Simon Penson
Zazzle Media

About Simon Penson

Simon Penson is the founder and MD of Zazzle Media one of Europe’s very first pure-play digital content marketing agencies. He created the business a following a decade-long career in print media editing national magazines. He uses the learnings from both on and offline worlds to create integrated strategies that build audiences of value for Zazzle’s clients. He is a regular speaker and contributor to many of the industry’s key thought leadership blogs and magazines.

In his Learn Inbound talk, Simon argues for a complete reevaluation of how we execute content and what it should look like in the future. Meet the Brand as Publisher Strategy model.

Key Takeaways

  • Content marketing is about more than links and flashy titles. Great content is about adding value and creating long-term audiences.
  • This approach can over time build brand awareness, engagement, links, repeat visits, and sales. Take your time with producing quality content that will resonate with your target audience.
  • There are three types of content you should be aware of: hero, hub and hygiene (functional / evergreen content)
  • Personas are incredibly important for creating long-term audiences. Spend time identifying who you want to target with messaging around your product or service.

Video Transcription

Got to say, I'm massively excited about doing this one. Content Jerry Maguire Moment, in here is a bit of a mission statement, I guess, for where I feel we should be taking content marketing over the next decade and beyond.

Now, bold statement, seems that a few of us are pretty agro today. We're talking about how things should be done and then we're all doing it wrong. That's certainly not the statement. What I want to do is start creating the debate for where we can take this next and get better at it. To do that, I'm thinking, "Right, bold statement. Need a big player." I know, Tom Cruise, he's the man that can help us kind of set the scene on this.

I'm going to hand over to Tom for a second to help you understand this kind of Jerry Maguire thing. For those that haven't seen it, Tom plays Jerry Maguire, a guy...a sports agent whose fed up with where his industry is going, and he has a vision for a better play. Over to Tom for a second. -

[Tom Cruise] If anybody else wants to come with me, this moment will be the moment of something real and fun and inspiring in this God-forsaken business and we will do it together. Who's coming with me? Who's coming with me? Who's coming with me?

Who's coming with me besides Flipper here?

- Now I hope you kind of get the point here, that I'm not expecting everybody to walk out with a fish at the end of this. What I want you to do is really think about how you can take at least some of this away, and think about how you can really move your strategy on.

Because this really is a mission statement, something I'm massively passionate about. Clearly I'm not Tom Cruise. Disappointing maybe. I am [inaudible] the founder Zazzle Media, which is a content marketing agency, that you might call it. What I'm going to try and explain is, that's not how we see it anymore.

Hopefully the next few slides is going to help you understand that. What am I so upset and animated about? I'll tell you what I'm upset and animated about. This, and we've talked about this quite a lot. This is a piece of work that we did. Brilliant, isn't it? Look man, got 25 links, brilliant.

Well done, me. Nan will love me, I'm sure. But in reality content marketing is about much more than just putting out a flashy idea. You know, about going, "I've got this disconnected campaign and it's achieved loads of links." That is not what content marketing was ever suppose to be about.

It's about this, and that crafting varied content, that does all the great stuff that only content can do. Building brand awareness, engagement, Yes links, repeat visits. It builds what we call, "Audiences of Value." This is inherently...if you're a content person, this is what you do. This is the value that you bring.

To understand that, we kind of need to go back in time a little bit. Jump on this really cool looking time machine. Content marketing has been around, literally forever. Here 1900, Michelin, the tire manufacturer. Great example of a guide for chauffeurs, for people that are actually driving around and helping add value to their lives as a motorist.

Nothing to do with selling tires, that is content marketing, adding value. If we look about how the whole mass media platform world has evolved, it follows the same basic principle. We begin with this initial kind of obsession with the technology, you know 1945 everybody gets this amazing radio in the corner of their rooms, right?

Looks brilliant, we're all gob-smacked that sound's coming out of it. But eventually, we get fed up of staring at said piece of apparatus in the corner of our room. We want more from it. It's the content that comes out of these things, is the only conduit to create audience. And audience is the only thing that any brand can have as a value. The same thing is happening now, exactly right now online, that we are fed up of this initial obsession with technology.

