MarTech is moving at a fast pace, challenging marketers to keep up with its latest trends which, let’s be honest, aren’t always so great for the consumer. Customer journey from marketing content to ABM is often subject to superficial metrics that misrepresent the notion of success and force the user experience down the more negative path.
How is that possible?
Aren’t marketing blogs filled with brave claims about the importance of value and experience? Isn’t that the current status quo?
Unfortunately, more often than not, consumers find themselves facing unfulfilled promises, hollow values, and wasted time.
Yaagneshwaran Ganesh, Director of Marketing at Avoma, host of the renowned ABM Conversations Podcast, author of multiple books, and TEDx speaker, argues that, philosophically, everyone understands the importance of good experience and value.
But that’s where it’s at, philosophy.
Practice is still lagging.
In this week’s tactic-packed Ungated Marketing interview with Fernando Amaral, Yaag shares his thoughts and advice on content marketing, ABM, and podcasting rooted in customer understanding as the secret to success.
The Evolution of Blogging: Is it Still Relevant?
A few years back, blogging was everything. It was the golden age of SEO and content marketing, and nobody questioned the capacity of blogging to deliver results. Today, the opinions and voices are not that uniform.
Yaag argues that “the power of organic still works,” but to see those results, “...sometimes you have to look at things from a slightly different perspective if you're blindly going to go with the perspective of ‘this keyword has so much of search volume so I will create content around that might not always work. Because the intent with which people come into that is very, very different.”
The Voice of the Customer
What could you do differently to ensure your blogging strategy is still relevant in 2021-22?
According to Yaag, the problem with failed content stems from an incorrect focus on the quality of language instead of the depth of understanding: “...content is one area [where] everybody thinks that everybody can write. But the fun part is, it's not about how good your language prowess is, but how well you're being understood. So, it starts from the fundamentals of how much you understand your product, your company, your customers, and all of that, and then be able to put yourself in their shoes, and start thinking about things from that side.”
Instead of simply going after the keywords with the highest search volume without other consideration, Yaag advises listening to the questions and problems your actual customers voice: “For example, I use our own product Avoma to listen to, say, a prospect’s call or customer’s call between [...] my customer success person and them and try to get a glimpse of the kind of questions that these guys are asking on a daily basis.”
He advocates that the real power of content marketing lies in answering the issues and problems customers actually face, even if it doesn’t directly sell the product. Just look at the example with “filler words” (seemingly meaningless word, phrase, or sound that marks a pause or hesitation in speech) Yaag offers to better explain the concept: “There is something called ‘filler words’ in our product. And one of the prospects asked my salesperson, ‘Hey, Olivia, you know, you have something called filler words, but because I use filler words, is it that I'm going to lose a deal? What is the connection between this and that?’ Now, I was like, WOW, this is something that I've never thought about that makes a lot of sense! [...] [We] went back and did some analysis of about a million conversations and figured out that just because you use filler words, you're not going to lose deals. But, on the contrary, if you're going to use about 70% filler words, for every 100 words that you speak, it's going to come across like you're not prepared, or you're not confident, and it's not going to give a good experience. At the same time, if you don't use filler words at all, it comes across as too practiced, too rehearsed, too plastic, and it doesn't feel real. So the moderation of 1 to 2% makes a lot of sense.”
Yaag used this insight and research as a basis for a blog that targets a very real pain point while also targeting an important keyword “I put together all this content and created a blog around it. And I also figured out that Ahrefs has about, I think, roughly 4000 or 5000 searches per month for the keyword ‘filler words’. So, I tried to marry these two, and things worked out. Ultimately, it's not selling the product, but it's solving the problem that a customer was looking for.”
Power Distribution through Experimentation
In this day and age, it’s impossible to talk about content without distribution. Many argue that content distribution is even more important than the content itself.
A big part of the distribution conversation is community marketing, and Yaag’s experience is no different. He found his outlet and community on Linkedin, but the key takeaway here is to realize that “...every forum has its own set of rules, and they function very differently. You cannot be just looking at, hey, I come in and paste my couple of links of my blog post and expect everyone to come to my blog. No, that's not going to happen.” He argues: “...it's also about everybody coming there to have a good conversation and connect with each other and learn from each other. Of course, there are also going to be some people who will connect with you and start pitching right from the get-go. Those people are there in every forum. But ultimately, I thought [...] let's identify what's working.”
