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How to Tell Better Stories with Experience Marketing – @robert_rose
The Agents of Change

AOCP-Pinterest-Robert-RoseThe world of marketing is ever changing and you need to keep evolving with the changing times in order to not only just keep up, but to also succeed. What worked 10 or even 5 years ago is almost obsolete now. What can you do to entice your audience to make you stand out from your competitors?

Some people will tell you that you need to be everywhere that your audience is, and although that’s a fairly industrious undertaking, it just may not be possible depending on the size of your business and the manpower you have to dedicate to that. Remember that movie Field Of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come”? Well, the same is true for digital marketing. If you create something great, they will come to your channel, regardless of what that may be for you. It really does boil down to the content you create and send out. And that doesn’t necessarily equate to quantity. Try quality over quantity to differentiate yourself from the masses.

For over 20 years, Robert Rose has been helping businesses tell their stories more effectively through digital media. His expert strategic marketing advice has boosted both small and global brands and assisted them in creating experiences that their consumers fall in love with.


Rich: Robert Rose is the Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute, and Senior Contributing Consultant for Digital Clarity Group. As an author, Robert’s new book, Experiences: The Seventh Era Of Marketing, has been called a “treatise and call to arms” and a “self help guide for creating the experiences the consumers will fall in love with”.  

Now he cohosts a podcast called This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. And Robert’s book with Joe, Managing Content Marketing, is widely considered as the owner’s manual for the content marketing process. It’s been translated into multiple languages and spent two weeks as a Top 10 marketing book on Amazon.com since its debut in 2011.

Robert is in the business of helping marketers become stellar storytellers. Robert, welcome to the show.

Robert: Well thank you so much for having me. That was lovely, I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody introduce me in such a very nice, laid back way. That was beautiful, I love that.

Rich: Thank you. You know, I’m on heavy medication and that really does make a difference.

Robert: Well, that does, yes.

Rich: I’m just kidding, for any of our underage listeners who are listening, that is not my speed or style. Alright, so I was checking out your book, and your book begins with this promise, “welcome to the seventh era of marketing”.

Robert: That’s right.

Rich: So it begs the question, what is the seventh era and what what were the first six, or at least maybe the past couple?

Robert: Well very quickly for any of your audience who went to university and studied marketing, what you were taught in school was about the five eras of marketing. That’s mostly because textbooks and universities don’t catch up with much anymore. But the five eras really start and each one basically covers 20-30 years, and it’s broader than just what we did as marketers, it’s really how we took our businesses to market.

It starts in the 1800’s with what’s called the “trade era”, where we grew, crafted and made stuff and grew, crafted and made more than we could consume. So we sold it in storefronts or in marketplaces. And then that moves us into the industrial era where we basically learned how to do things like mass production and we produced things, and basically the idea and skill that we had to move things around the country – or the world, in some cases – was the way that we differentiated our product in the marketplace. We can make stuff our competitors can’t, so therefore, we’re better.

And then that moves us into the sales era which is the 30’s and end of the early 1940’s which was really dominated by the global depression where sales as a profession became really the way that we went to market. Dale Carnegie wrote a book called, How To Win Friends And Influence People, and you had people really creating sales as an aspirational function in the business.

In the 1940’s we move into what’s called the “marketing department era”, where really the marketing department was invented. Don Draper and the 3 martini lunch, Madison Avenue, and it was all about the product. Everything became about the product, positioning the product in the most aspirational way possible.

And then we move into what’s called “the marketing company era” into the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s. That was really dominated by this idea of brand. We’re really going to use our brand and the ability to focus on our brand “as brought to you by”. In other words, the product became really easy to duplicate but it was “brought to you by” this brand and therefore had a differentiation.

That’s really where the traditional textbooks stop and we move into what’s called the “sixth era”, which is generally considered by most marketing scholars where we are today, the “relationship era”, starting in the early 1990’s with CRM and the birth of customer relationship management and using data to really develop a deeper relationship with our customers all throughout their buyer’s journey.

