should do any more than that because it would probably be over posting. They said to me, this is such a British thing that they don’t want to be seen as self-promoting or posting too much. So my question to you is it is often seen as a British thing that we don’t want to do too much. How much distribution is too much?

Ross Simmonds:
Right. So here’s something that a lot of people often don’t even realize I’m Canadian and we don’t want to promote anything ever. Canadians just are like we’re too humble to ever want to promote things and amplify things. It’s a whole different dynamic of not wanting to do anything. But here’s what you really have to realize is I think that a lot of it is rooted in something that is fundamental across the board. And as much as a lot of folks in North America would say amplify amplify, amplify, promote, promote, promote. I would still say today, the vast majority of creators do not promote their content as much as they should. And the reason why is a fear of judgment. We are afraid of being judged. And I think that that is one of the biggest things that not only holds us back from promoting our content, but it’s also one of the biggest things that holds us back from achieving the life that we want to live.

Ross Simmonds:
So I challenge everyone to try to really spend time understanding, and it’s a lot of self-work, but figuring out why you’re afraid of what other people think of you. You have to think about why should I care so much about what other people think when I’m doing it with one intent, which is to add value to the world. If you share your podcast episode and you can impact somebody’s life in a positive way because you were promotional, who cares that one person thought you were promotional and spammy? Who cares that one person unfollowed you? At the end of the day, if you are adding value to the world and you believe truly that the content that you’re creating is good, this is the blanket statement that you need to ingrain in your mind.

Ross Simmonds:
There is somebody out there right now struggling and having a very difficult time with a problem that your content could solve. But because you do not feel like you want to be seen as too promotional, that person’s never going to get help. And that person is going to continue to struggle. They’re going to continue to have challenges all because you won’t press promote or retweet or publish or reshare because you won’t spend the time to reshare something you created a few weeks ago, a few months ago. So you’re doing a disservice to the world by not promoting your content. So when you have that mindset, it hopefully changes everything.

Azeem Ahmad:
Hundred percent. You’re going to see on my Twitter feed now.

Ross Simmonds:
I love that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Before we part ways, Ross, I would love to pick your brain specifically about…

Ross Simmonds:
Let’s do it.

Azeem Ahmad:
… Twitter and how much it’s changed. So for me, I’m very active on Twitter. And just talking back to the last question there, not out of choice or I want to keep a specific ratio, but I don’t follow many people because I want to be able to manage the amount of time that I spend on Twitter. So I only allow myself maybe an hour a day tops on the app. If I go past an hour, boom, I can’t access it anymore. Otherwise I’ll be too long on there.

Ross Simmonds:
How do you do that?

Azeem Ahmad:
There’s a setting on my phone, like a timer for the app.

Ross Simmonds:
Nice.

Azeem Ahmad:
And if I go over that, the app greys out and it says you’ve reached a limit for today. So say for example, I’ve passed my hour and somebody tweets me or DMs me, I won’t see it until the next day.

Ross Simmonds:
Awesome.

Azeem Ahmad:
I found that during the pandemic, for example, my screen time was through the roof.

Ross Simmonds:
Right.

Azeem Ahmad:
I say during the pandemic as if it’s ended, but my screen time was through the roof. So back to what I wanted to ask you. In terms of discovering new people, so rather than content discovery, people discovery, and discovering new people to discover new content. For you, what’s your process? Say you open up somebody’s Twitter feed and say you saw the first 10 tweets and it was all about themselves. Like for example, you opened up my feed and my last 10 tweets, here’s my podcast last week. Here’s my podcast last month. Here’s my podcast from 18 months ago.

Ross Simmonds:
Yeah.

Azeem Ah

mad:
For me, having only been on Twitter for a handful of years, my perception of it is for people to gain followers in an audience, you’ve got to try and provide some sort of value to them as well, which you could argue that your content would do, but most people would say I didn’t follow Azeem because his last 10 tweets are all about himself.

Ross Simmonds:
Right.

Azeem Ahmad:
Where’s that medium? How do you find providing value to someone without really just saturating people’s feeds full of the same stuff?

Ross Simmonds:
Good question. So what I think is happening on Twitter is people are looking at your last few tweets to make a decision, but more than anything, they’re also so looking at your bio. I think bio is more important now than it’s ever been in terms of like converting people. And you have to think about your bio in a way that’s going to demonstrate why someone should follow you. And I tell people in my bio, I believe, what they can expect. So these are the types of things that I’m going to tweet about. And that is meant to kind of let people know, this is what you can expect by following me. Now in the first few tweets that you have, I think the pinned tweet is one of the most important and valuable tweets that you have also. It’s kind of like your Twitter billboard.

Ross Simmonds:
And what I would encourage people to do is don’t just pin your most popular tweet, but pin a tweet that you want people to really use to better understand why they may want to follow you. So that could be an insight into what you talk about. It could be an insight about the stories you’re going to tell. It could be a link to your best clips. It could be a series of your best threads, whatever it may be, but you want it to be value filled to give people a perspective on what you offer. Then the first few tweets that you have, I think there’s a blend that you are looking for, a blend between content that is driving people off of Twitter and content that is native to Twitter. So for your situation where you’re sharing your podcast, I think that’s fine.

Ross Simmonds:
I think that’s good. But what I think to also be thrown in the mix there is a few pieces of content that are native to Twitter without any call to action of trying to get people to go somewhere else. So you’ll notice oftentimes I will share tweets that don’t have any links in them, but it’s just like, here are five things that I’m thinking about on marketing. And then I will just list those things with no links any where included in them. I will sometimes come back to these tweets when they are generating traction and reply to it with a link to a newsletter or to something that I want people to dive a little bit deeper into.

Ross Simmonds:
And I do that because once that piece has generated its engagement and has started to spread, it’s now showing up on other people’s feeds because they’re retweeting it. And most people will now click into the comments to see the thread and what dialogue took place. And if I can be the first person there with my own content, it’s going to drive the conversions that way. So long story little bit longer, the goal that I would say is to find a mix between native Twitter content, as well as content that takes people off of the site. And when you can do that at close to a 50/50 mix, then you’re in a really good spot.

Azeem Ahmad:
Solid gold, again, as this whole episode has been. Thank you very much for sharing that. Before we part ways as it is the finale of this season, I’d love to open the virtual floor for you to discuss anything you want to, within reason, of course, but virtually the floor is yours.

Ross Simmonds:
Yeah. I think, for me, I really hope folks get a lot of value out of this. And I think one of the key things that I would also encourage people to think about is experimentation. Right Experimentation and marketing and business is one of the key things that allows us, as people, to continue to improve. When you look at the pandemic and you look at where we are, we are only there because of experimentation. And when you think about experimentation in marketing, it’s something that we often shy away from. And it’s oftentimes something that people just kind of think, oh no, you can only do an AB test on buttons. You can only do an AB test on subject lines. No. You could run fundamental experiments that change the way that marketing is done within your organization. So when you are experimenting with a new distribution channel, you’re experimenting with a new info engagement, you’re experimenting with sponsoring sub stack, you’re experimenting with all kinds of different things.

Ross Simmonds:
I encourage you to realize that this is how you find breakthroughs. So I push you to constantly be thinking about how you can experiment because it’s through those experiments that we, as an industry, are going to be able to push each other forward. And it’s how we are going to be able to continuously level up our skill sets. So experimentation is something that I would really encourage folks to lean into heavily. And also to wrap this up, my hats off to you, Azeem, for pouring in this to life. I think we need more people creating content like this on a regular basis in the industry, because at the end of the day, the world is becoming more borderless. And we are now at a point where we can connect with people all over the globe and have a massive impact that lasts beyond even our years on this earth.

