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Content Marketing: An Inside Look With Jay Baer – The Name Of The Game Is Courageous Content

By  Deborah Grossman

I recently interviewed content marketing expert, speaker and New York Times best-selling author, Jay Baer. After watching his engaging, insightful keynote speech at Content Marketing World, I reached out to learn more about how marketers can create courageous content to stand out in today’s crowded, noisy digital landscape. It was a fascinating conversation. We chatted about word-of-mouth marketing and how to create courageous content and secure buy-in from senior leadership.

Jay Baer is known as one of the world’s most influential digital marketers, customer service experts and customer experience experts. He is President of Convince & Convert, a strategy consulting firm that helps companies and organizations gain and keep more customers.

Check out my interview with Jay, and you will soon learn why “Same is Lame” in the world of content marketing and how you and your company can create content that your audience will talk about and share with their network. All it takes is some courage to do things differently. 

During your keynote, you talked about word-of-mouth marketing. To provide context for this interview, can you explain why word-of-mouth is so effective today? 

Sure. There is a historical reason. We trust people more than we trust brands and organizations. It’s even more true now during the pandemic because people want to verify purchase decisions ahead of time. I’m sure this happens to you. You are ready to buy something or go to a restaurant, and before you do, you’re either asking someone you know, or you’re looking at online reviews. In fact, I just saw an interesting stat that 70% of consumers say they use online reviews more now than they did before the pandemic. 

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Interesting. Yes, that happens to me. So with word-of-mouth marketing, is there a split between online (reviews) and offline (asking your network in-person)?

The last time I saw the data on this, back in 2018, the percentage of word of mouth recommendations was about 50/50, half online and half offline. I would argue, and I do not have data on this, that in pandemic times, the balance has shifted toward online since we do not see each other as much as before. So offline is probably down a little bit because there are not as many people to ask for recommendations. The academic research suggests that even though the balance has been 50/50, offline word of mouth (people talking together) is more persuasive because you are more likely to know that person and therefore put additional credence into their suggestions. 

That makes sense. During your keynote, you shared that the audience is the new algorithm. The audience decides what content gets shared. What has brought about this?

This focus on the audience has always been around but even more so now. If you think about how an algorithm works, like for any social network or Google or YouTube, popularity and engagement power the algorithm. So likes, comments, shares, clicks and view time cause the algorithm to show whatever it is to more people. This idea that somehow you can create effective and successful content that your audience doesn’t love or doesn’t respond to and won’t recommend is impossible. A lot of people say, well, it doesn’t matter because we’ll just buy ads. But what people forget is that the algorithm works the same way for ads. Gary Vaynerchuk said it best a few years ago. No amount of budget can make mediocre content successful, and that’s 100% true. You can’t advertise your way out of mediocrity.

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

During the keynote, you said that “same is lame,” and as marketers, we need to do courageous content and be OK with breaking the rules. Can you talk about how marketers can get their audiences to talk about and share content? 

Sure. It’s partially just saying that if the goal is to get someone to talk about your content, you have to give the audience something worth talking about, and that’s probably not 3% different than what you or your competitors did last quarter. It has to be 50% different than what you did last quarter. Next week, I’m doing a webinar with Terminus, a software company, and it’s called “Marketing and Margaritas,” and we’re doing it during happy hour. We’re drinking on the webinar, and it’s 50% insights about account-based marketing and 50% tequila trivia. We figured, why not? 

Most people don’t have the courage to do courageous content, or even if they have the courage, the organization doesn’t have the courage. The individual content marketer may want to do something different, but their boss or boss’ boss says to do it the same, and then the boss is always surprised that the content doesn’t succeed. 

So what can the content marketer say to senior leadership to get them on board with creating courageous content?

You need to give decision-makers options to do A, B or C. Which of these are most interesting? Then, they choose. Showing them successful examples of courageous content can be useful. Decision-makers know that it’s right to do something different, but their fear of doing something different wins. The best way to go about this is to pilot a program, webinar or initiative. Let’s do something only for one product, one control group of customers or just one webinar. You don’t change the whole marketing plan. You just try something different and then demonstrate that it’s more successful mathematically, allowing you to do the next thing, then the next thing, and so on. Things start to change over time.

Photo by Simon English on Unsplash

Talking about courageous content examples, can you share a few instances where brands have done this well? 