What we contend in the book is that we’re actually moving into now – because of where we are with social media – the complexities of really getting a relationship at all online with fragmented audiences and channels, etc, this idea that creating experiences – in our case, content driven experiences –  are really the way the businesses are going to differentiate and move their businesses to market. So that’s really sort of the summary of where we are and where we think  and we contend – the the book anyway – of where we’re going.

Rich: Alright, so we’re about to head into this seventh era which is this experience, and that’s the title of your book.

Robert: Right.

Rich: Now that sounds like a super big idea. The kind that if you have a marketing department at your giant corporation, that’s the kind of thing you’re going to take on. But if I’m running a small business – maybe even a local business – what does that mean to me, how can we anchor that into things that I do in my daily business that I can tap into this idea of experiences?

Robert: I’ll tell you quite frankly, we see smaller businesses doing this at greater speed and velocity than we see larger businesses doing this. Because quite frankly, it’s easier for smaller businesses to pivot into this.

Rich: Doing it or having the ability to do it?

Robert: Both, actually. When we look at our research and we see the number of companies that are putting real money into this, the percentage of their marketing budget, we see smaller businesses actually wading more of this toward their budget rather than the bigger businesses. So the idea that smaller businesses are precluded from doing this is quite the opposite actually, where we see small businesses really diving into this.

And it’s everything, quite frankly, from just how to differentiate If you’re a smaller business you’re focused on a local market and so it’s really taking that idea of the experience that you would give to a customer and really applying it, quite frankly, to everything that you would do before that customer becomes a customer.

Andrew Davis, one of my friends, has a wonderful way to put this. He says this really building an audience is building your pre-customer database. And it’s about building an engagement platform really, whether that’s a blog, a digital magazine, a set of physical events, whether it’s an app, whatever it is that your business sort of  expresses this experience in and using that to deliver value to a customer before they’ve actually experienced your product or service.

A wonderful example of this is a guy that’s really a solopreneur but he has 4-5 people working for him, he’s in the construction industry, and what he does now is he’s created this wonderful – you see the home and garden TV shows – and he creates a series of videos that as he does a project with a customer, he does two versions of this video. The first version of the video is he sends daily to his customers to tell them where he is with their project and here’s what’s going on and here’s what we did today. He basically creates a wonderful video experience for his customer3. But then he take and edits that and he’s created this wonderful “how to” digital magazine that helps them market for new customers.

And it’s a really simple thing for him to do with his iPhone and he loves cutting video on his computer and stuff like that. It’s a simple thing, he’s now created lots of new business by creating this wonderful how to garden show, basically to build and contract and do stuff around the house, and then also creating this experience for his customers which is daily updates for his productivity.

Rich: That is very cool and I like that example. But how can we orchestrate the experience, what does it look like outside of if we’re taking video of something so demonstrable? If we’re just a pizza place or if we’re an inn, what are we doing to – I guess on some level it’s warming these leads – what are some other ways in which we might be able to orchestrate an experience like that?

Robert: At its fundamental core, what it is is it’s about thinking how do I deliver value to my customer that’s separate and discreet from the product or service that I offer. So to your point, the pizza place, a wonderful example of this is a pizza place up in Canada where they provide a city guide which is this city guide walking tour of all the places you may want to go when you’re in this little town if you’re a tourist.

And they distribute this to the hotels and everything around there, It just so happens that it had a menu in the back of the pizza place where it could be. But it’s this amazing, valuable city guide that the hotels love to have because, quite frankly, it becomes something they can hand out to customers as they check into the hotel or they go to this tourist attraction,etc. It’s creating this experience for this customer to enjoy the town that they’re in – and obviously talking about their competitors –  the other restaurants, the other bars in town, but doing so in a way that’s brought to you by this wonderful pizza place that builds customer loyalty and all of that for creating a nice experience that’s separate and valuable from the product or service that they offer.

Rich: I really like that idea of separating the experience from the product. I’m sure a lot of people are like, “How can I just tie this to it?” Quite honestly, the pizza place did tie their food to the experience because you flip the page and there’s the thing and then all that walking and you kind of need to carb load.

