Episode 371

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Creating content and having a content marketing strategy have become the bread and butter of marketing agencies, and we have the research to prove it. In fact, many agencies are now saying that 75% of their revenue is coming from content.

This week, I’m talking with Steve Pockross and Ryan Sargent of Verblio to go over some interesting research they did about content creation, content ROI, what types of content they create, and more. This episode is packed with information that will hopefully give you some valuable insights into why having a good content marketing strategy is so important these days.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

content marketing strategy

content marketing strategy

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Steve and Ryan’s key takeaways from Verblio’s research on content marketing strategy
  • Why it’s okay to outsource content creation
  • The shocking ROI of content marketing
  • How to sell clients on the value of content
  • The challenges of creating good content
  • The importance of finding subject matter experts
  • What types of content are the best to reach an audience
  • Why clients are more willing to pay more for high-quality content

“Studies show that two of the most profitable driving forces are great company culture and a great brand, which is impossible to measure. So content falls in this middle ground.” @spockross Click To Tweet “The biggest takeaway for me was that almost everyone is outsourcing some portion of their content creation.” @Ryan_N_Sargent Click To Tweet “You must figure out how to stand out in a saturated market. An interesting trend is the amount of quantity just to be in the game and get the same results keeps getting harder, which is true of how every acquisition channel trends.” @spockross Click To Tweet “An equal number said more than 75% of the agency's revenue comes from content. And that one in five agencies is making nearly all of their revenue from content says a lot.” @Ryan_N_Sargent Click To Tweet “We heard two major pillars of difficulty: getting expert knowledge, industry-specific expertise, and subject matter experts to help create the content, and then managing client expectations.” @Ryan_N_Sargent Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Verblio:

Resources:



Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-sized agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down the road, sellable. With 25+ years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. We are going to talk content today, but from a very different and interesting perspective of some recent research. Before I get into that and tell you about our guests, I just want to remind you that we will be out in the next week or so with the 2023 Salary and Benefits Survey. So, the way this works is in the newsletter and on social media, we’ll be sharing the link so you can participate in the Salary and Benefits research if you participate and you give us your information. Obviously, it’s all anonymous and all of that. But if you give us your information, then you will get a free copy of the report when it comes out in early 2023.

So, I would love for you to participate in that. Why? If you get the newsletter, great, then you will automatically see an invitation for it. If you follow me on social particularly, probably on LinkedIn, that’s where we’ll post it. But if you do not get the newsletter, now might be a great time to do that. If you just go to the Agency Management Institute website, scroll down to the bottom and somewhere down there it says, “Sign up for the newsletter.” Grab yourself a spot and know that that comes out every Wednesday. There’s a newsletter where I write to you about some stuff and we share some other information.

And then every Sunday, there’s a video that I record for you that is a tutorial of some kind. It’s something that I know is going on in your head and it’s very short, five, six minutes the most, but just trying to give you some more information. So, go grab that if you are so inclined. We would love for you to participate in the salary survey. So, let me tell you about today’s guests. So, Steve Pockross is the CEO of Verblio, which is a company that has over a thousand subject matter expert writers who create content for their clients. So, their clients are agencies, direct clients, and all of that, but they have a really interesting content creation model. So, Steve’s going to be on the show again with us today. He’s been on before.

And then Ryan Sergant, who works with Steve, is going to be on the show. They just recently did some really interesting research where they were talking to agencies and direct clients about content creation, ROI of content, the content they create. So, I wanted to get them on the show so we could dig through the research data and see what they learned, what they think it means, what it means for us in the future. We’re probably going to talk about some things that they’re going to put into the research next time, which I think will be super interesting as well. So, without any further ado, let’s bring Steve and Ryan on the show and dig into that data. Okay, let’s do it. Steve, Ryan, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Steve Pockross:

Thanks, Drew. Great to be back.

Ryan Sergant:

Thanks for having us.

Drew McLellan:

So, give everybody a little bit of your background and then we’ll talk about the research that you did, why you did it, and what you learned. But first, just tell them a little bit about what your day job is and then we’ll go from there.

Steve Pockross:

Great. I’m Steve Pockross. I’m the CEO of Verblio. I’ve been running Verblio for about six years now. We are a content creation marketplace. Our goal is to create high quality content at scale to power the modern business. We have a network of about 1,000 home-based writers that we use to create over 100,000 pieces of unique content per year and 40 verticals. We work with a lot of agencies and so very in touch with the space. I’m based in Denver, Colorado, where I live with my wife and two kids and do lots of Colorado activities.

Ryan Sergant:

Ryan Sergant, I’m the Director of Content Marketing at Verblio, which means I have the very meta role of building the content that supports a content marketplace and promotes that content marketplace to other marketers, which is a fascinating puzzle. It reminds me of playing music for other musicians, which is my background. I come from a creative music world, and I realized that everything I loved about making music applies to building great content. I produced something that depends on my skill and expertise, and then very politely hold out the email, sign up form, and hope that someone tips me.

