London’s Velocity Partners co-founder Doug Kessler describes himself as a displaced Yank. He started his career at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, but soap and fabric softener marketing bored him, so he jumped ship to start his own B2B agency. The self-professed content marketing junkie is best known and loved for his pithy comments and witty SlideShare decks. Here he talks about what “crap” content looks like and why B2B brands should take the long view when it comes to measuring ROI.
Juliet Stott: Your company creates some infamous and witty SlideShares, many of which have gone viral in the marketing world. What value do you place on these as marketing tools? How many leads do they generate that eventually turn into clients?
We love SlideShare as a medium and it's been great for getting us on the marketing industry's radar screen. We do get direct leads from our SlideShare content, but a lot more of the benefit seems to come from the “ripples” that happen when you make good content: invitations to speak at events, meeting like-minded marketers and getting asked to do interviews like this one! So, yes, SlideShare is a terrific content marketing tool for Velocity and for many of our clients.
JS: In Insane Honesty you advocate the power of being honest—for brands owning up to their faults and highlighting their weaknesses. Can you give me an example of how one of your clients has adapted this strategy to great success?
We haven't convinced a client to go all-out with Insane Honesty yet. But we're still trying. We do try to put the insanely honest perspective into our work and have had some success. For one client, we did a really honest and open pros and cons section of a piece. The cons included five or six real reasons you would NOT choose their solution. The feedback was great: Prospects found it refreshing and trusted the company more because of it. I hope to have some bigger wins on this front soon, but it's a tough strategy to sell in.
JS: One of the most prolifically shared SlideShare presentations you’ve created was about how, as a growing number of inexperienced marketers take up content marketing, we’re in the process of being deluged by “crap content.” What would you say crap content looks like? Why is this a problem for the content marketing industry as a whole? And what is the solution to this?
Crap content fails in one or more of these main ways:
It's a problem for all of us because crappy content might look like credible content from the outside. And that means that people will get suspicious of all content—your content, my content—and that sucks.
No empathy or no understanding of the target audience.
No original ideas. Just rehashing what everyone already knows.
No craft. It’s poorly written or really ugly or hard to consume.
No utility. It doesn't help the reader do anything. It just pushes an agenda.
We can't solve it for the entire industry (we can evangelize about great content but we can't mandate it). But we can solve it for all of the content we do for ourselves and our clients. Raise the bar and at least your own content brand will be trusted.
JS: You talk about building great content brands—what do they look like in a B2B world? And can you give me any examples of brands you admire that have got their content strategies right? What do the end users want from their B2B brands?
DK: Great content brands in B2B signal, "If X produced this, it's worth reading." That's a hugely valuable signal to send.
It multiplies your budget (and it’s opposite to a crappy content brand that decimates your budget). Great B2B content brands include MailChimp, Hubspot, GE and IBM. We hope we're helping Sprint Business and Xerox and all of our other clients join this list. In B2B, people want utility first. But they're people. So they value something smart, sharp and entertaining too. B2B folks need to feel something too, not just think something.
JS: You’re an advocate of building a team to create innovative content. What skills do you look for when you recruit? How do these people stand out from the rest? Is it realistic for every B2B company to have this kind of person, given they’re not in the sexy industries?
We look for people who love this stuff. They have a real interest in business and tech and marketing. They love content and telling stories. I do think every B2B company can find this kind of person if they really want to. The way to attract the best is to do great work and get famous for it. No shortcut. The best don't want to join the mediocre.
JS: How do you convince your clients and their CEOs to invest in content marketing? What ROI do you promise?
We used to spend a lot of time convincing clients to try content marketing. These days, they come to us for it. But their bosses and other stakeholders do still need a business case. We downplay instant ROI and encourage clients to go into it with a long view. In the end: Do it right and it must pay off.
JS: If you could put one piece of content in your own content marketing hall of fame, what would it be and why?
I guess the Crap deck
, because it got over a million views. But “The Search for Meaning in B2B Marketing
” means a lot to me, too.
JS: Finally, what made you set up shop in London over New York? What are the differences between the two countries in the way content marketing is done, if at all?
Stan Woods and I set up Velocity here because we live here. Most of our business is actually in the U.S., so it would have made sense to start there. But seeing our kids every day is way more important. We are just opening in New York City though.
The U.S. is somewhere between two and three years ahead, I'd say. But the U.K. and Europe and the rest of the world are catching up fast. More than geography, it varies by industry. Some are all over content marketing, others lagging a bit. Once one player in a market goes for it, others soon follow.