Stop Creating Content That Doesn’t Convert!

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Strategist Zontee Hou offers her recommendations for rethinking your brand’s marketing vision, plus the tools to make that vision a reality.

Full Episode Details

tdtm-zontee-hou-episode-artWelcome back to Talk Digital to Me! Today’s guest is Convince & Convert’s own Zontee Hou, strategist extraordinaire and digital marketing expert.

Zontee’s the master of the marketing roadmap. She helps brands decipher where to focus their marketing efforts, what kind of content they need to create, and how they stack up against their competitors. In today’s episode, you’ll hear her recommendations for re-thinking your brand’s marketing vision, plus the tools and strategies to make that vision a reality.

Curious why your marketing strategy isn’t converting? Watch the video for more words of wisdom from Zontee.

Kate: Welcome to Talk Digital to Me, conversations about marketing and customer service with the pros at Convince & Convert. I’m Kate Volman and during each episode I have the pleasure of interviewing one of the amazing team members over at Convince & Convert. And today I’m joined by Zontee Hou. She is a strategist and our topic today is, stop creating content that doesn’t convert, build your digital marketing roadmap. Zontee, I’m so excited about this topic.

Zontee: I am too. I’m really excited to be here with you, Kate.

Kate: So before we jump into the marketing side, why don’t you share with everybody what it is that you do at Convince & Convert?

Zontee: Sure. So as you mentioned, I’m a strategist, so I work with our team and we work with major brands. Some of my clients include Allstate Insurance, the Indiana University Foundation, I also work with some of our agency clients to help them consult with their teams. And essentially I help to build roadmaps and recommendations around areas like content marketing, digital marketing strategy, social media and like I said, working with some of our longer term partners and agency clients, really help them to be their outside resource when it comes to any kinds of questions about digital.

Kate: Cool. And we had a really fun discussion prior to the call today and that’s why I’m really excited to dive in because this topic is one that every business is trying to figure out their content marketing strategy, what’s going to work, what isn’t and most companies these days they’re doing something on the digital marketing side. They’re doing, whether it’s advertising, or they’re doing social media. So in your opinion what do you find is the biggest challenge for the companies that you work with, when it comes to putting together the right digital marketing plan?

Zontee: I think that companies nowadays are getting pulled in so many different directions and they’re hearing a lot about, you should do this and you should do that and there are a lot of tactical messages that are being shared in most of the resources and that’s fine when you get to the execution stage. But I always recommend that people pull back, take a step back and actually evaluate what are the goals that you’re trying to achieve? What are the audiences that you need to serve? And what are the actions that they need to take in order for you to actually grow your business.

And if you don’t think about those things first, then you’re not going to be successful in executing the tactics that are actually most useful for your business. And so I think that you could spend lots and lots of money on tactics that may or may not convert or you could be really precise and make decisions based on what’s actually valuable to you.

Kate: So it’s so interesting because everything you said makes so much sense and I feel like when people hear it, they’re like, “Of course I should know my goals and of course I should know my audience.” But most often times businesses aren’t truly taking the time to figure that stuff out. They just want to do the marketing, they just want to start throwing things out there.

So when you go into a new client or you’re talking to someone that you’re going to potentially be working with, what does that meeting look like? What are some of the things that you’re asking them? How are you helping them kind of map through what they’ve done in the past and what they’re doing now to help them formulate this right strategy?

Zontee: That is a really great question. One of the things that we do at Convince & Convert in general is what we call our brand anthropology and as you know anthropology it’s sort of the study culture. So we are essentially trying to get a deep look at how a company approaches their marketing overall, what their past thinking has been, why they do what they do and what are the internal processes that allow their teams to execute on that.

To me one of the important questions that I always want to ask clients is, how do you think about all of your different marketing and tactics? So do you have a sales funnel or you’re using a see, think, do model. What are the ways in which you interact with your clients on a day-to-day that helps you to understand what they need? And how closely does your sales team work with your marketing team, work with even your operations team because those are all structural questions that will tell us the kinds of resources that you have in place, the kinds of internal thinking that you have in place and help us to make recommendations that are more tailored to your internal culture.

Kate: So expand on that a little bit because I know that this is something that most companies on this when they . . . If it’s not just a small business, and it’s just a couple people they do have different departments. I find that a lot of them really do, they don’t have that good collaboration between the sales team and the executive team and the marketing team. They’re kind of like working against each other. So do you have any tips for those people that are looking to help integrate those things together and make everyone’s job easier?