Ross Simmonds:
So my hats off to you for making the time on a consistent basis to add this type of value to the community, to the culture, to the industry, because we need to see it. And the more that we can do this type of thing for each other, we can elevate the entire industry because there’s no reason for somebody graduating from high school to think to themselves marketing isn’t for me, because of where I come from. Marketing is for me, because I’m not technically savvy. Marketing isn’t for me, because I’m not somebody who already has access. I don’t care where you live, where you’re from, what your background is, you should have a space in marketing and be comfortable in the idea that you can come into these spaces and do amazing, game changing, industry changing, potentially world changing work. So my hat’s off to you for bringing this podcast to life. And it’s been a pleasure to chat with you today.

Azeem Ahmad:
You are amazing. Thank you very much. Do you know what? It is almost 9:00 PM, for me. I’ve been awake since 5:00 AM. There’s probably enough caffeine in my body to kill a horse, but that right there has made it worthwhile. So I appreciate that. Thank you very much. Before I let you go, Ross, I have to give you the chance to, if people want to find out more about you, if they want to follow you on social media, connect with you, more importantly, get that awesome newsletter of yours. How can they do that?

Ross Simmonds:
Yeah. So hit me up on Twitter. You can find me @TheCoolestCool. That’s my Twitter handle on pretty much all of the various platforms. I’m also on LinkedIn so just send me a connection request. I do have a lot of them. So send me a note in the comments. Just say I heard you on Azeem Digital Asks, and I’d be sure to connect with you there. And then if you’re interested in the newsletter, check out the link in my bio on all of the different platforms or send me a DM and I’ll get it over to you. But FoundationInc.co is the brand. We’ve got a newsletter that covers all of the latest and greatest insights around some of the fastest growing SaaS companies today, as well as a Thursday newsletter, that kind of recaps and summarizes everything you need to know.

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing. All that’s left for me to say is thank you so much for being an incredible guest and what a way to close out the end of this season. So thank you very much. I hope the listeners have enjoyed this episode and when you finish listening, listen to it again and again, and then 10 more times, and then make sure you hit subscribe, but from me to you, Ross, thank you so much.

Ross Simmonds:
Likewise. Thanks for having me.

Vikki Ross podcast interview – the benefits of the right tone of voice in your messaging

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The brilliant Vikki Ross joins me on the show to discuss why tone of voice is important in your messaging. I really enjoyed this one and learned a LOT.

Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

Spotify: Click here
Apple Podcasts:
 Click here

Use a different listening platform? Choose it here.
(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Vikki has been writing copy for major global brands for 24 years. She specialises in branding and tone of voice and travels the world telling businesses how to talk. They ask her to – she doesn’t just turn up and shout through their window.

She mentors at the most-awarded ad school, School of Communication Arts 2.0. She judges at international industry award competitions. She runs copy masterclasses for D&AD and speaks at global events. On Twitter, she created #copywritersunite – a hashtag to support and celebrate copywriters.

Creative Equals named her one of the industry’s Top 30 Female Creative Leaders, The Dots named her one of the Top 100 Trailblazers redefining the creative industry and Women in Marketing gave her a Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to Marketing.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to define what tone of voice is.
  • The damage that having a wrong tone of voice can have on a brand.
  • How much emphasis brands should place on tone of voice.
  • The benefits of having the right tone of voice.
  • What she would say to someone who feels that tone of voice isn’t a priority.
  • Tips for those who want to take an inward look at their brands tone of voice in order to understand if it’s right for their customers or not.

…and more!

As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Vikki’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/VikkiRossWrites

Vikki’s Article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/bit-branding-vikki-ross

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Azeem Digital Asks Podcast. Really looking forward to this because it’s a topic that I haven’t covered in nearly 60 episodes; which is shameful of me but good for the audience, because I have got a feeling that you and me are going to learn lots. The episode topic is all about the benefits of having the right tone of voice in your messaging.

Azeem Ahmad:
I have an absolutely incredible guest, who I’ve just been picking her brains off recording, the wonderful Vikki Ross. And I’m going to steal a little bit of her bio, and then she’s going to give herself the full introduction.

Azeem Ahmad:
Vikki’s been writing copy for major global brands for 24 years. She specializes in branding and tone of voice, and travels the world telling businesses how to talk. They ask her to, she doesn’t just turn up and shout through the window.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. Vikki, welcome to the show.

Vikki Ross:
Hi, there. Thank you for having me.

Azeem Ahmad:
It is an absolute pleasure.

Azeem Ahmad:
So I did steal a little bit of your bio there, apologies. But for those listeners who have been living under a virtual rock, would you love to share a little bit more about yourself, please?

Vikki Ross:
Sure. I’m a copywriter. I love writing copy for brands and talking to their audience in a way that’s unique to them. Like you said, I specialize in branding and tone of voice, which means I get to go behind the scenes and find out all about a brand and then find a way for them to express themselves.

Vikki Ross:
And on top of those things, I mentor young creatives, I judge industry award competitions. And the going around the world bit, speaking at conferences, like you mentioned, that’s obviously been on hold for the last year and a half or so with the pandemic. But I’ve been busy doing virtual talks.

Vikki Ross:
And it only occurred to me this week, when I had a minute just to reflect, that I’ve done more talks and workshops this year than I have ever. And I think that’s a really good sign of the health of the industry and their interest in copywriting and branding, which I’ve often had to fight for before. So I’m really encouraged that so many people want to focus on it and just have better conversations with their audience.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And you are incredibly busy, so I thank you very much in advance for giving me and the audience some of your time today.

Azeem Ahmad:
Let’s get right into it then. So we’re talking about the benefits of having the right tone of voice in your messaging. And I think there’s not a better place to start than the definition of tone of voice. So, Vikki, I’d love to learn from you, how would you define tone of voice?

Vikki Ross:
Well, I like to always keep things really simple and make people feel that learning what I have to say is easy. So really simply, and succinctly, a tone of voice is how a brand talks and what a brand says. But I will go into more detail to elaborate on that statement. And that is the how, the how of the tone of voice, the how a brand talks. That bit is the bit that makes a brand’s audience feel something.

Vikki Ross:
So if a brand’s tone of voice is informed the audience might feel reassured that they’re in the right place, they’re with a brand that understands their needs. So an example of that would be a bank, I guess. And if a brand’s tone of voice is cheeky, say, the audience might feel like they’re with a brand they can have fun with, like Nando’s. Nando’s, one of their tone of voice principles is cheeky. And it’s come into everyday language, people say they’re going for a cheeky Nando’s.

Vikki Ross:
A tone of voice is a brand asset. And all brand assets work together to evoke an emotion in the audience. So if a brand doesn’t make people feel anything, they’re not likely to do anything, like buy the product or click a call to action, or follow them on social, or whatever it is that the brand needs people to do.

Vikki Ross:
So that’s about the how, how the brand talks. The what bit is what the brand says. Which is slightly different to the how, it’s maybe a bit more practical and technical. But it’s the typical words and phrases that bring the how to life and reflect the category the brand is in. And it’s also the words and phrases that always connect people back to the brand; like Airbnb will always say host, Disney will always say magic, and McDonald’s will always say loving it.

Vikki Ross:
So sometimes a brand will say to me, “It’s really difficult to always be on-brand in everything that we do and say. How can we make it look like we are?” And so I advise to just use your brand words. So if you sprinkle a loving in for a McDonald’s copy, people will always think that’s McDonald’s talking, even if the rest of the copy doesn’t feel like it’s on-brand.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah, that’s brilliant. Thanks so much for sharing that, certainly got the cogs in my brain turning. Because sometimes, speaking purely as a consumer and not a marketer, you probably don’t even notice things like exactly what you’ve just said. And that’s a testament of how well that these sort of things work.

Azeem Ahmad:
And I think you touched on it in your answer there, but I’d love to learn a little bit more about, certainly, from your experience, how would having the wrong tone of voice affect a brand?

Vikki Ross:
I just want to touch on what you just said, if you don’t mind? About the consumer not noticing-

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely.

Vikki Ross:
… and that being a sign of a good tone of voice. You’re right, the consumer probably doesn’t notice. Or they do notice, but they don’t know what it is that they notice. They’re never going to say, “Oh, I buy Coca-Cola because I really like that the brand makes me feel happy.” But they do feel something, even if they haven’t put their finger on it and articulated it, because that’s why they return to the brand and become repeat buyers.