The only thing that we have now is a content future, a constant content future. It's the only way that we're going to create the value that we need to create. The answer to this, for me, is not what we call in content marketing. It's this, Brand as Publishing. You might have heard it being banded around a little bit. But what is it?

So for me, this is one of the key ways that we help our clients understand what the hell we're talking about. So we say to them, "Right, if you walk into Tesco's WH Smiths, imagine yourselves as the key magazine, the leading magazine in your sector. What does that magazine look like to you?Because that is what you should be doing."

You just happen to monetize that audience through selling products or services, rather than advertising the media did before. So, content marketing to me, today, has been very, very fragmented. We seem to have this obsession with going, "Right. What we're going to do is we're going to create loads of really big campaigns. We're going to throw them out there. We're going to do, maybe some smart stuff with PR. We might do a little bit of paid, all that kind of stuff."

But it's not joined together. As we were talking about earlier here, if you don't have something for the audience to come back to afterwards, there is no value. They just disappear again and evaporate. Brand as Publisher is different. It sits and it evolves around the central editorial plan. One that is full of a mix of all different types of content, big and small, you know, all the different types that you could imagine.

You know, it's on-page and it's off-page, it's your social channels, your email, every single channel mix that you can imagine. What I want to do now, is talk you through a quick kind of view on how you can pull that kind of plan together. So, this is the kind of, the planning stage, if you like.

So, it's a five-step process, and it starts and ends with people, right? Because marketing has always been about people. You know, without a very, very deep understanding, and then this is especially true for content, without a very, very deep understanding of exactly who we are working for, we're creating content for, it's very, very difficult to create the right kind of content.

So, this starts with that. We spend a lot of time really understanding the audience. So, lots of different sources. Here we can see Facebook, so I'm sure by now everybody's kind of had a play with a kind of the back end of the ad center and the insights that you can gain from that. I have in the past written a blog post that kind of goes into a bit more detail about how you can extract a little bit more as well.

Sadly since writing that, because it was a little while ago, Facebook have made the data slightly less useful, because they're rounding numbers up to be bigger numbers. So it's not as accurate as it was. But it's still really useful because here you can see we're looking at demographic differences and benchmarking it critically. Again, it's the average Facebook audience, which is a pretty robust data set, right?

So, we start to get a picture of who we're creating content for. You can then understand their interests, their love, their hates, which is what social data is brilliant for. It's that richness that really helps. So, here we can see exactly what their looking at on a day-to-day basis, what else interests them. So, we're again starting to paint this beautiful picture.

Another great tool, again it's free. How many people have used YouGov Profiler before? A few, that's good. Really, really good, and it's free. There is a paid-for version as well. But have a go with it because it's basically, kind of a data vis out the back of a lot of the YouGov surveys that they pulled together. So, great data.

Great visualization, and again it helps you paint that picture. We then have comScore, now comScore has been around forever. It is a pricy tool, so I accept that not everybody will be able to use it. You can use Facebook data instead, but we find this quite useful. So, comScore basically allows you to have a look at the type of traffic that goes to any site in particular on the internet. Whether it's yours or whether it's a competitors.

And then critically as well, as you can see in the bottom right-hand side, you can see that kind of up-stream and down-stream traffic. So you get again, you get a picture of what their doing next and what part of their journey you fit into. Once we've got that, we now got a picture of the audience. We look at a piece of software called Global Web Index.

Is there anybody here that's used that? Good, I was expecting fewer hands there, so that's really good. So Global Web Index, again is a paid-for tool, but basically what it allows you to do is's not the most user friendly interface, but it allows you to create an audience in it, and then ask a series of questions of that audience. So, here for instance we are asking them, "Well, what do you do online?"

Again, it's an average audience, so we get an understanding of how they use the internet. We can then do all sorts of stuff around, "Well, what do you expect from a brand like us," so you can see where you can play. Because of course, the sweet spot with content is what your audience is looking for, but then what their expectations of your brand actually are.

So it's where those two things meet where you should be playing the most. All that stuff of course, I ask you to do that wonderful thing called creating personas. So personas, as I'm sure everybody knows, because everybody talks about them, because they're really important, is that human face on that data. So, in a content perspective, massively important, and we have individual personas, even for individual campaigns, we'll do this in a micro-scale for campaigns, let alone for strategies.

