• Susan Tatum

5 Steps of Content-Driven Marketing

Updated: Sep 11

with Mike Sweeney



More companies are out there creating more content, but instead of informing consumers, it’s simply overwhelming them. Mike Sweeney shares 5 content-driven marketing strategies that will help companies cut through the noise and reclaim their customers’ attention.


Notes from the Show

As the CEO of Right Source Marketing, Mike Sweeney is focused on helping companies create and market with POWERFUL content. Since 2009, when content marketing became the newest buzzword, companies have been pumping out content in an effort to attract customers’ attention. Instead of creating more content, Mike has learned to carefully tailor his content-driven marketing to improve a company’s position as a thought leader, bring in more leads, and improve public relations.


Today, Mike and I discussed what he calls “the content tree”. By grounding a company’s marketing in positioning and messaging, Mike can then concentrate on content creation, optimization, and repurposing. And once these roots and branches are in place, Mike’s company finds ten different ways to market the content by moving onto distribution and analysis. Leaving behind the old content marketing and turning to content-driven marketing can help a company overhaul their long-term marketing strategy.

What’s Inside:

  • Identifying and drilling down on the unique spin you can put on your content will allow a company to be humanized in a way that connects better with customers.

  • Paid advertising and content-driven marketing are not comparable in their reach; one is intended for immediate results, and one creates a pipeline of leads that will yield results for years.

  • One of the unexpected consequences of Covid-19 and the political climate is that content marketing has an additional trust and authority hurdle that marketers will need to jump over.

  • The content your company disseminates on the internet should come from your best thought leaders because for today’s consumer, 80% of a highly considered B2B purchase happens before they actually pull the trigger and buy.

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:03

Hey everybody, and welcome to stop the noise. This is where we get to hear from some of the most interesting and experienced minds offering us advice and some great ideas about why and how to stop wasting money looking and sounding like everybody else. You know in business, being the same won't keep you safe, it will make you easy to replace, and even easier to ignore. I'm your host, Susan Tatum. Let's get started.


Hello, and welcome back to stop the noise. I'm Susan Tatum. And today I am really excited to be talking with Mike Sweeney, who's the CEO of Right Source Marketing. And he and his team help companies create and market powerful content with powerful all in uppercase. So welcome, Mike.


Mike Sweeney 0:58

Thank you, Susan, happy to be here.


Susan Tatum 1:01

I'm really looking forward to this this conversation because I think that content is terribly important. And right now one of the biggest sources of noise that we have going on out in the marketplace.


Mike Sweeney 1:17

This is true.


Susan Tatum 1:20

So why is that?


Mike Sweeney 1:24

Oh, how long do we have here? So I think the way I always weave the story is some time back in, you know, somewhere between 2008 and 2012, when content marketing started becoming, a thing I would argue it's always been a thing, it's just that's when people started calling it content marketing and paying more attention to it. Over over the decades since then, as it's kind of grown in popularity as a tactic. And I often don't call it a tactic I call it an approach which we can get into. What has happened is people have companies have started creating massive amounts of content. So each company has started creating massive amounts, more companies have started creating massive amounts, more industries have joined the fray in terms of creating content. So now you just have all this stuff out there. And with that, like with anything, any any trend, some portion of it is crap. Excuse my language. And it is up to the consumer, the business person to decipher which pieces of it are in fact crap, which ones are high quality. And so it's kind of just the noise has, frankly been created by the volume, not just a content, but the different types of organizations and people that I've, you know, decided I wanted on this.


Susan Tatum 3:08

I think that makes sense. I would also add that the availability of inexpensive content, which almost always means crap content. is it's just too easy. It's you know, it's too easy to do a bunch of stuff and flood the market with it and not bother to do it well.


Mike Sweeney 3:03

That is absolutely right. And you and I and probably anyone listening, maybe not anyone but most people absolutely know, when we read in terms of written content, a great piece of content versus a mediocre piece versus a crap piece. We also know in the visual when we watch a great video, a mediocre video or crap video. The influx of kind of cheap resources that produce cheap content has just kind of muddied the water, if you will.


Susan Tatum 3:32

I equate that to automation apps on LinkedIn now that are allowing you to.. not you, but the world to automatically send out generic connection requests and messages.


Mike Sweeney 3:45

Gosh, well,


Susan Tatum 3:46

let's not go down that route.


