Robert Rose, Content Marketing Expert, Author, Consultant, and Badass [Podcast]

Robert Rose is one of those guys with a resume that just goes and goes. I struggled with writing the title to this post because there is just so much to say.


He has helped global brands with strategic marketing advice, helped build and lead the Content Marketing Institute, founded and runs The Content Advisory, wrote Killing Marketing and other great marketing books, speaks, blogs, and just oozes marketing know-how. You’ll see!

In this, we talk about…

  1. Robert’s take on Joe Pulizzi’s content squirm theory
  2. Marketers focusing on the wrong goals right now
  3. Audiences as a multiplier of efforts
  4. Flat earth marketing
  5. Marketing in the time of COVID, BLM, #metoo…

I know you will enjoy listening to Robert as much as I did!

Digital Transcription – Edited for Readability


Jon-Mikel Bailey: Hello, I’m Jon-Mikel Bailey, and welcome to the Wellspring Digital Chat where we bring marketing experts and their brains directly to you.

So today we have the big marketing brain belonging to Robert Rose. Robert, please take a moment and introduce yourself and your brain to these fine folks.

Robert Rose: Well, you know, I’m afraid my brain couldn’t make it today, otherwise engaged in other activities. Thank you so much. It’s so much fun to be here. Yeah, so I am. I’m well, my current role is as two parts.

One is as Chief Strategy Advisor to the Content Marketing Institute, which is to help that organization, you know, evangelize the topic of content marketing and all of the things that that entails. And as part of that organization, of course, which I got to run with my pal Joe Pulizzi for a number of years before he rode off into the orange retirement sunset that loves to do now.

And my other role is as founder and chief strategy officer of an organization called The Content Advisory, which really came out of the Content Marketing Institute.

And it’s there that I work with clients of all sizes, helping them with operationalizing, their content marketing strategy, content, strategy, technology stack and all of the things that you might expect a practitioner of content and marketing to have to deal with. And been doing that for the last 10 years and along the road, wrote a couple of books, and host a couple of podcasts and all of that and my brain takes the occasional vacation.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: It’s a well-deserved vacation.

Robert Rose: Oh indeed. There’s no doubt about that.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Now, your books great. I thoroughly enjoyed the books and, and I love your podcasts and I love your posts too. So that’s it. I’ve been following you for years and I think I even interviewed you once from my old website.

Robert Rose: Yeah, for those that you did, yeah, we talked a number of years ago.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: But not on video. So this is our first.

Robert Rose: No, no, this is a whole new world for all of us. Right. I mean, the world this is everybody’s experiencing this does not come easy. This is a lot of work.

Robert Rose’s Take on Joe Pulizzi’s Content Squirm Theory

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So I’m very excited to talk with you to talk about some marketing. You mentioned Joe Pulizzi. I interviewed him and I asked him a question about a line that you wrote in Killing Marketing, and it’s one of the books that the two of you wrote together and his take on it was great.

He said that you had the better answer to my question, but I thought he did a good job. So I thought, let’s flip the script a little bit. And I’ll quote from one of his sections and let you sort of speak to that.

So in this section about the content tilt, from the book Killing Marketing, Joe says that your content should make you a little uncomfortable, it should make you squirm a little.

It seems along the same lines of what Marcus Sheridan and talks about a little bit and They Ask, You Answer, getting to the hard truth. How do you feel about this concept? So should good content make you feel a little uncomfortable to put out there?

Robert Rose: Well, here’s what I would say to that. You know, it’s, it’s one of Joe’s casual use of the language. And so, let’s just start with their discomfort as an interesting word. And it’s probably quite frankly, the accurate word to use. Which is, in any situation where content has an impact on someone has an impact on an audience. It elicits some sort of emotion.

And if it just makes you think, then it hasn’t really delivered the kind of impact that you want to change your behavior, which is of course, exactly what we’re trying to do in marketing communications. Exactly. So in order to change your behavior, we have to elicit some sort of emotion and emotion means taking us out of wherever we are at the moment.

And so that discomfort, if you will, I don’t know if uncomfortable is right. In other words, I don’t think it has to make you feel squeezy or you know, squirming, sick, or anything, but it certainly needs to take you out of the emotion you’re in in the moment and bring you to another place.