Zontee: Yeah, I mean I think the important thing is to bring everybody to the same table and quite frankly hash it out. I think it’s important to keep in mind we’re all adults and we’re all working towards the same goals. So often times helping to have the entire team basically lay out what those mutual goals are, can make a really big difference.

You can see that I have a white board right behind me. And it’s a tool that I really like because if you say like hey, these are all the things that we as a group, all of us in this room, are trying to achieve, then you can ask the questions of well, how do we get to those places? Who is playing which roles at which stages that help us to get to those goals?

And then people can start seeing how all their different departments lay-out together and fit together. Because sales can say “Well, once people know about our brand we do X, Y, and Z to build the business and we can do more account based sales,” or whatever, right?

And for the marketing department they can say, “Well, we’re really about building the brand, the reputation, the thought leadership, making sure that people want to enter the funnel in the first place and also amplifying the messages of what is working for our clients currently and touting those success stories.”

So when you can bring all these different departments to the table and they can see at which stages they’re relevant and what they need to convey to a client or the audience, I think that people are then more willing to at least entertain the conversations of how do we actually take actions at each of our individual spaces that work towards that same goal.

Kate: So on the content piece when people are developing content, how does that look? Do you recommend that also is kind of that team approach so that they’re coming up with those ideas together? I know often times businesses again it goes back to, I know I need to be on social, I know I need to be engaging my customers, but what the heck am I supposed to be writing about or creating and putting out on the web?

Zontee: I think that’s a really great question. So one of the things that’s really important about knowing a company’s culture is to understand how willing people are going to be to sort of take their own initiative to create content. Not every company is filled with people who are go getters in terms of like writing content or creating video or being on social. Some people, they really need a helping hand to get to that point.

We’ve had many corporate clients over the years who they know that they have great resources, people on their sales team are really smart, their operations team, their tech team, and their development teams. All these people have a lot to offer that would be great content. But they know that those people don’t necessarily have a structure in which they can create content easily and they’re not necessarily used to writing for a particular kind of audience.

So what we recommend in those situations is that the marketing team, essentially take the lead to create what we call a center of excellence in order to provide the resources for everybody else.

And also to create a schedule and a funnel and a process for the internal teams so that people can come together and say, “Okay, what we’d love is for every other month the development team they’re going to have somebody to write a blog post. These are the due dates, these is the process. These are the five tips that we have on writing great content for our particular audience,” that includes optimization and sub headlines and good keywords and stuff like that, so that they know exactly what they need to accomplish. They have a checklist in front of them.

I think it’s really important for marketers to essentially enable the other people within their organization to tell the best story and to be the most effective version of themselves and to make that really easy for them by having all those resources in one place.

Kate: When should people or when should companies just decide to outsource everything, or not everything, but really just bring in some outside help, either hire a marketing director or hire an agency to work with to actually execute on all that stuff, verses . . . actually either outsource and hire that agency or should they bring a digital marketing manager in-house? What are the benefits of both, the kind of the pros and cons and how do you help a business decide?

Zontee: I think that’s a really great question. Again, this is really a question of culture in a lot of ways because some organizations they really have a culture of ownership. They want to have everything internally, they want somebody who’s going to be imbued in their culture and therefore really capable to bridge all the different divides that might exist internally. In those sorts of situations I always say bring a marketing person in, build yourself a plan of what does this department look like? What is the personnel that we need in order to support our specific goals, and again, this keeps going back to goals.

I’m going to say that throughout our talk today but I really believe that marketing has to be driven based on the business goals that you’re trying to achieve. So with those goals in mind if you want to raise the profile of a company for instance, and you’re going to bring in a marketing director, you have to say like this is what we want to achieve, these are the teammates that they’re going to need in order to get that done, these are the relationships they’re going to have to build within our organization.

Where I can see an agency being really valuable is for those companies where they are really, really great at what they do and they’re not afraid of having somebody else take on the pieces that they are less comfortable with. And so for instance I work with some companies that are in the professional services area and they are more willing to say, we aren’t great at necessarily communicating our own story even if we have these great internal resources.

We’d rather have somebody else essentially be the people who are crafting the language and the media and the images and putting those together and putting those on the right channels. And what we want to do is be really great at providing these services and saying hey, these are the stories and the particular stories that we want to share with our audience and then letting the agency run with that and really tailor that.