Yaag’s distribution philosophy is rooted in experimentation. Without it, you can’t know what can work for your product, your customers: “Throw different seeds in different places and see what sticks. And ultimately, you will see yourself going into one particular direction either because you feel more energy in being there, or things start to work for you, and they show you a direction on their own. So just keep at it, and eventually, you will start figuring things out.”
The Dusk of the Content Funnel Mindset
Every content marketer is familiar with the content funnel. In fact, that’s the roadmap to how most content is being created.
Nonetheless, Yaag believes that another ingredient in the recipe for creating content that’s relevant and impactful is getting out of that mindset: “The moment somebody thinks of content, they are thinking of top-funnel, mid-funnel, bottom-funnel. That's the traditional mindset of thinking about it. And that goes with the general assumption that [...] people are going to consume about 7 or 8 or probably 12 pieces of content before buying your product. But just think about anything from a customer's perspective. Do they really have the time? Are they going to read your awareness content first and learn the concept of what XYZ is, what a CRM is, or what marketing automation is? And from there, they learn ten other pieces and then finally decide that, okay, I'm going to buy HubSpot, or I'm going to buy Marketo. No! That's not how it's going to be. People are always looking at what they want to solve [...] based on the problem that they have.”
According to Yaag, we should minimize the steps and not create strictly awareness or middle-funnel content. Instead, the way forward is to blur the lines of all these things and create shortcuts that make sense to the customer: “...instead of taking [prospects] into ten different pieces and nurturing them through that over a period of time, you can simply lay down the structure of how to [solve a particular problem]. And in that process, you can also showcase some of your product screenshots. You may not sell [in a sense] that ‘Hey, my product does this!’ but you can tell the story of how to solve that [issue] and include certain parts of your product screenshots into the story so that [your leads] understand what it is.” Thus, providing them with a practical context and application for the use of your product from the get-go.
Content Experience is the King
Last but not least, for blogging to be as potent as it used to be, Yaag emphasizes the importance of creating a positive content experience.
According to him, every content is accompanied by experience factors centered around value, trust, objectivity, and expectations.
As an example, Yaag offers an instance where a brand compares itself against one or two of its competitors: “So, let's say somebody came into that blog and instantly realized that, ‘Hey, they've just written a couple of paragraphs about these two, and then started to talk about their product.’ It's a very bad experience! [...] That is not what they came into the blog for.” He further points out: “Somebody who's validating these two [tools], they are primarily thinking: ‘Can somebody give me a very objective evaluation as to what this is, and what that is?’”
Hence, if you create an expectation of answering this issue but then fail to deliver the promised value, you are butchering the experience along with your chances of capturing attention.
He goes on to explain that the second part of the content experience is in the distribution: “Just to give you an example as to how I thought about running an ad towards this [comparison piece] [...] Now, I could have easily done a Google ad that said: ‘Gong vs. Chorus, Which One Should You Buy?’ I mean, that's what the content is all about. [...] But the point is, once you understand the real intent of people as to why they are coming in there, I said I will just say ‘Gong vs., Chorus, Objective Evaluation - Feature by Comparison.’ So, the moment [prospects] look at ‘objective comparison,’ they say: ‘Okay, this is what I was actually looking for!’ and get in there, and they exactly see that.”
Here, the experience factor is rooted in the simple chain reaction of “You make a promise; you live by the promise. You earn the trust so that whenever somebody has a question on the lines that are in your ballpark, they are going to definitely come back and look at you or at least seek you for answers for that. Sometimes you might have an answer. Sometimes you might not, but at least you've earned their trust, and you can always you don’t know when you don’t know.”
In Yaag’s playbook, caring about the experience you deliver to your readers/leads means avoiding content that is outright salesy or coming out and claiming you are the best. He believes brands should take a lesson from production companies or streaming services: “Put the trust in the audience.” In other words, treat your product as a movie being put out in the theaters or on Netflix. Let people decide whether they want to see it or not.
Watch out for the Pressure of Metrics
Now, clearly, nobody ever sets out to create a lousy content experience on purpose. That’s why Yaag warns against the metrics trap: “See, philosophically, everybody understands that we should offer a great experience. But unfortunately, where things go wrong is ultimately what are the metrics that you're tied to. Right? So, if you, philosophically, believe that this is the direction, then build the metrics towards that [as well].”