Mike Sweeney 3:48

Yeah, yeah.


Susan Tatum 3:50

So what what makes great content?


Mike Sweeney 3:53

Well, first of all, you have to decide who you're talking to specifically, you can't talk to everyone. And then you have to know who you're talking to. Right. So let's say you choose a specific vertical and a specific type of decision maker. Well, it's one thing to say that's who I'm talking to, then it's another thing to get to know that person or that set of people. So it kind of starts there. Then another factor that I'd put in there is that we tell kind of all of our thought leaders, if you will, you've got to speak in your own unique voice or tone the more someone for instance reads you for talking about written content, they ought to know, within the first couple paragraphs, oh, this is a Susan piece by the voice and the tone so that you can kind of establish who you are. And it should be, you know, what I always say is you should write the way you speak. And a lot of people don't do that. They, they try to fake something. And most good readers can, if you know, can see through that. So those are a couple things, then this seems obvious. And again, I'm speaking about the written word, the writing better be damn tight. Right. So you know, it's, we always tell people, you need an editor, that's just one step. Because even the best writers, it's not going to be tight enough on your first draft, sometimes second draft, third draft. So those are a few that I put out there. And we haven't kind of ventured into the kind of what I would call the more the marketing side of content marketing, where we're talking about shirts should be optimized for search as well and should be distributed and things like that,


Susan Tatum 5:35

Well, no, I was thinking about a piece of content that I'm reading, whether it's a blog article or an article somewhere else or or even white papers or surveys, or do you think that some of the knee teunis have a lot of the content could be traced back to their sharing the same positioning and branding and not be having enough differentiation there?


Mike Sweeney 6:00

Yes, I think it can be traced back partially to that it can be traced back to the way people kind of study content. And in particular, as it relates to what ranks in search engines. People are often just kind of copycatting saying, Okay, well, I have a website that has this domain authority, which means if I essentially create the same piece for the same set of keywords as this other company, I'm going to rank But yeah, I think it definitely can be traced back to, to those types of things, and the positioning and messaging thing. It's where they saw this whole, again, what we call kind of content driven marketing game falls apart. There's too many companies, too many individuals that we often speak to, and they say, there's really nothing that unique about us. We're a CPA accounting firm, just like the one down the street, we do the same things. And we often stop people and say that that is absolutely not true. You're just not digging, you may offer the same exact services as other accounting firm, but like, what about the story of how your company was founded? It's probably something unique there that can be woven in or, or your people? Is there something unique about your people that you can weave in? So I don't think people dig far enough in positioning and messaging to find the unique thing? It's almost like, what if you're an individual and said, actually, Susan, there's, there's nothing unique about me. I have no position or no message, like, I'm just like, that other CEO you spoke to last week, it's like what you'd look at that person be like, Oh, this is really boring. You're saying you have nothing unique about you? So I always say companies and individuals aren't all that different in terms of their their identities, at least.


Susan Tatum 7:48

Do you find that when people talk about themselves, when they talk about their companies, it can be very bland, but if you get them talking about themselves, then does it does that like perk him up a little bit?


Mike Sweeney 7:58

It does. And, you know, obviously not everyone is is super comfortable with that. But especially for instance, in particular, for us when when COVID hit and we have a set of health care clients, one of our first pieces of advice was you have to humanize every piece of communication you create sometimes that means being vulnerable. Sometimes it means telling people you are struggling to, you understand his patients you're struggling as a doctor. I am struggling but yeah, the the more everything can kind of be humanized The more it I don't even want to say comes off, the more it is authentic, which discerning consumers kind of can see through or see the benefit of.


Susan Tatum 8:46

Yeah, you know, I have also been saying that people are an awful lot better at recognizing fake, then we often we as marketers or salespeople give them credit for.


Mike Sweeney 8:53

Yep


Susan Tatum 8:55

They just see through it.


Mike Sweeney 8:56

Yeah, they really do. Not everyone but but a lot. Like I said, it's just they're just more discerning with the messages they're seeing now.


Susan Tatum 9:03

So how do you and your team work with your clients to help them get a unique voice and be talking about the right thing, creating good content? Let's put it that way?