Robert: Exactly, right. That’s exactly right. And they knew that so they don’t have to be heavy handed and brand the thing, they created a little separate brand for the the guide – I can’t remember what they call it – but it’s a lovely, little city guide and it’s got write ups on some of the hot places in town that you need to go see and you can do the walking tour and the very last page in the back cover there’s a menu from the pizza place itself. And it’s a wonderful experience in and of itself, even if they don’t actually go to the pizza place.

And guess what, one of the main things that they get is the referral from people taking it home with them. They take the city guide home with them and they give it to a friend who’s going there. The owner tells the story that most of their customers that come in aren’t coming in from the walking tour, they’re actually coming in because someone gave them this city guide after they got home and they saw it and thought they should go to the pizza place there.

Rich: That’s brilliant. And I’m sure that there are people all over the world hearing this and now want to make their own city guide.

Robert: Right, exactly.

Rich: Soon we’ll have a whole bunch of people walking and it will be great. Battle obesity in America. So in the book you talk about content creation management, what does that mean, exactly?

Robert: The thing is, we’re 20 years – this makes me feel old sometimes – but we’re two decades into this whole digital web, email thing. From 1995 and now we’re in 2016, we’re 20 years into this. The technology has brought us through web content management, blogging software, email systems, social media. We may not do it well, we may not do it as effectively as we like, but it’s largely the problem of getting content to a digital channel is solved. Technology has helped us solve that. We have WordPress and Hubspot and we’ve got web content management systems that help us get content out to the digital channels, Hootsuite, etc.

What we don’t do very well and what’s happened as a result of the technology making it easy to publish stuff is that we just throw everything up there that we can throw up there. So we populate our website with crap and we blg not very interesting stuff and we put out social media tweets and build Facebook pages and build Twitter accounts and LinkedIn groups. And we do all this stuff not because we should and not because our customers will resonate with it, but because we can.

And what it’s enabled us to do is be incredibly busy with content. But what we’re not doing very well is we haven’t built a process and a function in the business is to actually create content. How do we actually look at the creation of content not as something that’s everybody’s job in the company – which it is now – everybody is supposed to create content, the email newsletter, the blog, the tweets, all that stuff. But nobody stops to think are we speaking with one voice and how do we speak with one voice and how do we create content that’s purposeful. How can we create content that can be reused, repurposed and really generated in one common strategy, and then use technology to propagate it everywhere. The second half of our book is really about that idea. How to make content creation a process and a system in the business.

Rich: Well let’s talk a little bit more about that because I am definitely reaching that phase where I’m actually trying to create less content. But for me, for flyte new media, for Agents Of Change, but make it more valuable. I’ve talked for a little bit now about spending more time on research, more time on polishing, and more time on promoting less content. Because I just think there’s too much stuff out there and I don’t want to be part of the problem of just clogging up the internet with mediocre content.

In the book, what are some of your strategies so that we can be on the same page with our coworkers or stakeholders to create valuable content that really is going to move our businesses or causes forward?

Robert: It’s a great question, and so the answer to that is really a number of things depending on where your business may have a particular challenge. And I’ll just mention a couple here that are relatively popular, which is this idea – and I touched on it just a second ago – we’re sort of publishing to channels because we think we should. Somebody, some consultant or something has told us you have to be on Facebook, you have to be on Twitter, you have to be on LinkedIn, you have to be on Snapchat, you have to be everywhere, because quite frankly your customer is everywhere and if you’re not publishing content everywhere you’re missing out in some fashion, and that’s just plainly not true.

So the real question is where should we be, where can we be, and why should we be there. And so one of the questions that I’ll ask many small business owners and medium sized business owners and even large companies is, if you stopped publishing today and stopped every single channle you now publish to – Facebook, your email newsletter, your website, your blog – if you full stop, who would care? And of the only answer to that is your boss would care or your niece would care, then that’s not a good answer.