So that might be laughter. It might be disbelief, it might be challenging, it might be crying, it might be inspiration. There’s all sorts of things. You know, other things that are bringing you out of that, you know, emotion that you’re in the moment that the content should be able to do as a goal.

So I’m totally on board with that. And I think that’s really what Marcus is getting at as well, which is, and he comes more at it from a sales perspective, which is challenging an idea. So all of it comes back to having some sort of point of view, right? Having some sort of the unique point of view that you’re trying to make in the content, If all you’re doing is basically talking about what everybody else is talking about. And then there’s no real reason for that your opinion to exist out there.

What you’re trying to do is express a point of view that illuminates some truth to someone somewhere. And so thus, in order to be willing, in order to be right for someone in order to elicit that emotion, we have to risk being wrong for someone else. And I think that discomfort is where Joe is really good.

With that idea, in other words, we have to risk making someone disagree with us or feel uncomfortable or squeegee about a particular idea. And then to get the reward of getting the illumination or getting the laughter or the inspiration from the audience we’re actually trying to reach.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So you’re almost trying to challenge your audience a little bit, or jolt them a bit.

Robert Rose: Yeah. I mean, it’s moving them, right, we’re traveling, we’re trying to and it literally in that term, we’re trying to move them from one emotion to another, to believe in something that they didn’t believe in before and in many ways, we might be provocative or we might have to challenge their thinking in something. Brilliant.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So, okay, just a little score assessment here. I gotta say, I think you’re ahead of Joe but I’ll let an independent judge decide. Love it.

Are Marketers Focusing on the Wrong Goals Right Now?

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So you mentioned that you founded and you run The Content Advisory. And in a recent post, you talk about measuring success, specifically the line, the behavior you measure is the behavior you get. So are marketers focusing on the wrong goals right now? What should they be focused on? Or is that too simple a question?

Robert Rose: No, it’s I don’t think it’s too simple question at all. And I think there are two answers sort of inherent in your question. Which is, in one, are marketers right now focused on the right things? And I think, for the most part, you know, we can say yes and no, right.

So there are definitely things that we are measuring that are just ridiculous and it’s mostly because these are the things we can measure, right? These, you know, so things like likes and follows and pageviews. And even hits, yes, believe it or not. And those kinds of things are still being measured as a metric of success as marketing. And of course, it’s nothing.

I mean, it’s that those are the definition of vanity metrics. And so, there are definitely marketers that are focused on the right things and the wrong things. I think what’s really inherent in your question, which is really interesting, is are marketers actually setting goals? In other words, are we – and this is really getting to the heart of what I meant by that sort of “what behavior you measure is what behavior you get,” which is, we are measuring now based on our capabilities.

Thus, we’re setting goals based on our capability to measure rather than setting goals and then figuring out how we’ll measure our progress toward that goal. And, in other words, we figure out all the things that we can measure with the technology we have and thus we say “great, now we can assign those as go making sure they’re all going up and to the right.

Everybody’s super happy with that, instead of saying, what should marketing’s contribution to the business be? One is, of course, increased revenue, you know, two is decrease costs, three, maybe an insight into the marketplace that we’ve never had before, so that product development can work better.

You know, all of these are goals, actual goals that make the business better. And so what marketing isn’t doing these days, to a fair degree, is actually setting those kinds of goals. You know, it’s still it amazes me that I walk into this is sort of, “oh gee,” you know, sort of thing. But I walk into a business and say, “tell me about your integrated marketing communications plan.” And people will look at me like I have five heads. They don’t we don’t have time to do that.

They’ll say “now we have to drive more leads.” Why? Why do you have to drive more leads? “Well, because I don’t know.” And so one of the things that we have to do, Ann Handley talks about this a lot in terms of, you know, sort of the slow cooking method or the slow food. We do have to slow ourselves down in order to really take a good view of the landscape to where we want to go before we can draw a map to get there.

