The EverString 6For6 Series Featuring Ann Handley on Content Marketing

By November 2, 2016
close up of typewriter vintage retro styled

Welcome to the ninth installment of our 6 For 6 Blog Series! This is a series of 6 answers to 6 buzz-worthy questions from leading marketing influencers around the country. This blog features the incredible Ann Handley, a content marketing rockstar, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, and author of the WSJ bestseller Everybody Writes. Since content marketing is considered by many B2B marketers to be the foundation of any great marketing strategy, we’ve been dying to get Ann’s thoughts on how content is creating impacts on B2B businesses.
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1. Most B2B marketers use content marketing to form long-term relationships, yet only 50% of marketers feel like the leadership team gives content enough time to produce results. What is ‘slow marketing’ and how can we explain it to execs?

I love this question.

To back up for a second, and give “slow marketing” a little context: my philosophy is that in our fast-paced, always-on, agile, want-it-yesterday, mile-a-minute world…there is a critical need to slow down. Why? Because doing so at the right moments allows you to achieve better results—faster. So we need to identify those key moments when we need to slow down, because doing so allows the business to grow faster. (And better. And with more integrity).

We need to invite certain slow moments to fuel fast, later on. A good place to dig into this idea with senior leadership is to uncover your why. Marketing spends a lot of time on the what and the how (Should we create an infographic, video, podcast, Facebook Live? Should we distribute on social? Email? Ads in the yellow pages?) (Just kidding on that last one).

BUT! Here’s what I believe: We need to put the why before the what and the how. We need to go upstream with the rest of the leadership team and poke around in the brush a bit to flush out that Why. In other words, we need to go deep into purpose and identity if we’re going to ground our marketing and content strategy in something substantive—so that our programs can find a place within the context of what our customers care about.

Knowing the why is what delivers content “for days,” as my teenage daughter says. And it’s the start of getting senior leadership on board with more substantive content, too.

2. We absolutely love your tiny house, where your content marketing magic happens! What is the significance of carving out your own space as a content marketer? 

Thank you! I love my Tiny House, too. It’s easy to lust after all the choice parts of working from a home office—and anyone who works from home will brag about them: no commute, no water-cooler distractions, no pants. (That last one might be just me). But there’s a dark side to it, too. The other people who live there. People stopping by. The mailman. The refrigerator. Terrible distractions. All of them.

I needed to carve out an actual physical space to work in because in my case I need silence and no distractions to do my best work.  (Here’s a bit more on the specifics of that).

I think we all need a kind of metaphorical sacred space of our own. Create that space–even if all you’ve got to work with is a cubicle. Some people create it with headphones and a favorite track. Others find a local coffee shop or corner of the cafeteria or outside on a picnic table.

One thing I’ve realized after two years of working in my Tiny is that my response to it has become Pavlovian. When I walk across the yard and swing open its French doors and sit down at my desk, I don’t procrastinate. I don’t meander around the web. I don’t scroll through Facebook. I don’t waste time. I get stuff done. And that’s the magic of the sacred space.

That said, don’t overthink it, either. As my favorite writer E.B. White said: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper”. I think that applies equally well to non-writers, too.

3. We all experience writer’s block at one time or another. What are your top tips for finding inspiration to write? 

I don’t believe in writer’s block. A house framer never gets two-by-four block. Typically, “writer’s block” is rooted in one of two things:

  • lack of clarity about what, exactly, you are trying to say, or
  • fear and anxiety about where, exactly, to begin writing.

Fix those two things, and “writer’s block” evaporates.

4. What advice would you give to the new generation of content marketers that are just starting out in their careers?

Two things: One super tactical, the second more amorphous.

The super tactical one: learn how to write well.

People who write well are leaders, because they can articulate their ideas succinctly. They galvanize support and rally others because they can express what they need, and express why it’s important. That’s clutch. And it’s so necessary in the business world.

The amorphous one: Poke your nose out–don’t wait to be invited. In other words: Raise your hand. Join. Take a seat. Take your turn. Try. Launch. Tell your own story.

But also understand the difference between poking your nose out (advocating for your own ideas) and poking your nose in (involving yourself in things you really have no business being involved in). And understand the nuance to poking your nose out, because poking your nose out doesn’t mean shameless self-promotion or brazen aggrandizing or out-of-the-blue asks of people who can help you…with little regard for why they should. And it doesn’t mean you take a dumb risk you haven’t prepared for.

5. What are some of your favorite pieces of content right now? 

This past summer I re-read all the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I hadn’t read them straight through like that since I was 8 or 9. Goofy, right? I know, I know….my own children mocked me for it, too.

There is nuance in the books that I missed as a child. And interestingly, there are a lot of life lessons that weirdly apply to our business world now. There’s a slow marketing idea or two in them, for example.

I guess the broader idea here is that “content” and marketing inspiration really is everywhere. Even in the northern Midwest in the 1880s!

6. What were your favorite moments of the B2B Marketing Forum this year?

My favorite had to be when MarketingProfs Marketer Matt Snodgrass borrowed an acoustic guitar and performed a B2B Forum-inspired ballad that riffed on Billy Joel’s Piano Man. He wrote it just the previous evening.

It was surprising, soulful, smart, and packed full of heart and warmth. In other words: It was everything the rest of the B2B Marketing Forum also was! (Get in now while the tickets are hot! See you next October).

6 for 6 profile: As the world’s first Chief Content Officer, Ann Handley speaks and writes about how you can rethink the way your business markets. Cited in Forbes as the most influential woman in Social Media and recognized by ForbesWoman as one of the top 20 women bloggers, Ann Handley is now the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a training and education company with the largest community of marketers in its category.

Ann is a monthly columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, a member of the LinkedIn Influencer program, the author of the Wall Street Journal best-seller on business writing, “Everybody Writes,” and the co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business” (Wiley, originally published 2011. Paperback 2012). “Content Rules” has been translated into nine languages, including Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Portuguese. She currently has more than 200,000 followers on Twitter and writes about content and marketing at the highly entertaining AnnHandley.com.

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