Mike Sweeney 9:15

Yeah, well, we're really. So the way we view this, the content driven marketing is there's there's five pillars to it. And most folks almost exclusively focused on content production for creation. For us, it all starts with pillar number one, which is strategy and planning. And that is when we are really digging deep into the messaging and positioning. And frankly, we won't touch something like content topic ideas, until we've nailed positioning and messaging because those are for us, it's kind of we have a content tree, that the messaging is at the roots of the tree, it should carry through to every piece of content. So we have an extensive planning process, then yes, there's creation and optimization of content, then there is repurposing, which you and I briefly talked about, which a lot of people don't focus on, how do you get the most out of this investment, you're going to make some content. And, and what a lot of people do is, for instance, they create a white paper or an E book. And that's it. They promote it once. And that's it. But we focus on Well, how do you cut that thing up into 50 pieces and don't just promote it once, promote it 10 times over the course of the year. And repurposing is just an area where a lot of people fall down, then there's distribution. And we talked about kind of four categories of distribution. And then the last pillar is report obviously, well, I think, obviously reporting and analysis figuring out what actually works, and what are you going to do with that information to improve what you're doing? So we're not the only ones that do that. But those what we see is a lot of companies don't address all five of those areas, and therefore the effort is not bad, just flawed.


Susan Tatum 11:00

Yeah. What, what is the biggest obstacle to getting your clients to do all five of these things?


Mike Sweeney 11:07

Hey, I'll state the obvious to do that the right way. It requires a fairly significant investment in content. And that is, again, why we don't focus on content marketing, we call it content driven marketing, because what we see as if it is treated as a marketing, bucket budget, like, oh, there's content marketing, there's email marketing, there's paid media, there's social, it is not treated appropriately versus it is an entire approach that covers your entire kind of marketing spectrum. So number, let me circle back number one is, it requires a significant investment. Number two, this is a weird one. But it's, it's our reality. Some people are super scared of a real strategy and planning exercise. And in particular, the positioning and messaging side of things. It's almost like they're, they're afraid it's going to expose something that they don't know or that's wrong with their company or with the people they have. And we see this strange aversion to like a comprehensive planning present, they want to move right to, let's brainstorm all of our blog topics. And it's like, that's not the way to do it. So I don't understand enough about the psychology of that because I probably because I'm a planner by nature myself, but there are folks that just, it makes them nervous.


Susan Tatum 12:35

They, they just don't want to look that closely at themselves.


Mike Sweeney 12:38

I think that's some of it. But the ones that do are the ones that have genius efforts, and I'm not talking about just Stuff that that we do, I'm talking about stuff that I've seen that I'm just like, you can tell when someone has just really examine their self as a company and gone through a legitimate planning process.


Susan Tatum 12:59

So a business owner that does that agree to do that? What does what does this great content affect? How do they see that? At the end of the day? How does it show up in the benefits that it delivered?


Mike Sweeney 13:10

Yeah, but the sort of the unique things about content driven marketing is there are kind of it provides value and a host of different areas, okay. Ranging from I suppose kind of fairly basic things like increasing your position as a thought leader to, certainly your presence on social media to Yes, if done right, lead generation to brand awareness to having impacts on other areas like public relations, where content marketing can actually feed that engine, too. You know, we have folks, we have clients for whom their sales people come back directly and say, I could not have done my job as well without the stuff that was produced that I could kind of feed to nurture a sales cycle. So it's really it's multifaceted in that sense. But I will say this, you didn't bring this up. It is, it is very much a long term play, and not for the folks that are looking for a quick fix. It is so much different than for instance, advertising in that way. What I always say we use both methods, but in you know, digital advertising, if I spend $2,000 today, that $2,000 that I spent is done working for me at the end of today. And I start over tomorrow, if I spend $2,000, to create a blog post today, it may produce zero today, it may produce zero for the first month, but call me in five years when the graph looks like this as it starts to, you know, pick up audience and rank in search engines. And it's working for me five years later. And that's I don't know if it's misunderstood. A lot of people just don't think of it that way. But that's why it is a long term play and not for folks that are like, is this gonna rain leads down out of the sky tomorrow?


