In our hunt to gather the most useful wisdom about content marketing strategies, tips, and techniques I went to B2B venture capitalists OpenView‘s Head of Marketing, Gail Axelrod to get the insights that will take your content marketing to the next level. In our short interview, we covered everything from the type of content to best connect with your audience, generating new ideas, building a reputation and which channels you should use.
The most inspiring thing that I noticed from our interview is how firmly Gail adopts a values-based approach to marketing. If you’re anything like me, you’ll notice how natural and ‘right’ it feels when she’s talking about the strategy she uses for content marketing. You can watch the video interview below or carry on reading my favorite takeaways in the following paragraphs.
The Strategy – Authenticity & Compassion
Although OpenView does not use content marketing to drive sales, they approach their strategy in a way to expand the founder network and educate the community:
“…we want to be seen as the preeminent resource, warehouse of knowledge for all B2B SaaS companies; even those that are a little bit earlier stage so we’re providing platform services to the companies that we invest in, but Labs is basically a resource for the entire SaaS community. So it’s a little bit of sharing with the community what we know using our networks to publish what we think is the best in-class advice and then, of course, it’s useful for our portfolio companies as well. Just as any startup uses content marketing to drive leads to the top of their funnel, but it’s not quite the same because we’re a VC firm and we don’t sell a product to everyone who comes to our site; but at the same time we are still gathering new subscribers and adding people to our newsletter and expanding our network so that’s very important as well.”
OpenView seems to have adopted the ‘abundance mindset’, which means that their approach to content marketing is free, unguarded, and with the primary goal of providing a valued service to their audience. This focus of genuinely providing content of value seems to be something that can be rare to find amongst today’s ever-trickier marketing strategies; posing as good Samaritans only to be found plagued with call-to-actions and service promotions. It’s very apparent the Gail really wants to help people and companies with their problems. It was a delight to hear that OpenView’s authenticity remained paramount for them in their content marketing strategy.
“I would say it’s evolved from less ‘how-to’ and promoting certain aspects of your product; how do you do this’ with your product and ‘how do you do that’ with your product, and more actually providing value to your readers. I think that’s really what search engines are looking for. So you know, we’re vendor agnostic… we promote ourselves as little as possible. I think that if you feel like it’s a good article that provides value instead of something that’s stuffed with keywords or stuffed with links. Deep down you know that kind of content isn’t what your audience wants, and it’s ultimately not what the search engines want either so you’re doing yourself a disservice in two ways”
What I loved about Gail’s message is that the essence she’s saying: “Keep it genuine and try your best to help”. All too often we can find ourselves in the trap of trying to sell; trying to write something that will become a click through to our product or service, rather than actually giving our audience something of genuine use. Your audience will sense that quickly and be deterred by the insidious agenda.
Next, I wanted to explore how Gail decided on the topics that OpenView would talk about. How did she decide what was best to write about?
Brainstorming Ideas – Empathy & Humility
You would hope that all content marketing managers understand that their content needs to be tailored to their audience, but how many of them actually listen? Often their making guesses, assumptions and asking the internet, but could it be that they’ve missed a trick? At OpenView it’s all about hearing and understanding the customers’ needs. How do you do that? Ask the people that know.
“Honestly, I give a pretty rough framework to our network of contributors, and the reason is because they are experts in their field. So they’re the ones that are day in day out seeing what their teams need and their customers need so I often rely a lot on the contributors to tell me: “This is what you know this needs to be said right now” or “This is the popular trend right now” I tell people that I’m an expert at content marketing but you’re writing for Labs because you’re a sales expert or product experts”
Showing humility is something that not all managers are as good at. It’s so important to consider that maybe it’s your sales team, your writers or your customer service team who know best about what subjects your content should be addressing. The people on the ground are those with the closest contact with your audience, listen to their ideas to be able to empathize with your audience and produce content around what they need.
Once you know how and what you’re going to write about, I wanted to know which channels Gail used for OpenView’s audience to see it. Gail shared with us her advice on the best channels she uses to get the best traffic and visibility.