Kate: I find that’s a challenge for many businesses. It’s we’re too close to it. We’re too close to our own story and what we’re doing for our clients and so I find that it’s almost easier to give it to somebody else to help them share it in a way that is meaningful to their audience.

Zontee: Yeah, I mean something that I think is really interesting in my line of work, is in addition to the Convince & Convert work that I do. I also work with some small and medium businesses in growth stages and what I see with a lot of business owners is like you said, you’re very close to your own business. You essentially most often built it to your own voice and the ways that you communicate with your audience and sometimes you forget that this business is taking on a life of its own. It’s becoming its own entity and it’s sometimes hard to separate it from yourself.

And in those situations I think it can be good to have an outside voice to say, hey, this is what you represent now in the marketplace and this is actually what people are saying about you and how they view you and it’s not necessarily how you view yourself. And that often happens in that growth stage because you’ve gotten to a point where you’re big enough so that your brand does mean something to other people and it’s not necessarily what you think.

I think a lot of companies don’t necessarily take the time to survey the conversations that people are having about them out in the world. But I think that’s a really necessary step. It’s part of our process when we do work with clients, but it’s also something that I think we all should do every 6 months, every 12 months and say, what is the conversation? Has it changed? Has it shifted in the way that we expect? Is there more chatter about one topic or another when it comes to us and what does that mean for us?

Kate: When somebody is doing . . . these processes is in place, they’re building that right team and now they have to obviously figure out in that six month time frame that you just shared, what are we going to measure to kind of see what’s working, what’s not, what we need to keep moving with. What should they plan to measure? Let’s start with that.

Zontee: Sure. So I am a big proponent of measurement at every stage. I really think that as soon as you are starting any kind of marketing you should say, let’s be measuring things, let’s see what’s working, what’s not and also to have benchmarks against your competitors.

Sometimes, I want to clarify, that if you look at your industry and you say, the people in my industry are not necessarily on the front leading edge of what is working in digital marketing or content marketing, you don’t have to necessarily benchmark against them. I would say look to other industries and see if there are other opportunities for you to learn from people who are doing things that resonate with you and can serve as a good example for you that are a similar size because that can often teach you a lot. But the idea is to say this is what the norm is and how are we doing compared to that.

But I would say that it’s very important for you to look at, again, that marketing funnel, that sales funnel and say what are the conversions that should happen at each different point within that marketing funnel and measure the right numbers for that.

So I will give you an example. If you are looking at the very top of the funnel, you’re trying to get more eyeballs on your content. Let’s say because you are trying to brand build and you’re trying to reputation built. Well you want to be looking at how many people are coming to your website but how many repeat visitors you’re having so the kind of people who are becoming a loyal following.

And then you look at how much time people are spending on the content pages. You want to see that you’re spending a good amount of time and that amount of time is growing because they’re looking at more than one piece. They’re not just coming to the page bouncing and disappearing. So those are the kinds of numbers that you would want to look at the top of the funnel.

Later in the funnel when you are looking to generate leads and get people to actually set up, let’s say demos of a product, you want to see how many people are actually going to the lead form filling it out and then letting us actually set up appointments with them and looking at those conversion rates. And so the numbers that matter at one stage are going to be really different from another stage, but you want to make sure that you’re measuring at every stage so that you have a firm grasp of what’s working from stage to stage.

Kate: That’s why having a great mark, is marketing its numbers. We need to look at the numbers.

Zontee: Yeah, absolutely. I’m a big proponent of the numbers and I’m going to give a very short plug which is that if anyone in the audience is going to be at Social Fresh I’m actually going to be giving a workshop on this very topic of the numbers that you need to know within your social media. Social Fresh is August 18th through the 21st and this is the pre-day of workshops.

Kate: Awesome, oh my gosh, all right. Are they recording it?

Zontee: I think that they are going to have audio.

Kate: That will be a good one for sure. So do you have any apps that you use or recommend to help people with this kind of tracking?

Zontee: Great question. One of the tools that we use most frequently at Convince & Convert is a program called Rival IQ and full disclosure, Jay Baer who is of course the president of Convince & Convert, is an investor in that product. But it really is one that we use on almost every client. It’s very helpful because it does allow you to benchmark very easily against a competitive set. It has really great historical data and we just really love it as a social tool and they just added an integration into Google Analytics as well, so I think it’s very, very easy to use.