Vikki Ross:
But anyway, in answer to your next question: what effect does the wrong tone of voice have on a brand? Sorry, I was trying to remember how you positioned the question. I don’t think I’ve thought that a brand has the wrong tone of voice. But that’s an interesting question that I’m going to now look and reassess, are there brands that I think talk in the wrong way?

Vikki Ross:
But I have seen wrong executions though. For example, years ago, when Innocent, here in the UK, first came on the scene and spoke so differently to any other brand before. I remember Barclays Bank seemed to try giving their tone of voice a go. And they put a poster in their branch window that said, “Through these doors, walk the loveliest people in the world.” And it was so cringey because it just wasn’t how they spoke, that wasn’t in their tone of voice. So it felt really wrong.

Vikki Ross:
And the other thing that brands get wrong with tone of voice is they don’t think they need to use it everywhere. So Barclays, they stepped out of line with what their tone of voice was and adopted another one for a brief moment. But the consistency is really important. And often brands will be consistent in the big stuff, like they’ll use their tone of voice in the TV ads or on websites and in the shops at point of sale for example, but they don’t always use it in the small stuff, like text to customers or the cookies message or calls to action.

Vikki Ross:
And it’s really important for a tone of voice to be effective, that it’s used in everything, everywhere. Because that’s how a customer gets to know the brand at every touchpoint. And when a brand does get it wrong, it can make people feel uncomfortable. Because if they’re brought into a brand’s way of talking and then the brand talks differently, they might notice and they might wonder why. And then they might wonder if this is still the right brand for them.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely. And I couldn’t agree with you more. I completely missed that one about Barclays. But, yeah, 100% cringe.

Azeem Ahmad:
So let’s move on then, you talking about brands and their tone of voice. So in my experience … which is far less than yours, so I’m very happy to bow down and learn more from you … when it comes to putting together campaigns and executions and stuff, tone of voice is not always top of the list, if it is even on the list at all. So how much emphasis do you think a brand should place tone of voice?

Vikki Ross:
Lots. Lots and lots and lots of emphasis. They should place the same emphasis they place on their logo, on their tone of voice. Because tone of voice is as much a brand asset as a logo. And brands use their logo everywhere, so they should use their tone of voice everywhere too. It’s what makes people recognize and remember the brand.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think we touched on it earlier, but the benefits of having the right tone of voice. So you used the example of Barclays there, and it was completely a mile off. And earlier on, I mentioned about those brands who’ve got the right tone of voice. And certainly, as a consumer, I didn’t even notice that.

Azeem Ahmad:
What would you say are some of the benefits of having that right tone of voice?

Vikki Ross:
Having the right tone of voice attracts the right audience to your brand, and it sets up what the brand looks and feels like when you’re with them. And if a brand talks to their audience in a way they’ll find incredibly interesting, or even entertaining, they’re more likely to want to spend time and money with them and … think I said this before … to be a repeat part of that brand, like a customer.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah, absolutely.

Azeem Ahmad:
Okay. So these next couple of questions, I always just try to frame them with my guests in the sense of: there are people in the marketing industry who are listening to this episode and have maybe already, in 10 minutes or less, been influenced by some of the things that you’ve said. However, there are always people in the industry who are very hard and fast about, “We are always going to operate in this way.”

Azeem Ahmad:
So for those people who feel … even before the episode, and probably during, and maybe after … that tone of voice is not a priority. What would you say to those people who don’t think that tone of voice is a priority?

Vikki Ross:
I would say they don’t understand tone of voice. And, look, it’s not an unusual question, people often say this when they think they don’t have time to focus on the brand side of their brand and they just want to put a sales message out. And it doesn’t matter how it looks and feels, as long as it gets a sale.

Vikki Ross:
And they probably will get a sale. But they probably will get more sales if the message is delivered in a way that represents the brand better, because people will get more of a feel for what the brand’s offering.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. Sadly, there will still be those people, probably long after this episode is published. But, stuff them. That’s what I say.

Azeem Ahmad:
For those people then who are listening to this episode, and, in the opposite, think, “Right. Okay. We really need to take an inward look at our brand’s tone of voice,” what advice would you give to them if they wanted to take that inward look in order to understand if the tone of voice that they’re using now is right for their customers or not?

Vikki Ross:
I would advise them to have a really good chat. I’d gather as many people from around the business as possible, and advise that they ask themselves lots of questions about the brand to determine what the brand does. So what’s its product or service? Why the brand does it? And who the brand does it for? So, its audience. Who it’s talking to. And how does the brand want to make those people feel? And look at competitors and see what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.

Vikki Ross:
So by the end of all of that discussion, research, and investigating, you find a way to talk that’s incredibly interesting, like I said before, and clearly unique to your brand.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. This has been absolutely brilliant. Before we part ways, I would absolutely love to pick your brains about a couple more things.

Azeem Ahmad:
So, firstly, let’s say people get together and they are in that meeting, and they’re asked the question, “Right. We need a quick win to improve our tone of voice.” Firstly, is there such a thing as a quick win? And if there is, would you mind sharing one or two of those, please?

Vikki Ross:
I think one idea is, lots of people find it easy to adopt a tone of voice if they imagine that the brand is a person or a character. And lots of brands come with a character, or the founder has a personality that’s influenced the brand personality. So Richard Branson, for example, big and bold and flamboyant. I mean, you could describe the Virgin brand in the same way as you describe him.

Vikki Ross:
But if you’re going to create a character, then just try and make it a really rounded character. What do they do? What do they think? What do they feel? What do they typically say? What do they like? What are they interested in? It just helps you imagine who you’re writing on behalf of.

Vikki Ross:
Or you could lean on a celebrity that perhaps the company knows well that you might not have a relationship with, they’re not your mascot, but they influence how you write. So lots of brands, if they just want to be kind and friendly and warm and relatable, they might say, “Our brand is just like Holly Willoughby.” She comes up a lot as someone who we all know is just really nice and down to earth and speaks very conversationally. So it’s always good to look to somebody that can help you, if you are looking for a quick win, for how to define your tone of voice.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely brilliant, as has been all of your answers.

Azeem Ahmad:
The last one I would love to learn from you on. Certainly more recently, I’ve noticed that there are people very new to the industry who’ve been listening to the podcast and picking up tips. So if there are people who are very new to the industry and want to explore this avenue, this specialism, what advice would you give to them? And where can they start? And how can they pick up and essentially become half as skilled as you?

Vikki Ross:
Find the brands that you like, as a customer, and start writing for them. A good copywriter can write about anything, with lots of research. But a really good copywriter can write better when they have a love for the brand that they’re writing for or the product that they’re writing about. So find the brands that you love and that you use and, as I said, start writing for them.

Vikki Ross:
And an easy way of getting into their tone of voice is to copy out something they’ve already written and then carry on writing. Because you’ll feel like you already write for them. And then what you carry on writing is just seamless, or it makes it easier for you to have got in the mind of the brand already.

Vikki Ross:
And then when I say start writing for them, that sounds like you’re just getting yourself the job of writing on behalf of Nike, for example. But start writing for them and then send your work to the brand and marketing people at Nike, for example, or the agency who has their account. You can find people’s contact details online so easily now. And start a relationship with those people, and you never know what might happen.

Azeem Ahmad:
Definitely. It’s quite scary when you say it like that, you can find people’s contact details online.

Vikki Ross:
I know. Yeah. I don’t mean stalking. But I think sometimes people are quite passive in looking for a job, and they’ll apply for a job to a no name no face advert. But, actually, you could just be proactive and productive and contact someone directly and be interesting and interested, and hopefully, like I said, start a relationship with them.

Azeem Ahmad:
That is an absolutely brilliant piece of advice. Thank you very much for sharing that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Sadly, Vikki, we are nearly coming to the end of the podcast. But one thing I do with all of my guests is essentially give them an open floor for them to speak about anything that we haven’t really covered yet in the episode, within reason. So if there is anything that you’d love to cover now, the virtual or audio floor is all yours.