So, what you can see here is that David, on one side, will have a very different content need to Corena, for instance. So you can start to understand how you can create content for specific people. It's a step away from personalization, but it's definitely helping. Then a couple of top tips. Absolutely one of the best pieces of advice that I ever had, when I was in publishing on the print side was, "Look Simon, if you do nothing else, stay close to your audience."

And we forget that sometimes, especially in the digital world, I think. So, it really does pay and we do this a lot as well, to actually try and grab a few people from your audience, a few of your customers, a few of your clients, and take them for an informal drink in the pub or a coffee. And just talk to them because we're human beings, right?

And that human interaction allows us to really understand exactly what it is their passionate about right now, and critically as well I guess. The tonality around how they talk about those things because that's really important to make sure that we're talking to them in the right way. Not just what we're talking about. And then a great way of scaling that persona view, is to actually try and imagine each persona as a famous person, because what generally happens with persona creation is the group of people, the marketing team usually, that will pull those personas together, will be like really deep into the data, they'll be loving every single second of it, and they'll come out of the room and they'll go, "Right, here you go, here's your personas of everybody else."

That doesn't scale that well. You usually find Chinese whispers happen. But if you align them into a famous person, everybody has a much better understanding of who that person is, how they should be talking, their character, etc. It's a great way if you're working across a larger team. Step two, is Editorial Mission Statement. Now this is definitely something that we very, very rarely see people doing, and it's so important.

What is an Editorial Mission Statement? So it is the crystallization basically, of your content values. It's a statement of what you stand for as a content machine, an editorial team. Great example here by Sports Illustrated, fantastic magazine, it's known it's audience forever. And you can see here really clearly that they really understand what they stand for.

So they talk about, writing about, not just sport, but the people, and the passions, and the issues within sport. They want to get their audience into the game itself. So that's a really powerful statement of what some of the stuff that they should be writing about and creating from a content perspective. Another great thing to borrow from magazines are, what we call editorial pillars.

So, before you start creating or going into audiation, all that kind of stuff, you should really imagine what it is that your front page might look like. So Men's Health is a brilliant example of, again, a business that really understands it's editorial output. So, it has shifted slightly actually, the UK version, but this is generally how their editorial proposition works.

So every month, on the cover, they will know that they will have three key editorial pillars. I want to get better at sex, I want to get better at improving my body, and improving my mind. So of course, having those pillars in place, they know that they've got to consistently come up with ideas around those specific things.

So they will work really hard to make sure that they have ideas consistently around those things. Example here and you'll have to excuse the artistic license. Our designers got carried away, I've no idea why they call their magazine Muze. Don't get it, but anyway, what you can see here is three of our key pillars. So, on any one month, one week, whatever, we would have something about content creation, something about content distribution, and something about content strategy.

So think about what your pillars are. Once you've done all that, so you've understood your audience and you've understood what your editorial proposition really looks like, you then need a framework of thinking about, "Okay, what sort of content do we start to create?" This is what our very, very thousand foot view output looks like. So, there are three types of content that we will generally create.

There's also infinite of stuff that sits under it, but that's kind of to the side. So firstly, we got hero content. That is the Big Bang stuff, the big campaign stuff at the beginning I was saying was shit. Well it's not. It's an important part of the mix, but the point is that you need other stuff to glue it together. So, Big Bang campaigns at the top.

You then got hub content. Hub content, for me, is the most important bit, because it's the conduit that ties all the rest of it together. So, that is, kind of your blog strategy, if you like, and your resources. It's the stuff that, your constant content that you'll be putting out every single day, week, whatever. Because then you've got something for your audience to come back to and engage with, and stay engaged with.

It creates audience. Now, I'll talk about exactly how we pull that together in a second. Then we've got hygiene content. So hygiene content is the kind of static URL content. So it's either evergreen content, so big long form pieces that you spend lots of time on, answering the critical questions that your audience asks.

Or it's improving those really key landing pages, those really key money pages. Either from a usability perspective, a rankings perspective, and all these things generally play to each other. You know, user experience perspective, all that kind of stuff. So those are the three kind of areas that we work on. To start, we're thinking, how much of each one of those that we need.

We use a kind of a scale a little bit like this. So what this shows us is a blend over time of how the different variation will change. So to begin with, this particular example, we will start with lots and lots of hygiene content. So, this client site, for instance, might need a lot of work on those money pages, they don't have any evergreen content, for instance.