Drew McLellan:

I like it. So, what was your instrument of choice, Ryan?

Ryan Sergant:

I play trombone, which I also think gave me a strong sense of pragmatism. I was never destined to be a rockstar playing giant stadium concerts with a background in trombone. So, the transition to marketing was inevitable.

Drew McLellan:

There you go. So, you guys did some research, which was fascinating. Talk to us a little bit about what prompted the research and what your goal was in doing it, and then we’ll talk about some of the findings.

Steve Pockross:

Great. I’ll give the high level and then Ryan will give the details along the way of what we came up with. So, we think at Verblio, we have a really unique ringside seat, courtside seats to see what top content marketers are doing in the world. So, we work with 1,000 content marketers every month. We get the wide variety of small agencies, large agencies, larger brands, down to the smaller guys, and to see what the top trends are in what’s working. What are the top players doing? So, we’ve been doing this for… I think this is our second formal round, and we really wanted to dive a lot deeper and felt like it was not just interesting, but our responsibility to share this back with our marketing world.

Ryan Sergant:

The survey included more than 400 content marketers from all over the country and even a few in the UK. This year, we really wanted to expand both the pool and the questions and figure out, “What’s working for folks? What’s not working? What does the future look like?” We ended up with just this treasure hoard of information from folks that Verblio knows and works with.

Drew McLellan:

You talked to both clients and businesses direct who are doing content and also agencies, is that correct?

Ryan Sergant:

Yeah. We also reached out to content marketing communities, Slack groups, forums, things like that as another way to get the word out.

Drew McLellan:

So, I’m curious what you saw in terms of differences between how agencies responded versus the direct business.

Ryan Sergant:

One of the biggest differences we saw really had to do with how much content’s being created. Agencies are definitely out there trying to build as efficiently as possible, and in-house teams are often more willing to invest in something like say a white paper or an eBook, something that’s more long form. That was reflected in the answers. We asked, “What kind of content do you build?” Agencies were all about blog posts and to some extent, inhouse teams were too, but they were more willing to get out there and stretch their legs. That matches with what we see at Verblio as well. I think, Steve, you can probably speak a bit to this, that our agency partners at Verblio are often producing volume, producing efficiency, and that’s a really key priority for them.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting, you would think, I would’ve hoped the answer would be the other way around, right? That the agencies would be more exploratory, recognize the importance of multi-channel communication, and that it can’t all come through the blog post. So, they would be more likely to try a podcast or a white paper or a research project or something like that.

Ryan Sergant:

Speaking very selfishly, as a content marketer, my hope is that everyone wants to get outside the box and try new things, because I’m tired of blog posts, but they’re also still what makes the world go around and the best way to get on Google’s radar and on customer’s radar.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, I think it also depends on your macro view of why you’re doing content. So, if it’s just about ranking higher on Google, then you’re right, it’s going to be a written word on the website. But if it’s really about creating a sense of authority around a topic or a position or a niche, then you wouldn’t be the one trick pony and just have blog posts. That’s me getting on my soapbox for the day, but nonetheless. All right. So, what surprised you about the results of the research?

Ryan Sergant:

Biggest surprise for me, biggest takeaway for me was that almost everyone is outsourcing some portion of their content creation. Whether that’s through a platform like Verblio, through freelancers that they have had on retainer for years, whether you’re in-house at an agency, you’re probably outsourcing some amount of your content creation. It’s about choosing where and when and how to do that, not if.

Drew McLellan:

That surprised you?

Ryan Sergant:

It did. I figured a lot of the in-house teams would still be producing all their content in-house and that more and more agencies that are investing in content would be assembling an in-house team to really drive that. When it comes to the actual building the stuff, we need help, it’s hard.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, did AI play a role in any of the… Did people talk about using the Jaspers of the world and things like that to start creating content?

Ryan Sergant:

That is an excellent question. So, we formulated the survey questions before Jasper was on everyone’s LinkedIn feed and stuff. We had some talk of AI and AI tools. Many of the tools that folks talked about actually weren’t machine learning. They were more like digital aids for generating topic ideas or content strategy. Not a ton of folks that we talked to are out there building all of the posts with a robot. But the answer is we did get inspired. The next survey, which we’re in the process of building now, that’s all about AI. So, we’ll have to come chat with you more about the AI stuff in the future.

Drew McLellan:

For sure. Yeah, it’s such a hot topic, and yet I think for many agencies, they don’t really know how to engage it. They don’t know how to use it. They’re worried that it’ll be generic problem content, but they don’t really know how to evaluate it. But sometimes they need filler content. So, I just think it’s an interesting landscape to watch. I think it’s just emerging in terms of what’s happening. So, it’ll be interesting to watch how the results in your survey change over time.