Vikki Ross:
Aw, thank you. Well, we’re coming up to Christmas. And so every year I put out, on Twitter, a Christmas copy bingo game. If anybody would like to join in? It’s just a bit of fun, looking for all those Christmas cliches that we find in the copy.

Vikki Ross:
And I usually moan about the one phrase that we see every Christmas in everything, which is: all wrapped up. So perhaps if I can leave your listeners with anything, please don’t ever write all wrapped up. Everyone does it.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that, free Christmas tips as well.

Azeem Ahmad:
And you mentioned your social there. Perfect way to come towards the end of the episode. If there are people listening to this who would love to connect with you and follow you on social media, for example, where can people find you?

Vikki Ross:
I’m on Twitter, @VikkiRossWrites.

Azeem Ahmad:
Perfect. And I will drop that into the show notes.

Azeem Ahmad:
But from me to you Vikki, thank you so much. This has been a really brilliant episode. I’ve learned a lot from you. And I’m sure when I come back to edit, and when the listeners listen to this, that they will too.

Azeem Ahmad:
Thank you very much for giving me some of your time today. And thanks for being a brilliant guest.

Vikki Ross:
Thank you very much.

Andrew Cock-Starkey ‘Optimisey’ podcast interview – conducting organic competitor research

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The zestful Andrew Cock-Starkey (aka ‘Optimisey’) joins me on the podcast to discuss how to conduct organic competitor research.

Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

Spotify: Click here
Apple Podcasts:
 Click here

Use a different listening platform? Choose it here.
(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Andrew runs an SEO consultancy in Cambridge, and also runs a series of events for learning, networking and sharing about SEO too, as well as being hands down, one of the nicest people in this industry, who I just had to get onto the podcast to share his knowledge.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The benefits of conducting competitor research organically.
  • How often he would advise people to look at their competitors organically.
  • The most common mistakes he’s seen when people undertake this activity.
  • For those who are new to the industry and want to start looking into this area, recommendations on where to begin.
  • How to manage time and ensure that you don’t spend too much time looking into competitor performance.

…and much more!

A huge thank you to SE Ranking for sponsoring this episode. You can get a 14 day free trial of the tool and learn more by clicking here.

As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Andrew’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/Optimisey

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks, The All-Round Digital Marketing Podcast. A brilliant episode, and a brilliant guest I have for you today. We’re talking all about conducting organic competitor research, something which I think we could all do with learning a bit more about. A brilliant guest for you, Andrew Cock-Starkey, AKA Andrew Optimisey, AKA the nicest man in this industry. Hands down. I love him, Andrew. Welcome to the show, mate.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
Thanks, Azeem, it’s an honour and a privilege to be here.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’m really looking forward to this episode, let’s just dive right in. So for those who shamefully do not know who you are. First things first, hit pause, and go on, click the link in the notes and follow him. Would you like to, obviously once you’ve done that, would you like to give yourself a proper and better introduction my friend?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
Well, I think you summed it up neatly, in it is Andrew Cock-Starkey, AKA Andrew Optimisey, because yeah, so most people know me, who have heard of me, a few outside my household, but yeah, know me as Andrew Optimisey, because that’s the name of the consultancy that I run. I also run some SEO events, free to attend ones in Cambridge, in the UK, where I’m based, and have had some phenomenal speakers come and speak at these events. So lots of people who have also been on your show too. So yeah, lots of people have heard of the Optimisey events, but that’s, I guess, what I’m known for. So consultancy and running SEO events.

Azeem Ahmad:
And being very good at it. So let’s dive straight in, all about organic competitor research. I think the best place to start, Andrew, is the benefits of this. So what would you say the benefits are of conducting competitor research organically?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
So I think you really need to know what kind of ballpark you’re playing in, because we’ve all had those kind of clients that turn up and go, “Oh, I want to be top of Google.” And the first question is then, “Okay, top of Google for what?” And they’re like, “Well, top of Google for, I don’t know, ‘Buy shoes in Cambridge’.” “Is that right? Great. Well, who’s currently top on the search for results when you go to, ‘Buy shoes in Cambridge?’ Oh look, it’s Amazon, and all these other huge retailers and all these … Are you really going to go and play in that playground with those kids? Or do you want to be something a little bit more niche?” So if you don’t know, it’s like going in blind. If you don’t do your organic research, and know about the SERPs, the search engine results pages that you are trying to compete in, and the keywords you’re trying to compete against, and who you are trying to compete against to get into those search results, then you’re just shooting bullets in the dark really.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. Reminded me of a story where I was at an agency, and I had a very niche client for industrial glue, but he was adamant, anybody who typed in, “Glue,” wanted to be number one.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
Yeah, not really … Well, it’s all those kind of things, yeah, we’ve all had those kind of clients. It’s like, “So where you want to be number one for a term,” I’m trying to think of a good example now, but where the one single word like Glue is also the name of a movie, and it’s also the name of a band, and it’s also the name of a product, and it’s also the name of a brand. Number one for “Apple,” they want “Apple.” Okay, right so Apple is fine, we all heard of iPods and all that kind of stuff, but what about the little people that sell fruits, and all those because things? And what about yeah, all those other … I’m sure there’s a band and a movie called Apple somewhere, but all those other, kind of things. You can’t just say, “Oh, I want to be number one for that,” you need to look at what’s there at the moment.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah, absolutely. That’s led me nicely to my next question for you then, so how often would you advise that people look at their competitors organically?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
Okay, so do I get penalty points for every time I say, “It depends?”

Azeem Ahmad:
It depends. No I’m joking.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
So it does depend, because it depends on what kind of markets you’re competing in. If you are in some fast-moving consumer goods, lots of retail competitors, and you’ve got the budget and the time, and you are one of the … I don’t know, your Next, who’s competing against M&S, who’s competing against Primark, who’s competing against all these other big high street retailers, then it’s probably for those big brands, it’s probably already part of their day to day. And they’re doing it every day, keeping an eye on their competitors. If you are a consultant who’s working on smaller clients, or local businesses and that kind of stuff, then you can get away with doing it less often. So I think as long as you set a cadence for it, it needs to be one of those kind of things you have in your calendar, where it’s once a month, or once every three months, once every six months, whatever it is. As long as you know then what kind of window you are looking back on.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
So it’s, “Okay, I’m going to look at my competitor’s sites. I haven’t done it for three months. So what have they done in three months?” Or I can look and I can see, “Okay. Right, well, in the last three months, their rankings went up in these areas. They produced this new content. Oh my God, they’ve got this whole new section of their website that we’ve never done anything like that before. How’s that doing for them?” All that kind of stuff. So you, yeah, as long as you’ve got a rhythm to it, then I think sticking to that rhythm is better than saying, “All right, you must diligently do it once a day,” and then you feel terrible because you didn’t.

Azeem Ahmad:
That is really useful advice. Thank you very much for sharing that. One question it made me think of, is where would you begin? Where do you start when you’re looking at competitors organically, typically, where would you start in your process?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
So when I’m working with clients, it’s really interesting to ask them who they think their competitors are, and then looking at who Google thinks their competitors are. Because often they’re really different because everybody goes like, “All righty then, so my competitors …” It’s like when you ask the marketing team, whatever, “Who’s your target audience?” And they go, “Oh everyone. Everyone wants our product.” And it’s like, “No, not really. My mom doesn’t really want your running shoes, she’s in her ’70s, and she last went running 40 years ago.” So it’s like, “Okay, not everyone.” So yeah, of course there are, and I’m sure there’s some septuagenarians out there who are very keen runners, but you can’t say everyone. But that kind of stuff where it’s like, “Right …”

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
So when you are starting with this kind of thing, ask the clients who they think their competitors are. And that’s really useful, because then you’ve got some kind of benchmark of like, “Well, you think you’re competing against Amazon,” or Next, or Apple, or Nike, or whoever it is. And it’s like, “Okay, that’s a nice aspiration to have, but actually you are way down here, and you are competing with Dave’s Shoes on the High Street, and you are competing with all these other kind of things.” And sometimes they’ll be competing with people they won’t even have thought about, because they’re completely in this tunnel-vision of, “Apples are the fruit that you eat, and they’re green thing that you grow on trees, and you sell in your green grocers.”