Audiences as a Multiplier of Marketing Efforts

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Great. So this piece is probably one of my favorites that you’ve written so far. The title got me. It’s a piece that you wrote for the Content Marketing Institute, titled Your Audience Is Not The Same as Your Marketing Database. I love that one line, in particular, that just hit me like a smack to the forehead was “audiences are a multiplier of efforts.” I absolutely love that line. So there was a lot in this piece. It was great and it is worth a read. But I wonder if you could sort of dive deeper into the content concept of audience value versus marketing database value?

Robert Rose: Sure, I mean, you know, and this is common, right? This is very common in B2B marketing, especially where we get a piece of content. And, we put that piece of content out there, and we get a transaction with someone who trades some of their data for access to that piece of content.

Now, this says nothing about the value of the content, the content may be crap, the content may be extraordinary, right? We don’t, that says nothing. What it says is that we’ve marketed this piece of content in a way that someone will exchange their personal data for it. The challenges, of course, is that we immediately see that as opportunity right, we immediately see that as lead qualified lead, get a sales guy on it, we’re gonna start the attack.

And the point is, is that that’s probably the absolute worst time to call someone, not even just not the best time it’s probably the worst time because that person just gave you their personal information for some sort of future value, which is hopefully, the quality of whatever it is that you’re going to give them in this download?

So they’ve made a promise, right? They’ve made a bet that I’m going to give away my, my information, and I’m going to get value in return. And what you’re telling them by having a sales guy immediately email or call them is, it’s no, it wasn’t, it was never about you. It was always about us.

How do we get value from you, right? And so the idea is that when you’re creating an audience, whenever you subscribe to a TV show, or you subscribe to an app, or you subscribe to a magazine or a newspaper, you’re not subscribing to the thing that you’ve got, you’re subscribing to the future value of what it is that is going to be promised to you.

That’s creating an audience.

Now once we’ve established that, that there’s a difference between an audience and transacting for a piece of content. Now we say what is the value of doing that? Because isn’t marketing just basically getting transactions and leads into the pipeline know the value of an offer?

“Audience” is that those are people who want to hear from you, you’re delivering value to them. They are your customers in a way. And so the best way to describe it is how can we start to use and leverage the asset of a bunch of people who want to hear from us enthusiastically, emotionally want to hear from us to our benefit.

And that benefit can come from another a number of ways. The simplest and easiest way I explained it is… I’ll talk to a CFO and I’ll say, “Tell me about your marketing database.” “Oh, well, there’s 25,000 in there.” “Great. Is it which is my mind.”

By the way, if you see that in your marketing database, is the first name last name accurate information about where they are in their buying cycle, their budgets, their phone number? Would that be more or less valuable? And the CFO always says, “Well, of course that would be even, you know, less of them would be more valuable, right?”

Because you can now use that for targeting ads to do look alike advertising. The perfect example of this was when I was CMO of a software company. And there was a guy named Dan. And Dan was a customer who came in as an audience member. And he came in he subscribed to our blog, you subscribe to our white papers, he came to our events, we got to know him, right?

We got to know him as “Oh, it’s Dan.” Never bought one thing from us. Never talked to a sales guy. The reason was because he was never able to make the business case for our particular brand of product to his bosses. And he went from job to job to job. And he recommended us into four different clients. We closed more than a million and a half worth of business from the recommendations of him sharing our content, talking about us in really nice ways, and all of that, and he was never once considered a lead or an opportunity.

That’s the value of an audience. That’s the value of “if I can get a 1000 Dan’s out there.” Yeah, you’re building a multiplier to your mind. marketing that you just can’t duplicate.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: It’s almost like having a virtual salesforce.

Robert Rose: Exactly that’s a multiplier, everything you do, yeah, from savings, to PR, to getting reach to getting frequency to get all the things that you learned in classic University marketing, and “audience” is a multiplier to that.

Flat Earth Marketing

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s such an important lesson. I think every marketer needs to be hit over the head with that in a loving way. Yeah. So if you’ll permit me, I want to ask a question that you asked on a recent podcast. The question is great. So I don’t butcher it. Can you explain your “flat earth marketing” concept? And then give me some of your favorite examples?

Robert Rose: Yeah. It’s and it’s one of, by the way, I’m just starting to explore so I mean, I just for some reason, the term really illuminated with me, and I got I was inspired. I was reading some articles about the people who are out there and still believe in, you know that the earth is flat. And all of the excuses.