Hub, obviously always on, we need to start building that. But then over time, you can see how that changes and we start to focus on more of the kind of the bigger bang, let's go out there and reach the audience stuff. So doing this is really helpful in planning your longer term strategy. The small stuff then within that, the hub content, massively, massively important. And I think one thing that often gets overlooked, because it is this that creates that variation that we all need as human beings to stay engaged.

Generally speaking, we start, as you saw in the pyramid before, we start with data. So there's lots and lots of stuff that search data can give us to hone our understanding of what our audience wants. So there's a few tools, that I'm sure lots of you will already be aware of, so I won't spend too long on this.

On to the public that Laura spoke about just now, really useful. Google Suggest, all your various key word tools, SEM Rush, the guys are here. Then also semantic kind of tools as well. Like Ellis Eyegraph, that helps you really understand how to widen your kind of long tail thinking. The whole point of this, is that you come out with a load of kind of key long tail questions for your audience that you should be answering within the blog itself.

There are then micro moments, and obviously Talia spoke at length about this and I'm so pleased that she did because this is critical. Especially as we start to change behaviors between devices, as she talked about. "I want to do, I want to know, I want to buy, I want to go" moment. Think about exactly what they look like for your audience and make sure that you're planning ideas, to really, really answer those key questions. You'll see that we're obsessed with the long tail bit here, because we then structure even more.

So we think about, "OK. Well what are the key areas around technical, around situational use now, around technical innovation, history?" So we create as many ideas for kind of, short form content, as possible for that blog. Yeah? Sounds a bit boring that, so we need to create variation, so that's where what we call Magazine Content comes in.

So that's the more engaging stuff that creates that variation. So things like interviews with key people, you know opinion pieces that we don't see a lot of online. You know, data biz, info graphics, how-to content, video, all that kind of stuff. Use and integrate with all those kind of short form content pieces to create variation.

Along side that of course, is that Big Bang stuff. The big stuff that I love to hate and hate to love. It is the stuff, ultimately that will get you that extra reach. So all the stuff that we talked about so far, sits generally in your kind of own space and will ensure that when people come in from these things, they've got something to stick around with.

But it's the Big Bang stuff that gets you the new reach. Now to get that right, requires a lot of planning and a lot of thinking, because often a lot of resource goes into these big pieces. We've definitely got it wrong several times before and learned from that, as much as we can. And, to get it right, we create kind of a mini editorial plan at the very center of every campaign.

Sorry, every single campaign. And within that will be your whole paid, earned, and owned strategy to maximize success. So we'll have a central idea and then we'll plan in detail exactly what each one of things look like. Before we do though, we spend a lot of time on idea validation, and again this was spoken about earlier.

So we think about, "Okay, so what hook do we have? Why now? Have we got a unique data?Does this tell a story?" All these key questions that we'll ask internally to ourselves first. If that kind of has a positive effect, we will then go out to the actual influences that are part of the plan, because we'll think about who we want to target without specific idea before we go to them.

So we'll ask those guys and go, "Right, we're thinking about doing this.Do you like it?" And often you'll find that they will actually help shape the idea in the first place as well. Some great stuff from a book called, "Will It Stick," around idea validation. I definitely recommend you read that. So as I've said, we cover all of theses channels. So once we've got the idea, we then think about, and kind of go through this and tick it off.

So we go, "Okay, so which of the relevant channels are owned, and what's the plan for that?" For paid, what's the ad created look like? What's the copy look like? What's the messaging? Which platforms are we going to use? All that kind of stuff. Really important that we tick each one of those off and include it in our wider plan.

That plan... I mean you can see here that you can download it. There is a tool kit that I will share at the end. That plan sits in a single document. This is the top level of that document and then there are tabs for each of the paid, earned, and owned detail. But you can see here where, how we're planning over time, when each of those key things will actually happen. So your very, very plan from the very beginning.

You've then got to tie it all together as we said. Possibly the most important part, I think, of the Brand as Publisher kind of ethos, is about thinking about, how do we create that variation and keep people engaged. Keep talking about it because it's really important. Content flow is what we...the methodology behind that really.