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
And they might not have even realized that actually when you Google for, “Apple,” the thing that comes up, is I iPads and iPods. And they’ll be like, “Oh my goodness, I didn’t even realize that.” And it’s those kind of things, where you can open client’s eyes to, “Okay, what you think your competitors are, and who Google is putting you alongside in the search results, or who is currently ranking number one in those search results where you want to rank higher, these are the people you’re really competing against.” So that’s often a good starting point, I think.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah, brilliant. And I love that distinction that you made there between what they think and what Google thinks. I think that’s really important.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
Often terrifyingly different.

Azeem Ahmad:
So I’d love to learn more from you then, certainly in your experience, what would you say are the most common mistakes that you’ve seen when people are undertaking this type of activity?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
I think a big mistake, that I do often see, is then people always look, and they have a particular competitor in mind. They’re like, “Oh, I want to be like,” and again, I’ve used the same examples, “I want to be like Amazon, and I want to be like Apple.” That’s great, okay. But start comparing like for like, you’re probably not going to compete against those people. But also just because you, even if your competitor, that you’ve chosen, or your client is really focused on, because they know the other person who’s a baker in their village, and they really hate that person, and they’re determined to beat them, and it’s, “Okay, well you’re getting a bit obsessive about this one person. Actually A, they’re not the person you’re competing with in the search results, and B, they’re actually in a, really different from your business.”

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
You might hate them, but they sell wedding cakes, and you sell birthday cakes, and it’s totally different. But also just because your competitor’s doing it, doesn’t mean it works. So you see this kind of thing where people go like, “Oh my goodness, our competitors brought this brand new section of their website, and they put this whole new thing in, and blah, blah, blah, and it looks really great, and it’s got whizzy things in it, and the colors go up and down and the menus all look lovely.” And actually from a search point of view and from a marketing, is it working? Because you could then just copy them exactly, word for word, what they’ve done, and it could also be, you might, unless you’ve got an insight into their finances, they might be shooting money up the wall, and be really regretting it and pulling it down as you speak, while your site is frantically trying to catch up and build exactly the same thing.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
For all you know, they’re frantically pulling it down off their website. Because it’s been an absolute car crash, and a huge waste of time and money. But, “Oh, we’ve got to copy it, because they’ve got it.” It’s this classic keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ thing. So yeah, that’s a common mistake I see. This like, “Oh my competitor’s done it. I must jump and quickly do exactly the same thing.”

Azeem Ahmad:
Solid gold content, thank you very much for sharing that. I guess now is a great time to discuss one of the features from episode sponsor SE Ranking. So their competitive research tool can help you understand which channels and keywords bring traffic to your rivals, or which products they offer that you miss. You can get a general impression of your rival’s backlink profile and dive into the history of the ads your competitors have been betting on in search. Some of the information provided by the tool includes a domains’ traffic estimate and its cost, the traffic share by a page, the keywords that every page ranks for, the keywords that are driving traffic to a website, the keyword rankings, new and lost keyword statistics, CPC, and the number of advertisers for each keyword. You can look at Google Ads marketing campaigns and the monthly ad history.

Azeem Ahmad:
So a huge thank you to them for sponsoring this episode. And if you’d like to take advantage of a 14 day-free trial and learn more, please visit the link in the show notes to get started. It’s a cool tool, I’ve used it. You should definitely check it out.

Back onto the episode. One thing that I’ve done with all of my guests, Andrew, is I’ve had people reach out to me, who are very new to the digital marketing industry, and they’ve said they would love to know what sort of first steps to take. So for those who are very new to the industry and want to start taking their first steps into competitive research, where would you recommend that they begin?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
This is going to sound really trite, but start on Google. Everybody gets very excited about tools in SEOs. Because it’s like, “I’ve got to have this tool and this tool, and this software, and this thing.” But at the end of the day, it’s what ranks on Google, so start there, it’s seems a really obvious thing, but it’s something that lots of people really overlook, and you’ll be surprised at a number of SEOs, or people that work in SEO that don’t actually spend a lot of time in Google search results. They’re always viewing it through this lens of a tool, or another tool, or a system, or something like that.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
So go and have a look at the search results. Google around for those things that your client, or the site you’re trying to work on, that’s like, “Oh, I love to rank for …” I don’t know. So the silly example I often come back to is like, “I want to rank for cricket,” because it’s like, “All right, I’ve got a cricket kit that I want to sell.” I used to work at Lord’s Cricket Ground and we had great things around that. Obviously we were trying to rank really high for, “Cricket.” We’d rank really well for those kind of terms in certain markets. But then there were lots of people that were actually looking for the insect, crickets, to buy, to feed to their pet reptiles. You don’t want any of those. We didn’t sell insects by the box to send people to feed to their pet snake.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
So all that stuff is okay … So those kind of search results would be not quite what you thought they would be. And Google was a bit ambiguous of those things, because you can tell, because it mixes up the results. Google will put in one that’s about cricket bats, and one that’s about cricket, the sport, and one that’s about crickets, the insects, and one that’s about cricket, like firelighters, used to get little cigarette lighters. Well, there’s a brand called Cricket that make fire … And if Google doesn’t know, then that’s a big clue that actually this is probably a bit of a hot mess that you want to steer clear from. If you are selling cricket bats, then maybe go and have a look at the searches for cricket bats. And so it’s really easy thing to say, but go and look at search results and things.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
And then, start with tools, and yeah, it’s very exciting and you spend lots of money, and you can shoot your budget up the wall, buying SEO tools. But things like SE Ranking, that have free trials and stuff that you can have a go with. There’s lots of tools out there that have these free trials, give them a crack. Some of them are really expensive, but some like SE Ranking are a bit more affordable, and you can have a look at your competitors. It feels like spying and cheating in a way. If you’re brand new to this, a lot of people will ask me like, “Am I allowed to look at this kind of data on my competitor?”

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
It’s like, “Is that okay? Is that espionage or hacking or whatever?” And it’s like, “No, you’re okay. This is all publicly accessible stuff.” And you can see things, like in SE Ranking you can see what they’re spending money on, and if they’re spending money on PPC ads, to bid for those keywords, again, it doesn’t mean that it definitely is making them money. They might be wasting all their budget, but probably if they’re spending PPC money on those keywords, they’re probably worth having. If your competitors think they’re worth having, then maybe you can have a little bit of a look into it, and play around with these free trials and tools, and see where that information gets you.

Azeem Ahmad:
Brilliant. Thanks very much for sharing that. Plus one, couldn’t agree with you more. You’ve made me think of a question which I’ll come back to, but the next one that I wanted to ask you, is from what you’ve mentioned there, it’s obviously a very fine line, and a fine balance about how much time that you dedicate looking into your competitors. What dangers would you say there are? Would you say there’s a danger that you can spend too time looking to competitors, and not focusing on yourself or your clients? How do you manage that?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
Yeah, that’s really difficult. And that’s one of the other, like your previous question about mistakes that people make. It’s another really obvious one to make. When you are looking at your competitors, and you spend all your time looking at them, then you end up almost chasing the wrong thing, because you don’t want to be same as them. If you’re always thinking, “Oh, they’ve done this and they’ve done this, and we should do that,” you are chasing them to the same point. They’re already there. If you’re looking at their site and going, “We must have that,” by the time you get there, they’ll have moved on another three steps, and you’ll always be chasing the game. So there’s always this urge to, “Oh, we must keep up with the Jones’,” is the cliche thing, but it’s like, “Don’t forget about your aims, and your business and what you are good at, your USPs.”