So you have to start to think, how do we start to pull back and not just publish because we can, but actually create and really start collecting the content. It’s funny, my wife is a small business owner and I said to her, “Just because you write something it doesn’t mean you have to publish it.” So if you’re trying to create a blog and you want to create an editorial calendar, one of the hardest things for small businesses is finding the time to do this stuff. One of the myths in small business marketing is every small business wants to be a big business, and of course that’s not true.

Rich: That’s not true.

Robert: And so it’s how do I find the time to actually spend on content. And what I told my wife is she needs to think about why she’s publishing what she’s publishing and what she’s building toward. So think of it this way, look at 9 months out and start with the end in mind. What does that blog look like 9 months from now, what kind of posts does it have? And work backwards to say now in order to get to that I’m going to need 6 posts or 9 posts or 22 posts, and write them. Write 9 of them, write 15 of them, write many of them and then schedule them out and start to figure out a theme where you can start to build. And then really start thinking about now you have more time to start promoting them and putting a little money behind them and running an ad or promoting a Facebook post on them or doing a little work on promotion of this content.

Think of it like a product. Think that you’re developing a media product and start developing a pipeline of content so that you’re not always trying to figure out what you’re going to write on Friday morning because it has to go out. Then if you’re sitting down 6 months from now writing on a Saturday, it’s totally leisurely and you can actually think about writing something great. You made a great point, reduce the amount of content that you’re producing and attract it into that one platform. This is something my partner Joe Pulizzi talks about all the time. Get really good at one platform, and then start to expand upon that.

Rich: Yeah, I’m in complete agreement with everything that you say. I think the issue is we hear these stories by people like Marcus Sheridan – who’s a good friend and keynoted my conference last year – and he stood up there and said every business needs to be the Wikipedia of their industry. And there’s value in that, I’m not saying there isn’t.

Robert: I don’t think that’s true, by the way. I’ve told Marcus that, I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

Rich: I think that it worked really well for him, and I guess my point is, I think what worked 5 years ago does not work today. In fact, you could argue what worked 5 minutes ago doesn’t work today. But I just think that back in the day there weren’t people who were creating that volume of content – and his content is pretty specific and powerful for his industry – I don’t think that there was that competition so I think it was a lot easier to get noticed by creating a lot of volume.

But now there’s so much volume and so many other people creating that content and the constant stream that you cannot any longer compete on volume on the internet. And I think that’s why you really have to spend more time and really create something that is of amazing value to get noticed because there’s no way you can keep up with the Buzzfeeds or the Huffington Posts in today’s world.

Robert: Of course not. And that’s the real key here. So just to the point of Marcus – and Marcus I think is so smart and intelligent about the way that he’s gone to market with his business – but let’s be clear, he was basically writing content for outdoor pools. So quite frankly when he decided he was going to become the Wikipedia and online thought leader and knowledge center for outdoor pools, he didn’t have a ton of competition out there.

Let’s say I’m a real estate broker or I own a pizza joint, to become the expert in real estate in my local market, that’s not going to be an empty space. That space is going to be full of people dumping content out about my local space. And one of the keys there is to figure out where I can add value. This is one of the most important distinctions that can be made about content and creating a great experience, and it comes from no other than Steve Jobs, who said what they start with at Apple is what amazing experience can we deliver to the customer.

In other words, if we’re thinking about a content driven experience, what amazing experience can we give to our customer. And you think about that and you creatively brainstorm on it and you come up with a list of things that can be provided – not necessarily that have any relationship to your product or service – but what amazing thing could we deliver. So then you work backwards and say are we the ones to actually deliver that, or which ones of these closely align to what we actually stand for as a company. That’s your content mission.

So if I’m in real estate or the restaurant business or some other industry that’s heavily saturated with content and already existing experiences that’s going to be entirely impossible for me to be the Wikipedia of my industry, well then I think what other magical, impactful experience could I create, and work backwards from that.

For example, the real estate person could say, “I want to provide the best healthcare guide for my local market because it doesn’t exist.” And I can add that value and the way that it aligns is because quite frankly, at some point people are going to be asking where they live how close is it to the nearest hospital. I’m literally brainstorming as I go here, but thinking about what amazing experience and value first we can deliver to the customer, and then working backwards to see if we’re the ones to actually deliver that. It’s thinking backwards. And again, it resembles much more of a product development methodology than it does a marketing strategy.