To ensure good experiences, you should focus on monitoring data that help fuel them. Yaag elaborates: “When I'm talking to my performance marketing team, I won’t tie them to how many signups do they get month-on-month. [...] If somebody visiting about, say, 15-20 pages is ending up signing up for a demo or signing up for my product, let's improve that experience. [...] How can we lead more and more people to consume more content? How can we push them to do that? So, I will drive the consumption metrics, rather than trying to drive the signup metric.” So, these are the kinds of things that we can do to make sure the experience and the comfort level and trust grow over a period of time.”
Podcasting as a Marketing Strategy
Speaking of ABM with Yaag Ganesh, one cannot forgo talking about his podcast.
ABM Conversations recently celebrated its 100th episode, which is a massive success since most podcasts don’t make it above ten.
While Yaag’s podcast didn’t actually start as a conscious marketing strategy step, he believes that “Every company should invest in having a podcast of their own because, ultimately, [it] gives you space to create a voice for yourself.” He further explains that if people can recognize the voice and opinion of your brand based on a few lines of a random article without even seeing who wrote it, then you have succeeded.
How to Create Podcast Content that Works?
Even though ABM conversations was not a deliberate marketing coup, its origin story does give you a good idea of what type of content will make it worth listening to; “ABM conversations as a podcast was something that stemmed out of my frustration of listening to several other podcasts which I thought, after spending 40-50 minutes of time, did not give me value. I was not excited about it because I was hearing things like, ‘What did you have in the morning?’ ‘What coffee?’ ‘Did you have... was it a decaf or cappuccino?,’ or ‘Which school did you go to?’ and some random inside joke that only those two got and nobody else did. And I'm like, ‘Hey, I'm giving you my time [...] I'm here to learn something. Your topic promised XYZ. And if that's not happening, it's not helping me.’ [...] How do I change that? And so, it started there.”
So, it all boils down to value.
Yaag continues to explain that seeking value was what informed his choices of topics and guests. Every episode setup started with a question, ‘If I want to talk about this or that, whom do I go to?’ rather than thinking, ‘What big name can I invite to attract more attention?’
How to Pick the Guest & Will Cold Outreach Work?
Picking up just where we left off, a huge part of podcast success is about the type of guests you invite. However, big names do not necessarily equal value.
Hence, Yaag’s go-to strategy when picking guests is rooted in thinking about the teaching value of the topic first and name second: “Every person that I went to had some story, or had something behind for me to reach out to. It was never [about needing] to have this person. But I definitely felt that they are the only person who can do the best justice for that topic.”
Learning is what drives his choices and so, by default, ensures the episodes are valuable to the listeners as well: “Ultimately, [...] if I don't know a topic, I'll make a podcast episode on it. I'll reach out to the person whom I can learn from. I’ll do my best to do the research on that topic. And that one hour becomes a huge investment for me to learn from that person.”
As for reaching out, according to Yaag, it’s not rocket science but pure persistence. He used and still uses good old cold outreach: “It's a very simple email saying that ‘Hey, I've done so many episodes, this is who I am, and this is what I want to do. These are the people who have attended the show in the past. Would you like to be part of the show?’ Simple as that!”
How to Measure Podcast Success?
Once your podcast is live, and the episodes are rolling out, how do you measure its success?
Measuring and growing marketing podcasts (or other types) tactically are still one of the biggest challenges of this particular content type.
Since downloads are the easiest way to measure the reach, most people rely on that metric. However, Yaag doesn’t put that much weight on it: “The number one metric to me is not downloads. [...] What I look at [is] how much conversations can a podcast episode generate? Now, if there are ten people reaching out to me after an episode and saying that they agree or disagree with something on the episode. I have no problems with anyone disagreeing with anything. But, to me, what is so valuable is that somebody has taken out the time to write a very in-depth thought-out message for you that shows that they are committed to the show. I always thank them and, you know, ask them what I can improve.”
All in all, you know your podcast is a success if you can get people to talk, not just listen.
ABM: Where Are Things Going?
Yaag’s expertise doesn’t just center around content. A big part of his know-how is encompassed in account-based marketing (ABM). His successful ABM Conversations podcast is both the cause and a result of his knowledge on the subject.
So what exactly is ABM, and where is it headed?
The Issue with ABM
Defining ABM shouldn’t be a discussion, yet depending on who you ask or what you read, it can be very different.