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
Don’t always be the same. What makes businesses stand out in everything, not just SEO, it’s that unique selling point. What’s unique about your business? How can you get to the point where your competitors are looking at you, going, “Oh, we must do what Azeem’s doing,” or, “We must do what they’re … They’re way ahead of us now. We’ve got to get that new thing.” So it can be easy to get distracted and totally bogged down in just obsessing over what your competitors are doing. So remember that kind of thing, take a step back every now and then and think, “What do our customers really want? And are we in the right place to give that to them? And how do we tell them about that?”

Azeem Ahmad:
So we’re almost at the end of the episode, but there’s one question that I’d love to ask, and learn from you about, because you’ve got a vast experience in the industry, while still managing to look younger than me, I will add. That is, what differences have you noticed throughout your career in the art of organic competitor research? So how has that changed?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
Bless you for talking about experience, and saying how young I look, but not mentioning how old I am. So the art of organic research and stuff has changed a lot, I think. As with lots of things, it’s driven by what Google does, right? So when Google changes things, everybody jumps. It used to be that everybody would be, “Oh, I want to be top of page one,” and then that wasn’t good enough anymore, because then it was you’ve got to be position zero on page one, because you get the featured snippet result. Now there’s all these other kind of rich results and FAQs, and all these other things, these enhancements which you can get on your site’s appearance, when it appears in the search results. I think that stuff makes it really interesting, because you don’t have to be number one anymore to get those rich results.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
You can get those expanded site search links and FAQs, and all that stuff just by having useful stuff on your site. Like making good use of schema markup, and using all sorts of things like that. So even if you are competing against the really big guns, like Amazons and the Apples of this world, who’ve got, spend probably more in a couple of hours than most of us have in a budget for a year, you can still get in there, sharpen your elbows a bit, and get a really good looking search result, that appears in position three or position four, and still get an absolute boatload of traffic off the back of it. So I think those are the things which are then interesting for me around organic research and stuff.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
And I think, like with lots of it, it’s just moved on. It used to be, we’d all obsess about word counts, and, “They’ve written 500 words, so I’ve got to write 600.” And Google is getting better at discerning that stuff, and I hope that’s leading the SEO industry in that way to getting more down into the weeds of what’s the actual intent here. If the intent is to find out the time in Toronto, 600 words is probably overcooking it a bit. If the intent is to find out the ins and outs of solicitor fees in land conveyancing, then 600 words is probably nowhere near enough. So I think hopefully it’s moving the industry away from those obsessions about the wrong kind of things.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yeah, that’s brilliant. That’s a fantastic way to put it. I’m hopeful that people will listen to this, and take away a lot from that answer and from all of the answers that you’ve provided really, Andrew. So yeah, thanks very much for that. Just before we go, if people are listening to this and they don’t follow, or are not connected with you already-

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
They’re bad people.

Azeem Ahmad:
Where can they find out more about you? Where can they follow you?

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
I spent way too much time on Twitter. So I’m on there a lot, but pretty much everywhere, I’m Optimisey. So if you go onto Twitter and look for Optimisey, for our non-UK based friends, it’s Optimisey with an S, not a Z. So Optimisey on Twitter. You can find me on LinkedIn, I spend a fair bit of time on there too. But yeah, if you want to find all the talks from the great events stuff I did, Optimisey you on YouTube. So yeah, stick, “Optimisey,” in Google and I’ll come up.

Azeem Ahmad:
If he’s done it right.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
It’s all right, I mean I’m average at SEO. So I’ll be somewhere on page one.

Azeem Ahmad:
Yes, absolutely. Andrew, this has been brilliant. Thank you for taking some time out and sharing your knowledge, not only with me, but with the listeners. As always, I’m going to shut up now, and let you have the final word on your episode.

Andrew Cock-Starkey (‘Optimisey’):
It’s been an absolute pleasure to speak to you, Azeem. You are a marvellous professional at this sort of thing. So it’s just like having a chat with a good friend. So I hope if this is moderately useful to anyone, that would be great. The only thing I would say, is if you’re listening to this thinking, “Oh my gosh, there’s so much, and it’s all so intimidating,” if you can do one thing to make your site better, just this week or this month, then you’re moving forward, and that’s great. So just take one thing out of this, and try and make your stuff better and you’ll get there.

Amanda Milligan podcast interview – how to build authority in digital marketing

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The awesome Amanda Milligan joins me on the show to discuss how to build authority in digital marketing.

Listen now, right above the subscribe button, or pick your favourite listening platform from this list:

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Amanda Milligan is the Head of Marketing at Stacker, a data journalism platform and newswire that also partners with brands to create and distribute content to build brand awareness and links. With a degree in journalism and a decade in content marketing, she’s spent her career helping brands harness the intersection of content and SEO. Her expertise has been published in Entrepreneur, Forbes, TechCrunch, Search Engine Land, Moz, The Next Web, and more, and she’s spoken at industry-leading events, including SMX, MozCon, BrightonSEO, and Pubcon.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to define authority
  • What makes a brand authoritative
  • The value there is in brands seeking to build/grow their authority
  • The common mistakes people make when going through this authority building process
  • How brands with more authority stand out from those who don’t
  • What response she would give to a C-suite/senior manager who isn’t interested in building authority

…and much more!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://iamazeemdigital.com/

Sign up to “The Marginalised Marketer” newsletter: https://iamazeemdigital.com/the-marginalised-marketer-newsletter/

Amanda’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/millanda

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to the Azeem Digital Asks podcast. A brilliant episode I’ve got for you today, an absolutely brilliant guest, someone who is probably right up there at the top of my list of people who I would love to bump into at a conference, and just pick their brains, the absolutely awesome Amanda Milligan.

Azeem Ahmad:
We’re talking all about, how to build authority in digital marketing. Amanda, welcome to the show.

Amanda Milligan:
Thank you so much for having me. I am thrilled to be here, and honestly, every time we chat, it’s just a delight. So thank you.

Azeem Ahmad:
Ah, that’s made my day. Thank you so much. You are an absolute legend. For those who shamefully do not know who you are, and what an awesome person you are, would you love to give a little intro to yourself?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure, yeah. I’m the head of marketing at Stacker, and stacker is a news wire, essentially. It’s like digital journalism news wire.

Amanda Milligan:
So when you think of the AP for breaking news, or Reuters for financial news, it’s that for digital journalism, which is really cool, or data journalism … I don’t know why I said there’s digital journalism.

Amanda Milligan:
Data journalism, which was awesome when I discovered what they do, because I had no idea this model existed. And my background has been in a lot of data journalism, when I was back at Fractal and other marketing stuff that I’ve done, a lot of content marketing, digital PR work.

Amanda Milligan:
So they have started about a year ago. They work with brands now, and brands will underwrite content, and get the benefit of authority, as we’ll talk about today, in addition to canonicals and backlinks, and all that fun stuff.

Amanda Milligan:
A lot of what I’ve done is in the authority realm, through content. I’ve been in this industry for about a decade, and I love talking about it. Hopefully, we can keep me to the 20-minute time slot, so you don’t think I am totally rogue.

Azeem Ahmad:
Awesome. Right. As I mentioned, the episode is all about how to build authority in digital marketing. I think the best place to start, really, is how would you define authority?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure. I mean, in the most fundamental way, I just think of it as knowing what you’re talking about, and coming across that way. So literally, demonstrating your expertise in a topic, right? That’s what it comes down to.

Amanda Milligan:
I think we’ll talk a little bit about this more, and we’ll dive into it now, but I think a mistake a lot of people make is, most companies have so much expertise internally, and they’re not doing everything they can, to showcase that through marketing. It’s just, they have it, but they’re not harnessing it in any way, people don’t realize, and they try in sales to overcompensate for it.

Amanda Milligan:
But there’s so much you can do in marketing to tell that story, and show know that there are people here who know what they’re doing, and they know how to fix your problems. We’re just not explaining it very well.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that. I also love the fact that you are such an excellent marketer, that in that answer there, you’ve already given a hook for people to carry on listening to the rest of the show. So, fantastic.