Kate: Cool, so when a business, let’s say there’s a business out there and they’re doing content, they’re writing blog, articles here and there, they’re tweeting, they’re on Facebook, they’re doing what they think they should be doing and maybe they just need to kind of . . . So they’re doing a lot. They have content, are there things that you notice, tweaks that can be made, just recommendations on what to look at to make certain smaller tweaks that would make a really big impact in their business?

Zontee: Absolutely. So one of the things that I would definitely recommend is to look at the kind of content you’re creating and say, how does this allow me to build an audience relationship longer over time? So can you put a call to action in certain content that gets people onto your newsletter list? Is your newsletter really high quality and engaging so that people want to keep reading it? And does that newsletter include calls to action to look at a product or look at a service that you are offering and get people to reengage with you as a company that provides those services so that you can make a sale obviously.

I also really encourage people to look at longer form content that they’re creating such as e-books for instance and say, is this something that’s really valuable for people to learn from within this community so that we become a thought leader and go-to resource for the people within this community? If so then those are the times that you are able to build a valuable relationship with the customers and they will be more willing to spend their money with you.

But at every stage if you can say, how does this add value? How can I create a call to action that builds my relationship with this potential customer or supports my relationship with an existing customer? You’re asking yourself the right questions. You’ll find that there are a lot of little tweaks that you can create on a daily basis within your social media, within your blog, within your website, within your email program that are going to help people to say, yes I am getting value, yes I’m going to continue my relationship, and yes I want to share the relationship that I have with this company with other people.

I mean, I do it as a marketer. I will work with my clients and somebody will say, hey do you have a resource about e-mail automation and I will look through all of the different e-books that I’ve saved and say, this company they do really great ebooks. This is something that you should definitely look at. Well now my client not only is reading this ebook and getting value out of it but they’re thinking, well that sounds like a company that’s reputable and one that I would consider for my email service provider in the future and that’s really because they provided me value so they built that relationship with me.

Kate: That’s awesome. Great example. Speaking of email let’s just chat on that a little bit. How important is it for businesses to be continuing to always be building their email lists?

Zontee: It is so incredibly important. It is one of the tools that I tell Convince all the time, is probably the most valuable. I say that you should have a really great website because that’s your home base online. But the vast majority of people, and I don’t remember the exact statistic right off the top of my head, but the vast majority of people at all age ranges according to Pew Research actually still want their communications from companies through email. I think part of it is because it’s a little bit less intrusive than say like getting an alert on your phone through an app or something. But also because it’s easy for you to refer back to and send to other people and it does have the space for a longer form.

One of the things that we’ve had a lot of success with at Convince & Convert and I’m really proud to be on the team that reconsidered the model that we use, is our Definitive newsletter and that is four times a week we send out a newsletter and each day has a different topic area. But each of those issues has three resources that we think are the best resources on that particular topic.

It is pretty much all value for our audience and one of the reasons that I love working on it is because I think it’s a really interesting opportunity for us not only to say hey, we can be a resource for you and a thought leader within the content marketing space, but it’s something that I think our audience says I’m getting genuine value out of and this is something I’m going to keep for later and refer to. I mean I actually save them in my own inbox and refer back to them when a client will ask me about a particular topic so that I can see, what did we recommend? What is valuable in this space?

Kate: I love your newsletter. I love that guide. It is this chock full of so many great . . . Every time I’m like just going down the type, I’m like. I want to read that one and that one and that one. There’s just so much out there, there’s so much content out there to choose from so I know that you guys are looking through all of them and just sending me the ones I need to read so I don’t have to read everything which is awesome.

Zontee: Exactly.

Kate: Talk about that because businesses need to be in that mind space of, I need to be considered a thought leader in my industry and ways that you can do that is by generating your own content, curating content. So how can a company think of their marketing in that way of online? I need to be that thought leader that go-to person or company?

Zontee: Well, I think again, it really depends on the specific industry that you’re in in terms of how you can add value. So again, I work with a lot of smaller and growing businesses and one of the things that I see quite frequently is that you can get creative with what kind of thought leader you are. So it’s not always the direct and obvious answer.

So last year I gave a talk for SCORE association and I had an example of a company that is an HVAC, air conditioning type of installation and repair company and they have an amazing website that you think to yourself, okay well, all that stuff, it’s probably going to be about like how do you maintain your HVAC system? And it’s not at all.