So what that really is, and you can see that visualized really simply here, is your Big Bang campaigns sit right up here. They are the things that give you reach. They're the shouty bits, if you like. But then, as Laura was saying, if you do that and they've got nothing to come back to, they just disappear off and then, you know, your ROI looks rubbish, and you got to start again. So you need to think about what those smaller content, that magazine content, that data content looks like to keep them engaged.

But it's really, really hard to get that right in an editorial calendar. It's the thing that we've probably struggled with the most. So we've created loads of different ways of trying to help that process along. One way that we do do that is by actually stealing from magazine world, again. Because they're really good at it. If you think about how you use a magazine, you'll be turning over the pages, won't you?

And to begin with, often a magazine will have start with short form content, quite quick paced. And all of a sudden, you'll get into what they call a breather feature. So it's four or five pages, and the whole idea of that feature is that it slows you down. It creates that variation that we need as human beings to keep going almost. It's like a rest, right? This is how they plan that, this is called a flat plan.

So the editor will sit at the beginning of the month and go, "Okay, where does this stuff sit?" So again, we've got a blank version of this. So you can get all your ideas and go, "Right, I think this is how we want it to fall." Let's put that in there and imagine it is a magazine, can help you get content flow right. Another great tool, is what we call our content matrix, and again you can download this, but what this really does, it makes you think about two things again.

So along the top here, we can see that we've got, from regular content back to what we call big content, so effort basically, increasing as we go that way. And then within it, we've got the different content types. Because that's another variant in this mix of course. And then down the side, we've got that kind of classic purchase funnel because it's really important that you think about, one, the variation of your content types because that's how you get variation ultimately.

And then also, how do we make sure that we're creating content for every stage of the funnel, because you'll often find that you'll create lots and lots of stuff at the top for familiarity, all that kind of stuff. But then once you've converted the customer, for instance, you've got nothing for them to go at. So, a good content strategy should have all of that in there. See what you can do here is you can pick and choose your content types based on the requirement within that plan, to help you form this content flow.

Once you've got it down, you can then test it really simply like this. So this is a good example, but here you can see that we've got things like list features that are always on. They happen every week. We've got a downloadable guide that happens once a month. We've got an info graphic, that happens once a month. We got how-to content, a couple of times a month, and so on.

So you can kind of get a feel here for doing it, in a visual way. I'm a visual learner, so it certainly helps me. But you can really get a feel for whether you're getting it right or not. And then of course, there's the data, right? We're in digital after all, so we should be using the data. So, iterate and use the data to iterate smartly. So once you are up and running, I would absolutely suggest that you set up content groupings in Google Analytics.

Now, if you don't know how to do it, we haven't got time to talk about it now, but that URL just there is a really great guide on that. I didn't write it, but fantastic guide. The example that you can see here is this particular NGO and this particular client, we grouped it by word count, so you can get a feel for what's the kind of length of content that we like.

You can also do it by content type or almost any other variant. So you get real-time data to tell you exactly what's working and what isn't. And then, of course you pick the stuff that's working, right? The result of that is really simple. It's a content calendar that looks like this, but with stuff in it.

So you can download this one, again, so you can have a go yourself. But as you can see here, it captures those Big Bang hero campaigns, the regular content ideas, extra content ideas that we can kind of lift and push in as we need to, if we need to kind of change up the variation. You know, we then have the other promotional activity as well. So what are we doing for email?

What are we doing for paid? What are we doing off-page? All that kind of stuff, sits in one central plan, that you can work collaboratively. So often this will sit in the cloud and then if your client, agency, you can work in it centrally and together because, you know the effort should be, you know we'll use all your resource and ours and working partnership. And the whole idea is that it becomes your bible.

The center point for everything that you do. So that's Brand as Publisher. If you want to read more about it, handily, I have written about it in the past. So I suggest you have a read there and it will give you much more background as well. Something that I'm massively passionate about and I want to ensure that we kind of all get an understanding collectively.

To help you do some of that stuff as well, as I said, there is a tool kit that you can download. Have a go with. Test it out. And critically, because I am passionate about this, please ask me. If you do have a go and you're struggling with it, because none of it's easy, right, then please do reach out and I'll have a go at answering and talking about the mistakes that we've made.

That's about it for me. Thank you very much.

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