Susan Tatum 15:10

If only So, if somebody is just say you have a new client that's coming to you or a prospect that you're talking to, and maybe they have nothing but crap content now or they're, they're new, and they're just getting started with it. Where do you begin? Like what I mean, I'd love to ask you the question, how many pieces of content does the company need? And I realized that there is no answer to that? But how would you start with the play start the strategy and the planning, and the messaging, which is going to inform everything that gets created from that? Where do you start in terms of what you do first, what content comes first? It depends is and?


Mike Sweeney 15:49

Yeah, I mean, it. But I'll tell you what, it depends on forget about budget for a second. Okay, just throw that out the window, even though we can't? It depends on things like, who is creating the content? And what type of thought leader are they? Right, for instance, and I don't know if this is the best starting spot, but we're gonna roll with it. You oftentimes a subject matter expert of some sort, is presented as the person that will be the author. And when I say author, I'm using that broadly, of a piece of content. Well, what if that person can't write? Okay, then maybe we'll get them up and get them to a speaking event speak. Well, what if they can't speak? Okay, so maybe they're comfortable in front of a camera then just not speaking live? And so some of it depends right there on like, who you're putting out there as the folks that are, that are the content authors, and where they're actually going to shine. That's one place to start the other place to start. I will say if I'm, if I if I have to answer this, I would almost always start with things like blog posts or articles, because as long as you can nail the writing and have that unique voice, it tends to be what helps you create momentum. And once you have a little bit of momentum, you can start to look at not I don't even call them alternate formats, just different formats from there. But it is, it's a hard question to answer because we do it differently for for everybody.


Susan Tatum 17:24

Well, but but I think that's a good answer. I mean, I, you know, I have seen processes that we'll start with, right, the the E book or the or the concept paper or the big overlying content umbrella thing, and then break that down into the smaller pieces versus I would think it's white, what do you really need first, what's the.. I mean? That's probably that's part of the strategy I'm sure is.


Mike Sweeney 17:47

yeah, well, but oftentimes, people don't know what they need. And if they truly don't another place, that is sometimes an obvious place to start, although this can be approached the wrong way is, let's ask your salespeople their most common questions. The reason I say that can go the wrong way is that can lead you down a path of Oh, so I'm going to create a bunch of collateral data sheets, product sheets, and that's not what we're talking about when we talk about content driven marketing. That's what's been done in the past doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. But we're talking about kind of the educational stuff that people use before they ever speak to anyone in a sales role.


Susan Tatum 18:26

Yes, yeah. Because it's likely that you're either going to have some kind of data sheet existing when you get there. Even if the salespeople were left to create their own, I guess.


Mike Sweeney 18:35

Yep.


Susan Tatum 18:36

So you mentioned misuses of content, that it that it was more misusing the content than it was doing the content wrong. Did I understand that correctly?


Mike Sweeney 18:46

It's, it's a little bit of both. When I talk about misusing content, it's it's kind of, do you have the right message at the right time in the right format for the right audience, that's where the misuse starts to happen. Meaning you could have a great piece of content but m

iss on one of those four. that's usually where the misuse happens, like, Hey, I'm gonna go feed a great piece about software companies, to healthcare decision makers, okay. Good luck. But you've just lost the whole battle, because they don't, if you're not speaking to them, they don't care. So that that's just one example. When I talk about misuse.


Susan Tatum 19:26

I saw something recently, and I can't remember where it was that I saw, it might but it was talking about marketers, so many marketers tend to focus so much on top of the funnel type of content. And not enough mid funnel and lower funnel where you have a greater the percentage of those people that are going to turn into clients as much higher than it is at the top of the funnel. is do you see any? Do you see that as well?


Mike Sweeney 19:54

Yes. And I, although, frankly, I think that's what I see. The majority of the time, is people think that they have the lower parts of the funnel licked in terms of content, they think, Oh, well, that's for case studies. And, portfolio samples and pricing calculators and things like that. And which isn't always the case, because that prospect needs to be educated throughout the process. And then frankly, even then, once they become a customer or client, they still need it, which is another place that people, they focus so much on the top, and maybe a little bit on the kind of bottom few sections of the funnel. Then once there there's a customer or client, they don't do anything to provide educational content to that group.


Susan Tatum 20:45

So you said something else interesting, earlier, and that was that you view content as an approach, not a tactic. Tell us a little bit more about that.