It’s really about how to save money through easy home repairs and doing small upgrades within your home and being able to be more ecofriendly as well when you have stopped leakages and you actually keep your house warmer or cooler because you’re doing all these upgrades. And the way that they’ve thought about thought leadership is really to say, what does a home owner need in addition to the services that we’re providing? What are the other kinds of considerations that they might face on day-to-day basis?

I think that’s one thing that you want to do when you think about thought leadership, is what is the space that I can own that isn’t being currently covered within my industry, that is going to benefit that audience. What is their mindset? What are the other problems that they have? If you can articulate those problems and then say, “This is how I’m going to solve it, this is how I’m going to add value,” I think that’s where you’re going to be really successful in terms of creating content marketing opportunities.

So like you were saying with the Definitive newsletter, one of the reasons that we felt it was right was because most marketers face the problem having way too much content to process on a day-to-day level and so we said we’re going to take that off your shoulders.

We’re going to say if you want to know something about Snapchat here are our top three resources about doing Snapchat right now. And we update that every couple of cycles so in six months we’ll have three different resources for Snapchat. But the idea is we’re trying to simplify your life because we realize that that is an issue that is taking up space within our audience’s minds and their energy and we want to alleviate that issue.

Kate: Awesome, oh my gosh. I feel like the time is flying by and almost time for us to close. But before I ask you your bonus round questions, do you have any other tip that you want to share that you’re like, I have to share this, this is really important.

Zontee: I don’t necessarily have any other tips right now but I’m just going to again, quickly plug again, Social Fresh because we do have a couple of different speakers from Convince & Convert who are going to be there and then a couple of us are also speaking and giving workshops at Content Marketing World. Again, I’m giving a workshop there.

I really hope that anyone watching who is going to be at either of those conferences will come by. Say hello to any of the members of the Convince & Convert team and feel free to ask us questions because we are always happy to engage and answer any questions that you might have.

Kate: I will see you at Content Marketing World. I’m so excited. I have never been and I know it’s a good one. So I’m excited to be there. So Zontee, what is your marketing superpower?

Zontee: I think that my marketing superpower is probably the ability to take a lot of disparate information and synthesize it into one arc or story. I often find that that’s one of the big challenges of building recommendations for clients is you have to figure out, what is the through line and what is the thing that helps them to understand the purpose of all the different recommendations that you’re making for them.

And I think sometimes it can take me days and it’s just a lot of me looking like I’m procrastinating. But I’m good at looking at all of the different material, reading it, three to four times and then being like, this is the essence of the thing that we need to fix. I would say that that’s my marketing superpower.

Kate: Cool. What digital marketing trend are you most excited about?

Zontee: I think that I’m most excited about, and actually we just had an article in the Convince & Convert blog about this, but I’m really excited about augmented reality and the ability to use technology in a more timely and real world way. And so the article that I wrote is a little bit about all those different trends. But I think what you’ll see is that as we all now, over 70% of American adults, have smartphones in their hands and it really allows you to give your customers the right information at the right times.

Now Facebook Places is a great example of that where if I walk into a store and I happen to open Facebook it will say, here are some other things that people have enjoyed in this particular store or that they recommend. And that’s great pertinent information to my life experience. So I think that you’ll see more and more of that sort of technology and I’m really looking forward to how it integrates with all of our lives.

Kate: It’s so great and then sometimes it’s just scary and sometimes it’s just overwhelming, like, why do you always have to know what I’m doing.

Zontee: That’s the other side of it.

Kate: Okay, this is a tough one. And if you could only have one mobile app, what would it be?

Zontee: That is really, really, really tough. So I feel like if you discount stuff like texting, I think that the app that I would probably want to have on my phone is a camera app, like a really good camera app, one with good control of focus and white balance and all that stuff because I find it fascinating. I think maybe this is part of being a marketer, is observing the world and capturing what is interesting and unique and happening in the moment and I think that I would want to be able to keep documenting it.

Kate: I love that. That is a great answer. Well Zontee, thank you so much. This was so awesome. You are wonderful and quite strategic and so I hope that everyone watching got something out of this. And how can people connect with you Zontee if they want to?

Zontee: Sure, so you can find me on Twitter. I am Zontee_Hou on Twitter, and you can find me on Instagram on veritablyzontee and on Facebook I’m just facebook.com/Zontee.

Kate: Awesome. Well thank you so much. I appreciate it and we will see you next time.

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