Azeem Ahmad:
Let’s move on. What do you think makes a brand authoritative? What makes a brand authoritative for you?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure. I think there’s a lot of answers to this question, and that’s the fun of the marketing side, because there’s so many different ways that you can demonstrate authority.

Amanda Milligan:
For example, perhaps the founder or somebody else at the organization is very public facing, and they share a lot about their perspective. We see this in the marketing industry all the time, right?

Amanda Milligan:
I mean, brand is the reason why a lot of people trusted Moz in the first place. But there’s so many agencies, there’s so many companies where people really respect the founders, or the head of marketing, or whatever it is.

Amanda Milligan:
So that’s a way to be authoritative, is doing it through your people, the people who know what they’re talking about, getting them front and center, and allowing them to communicate out to the public. That’s one way your brand could look authoritative.

Amanda Milligan:
Another way is to create your onsite content in a way that it’s solving people’s problem. I mean, this is On-site Content 101, answering questions, the keyword research that helps you decide what people need help with.

Amanda Milligan:
But if somebody’s turning to you, if they have a question or a problem, or even a curiosity, and they’re landing on your page, and thinking, “That answers my question. This site, this brand, this person understands what I was going for, and they had the answer.” That’s a way to build authority and show that, you know what you’re talking about.

Amanda Milligan:
Or even just, when you create content like that, ranking for it. Because then you’re getting the signal that other people have found this useful, and Google agrees that this is probably the best resource for what I’m looking for.

Amanda Milligan:
So that’s a lot of reason why, obviously, organic traffic is the reason why people want to rank. But it’s also an authority signal, and I think people overlook that a lot. Just seeing that brand name at the top of the surfs says something pretty huge.

Amanda Milligan:
Then there’s the stuff, the industry section that I’ve worked in a lot, which is the PR, the media side. Brands want to be mentioned by authoritative sources, and this is where it’s good to think, “Okay, I can build my own authority, but I can also associate and be trusted by other authorities. That helps amplify my own.”

Amanda Milligan:
If you’re getting mentioned in the news, that means that those respected publications are trusting what you have to say, or you do something co-branded with another brand that people really trust, or get another, an influencer. So many different ways to get at demonstrating your authority, but it’s important to make sure you’re tackling it from a few different ways, just to increase the chances that people can access this. You might not be reaching a wide enough audience with these demonstrations of your authority.

Azeem Ahmad:
There’s so much to unpack there, but a lot of it you mentioned was about building and growing your authorities, and naturally, that’s where I’m going to go into. What value is there in brands that are seeking to build or grow their authority?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure. There’s two perspectives for this. There’s the perspective of the users or the potential clients and customers, right?

Amanda Milligan:
If you were to give them two brands to choose from, and they hadn’t heard of one and the other one, they’re like, “Oh, I know that founder. I’ve seen their stuff.” Or, “Oh, I’ve read their blog, and I trust what they have to say, and it’s helped me.”

Amanda Milligan:
Authority is not tangible in a lot of ways, but it will definitely make an impact on decision making. That’s why concept marketers always struggle with this.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s being able to measure the impact of certain things, awareness authority being two of the major components that is really hard to explain the full impact of. But authority is certainly one of those things that just permeates into every single thing that you do, in marketing, in sales, pretty much in every stage, even when you’re already engaging with somebody.

Amanda Milligan:
So you think about it from that perspective. But there’s also the more SEO focused, Google perspective of authority. We know EAT. I’m not going to get into the whole debate of whether that’s a ranking signal or not, but just, authority does matter, regardless of exactly how Google’s implementing it.

Amanda Milligan:
Obviously, if Google’s trying to rank, what’s going to be the best answer to something. If they have two articles that are not exactly the same, but just as valuable as each other, “Oh, these are both good,” let’s go with the one where we already know this site has proven that they’re authoritative.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s just a better bet, right? So Google determines authority, and whether it’s just the content itself, but also links. That’s why that comes up a lot, because you’re trying to prove, “No, it’s not just us saying that we’re good. Other people are confirming that we know what we’re saying, and that we can be trusted.”

Amanda Milligan:
So I think you come at it from both of those perspectives. It’s not just the search engines, it’s also the user experience. An authority can influence so many things from both sides of that coin.

Azeem Ahmad:
Again, I’ve got so many more questions to ask, I’m probably going to have to get you back, and just do a whole other episode.

Azeem Ahmad:
This is, honestly, really, really fascinating. Thank you for sharing this. Things that are just ticking through in my head now. I need to write them down for sure.

Azeem Ahmad:
So there’s a lot out there about building and growing authority, like you mentioned, both from a user’s point of view. But also, for example, from a search engine’s point of view as well.

Azeem Ahmad:
One of the things that I’d love to cover off and learn from you is, trying to avoid that the most common pitfalls, or what do you think are the most common mistakes that people make when they’re going through this process?

Amanda Milligan:
Yeah. So I alluded to this little earlier, where people aren’t really doing a good enough job reaching a wide enough audience with this authoritative information. And I think a good way to think about it is applying authority to every aspect of the marketing funnel.

Amanda Milligan:
I think where a lot of people start, and this makes total sense, and they should, is the bottom of the funnel. So, “Okay, let’s make sure we have case studies and testimonials, and explanations of our product or service,” or whatever it is.

Amanda Milligan:
You definitely want to have all of that foundation set up, and make sure that you can tell that authoritative story when someone’s ready to buy, obviously. But I think a lot of people stop there.

Amanda Milligan:
And I think that’s a shame, because you’re working harder and hard and harder in your other marketing tactics, to get people to that point, where now they trust you. Get them trusting you way sooner, and the process gets much easier, right?

Amanda Milligan:
Literally, if you sit there and you map out, “Okay, how are all the ways we’re building authority? And are they all at the bottom of the funnel? Is there other stuff we can be doing?” Top of the funnel is where you get into, “Maybe this is more tangential,” and this is what I talk about all the time, tangential content, so stuff that’s not directly tied to your brand offering.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s not directly about your products or your service, but it’s about something that is still relevant to your target audience, and perhaps even a wider audience, so that other people, it’ll rank for higher volume terms, it’ll be covered in the media, because a wider audience cares.

Amanda Milligan:
Whatever it is, you’re reaching a wider audience. You’re building other authority signals that’ll help get people into the funnel, to then understand exactly how authoritative you are in your niche.

Amanda Milligan:
But overlooking that, I think, is something that’s very commonly done, and people are afraid to deviate too much from their core branding, and I understand that. It’s not always intuitive to be like, “Let’s spend money to talk about something that’s not going to convert immediately, or lead to sales.”

Amanda Milligan:
But when you build that authority up top, the sale of everything else is so much faster. If someone’s like, “I’ve been reading your stuff for a year,” that is a much easier conversion to get, than somebody who’s just heard about you for the first time, and they’re reading a case setting.

Amanda Milligan:
They’re like, “Yeah, I think this is cool, but I don’t know. I don’t have a foundation in trusting this brand.”

Azeem Ahmad:
I love this. That’s made me think of a question, but I’m going to come to it later on, and I definitely won’t forget it, because it’s something I’d love to learn from you.

Azeem Ahmad:
Really, really insightful. I can’t believe, what, 11 minutes, and this is just like solid gold. You’re making a case for me to make my future podcasts shorter and shorter, because this is too broad there.

Azeem Ahmad:
Let’s talk about separating yourself from the competition. How do brands with more authority stand out from those who don’t?

Amanda Milligan:
Yeah. I don’t know if this even exactly answers your question, but I think that a lot of companies have to have a moment of self-reflection, of how they actually are different from their competitors, and what their unique expertise is in.

Amanda Milligan:
That’s more of a branding exercise, really. I mean, you have to know the answer to this in order to do the rest of it right. And as a marketer, it will be a little bit of wrangling, maybe, with partners or leadership, or whomever it is, to pick their brains and be like, “What actually makes us different, even outside of just the product or service? What about us and our internal company knowledge is going to be really useful to people? What do we uniquely know?”