But the fascinating thing to me wasn’t the fact that they don’t believe it, the fascinating thing is to me that the hoops, the mental hoops that they jump through, to squash down the evidence. That’s the most interesting thing.

And we see that in marketing all the time, from marketers that are out there who will squash or keep alive practices that we know are… it’s not Modern Marketing practices that have, you know, sort of gone the way of the dodo. You know, print advertising and stuff like that.

No, they’re marketing practices that were always wrong. For some reason, refuse to die. Like the classic one, one of my favorites is, it’s actually a sales more than a marketing practice, but it’s the quarter-end discount. You know, basically, for years, years and years and years B2B businesses will proactively have an end of quarter campaign where there’s a big discount and sales guys come to depend on it, right?

Where they can really relax the terms of the contract, they can discount more deeply than they normally do. Why? To make sure that we’re pulling all that revenue over the end zone line, you know, before the end of the quarter. When study after study after study after study shows that it not only weakens your position in the marketplace to do that, to you train your customers to just wait till the end of the quarter to buy from you.

The win rates actually decrease by 51%. When you do that, all that evidence stacked up and businesses are still like “no, no, that’s how we do it.” “This is what we do.” The gating content, you know, getting leads, and calling the leads is another one. Buying email lists, as you know, is yet another one right?

We still today, we still buy email lists even though it’s against the law to do it. We still do it. It’s you know, it’s crazy some of the stuff that we still do in marketing, because we just have been doing it.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yeah. It’s also the quarterly sales thing is also training your salespeople to just wait to the last minute to bring their numbers.

Robert Rose: Well, they know that they don’t work that hard until like, you know, four or five weeks before the end of the quarter because then they can go to that customer and go, “listen, it’s gonna be cool, man, we can discount you like 20% if you just wait.”

Marketing in the Time of COVID, BLM, #MeToo

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So we’re, we’re in a time of fear divisiveness and more importantly, what I feel is a move towards real positive change. I think people are waking up and really looking at what matters to them? Should marketers be paying attention to these things? Do they need to talk about COVID, about Black Lives Matter, about #metoo, and the other issues that are out there in their content efforts? Or does it come across as sort of self-serving and lobbing on to a cause?

Robert Rose: Big question. Yeah, you know, yes and no, right. I mean, there’s no good pat answer for this. The real answer is, you do so as long as it’s part of your brand’s story, right? And so I use that you know, sort of hashtag apostrophes matter. Your brand’s story, if that includes helping people figure this stuff out or having a point of view or you know, on this then God bless you go do it, right.

I mean, it’s the thing to do. You know, if don’t force that into your brand story will not never come across, right? It just, it just won’t, you know, and so forcing that into your content. And the other thing is that understanding the lens of your audience as well. In other words, it’s not just if you want to say it, it’s what it is that your audience needs or wants to hear from you on that particular topic.

So understanding your audience, you know, already important, just ratchets up another 25 notches in importance there. And the example I often use is, look, you’ve got to be conscious of this. If you sell something that you’re not even going to touch any of these issues, but your thought leadership is helping them with something else, just be very aware of what it is you’re helping them within this moment.

And in other words, the metaphor I sometimes use is, you know, when someone is drowning is not the time to send them a brochure on the top 10 things to do to learn to swim. So you don’t want teach to someone about fire safety as their house is burning down.

It’s a consciousness of what it is. You’re teaching, inspiring, entertaining, in the moment, revisit that content calendar and understand what it is you’re saying in context with the lens that your audience is currently looking through. And, boy, I, you know, I just always, I mean, for me, I always err on the side of… There’s a famous saying, “the first step in learning is silence. The second step in learning is listening. The third step is actually saying something that you’ve learned.”

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I couldn’t think of a better way to end this interview. We’re at the end of our questions and our time, and I really, really appreciate your time. Today, it’s been an absolute pleasure. There’s so much in here that I think marketers will be able to use and think on and maybe challenge themselves a bit. So I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Robert Rose: Absolutely My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a blast.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Stay safe out there and we’ll see y’all later.

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