A plush doll of Grover from Sesame Street maintains a permanent residence on a shelf in Andrew Davis’ home office. The fact that Davis worked during the ’90s at the Jim Henson Company might explain this, but he’ll be the first to admit that a Sesame Street plush doll is not necessary in an adult’s office—unless, of course, that adult has fallen in love with the character.
And that tells you really all you need to know about Davis and his approach to content marketing: good content—be it an endearing Muppet or a video for mutual fund products—forms emotional connections with its audience, creates brand advocates and increases revenue for the client. The key is the content needs a hook.
And that’s what Davis set out to do 15 years ago when he co-founded Tippingpoint Labs agency. After selling his share of the company a few years ago, Davis now evangelizes full time on the topic of content through books (“Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships”) or at one of the 40+ conference presentations he delivers annually, for which he travels more than 300,000 miles, and performs with his signature caffeinated gusto.
Content: How should agencies be thinking about how they measure the value of the content they create?
Andrew Davis: I think agencies need to focus on just one number: how are they increasing the market for the client they serve? Everybody’s offering content marketing services these days and the more people that offer it the harder it gets to actually provide a quality service that doesn’t get boiled down to the list of content you’re going to provide to a client. I think that the companies who are making higher margins on the content that they’re creating are really focused on quality over quantity and the impact it’s going to have from a revenue standpoint for the clients they’re working for.
What’s the one key piece of strategy that agencies need in order to pitch their services to win more accounts?
I think they should think less about pitching branded content and pitching what I call “content brand”—the difference being that branded content is created for the company and “content brand” is created specifically for the audience, and puts the brand, really, in the background. The idea of “content brand” is that you can actually build a subscriber base, people that make a commitment to regularly scheduled programming, who make an appointment with that content to consume it. You can leverage that relationship then to inspire demand for your products over time.
You’re talking about developing audience more strategically. How?
That’s one of the other problems with the way agencies approach the marketplace: they’re creating content for a giant audience with the expectation that they’re going to get lots of engagement. And the client comes to expect that too. But successful agencies are really targeting high quality audiences instead of high quantity. If you can get 3,000 people to watch your video or consume your content on a regular basis, that’s a high quality relationship. You just need a clear distribution strategy that’s designed to build momentum in and out of each piece of regularly scheduled programming, so that your next valley is never as low as the valley before it and you’re constantly getting new subscribers that are building that base. The simple distribution strategy boils down to starting with your loyalty base. Distribute the content to them first. If they hate the content, then why keep going, right? You want to wait until that loyalty subscription base has consumed the content and the spike starts to plateau or even drop; and then the next step might be to do some paid promotion for the content and pick some targeted channels, to see if you can leverage the momentum you’ve got, to drive some new interest in it. Agencies are really well positioned to do this kind of thing.
You say that agencies should “Feed client’s needs instead of gratifying their wants.” Please explain.
From an agency perspective this is one that always bothered me—and I’ve run my own agency. Many times there’s been a giant difference between what the client says they want and what they actually need to accomplish the goal they have at hand. You actually should be challenging them. If a client says “We want to start a blog and we think we need 57 blog posts a year in these five categories so we can populate our blog,” there are a lot of agencies that will take that business and they’ll do a great job but, at the end of the day, are they really adding value? That client could probably do with lots less content and take a much more strategic approach that builds a real relationship with the audience.
So, say a potential client does want 57 blog posts over the course of a year. How would you challenge them on that?
I’d want to know what they’re actually trying to do with those 57 blog posts. As an agency, if I’m not able to attribute my efforts to revenue, that’s something I’m not really interested in doing. So, if they want 57 blog posts just because they decided 57 was a good number and maybe they even have their own editorial calendar, I would challenge them to say, essentially “I think we can have bigger success with much less content if we can focus on the revenue; so let’s boil it down to revenue per subscriber. How many subscribers do you have to your blog today? Zero? OK, that means if we can get 100 subscribers who all spend 1,000 dollars with your company in the next year, would that be a successful blog? Yes it would. OK then. Let’s just create one piece of content a month, which means we only need 12; and let’s focus on building the right kind of content brand. Let’s focus on the right distribution strategy and the right kind of content to ensure we can build a relationship with the right people who are going to spend that kind of money.”