Amanda Milligan:
And people who are able to harness that really well, and it’s relevant to what they’re offering, that stands out. Because they’re showing that it’s different.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s like, their particular perspective is different from everything else in the same industry. If you’re too generic, if you’re publishing the same stuff everyone else is publishing, because you’re trying to rank for the same things, but you’re not doing anything particularly interesting, it’s harder to build authority that way, anyway.

Amanda Milligan:
You have more competition. This aligns with the arguments for long tail keywords, even though they’re not as high volume, but at least you’re different, and you’re honing in on the people who really care. But I think that that’s fundamentally what you have to do, because those companies that excel at it do get a lot, all the attention.

Amanda Milligan:
They’re the ones who people understand. Not only do they trust what they’re saying over time, but they get the brand. It’s just, it’s like the branding’s packed into this whole effort. That’s why there’s so much benefit, really.

Amanda Milligan:
Authority is not just a marketing play. It’s a branding thing. Like I said, I mentioned sales already, it can affect so many aspects of a business, but it does that kind of moment where everybody sits down, and they all agree, “This is who we are as a company.”

Amanda Milligan:
I think that is something that’s hard to do sometimes, “Oh, we have this product and it’s cool, and we know that people like it when they use it, but what is actually different about us?” So I think that’s like, when brands get that right, those are the ones that stand out the most.

Azeem Ahmad:
With that, you’ve led me perfectly to the question that I wanted to ask you was literally about, selling this in, or selling this upwards. As you mentioned there, getting everybody around the figurative table, to agree.

Azeem Ahmad:
Let’s talk about the C-suite or senior leadership, for example, who aren’t interested in building authority, literally, those types of people who stereotypically say, “Did we sell more of the product X, did we get more leads? So none of this about authority.” What response would you give to somebody who really isn’t interested in building their authority?

Amanda Milligan:
That’s a great question. It’s kind of my favorite question, because I feel like, it’s the most common thing ever in our industry, to struggle with that part.

Amanda Milligan:
We all know why this stuff matters, at least on a basic level. Implementation’s the hard part, but even harder is just getting the buy-in to implement, right?

Amanda Milligan:
I think one of the solutions is just literally not to even frame it with authority, when you go with that high up. We know, we can talk about it now, authority is an aspect of it, but you’re absolutely right.

Amanda Milligan:
We’re drawing those conclusions, like yes, it is more intangible than other things. However, if you can get buy-in to at least do one post, or … I heard a lot of people when I had the podcast that you were on, that was awesome.

Amanda Milligan:
A lot of people came on and said, because I would ask them the same question, and a lot of people said, “Just get buy-in for a trial, call it a trial or a test.”

Amanda Milligan:
Okay, so you do that part and show, “Listen, I’m talking about authority, but I’m actually talking about, ‘This is what it tangibly looks like. It looks like this post, or it looks like this study that we did. And this is the result of that.'”

Amanda Milligan:
The results of that are what they’re going to care about. Either you run the test, or you pull it from a competitor that’s doing something very similar. That’s always the easiest way, if you can activate their jealousy, that a competitor’s doing something very similar.

Amanda Milligan:
But then, like you mentioned, how is this ranking? How is this driving links that are benefiting other parts of the site? Tying it to the things that you know that person cares about is still going to be the most important thing. The authority building is a vehicle to get to those places.

Amanda Milligan:
It’s only if you’re trying to get buy-in for authority, if you know you’re doing it, the more nebulous, “We just want to be more well known,” it’s still good to tie those to something, if it’s search, like I said, the keywords and the links work.

Amanda Milligan:
But if it’s something else, if it’s branding … Again, pull the competitors. Do they have a founder who’s all over the place and Super Bowl respected, what is their brand search like?

Amanda Milligan:
You want to pull all of whatever metrics you can to ~prove, “Listen, we’re not being talked about enough. We’re not being linked to organically enough, just naturally. People don’t know who we are. Or they don’t know what they’d answer to this question.

Amanda Milligan:
What could we do to become the go-to source? I don’t know, does that answer your question? I kind of went off in a few tangents.

Azeem Ahmad:
Literally, my brain is going 100 mph here. Sadly, we are coming towards the end of the podcast. However, I can’t let you go without asking you a couple more questions.

Azeem Ahmad:
This one’s sort of off the cuff, really. Recently, more and more people who are new to marketing digital marketing in general, have reached out to me and told me that they had been listening to the podcast.

Azeem Ahmad:
One question that I’ve been adding in to all of my guests is basically this. Let’s say somebody brand new to the industry is listening to the almost 20 minutes of absolute knowledge bombs that you have shared today.

Azeem Ahmad:
Now their brain is full, completely new to the industry. This is a brand new topic to them. Where would you advise that they begin to approach this topic?

Azeem Ahmad:
Because there’s so many different areas or facets you can sort of get into. But for somebody brand new, Amanda, what would you recommend? Or where would you recommend that they start?

Amanda Milligan:
Yeah, this is honestly, we talked about how one of the hardest things is getting buy-in, the second hardest thing is prioritization. So I totally understand.

Amanda Milligan:
If you feel that way, that is not an uncommon feeling. I feel that way, every time I go to a conference, it’s, “Cool. That was a lot. Now I don’t know how to follow up on all of that.”

Amanda Milligan:
I think the first thing you do is take a look at what you’re already doing, and say, “What applies here, and what’s already working? And how can I keep doing that?”

Amanda Milligan:
That’s always the easiest thing to do, and it’s also just the most sensible thing to do. You’re already identifying what works, you might as well invest a little more.

Amanda Milligan:
Then if you want to trying to explore more, like I mentioned the funnel, if you’re like, “Okay, I am that person who hasn’t really done any authority building outside of the bottom of the funnel,” then take that moment to say, “What do we, what can we uniquely offer? What information can we put together, that’s going to be authoritative, and useful to our audience?”

Amanda Milligan:
And pick one thing, just start at one place. Maybe there’s a question you’ve always wanted to answer with a survey, and you think that people are going to find it fascinating. Try that, and then don’t get caught up in the million of other things.

Amanda Milligan:
Don’t start using six new marketing channels, just to get out there as much as you can. Pick that one thing that you think you’re going to get buy-in for, that people are going to be interested in, and use that as your stepping stone into all these other initiatives.

Azeem Ahmad:
Amazing, much like everything that you’ve said in this episode and shared. This has been absolutely brilliant. I can’t let you go, firstly, without thanking you for being an awesome guest, which I will do again, before I press Stop Recording.

Azeem Ahmad:
But most importantly, if anybody’s listened to this, would love to find out more about you, or connect with you, or follow you. How can they do that?

Amanda Milligan:
Sure. I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter. The most, definitely Twitter, and love/hate relationship over there. Twitter, I’m @millanda, M-I-L-L-A-N-D-A.

Amanda Milligan:
But please feel free to e-mail me, if you have follow-up questions, you want to talk about any of this? I’m not kidding, I can talk about this all day.

Amanda Milligan:
My e-mail is a amilligan@stacker.com. So shoot me an e-mail, say you heard me on the show, and you had, you wanted to follow up about something, and I’m happy to talk about it.

Amanda Milligan:
Or DM me on Twitter, or whatever it is. I’m happy to help. And thank you so much for having me, truly.

Azeem Ahmad:
The guests can’t see, but I’m doing a hand on heart thing. Honestly, this has been brilliant. Thank you so much.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’ll make sure to share your social handle and your e-mail address in the show notes, but that is pretty much it. All it’s left to say is, this has been absolutely brilliant, so much knowledge dropped in 20 minutes or so.

Azeem Ahmad:
I cannot thank you enough for being an absolutely awesome. This is where I shut up. The final word on your episode goes to you, so take it away.

Amanda Milligan:
Well, thank you, Azeem, you’re wonderful. Thank you for everything that you do for the industry. I just want to shout you out to end this episode, and thank you all for listening.