Channels and Visibility – Care & Patience
Understandably, marketing can receive a lot of pressure for results – especially in the startup world. As content marketers, we are responsible for providing qualified leads and increasing reputation. It takes a level of faith to be able to stay steadfast when things aren’t moving as quickly as you or the CEO would like, but as Gail explains, if you’re consistently producing content of quality you will see the tree of content marketing bare ripe and juicy fruits:
“Organic is definitely our number one traffic source, and then again I think that goes back to what I was saying earlier that if you’re not, you know, keyword stuffing your pieces and you’re not being very self-promoting I think that just serves you better. You know, your posts should be longer, they should provide a lot of value to the reader, so all that’s really important. The better content you produce, from a qualitative standpoint, the better quantitative numbers, in the terms of traffic they’re gonna get. And then for us, we have a publication on Medium; we also publish then republish some of our content on Medium. I think it came up really quickly as an easy place where a lot of people were getting their content and if you can get something trending on Medium then your numbers are gonna skyrocket. Growth Hackers previously quit any kind of social network where people are sharing a lot of content. I don’t know, you just have to look for those new places that people are going to”
Again, Gail stresses the importance of being authentic in your purpose of serving high value to your customers. If a lot of people find your content useful it will get more views and more attention which will naturally lead to people being interested in your service or product. This takes care and patience if you are to resist the temptation to give your marketing a sales slant and try to push your audience into buying your product. If you’re not as lucky as OpenView to be talking to those people who are already looking online, you might have to think a little more outside the box, as Gail explains:
Alternative Marketing Channels – Creativity
For the majority of us, it won’t be as easy as producing content for Medium and Growth Hackers, and we’ll have to think more outside of the box to find our audience’s ears and eyes. There are a plethora of ways in which you can reach your customers, but sometimes it requires some energy in being creative. Gail kicks us off with a great suggestion:
“There are so many networks, I think we’re really lucky. I think if you’re more in a niche space you have to kind of find either your influencers or channel publications where you can get your name out there and you know you have to work a little bit harder if you’re not in tech because there’s just so much out there… Go to Quora, start answering questions. Include helpful links but don’t include too many links like there’s always something that you can be doing better to promote your content”
Find out where your customers are active and create a presence there to provide the value that you want your customer to receive. You could be using Facebook or LinkedIn group, forums or writing guest blogs for those writing about your field. Don’t be limited by the first few ways you think of to reach your audience.
To wrap up the interview I asked Gail for some advice for those of you who are competing against well-established companies that have been about for some time.
Content Marketing – Integrity and Grit
To tie it all together Gail sums up the big idea for her and how she approaches her work. It was a breath of fresh air to listen to someone passionate about genuinely trying to do something good to contribute to others. Gail’s understanding of the bigger picture and constantly keeping in mind OpenView’s purpose of helping others achieve their dream is the difference between leadership and management. Her advice to people trying to compete in a highly saturated market summed it up nicely:
“I sound like a broken record but it all goes back to quality and not just promoting yourself constantly over and over again. I think you need to be smart and understand the keywords that people are gonna be searching for that relate to your product and try to rank for those keywords and hopefully get people to your site; and they might not request a demo or buy or convert that first time but if you keep showing up and search over and over and over again they’re eventually gonna realize “Okay with security this is the top vendor” and “They have all the best content and I always read their content, so maybe I should trust them and maybe I should try their product” I think it’s just a process and starting out it can seem like an uphill battle because everything takes a long time to get index and for your search traffic to go up, but I think if you follow this kind of model with SEO and just making sure you’re writing for what you want people searching for and landing on your site I think it eventually, in the end, it’ll work out”
A welcomed reminder that grit is the defining factor between those who make it and those who fall by the wayside. As Angela Duckworth found out in her study, it’s the combination of passion and perseverance that determines long-term success. Stay true to yourself and your purpose and over time you will build your credibility and reputation as being a source of value.
To find out where Gail gets her source of inspiration from I asked where she learns more about how to approach content marketing.
Learning more and getting inspired – Follow your heart
Naturally, the first place you’d look for inspiration is to those companies who are the leaders in your field, but that will never lead you off the path well-trodden. You can find your ideas from various sources that aren’t so logical.
“Not so much reading people’s advice but kind of seeing what other companies or even other VC firms are doing and kind of seeing what I think works and what doesn’t work I think First Round has an amazing content strategy; they really stuck to long-form interview type content. I think Drift has an awesome strategy they’re like all over the link in the really embraced video. We started our own podcast, so kind of just seeing what the new channels are what new avenues different companies, different people who you admire are using and then evaluating whether or not that’ll work for your own brand and company. But I think you always have to be willing to evolve and you should be always taking inspiration from not your competitors but people who you admire, whether or not they have a product that relates to you. So you know Into The Gloss, Top Shelf has some amazing content and has absolutely nothing to do what Open View does but it still can serve as inspiration for the voice and the type of content, and the look and feel we want to have.”
Gail makes a beautiful point about the importance of keeping open and creative in the pursuit of providing the most useful and engaging content for our audience. Follow your interests, take what you think is exciting and relevant, and keep moving forward. To put the cherry on top Gail leaves us with her final words of wisdom:
“You have to be willing to evolve. You have to understand that your website needs to change you can’t keep everything the same year over year and expect your content and your organic traffic to just keep increasing; you have to evolve.“
It was a pleasure to be inspired by Gail and share some of the ways she likes to help people. Be sure to check out labs.openviewpartners.com and subscribe to their newsletter. And if you’re interested, take a peep at some of the other insights that you can find in our other ‘Marketing Heroes’ series!