Rich: You asked a couple of really interesting questions as you were talking the last few minutes when it comes to content. One was, “ask why”, and the other one was “ask where”. And I really like that idea because I’m envisioning this sludge of content that’s being poured out of all of the small, medium and large sized businesses in the world into this polluted river, and where else can I market.

Robert: Sludge is a great way to put it, too.

Rich: One of the things that I’ve been doing for several years is putting on a conference, and that is one way in which I’ve really kind of differentiated my own brand from some of my competitors, because they’re not doing that. I’m not saying that for everybody listening that a live event is what you should be doing, but I do think that maybe you need to be rethinking about  – like you said, Robert – if there’s already a Wikipedia in my industry, why would I create a second Wikipedia, but maybe there’s some other thing. Maybe there’s a different experience, maybe I can create the Google of my industry or the ice cream cone of my industry or whatever it might be. But we need to pick and choose our battles when it comes to content marketing, we need to provide value, and if we’re just a “me, too” company, we’re not ever going to get noticed. That’s especially true for small businesses that can’t just create an insane amount of content and compete on that level.

Robert: That’s exactly right. Getting to the “why” of the value, why would our customer find this valuable. One of the questions that I’ll often ask a small business owner is, “You want to do content marketing and create an experience for your customer. What is it that you want to do?” and they’ll say, “I need my customer to understand that we’re a thought leader in our industry”. And I’ll stop them there and tell them their customer doesn’t need to understand any of that. They don’t care about that, they don’t care about you, they don’t care about your product. What they do care about is themselves.

So if you’re a thought leader or you want to be a thought leader, what thought needs to be led? In other words, what customer thought needs to be led, and then work backwards to see if you’re the one to actually lead it or not.

And then on the “where”, you make such a great point, because so many times – and you’ll hear this from a lot of marketing pundits out there – they’ll say you’ve got to be everywhere your audience is because if you’re not where your audience is they’ll never see you. And that’s not true, either. If you create something really great – like you did with a physical conference – your audience will be attracted to it like moths to a flame. You can bring them into an experience.

In other words, you don’t have to diversity so much because your audience is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, the web, physical conferences. By you ask, well where should I be? And you don’t have to be everywhere, you can pick, and if you create something so great, people will come to it. We may have to promote it, we may have to let people know that it exists, but if it’s good people will come to it.

The world didn’t need another print magazine, but Kraft created a wonderful print magazine and now this is a marketing platform and experience for customers that people subscribe to and pay money for to get Kraft marketing materials to their door, these recipes and wonderful things that they do with Food & Family magazine. That’s an incredibly powerful thing. They will come to your channel if you make something great on it.

Rich: That’s actually a great place to wrap up. We only got to about a third of my questions, so we’re going to have to have you come back.

Robert: I’m sorry.

Rich: No, this has been great. I think I talked more, actually, than I ever do. This has been a great conversation, I hope that the people at home enjoy this. LIke I said, we only scratched the surface of what you came to talk about, as well as your book. Where can we find out more about you and your book online?

Robert: The easiest place is just to go to robertrose.net, which has got links to the book website, it’s got links to what I do at the Content Marketing Institute and all my social channels and all that kind of stuff. It’s sort of the nice, central place to go if you’re interested in connecting and/or reading more.

Rich: Alright, awesome. Robert, this has been a lot of fun talking to you we will have you back on the show. Thanks so much for your time today.

Robert: I really, really appreciate you having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Show Notes:

  • You can find out more about Robert at his website, and follow him on Twitter.
  • Interested in hearing more about what Robert talked about in this episode? Then check out his new book!
  • From the trenches: Canine Behavior Counseling
  • From the trenches: Event Espresso calendar/scheduling plugin
  • If you want to take your business to the next level and hear from thought leaders on the subjects of search, social and mobile marketing, then you should attend the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference. Get your tickets now! AOCP-FB-Robert-Rose