In a nutshell (for those not that familiar with it) Yaag explains ABM as follows: “There are two ways of looking at [lead generation]. Are you going inbound, or are you going outbound? [...] The thing is, when you get a demand that is getting generated inbound or signups coming in inbound, you don't have control of seeing how big the deal is going to be. It might be somebody coming in and just buying two licenses of your product, which is, say, for example, if it's a $10 product, you're making $20. [...] But when you go outbound, you have little more control over the kind of companies that you're going after. Now, you can say that: ‘Hey, I want to look at the company of this size, who will have these kinds of requirements.’ So [...] my numbers per account will be much better [...] but how do I go about that? So, ABM is an extension of that product thought process.” In other words, an ABM strategy is rooted in being clear about the types of accounts where your product is a better fit, making a list, and actively pursuing them.
However, the definition of ABM within MarTech has become a slave to tools that claim to help you launch and succeed with it: “MarTech has kind of sandbagged into one corner, saying that this is what ABM is all about. One company is going to say that it's all about programmatic ads. Somebody is going to say it's all about marketing automation, or somebody else is going to say that: ‘Hey, I'm a chat tool, and every time you come in, I recognize you as my existing account, that is Account-Based Marketing! Or some gifting company is going to say that ‘I remember, I sent you a gift. That is ABM. No.”
According to Yaag, the truth of ABM is pretty simple: “At the end of the day, you have a fundamental process at the base and say that this is who should I go after, who I should spend my energies on.”
It can be powerful, but you shouldn’t be distracted by the promises of MarTech tools before you nail down your process: “At the first level, you need to be absolutely clear about the manual process as to how you are going to do that so that you identify the gaps in the process. And then you start thinking about what are the kinds of tools that I need to make sure that I can do this effectively. If you're starting with a tool, obviously, you know, you're going to end up believing what the tools are saying.”
The Gist of Account Research
There are many different ways you can approach your desired accounts ranging from dedicated landing pages to target Linkedin ads. Yaag points out, however, that before you get to think about how to reach out to those types of accounts, you need to know why and how you chose them. If you skip the step, it’s easy to slip up on your targeting and miss the mark with ABM.
“The question is always going to come back to ‘On what basis did you choose your first set of accounts?’ Do you think that they are your ICP, or have do you have some data?” he asks,“ So, for me, I would say that first go back and look at your existing set of customers. The moment you start doing that, you will start recognizing a pattern in terms of who are the people who are buying your product.”
What if your strongest customers are very different from each other?
To Yaag, that’s not a cause for concern: “If I look at a product like Avoma, the interesting part is salespeople buy our product, customer success people buy our product... Sometimes internal teams buy our product to also record, transcribe and analyze their internal meetings as well. So, who do I consider? I start with who buys my product first, and then who influences others in the company? And eventually, what are the functions doing that?”
After that, look at other factors such as website data to identify the companies visiting your website and registering for a demo. Yaag advises to go as far as looking at “Somebody who in the last one or two years might have come to you, they would have evaluated you been through the process, but ultimately ended up buying a competing product.”
These types of data will help you get a better picture of what is or isn’t working. A clearer grasp of what are the kinds of companies with which your product resonates the most. After you have that figured out, you can turn to think about strategies to reach them and tools to help you with it.
Is Intent Data the Future of ABM?
‘Intent data’ is the latest fashionable term trending in digital marketing.
They can indeed be helpful. Nevertheless, Yaag warns: “You can 100% get the intent without even having a base-level conversation.”
What does that mean?
Yaag goes on to explain: “For example, [tool] might give you data like: ‘These are the accounts searching for these keywords, which means they have higher intent.’” However, he continues: “ It's not very easy, or it's not very fair to say that, yes, they definitely had this intent. For all you know, they might have been searching for something else. [...] They might have been doing in-house development of a similar product, and they're trying to check out the competitive landscape.”
So what’s the alternative?
“I would go with ICP as my first step. And again, to clarify, ICP, I'm not just talking about the Ideal Customer Persona. I will look at the Initial Customer Persona, which means [...] the first people who started connecting with the product, and then [...] the people that they influenced internally.”
What’s the point?
Yaag explains that digging into the second layer of information on how customers use your product will help you clear up your messaging, storytelling and, consequently, boost your ABM efficiency. “It's not about the ads you run; it’s not about the campaigns that you do. But are you saying the right things to the right people at the right moment?”
He sums it all up with, “It's, ultimately, understanding your customer, be it content, be it ABM.”
While Yaag covered various topics and tactics, there’s one underlying message that goes across all his areas of expertise: Understand your customers! If you can do that, you can provide value and communicate your message and offer experiences that resonate and stick.
To hear more of Yaag’s ideas about creating killer content, executing an efficient ABM strategy, or launching a podcast, listen to the full episode below or tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts.