Danielle Villegas had an opportunity to talk with Jon Wuebben, the best-selling author of the content marketing book, Content Rich: Writing Your Way to Wealth on the Web, and founder/CEO of Content Launch, a leading content marketing software company. Jon will be speaking at the upcoming Information Development World conference, September 30-October 2, 2015 in San Jose, CA. His talk is titled, “Nurturing with the Right Content to Build Loyalty and… Sales,” and based on the conversation below, it looks like it’ll be a great event! Danielle and Jon talked about the role of content marketing in business today, and music, too!
Danielle Villegas (DV): Let’s start with some foundation questions. You’re a business guy. I saw that you have an MBA and have done a lot in marketing. What pulls a person like yourself into content marketing, and starting their own content marketing business?
Jon Wuebben (JW): I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always enjoyed writing. I worked for Ford Motor Company about fifteen years ago, and after that I worked for Kia Motors America, so I was in the automotive business for a while. I did a lot of marketing for them, writing for them and their dealers. I really wasn’t happy with the corporate world. I figured I had the entrepreneurial bug—this is about thirteen years ago—so, I started my own company in 2003.
Originally, the idea was to just write copy for ad agencies here in California, write copy for their banner ads, and their print ads, and things like that. That was eleven years ago when we started that. Then, SEO (search engine optimization) really took off, and more and more companies were getting on the web, and everybody needed a website. I quickly realized that content was the heart and soul of the web, and I liked to write….So it was a perfect marriage.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how successful we were going to be because I didn’t realize how many businesses needed our services! I thought, because I was a good writer and I enjoyed writing, everybody else did, too. That was not the case at all! Not only did companies not have the time to write, but a lot of people don’t enjoy writing, or a blank screen just stares back at them in the face. They find it difficult to write, and to write well and connect with people.
That was sort of a light-bulb moment for me, realizing there was a huge market for content in the B2B area. We started working with companies like HubSpot, and working with a bunch of digital agencies across the country. I decided that I needed to write a book about this because I didn’t think there was a really good book about content marketing out there—and this was 2008—when I wrote my first book (Content Rich: Writing Your Way To Wealth on the Web)…
DV: Right, I was going to ask you about your books…
JW: That was a big risk because I self-published it. I spent $40,000 on the printing and the marketing, and I paid for everything. But I believed in what I was doing, and I knew that there was a need for a book on the topic. I went to every Barnes & Noble store in Southern California, I met people, I got on Amazon, and we ended up selling 5000 copies, which for a self-published title is pretty good.
DV: That is pretty good!
JW: I wrote my second book [Content is Currency: Developing Powerful Content for Web and Mobile] in 2012. I’ve always had a passion for writing, and for books, and it’s just been something that’s been a part of me from when I was a little kid.
DV: It sounds like you’re somebody for whom it clicked in your head—probably before a lot of people—about the importance of content marketing. My own understanding is that people are just starting to come around to content marketing, whereas the light bulb in your head went off a lot earlier than other people.
Why do you think it’s taken a while for people to connect with the idea that businesses should be connecting more with content rather than traditional marketing?
JW: That’s a great question. I really like that question a lot! It’s surprising to me, even after going through the last four or five years [thinking about why this connection has taken so long]…well, first of all, let me say that it was interesting because I was getting into this whole content marketing back in 2007/2008, and I didn’t realize there was another guy back in the Midwest named Joe Pulizzi [of the Content Marketing Institute]…
DV: Sure, I know who he is…
JW: …he was the Midwest version of me. When I met Joe, it was a meeting of the minds. He and I have been good friends since that time. There were a lot of other people, too, besides me who were really understanding the importance of it, and were really doing a lot to spread the “gospel”, if you will.
I think a lot of people that work for companies, especially bigger companies—there’s just something that happens. They start falling in love with their companies, they start falling in love with their products and services. When they market their products and services, they really don’t think about what’s in it for the customer, or what the user’s needs are. They’ll say, “We’ve got the greatest products on Earth, and people should buy them!” Then, they’ll write brochures and marketing pieces that are all about the product and its features.
No one wants to read that stuff anymore! I didn’t want to read that ten years ago! I saw that happening, and I always wondered why companies were so sales-focused and so feature-focused. It just doesn’t work anymore, right?
Fast-forward to now. What’s happened is that consumers, customers, people out there—regular people now have the power that they didn’t have fifteen or twenty years ago. People got fed up, and said, “You know what? I don’t like to be sold to anymore. I’m sick of reading a boring brochure that doesn’t tell anything about how it’s going to affect my life or improve my life.” So that happened at the same time [as my realization about content marketing], and that’s driven a lot of it.
Review sites like Yelp, and Amazon, and all these places where people can REALLY say what the truth about that company or those products and services have really shined a light on all those companies that were not doing a good job and maybe didn’t have great products or services.
It took this to happen over the last ten or fifteen years for people to have the power to put these companies in their place. A lot of those companies are no longer doing business, quite frankly, because all they had were a bunch of marketing brochures that really didn’t mean anything. So that’s a long answer to your question, but…
DV: …but it’s good, it’s good. I just finished taking a digital marketing mini-MBA course at Rutgers, so a lot of what you’re saying resonates with me. One of the things we talked about in my class was the idea that the whole sales paradigm has changed for the consumer, as it used to be that you were pitched a product, you built brand loyalty, and then you read about the details, or you got the basics from marketing and sales.
But from a technical communications perspective, it was really important for the follow-up and the customer service that went after that. And now, that big after-part is really at the beginning—everything’s turned upside down in the buying process! So it sounds like you were ahead of the curve on that!
JW: Well, thank goodness that it happened [that way], because I think the way that people bought products and services before was because they happened to be talking to some really slick sounding salesperson. Because they were talking to some really slick sounding salesperson, they bought (the product or service), which is the last reason to ever buy anything. Thankfully most of those folks are no longer in the equation.
DV: It sounds like you are very passionate about creating those kinds of exceptional content experiences. What would be something that you consider to be the number one thing that is really obvious to almost anybody in marketing or even content writing, but most businesses miss the ball on?
JW: I would say any kind of lead generation content, so whitepapers, e-books, downloadable assets on a website—that’s still a miss for a lot of companies. When I tell them that they need that stuff, a lot of them look at me with a blank stare, like, “What do you mean I’ve got to give away something at my site for the people that come there? I don’t understand!” Well, why don’t you understand that?
These people that come to your website already know about you, and they are already researching you. They’ve been to seven or eight or nine different places. They’re coming to you totally knowledgeable [about your product or service]—way more knowledgeable than you might think. You’ve got to give them something—some kind of education to start building that relationship. So, I think the lead generation content is a big miss for a lot of companies still.
Most companies get the blog thing, and I think most companies understand the social thing, but the actual downloadable assets that can be used for lead generation on a website…I think about a third to about half of the companies out there don’t understand the power of that and how that all works.
DV: That’s a good point. Now, you’re going to be speaking at Information Development World, and your topic is about nurturing the right content to build loyalty in sales. Would you say that your talk at IDW is an extension of what you were just talking about?
JW: Yes, I think that’s part of it, for sure. I think the other part of it—and there are many, many parts to it—but another really important part is the fact that you have to talk to your customers and prospects. You have to understand what’s important to them, and you have to do it on a regular basis. You have to check in with them.
When you do that, you’re going to get a lot of good information. But, you’re also going to find out who your passionate customers are, who your really loyal customers are out there, and which people will help you market and brand yourself, because that’s what a lot of people do in social media all the time, every day. So if you can find out who your passionate and devoted customers are ahead of time, and tap into that, that can be a big win.
DV: Oh yeah, absolutely! If you don’t mind me shifting gears ever so slightly, I understand that you are a musician, and you’re going to be sharing your dulcet tones with us at Information Development World as well.
Because you have a passion for music, and you have a passion for content marketing, what sort of things occur in music that you also see occurring in content marketing? Can you make analogies for people to understand how they work closely together?
JW: That’s a great question. I’ve often wondered that myself—why are music and marketing are my two passions, and is there any overlap? I think there’s a lot of overlap. First of all, I call myself or identify more as a songwriter first. A musician is the third thing that I am. Typically, when I write my music, I hire session musicians to actually cut the songs and cut the albums, because I’m not good enough to make it sound how it’s sounding in my head.
DV: Oh, it’s like Billy Joel when he wrote classical music. When he started, he said he would write it down, but then he’d get a classical pianist actually do the recordings, so that way the songs would come out the way he thought they should.
JW: Yeah! Even the Beach Boys and the Beatles had folks who would play for them. But back to your original question, I think number one [similarity] is the creativity thing. There’s a lot of creativity in writing. Writing is a creative talent…
DV: Right, I was going to say that songwriting is, well, as I thought, “That’s the writer in him.”
JW: Yes! What’s interesting about writing a song is that it’s a combination of right brain and left brain skill sets. The right brain is obviously creating something from nothing, and creating a melody, and writing some lyrics that have metaphors and mean something significant. The left brain is actually constructing the song, and writing the chord patterns. Notes are very mathematical. It is a combination of your left and right brain, and I think marketing is the same thing.
You are using both sides of your brain for both [music and marketing]. But I think the biggest part of it is the creativity piece of it. When you are in marketing, you constantly have to call upon your creative powers, whether you’re actually creating something, act as the designer or the writer or whatever you are, or you’re creating a marketing campaign, or you’re starting a business. I often wonder why I’m an entrepreneur, why I started businesses. I think it’s a very creative pursuit.
It all comes down to, I’m a pretty creative guy and I just use it in different ways.
DV: Sounds good! I’m looking forward to hearing you at the Information Development World conference. What kind of songs do you tend to write? Do you go for a certain style?
DV: Yup, that’s a classic!
JW: …yeah, and I write music that sounds similar to that style. It’s more soft, more melodic, lots of key changes and chord patterns. I have a few fast songs on the album, but I’ve [also] got six or seven slower songs. It’s more of the seventies’ singer/songwriter-ish kind of vibe with some cool instrumentations. We’ll see how it goes! I’ve never actually performed it live, but the album’s coming out in about a month.
DV: Oh cool! Hopefully you’ll have copies at the conference that people can pick up?
DV: I hope so! I’ll make sure I get a copy!
DV: Well, I think that covered my questions. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today. See you at Information Development World!
JW: Thanks for having me! See you there!