Mike Sweeney 20:54

Yeah. Well, that comes from two places the first place is I mean, the game, the game, I always play with folks that are willing play it with me is name a type of marketing, that can happen without content today. And people try. And there are a couple. But the reality is like there isn't anything that you can do without content. But I don't even think that's the most important piece, because that's kind of just the fun side. I think the bigger piece specifically in business to business, which is what I know far better than the consumer side is there's data that comes out year after year after year. And the latest one I saw, I believe it's from Gartner is that 80% of a highly considered business to business purchase happens before the buyer ever speaks to a human being with a sales title. So then what are those people? What are those buyers doing? its content in some form. They are wandering websites, they're wandering review sites and directories and googling and looking at ads and downloading ebooks and things like that. So really, that's the bigger thing is this whole digital generation, if you will, has has changed in terms of I'm not saying the relationship doesn't matter anymore. We all know that there's always a space for a human to human relationship and things like that. I just think so much of that type of process happens before you even get to establish a relationship. And that lends itself to two different types of content,


Susan Tatum 22:32

having the right kind of content. Yeah, that makes sense. So what do you see? Coming out of covid? Not that we're coming out of COVID. But what changes do you see affected by COVID that you think will be with us? For a long time?


Mike Sweeney 22:47

I'd go right back to the 80%. I don't think that is a that's not a COVID stat. That's not because people haven't been able to fly across the country or play golf with other people or go to big events. I mean, maybe a small part of it. I think that existed or I know that existed. Pre COVID I think one of the things COVID has done in particular for certain industries. And I would say it's COVID combined, unfortunately, with all the we'll just call it political unrest is there's been so much misinformation, or crappy information about COVID and political unrest, not necessarily together, but sometimes together. That the the average consumer trust far less about what they read. And so building that trust via not just content as the vehicle, but the thought leader and the profile of that person that is putting that content out. Seems to me is just become even post whatever post COVID means more important than ever. There's just a lack of been established even in just to give you a quick example, in health care. I don't want to misquote this in 2018. So well before COVID there was a New York Times study that said, up just about a third of all Americans trusted what they classified as medical leadership. And I believe in the 60s, it was something like 75 80%. So and that's medical leadership, those are the people that are supposed to take care of help people take care of their health. So if that's the deal in health care, oh my god, there's it's it's an uphill battle for people because no longer do you just Google whatever condition and say, I'm just going to trust whatever the first result is. It's it's just a lot. I think that's a good thing that consumers have become more discerning, but it just means that the crap is going to get filtered out.


Susan Tatum 24:56

Well, hopefully the crap will get filtered out and we could get into a philosophical discussion of what is real, I suppose but yeah, but And what is true, but yeah, it's hard. It's really hard to believe what you read. I mean, you mean things as simple as Amazon reviews? Is it fake? Or is it a real one? Or is it says the competitor trying to make them look bad?


Mike Sweeney 25:16

That's, that is a very good point. I know I do the same thing, even shopping for basic things. I'm just like, I don't know if these are real reviews. What do I do?


Susan Tatum 25:29

Well, Mike, this has been great. Before we go tell me what are or tell us all, what makes a good client for right source?


Mike Sweeney 25:40

I will tell you, you've gotta absolutely believe that this content driven marketing approach can impact your business, and that it's not a kind of one off, trendy type thing that it is a long term strategy. You have to have patience, okay, that and understand how this is different. Like I said, the example I gave earlier, versus something like advertising in terms of the return it delivers on what timeframe. Those are those probably I could give you a kind of eight others, but those are probably the two big ones. If those those two things are in place. Then the rest of the things just become, kind of semantics.


Susan Tatum 26:23

You can work around them if you need to. Well, for people who want to know more about you and your work, how's the best way for them to find you?


Mike Sweeney 26:32

Yeah, you can go to right source marketing dot com. I know it's long. I won't spell it. Hopefully, it's obvious. And I would particularly pay attention to our resources section where kind of houses all of our thought leadership in terms of, you know, as I said, our own positioning and messaging and how we how we approach these things.


Susan Tatum 26:52

So a good example of the way things should be done.


Mike Sweeney 26:54

We like to eat our own dog food. Yes.


Susan Tatum 26:56

Okay. Well, thanks, Mike. This has been fun and informative. And I appreciate you coming here.


Mike Sweeney 27:02

Thank you, Susan. I appreciate it.


Susan Tatum 27:04

Take care. Stay safe.

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