Sure. Lenovo makes a lot of different tech and tech-enabled products. They created a video YouTube series called Extreme I.T., and they wanted to explain various elements of Lenovo’s products and technology but do it in a way that was memorable and worthy of a conversation. They got a real Lenovo employee for each episode and had them do something extreme while describing the technology. The Lenovo Extreme I.T. YouTube episode that I showed in my keynote speech was about virtual reality. They put one of their team members in this glass box and had her wear VR goggles. As she described virtual reality and the technology, other team members covered her with cockroaches, snakes and other horrible insects. She had to deliver this semi-serious monologue on the future of virtual reality, which was hilarious. My second favorite in the Lenovo Extreme I.T. series was on the topic of cooling and preventing overheating of Lenovo products. During the episode, one employee delivered a monologue on the importance of cooling while eating progressively hotter and hotter salsa on camera. By the end, he could barely finish his speech because his mouth was on fire. It was a fantastic episode. 

During your keynote, you mentioned six principles: Talkably Definitive (content that’s so comprehensive), Talkably Relevant, Talkably Resonant (content that touches an emotional nerve), Talkably Useful, Talkably Consistent and Talkably Surprising. Which ones are the most impactful?

Talkably Relevant is the most required. The reason Lenovo works is that yes, it’s a great execution, it’s unexpected, and it’s funny but, it won’t make any sense if they aren’t talking about anything related to Lenovo. If a Lenovo employee is covered in snakes and talking about fantasy football scores, it doesn’t make sense. You need to bake relevancy into everything.

Content marketing is not a fine arts project. This isn’t a painting class. I once wrote a blog post about this idea. We are here to sell stuff, period. Content marketing is a means to an end, not an end. You don’t get a prize for having great content. You get a prize because your content sold stuff. Relevancy is so essential because it has to make sense to the audience in your business context. 

I would say that the most impactful one over the long-haul is talkably useful because you come back to it again and again. Years and years ago, before content marketing was even a term, I worked for a children’s hospital, and we created this large 7×9 inch magnet, and we called it “Do it home or call the doc.” It listed all these common things that could be wrong with your kid, and here’s what you do if this happens or call the doctor. Everyone kept it on their fridge until their kid went to college. Usefulness pays off over the long-term. Conversely, the one that works best over the short-term is talkably surprising (Lenovo). Usefulness wins day by day, and surprising wins the first day. 

If marketers want to take the plunge to do courageous content, where do they start? 

The more you know about your audience, the more you can make your content relevant. The first question is, what do you want people to do once they consume this content? Is it to consume another piece, is it to subscribe, is it to buy something, is it to go to the website? What is the human behavior that you are trying to incentivize with content? Once you know that, you then work backward from the desired outcome and then see what can create that outcome. You then take an OK idea and add to it to make your content talkable. For example, if you want someone to subscribe to your podcast since you talk to them every week about your products and services, what’s the best way to do that? Maybe it’s to have an incredible podcast episode with a special guest they respect. 

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

So if marketers want to learn more about courageous content and word of mouth marketing, where can they go?

The best place to go is our website, Convince & Convert. We have more than 3,000 articles on content marketing and word of mouth. On word of mouth, specifically, people might like my podcast show, The Talk Triggers show. It’s 20 episodes available on YouTube or the podcast. I also wrote books on word of mouth and content marketing, titled Talk Triggers and Youtility

What’s one thing that you want our audience of marketers to take away from this interview?

It’s hard to do but more effective if you think about content from the consumer’s perspective, not from the marketer’s viewpoint. If you think about problems from the consumer’s point of view, you’ll make different choices. A stat that just came out from Rollworks said that 60% of marketers would rather lose internet access for the entire weekend than go to even one more webinar. But yet, 98% of companies and marketers are doing the same thing. So think about these problems from the perspective of the audience, not the marketer. You will realize that courageous content is an existential question. It’s non-optional. Continuing to create boring content that no one cares about is a great way to get fired.

Connect with Jay at jaybaer.com and follow Jay at @jaybaer on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. 

Deborah Grossman is a digital marketing professional with a background in social media marketing, influencer marketing and community management. Since 2019, she has been active in AMA New York and serves as the Director of Content and Strategy. In October 2020, she received AMA New York’s Marketing Volunteer Spotlight Award for outstanding contributions to the organization.