Ryan Sergant:

Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Pockross:

We would respond to our own survey differently ourselves at this point, as well as we are doing a lot more AI assisted content with our writers and figuring out the right point to insert a high value, high skilled writer into the process for outline creation, tailoring, editing, and things like that to try to get the best of both worlds.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, we could talk about that for a whole hour. Let’s put a pin in that, because I would love to have that conversation. Because I think there are a few people like you guys who’ve figured out the marriage between AI and humans to get the best out of both. I would love to have that conversation because I think people could learn from it, but I think that’s a whole separate… We could do that for an hour, so we’ll get that on the schedule. But what else surprised you, Ryan, about the data?

Ryan Sergant:

One of the most exciting pieces of data for me was that the number of pieces of content that agencies are producing per client per month is going up. So, this is a thing we have year over year data for. Well over half, nearly two thirds of the agencies we talked to in 2021 were producing a few pieces of content, two or three for each client every month. That’s dropped to sub 40% of the folks we talked to in 2022. We’re up to nearly 10% of agencies that are producing 20 pieces of content or more per client per month.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Ryan Sergant:

Which means that I think a lot of agencies are really investing, one, in content, and two, in clients and in business processes that lead clients to content. Content’s becoming a more and more important piece of the strategy for everyone, agencies included.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, no doubt. So, I’m curious, when you talk to agencies in the research, did they only respond in terms of what they were doing for clients or did they respond also in what they were doing for themselves? We have the whole cobbler’s children.

Ryan Sergant:

Yeah, exactly. So, we asked specifically about producing content for clients, and I am literally making a note right now that next year, we need to ask about agencies producing content for themselves. I’m very fascinated by that because I have a very similar role with Verblio.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see, because again, I think while they have gotten much more proficient at producing content for others, at the end of the day, they don’t do the heavy lift of doing it for themselves very often or as often as they should. For sure. So, I’m assuming one of the things that you talked about was the profitability or the ROI of content. So, from both the direct client’s perspective and the agency’s perspective, how did that wash out in the data?

Ryan Sergant:

Yeah. We asked very straightforward, how much revenue does your agency make from content creation? Setting aside the 21% of folks who said, “I don’t know,” which was a little concerning.

Drew McLellan:

Welcome to my world.

Ryan Sergant:

An equal number said more than 75% of the agency’s revenue is coming from content. One in five agencies are making nearly all the revenue from content says a lot. On top of that, 75% of the folks we asked just said content’s profitable. Whether that’s the whole business, a core piece of the business, something we’re dabbling in, broader agreement that content is something that agencies can make money with and that’s held true now for three years of this survey.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think that’s a shift. I think in the early days of content, clients struggled to understand how much time it took to create good content. So, agencies were always struggling with price points of having to basically give away a blog post or fill in the blank, whatever the content was. I think finally now, clients, business owners, business leaders are beginning to understand the value of that organic content on their webpage or wherever they’re using it, what it does in terms of the search engines and all of that, what it does to establish them as an authority.

So, they’re much more willing to pay for good content than they were in the early days of this. So, that’s heartening to hear, because for a lot of agencies, they couldn’t figure out how to do it profitably. So, it was always a loss leader for them, which means they’re not going to be particularly enthusiastic about it.

Ryan Sergant:

Steve, I’m wondering how that’s changed in your time at Verblio, because obviously, I’ve been at Verblio for just over a year. So, I haven’t gotten to see that shift from the front lines the way Steve has.

Steve Pockross:

Yeah, we’ve seen dramatically and I’m super interested, Drew, to see if you have the same point of view, but it feels like content has finally become an official acquisition channel, where it was a marketing necessity as far as it was more brand associated as opposed to actual marketing channel. Now, it’s actually following the trends of other marketing acquisition channels, which is you invest a certain amount. Every year, it gets harder to compete and your results get lower, but you have to keep investing in that channel. I think that transformation makes it a really different way of thinking about, and it’s an easier discussion to have. You’re not selling based on the vision of you want to have more content because it feels better.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, I do think as people have gotten more sophisticated in terms of the content they create, how they deploy and leverage that content and the understanding that the buyer today, I don’t care if it’s a B2B or a B2C buyer, they’re shopping online before we know they’re shopping. So, when your content draws them to the website and it allows them to see that you really know what you’re talking about. In some ways, I’ve spent all morning on the phone with prospects who have a need and they’ve consumed our content and now they want to just do that last gut check.

What used to be for many agencies or direct businesses, three or four or five sales calls now turns into you heard the podcast, you read the blog post, you downloaded the white paper, whatever the sequence was. Now, you want to have one conversation and you’re ready to buy. So, I think you’re right, Steve. I think now, you can absolutely point to content as a revenue generator as opposed to just a brand builder.

Ryan Sergant:

The stats bear that out. So, in 2021, 16% of agencies said they felt clients understood the value. Now we’re up over 40%. So, just year over year, more and more agencies are hearing that from clients as well.

Steve Pockross:

That’s incredible.

Drew McLellan:

I’m curious if you asked or in your business practices, one of the big conversations right now in