Epic Interview with Content Marketer Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi at window

Joe Pulizzi, the godfather of content marketing

He’s been called the “godfather of content marketing” and with good reason. Long before we were attending content-themed conferences, Joe Pulizzi was trying to convince his clients that content was the next big thing in marketing. It took a few years, but he’s convinced large and small companies to hire Chief Content Officers (CCO) to manage their content marketing efforts.

In a world where the loudest, brashest voices seem to get the most attention, Joe Pulizzi has be spreading the word in his own polite, friendly Midwestern way. He’s a power player in marketing, who hasn’t moved to one of the coasts to work at a power agency. He embraces the town of Cleveland, and if you’ve been to one of the conferences he hosts, you’ll see that Cleveland embraces him right back.

From his early days in custom publishing all the way to being a publisher, Joe Pulizzi is living his craft. He heads the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), which was named one of the fastest growing companies by Inc. magazine. CMI is an emerging media powerhouse with a voice in every channel. And consistently, that voice sounds a lot like Joe Pulizzi.

His collaborators and partners, including celebrated speaker Robert Rose, are a who’s-who of marketing gurus. His Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland is one of the must-attend shows for anyone in marketing, not just in the vertical of content marketing. It’s a fun, smart event that reflects the collective charm of the entire CMI staff.

As an author, Joe Pulizzi has published three smart, actionable books on the topic of content marketing. Each is fresh and vital, but Epic Content Marketing is the work of a mature, intelligent ambassador for the entire industry. If you haven’t read it yet, order it from Amazon and put it on the top of the stack on your nightstand.

If Johnny Cash was The Man in Black, then Joe Pulizzi will surely be known as The Man in Orange, due to his citrus-inspired wardrobe. If nothing else, he is consistent in his visual branding.

The book is as unique, colorful, and quietly awesome as Joe Pulizzi himself. It further cements his position as one of the most influential thought leaders in marketing. And if you know this business, that’s saying a lot.

Joe shared some thoughts in an email interview about content marketing, publishing, and the future of content marketing.

Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi

Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi

BUDDY SCALERA: First, can you tell me what your book Epic Content Marketing is all about?

JOE PULIZZI:Epic Content Marketing” takes you step by step through the process of developing stories that inform and entertain and compel customers to act–without actually telling them to. Epic content, distributed to the right person at the right time, is how to truly capture the hearts and minds of customers. It’s how to position your business as a trusted expert in its industry. It’s what customers share and talk about.

Once we hook customers in with epic content, they reward us by buying what we have to offer.

To be honest, social media, getting found in search engines, driving online leads? It starts and ends with amazingly helpful content.

Who would want to read Epic Content Marketing?

I’ve been preaching this stuff for 15 years. Up to about 8 years ago, most companies could get by through traditional marketing. We could interrupt our customers just enough, get their attention, and sell them stuff.

Today, I believe the best companies are all about building audiences. To build an audience, we need to develop consistent content…just like a media company does…except instead of selling advertising against that content, we can sell more of our products and services.

I really believe the book is built for solopreneurs to the CMO at the biggest of companies. We have to market differently today. I believe the book provides a great roadmap for making that happen.

CCO magazine cover

Chief Content Officer magazine, January 2014

You’re a pretty busy guy with lots going on, including Content Marketing Institute, the This Old Marketing Podcast, CCO magazine, Content Marketing World, speaking engagements…how did you find the time to write Epic Content Marketing?

I have an amazing team. It’s that simple. They picked up the slack for me.

The second reason is I use a “blog to book” strategy. This is my third book and the third time I’ve used this method. This means I build out chapter ideas early on and blog about them over time. Then, after about six months, I have 75% of the book done.

The other 25% was developed because I have an amazingly understanding family.

You’ve written three books now, including Get Content Get Customers and Managing Content Marketing. How has content marketing changed since 2009, when you published Get Content Get Customers?

More channels, more acceptance, more sheer craziness going on in the industry…but the components of great storytelling have been around since…well…forever.

To be honest, when the first book came out in 2008, it was very hard to convince people that content marketing was a worthy strategy. Now you have companies like Red Bull and Coca-Cola pinning their future on it. It’s unbelievable to me. And the fact that people actually use the term “content marketing”? I think that’s the funniest thing to me. I’ve been throwing around that term since 2001 and to have THAT be the term is simply amazing.

Today, more journalists are being hired by non-media companies than media companies. Titles like Chief Content Officer have been created (Petco recently hired one). Media companies are now being looked at by non-media companies for purchase. Big money is flowing into the industry. It all astounds me.

Joe Pulizzi photographed by Lee Odden

Joe Pulizzi photographed by Lee Odden from TopRankBlog.com

Content marketing appears to be a digital initiative, but you are a passionate advocate for print as well. I mean, we’re here talking about your book, but you also publish a print magazine. What role can print play in an increasingly digital landscape?

Content marketing is channel agnostic. Developing a content marketing strategy has nothing to do with channels until you get at least halfway through the strategy. Print, Online, In-Person all need to be considered.

As for print, I think it’s a huge opportunity. What if I told you that all your customers would be in one location, and only you could show up and communicate with them? You’d be there in a minute, right? That’s delivery through the post. Very little competition in that channel.

Also, consumer behavior in print has not gone down. People still like to engage in print…yet we’ve become so enamored by digital we forgot about print. Big opportunity.

You reference publishing quite a bit, including your work at Penton Media. What did you do at Penton and how did it shape what you are doing now with CMI?

I started at Penton in Penton’s custom media department in the year 2000, and took over in 2001. I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for Penton, and my mentor, Jim McDermott. He taught me about the industry, and introduced me to folks like Don Schultz, the father of integrated marketing. It was at Penton that I called on hundreds of marketing directors, VPs and CMOs and talked to them about content marketing (or custom publishing or custom content or branded content). I basically practiced on them, learning about how to pitch it, package it and execute it. When I left in 2007, I just had this feeling that the marketplace was going to change super fast. I was actually right for a change.

This Old Marketing Podcast graphic

This Old Marketing Podcast featuring Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose.

I attended one of your CMI Master Classes in New York City. You and Robert Rose talked a lot about storytelling. In the Epic Content Marketing book and in the class, storytelling is a pretty important theme. What should people understand about storytelling, particularly as it relates to content marketing?

Have you ever been to a party where someone starts telling an interesting story? Everyone quiets down to listen. Stories get attention. Humans are bound together by the stories we tell.

Why should marketing be any different? Who said that we had to talk like robots and shill in all our corporate content? (that’s what we do). Brands that tell consistent stories win. They build audiences. They build loyalty. They have to sell less than their competition and get more results. Taking brands who are not used to telling stories through a process of storytelling gets them to stop thinking like marketers and start acting more like publishers. It’s important.

What sort of guidance would you give to a young or mid-level marketer?

Find a niche that you can be the leading expert in the world (personally). Wrap your own career in a content marketing program. Find a channel to consistently publish to your niche. Experiment…and then take those learnings into your job.

I believe the great content marketers of today will be the leaders of tomorrow because they are building audiences. Building a following.

Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi at the Content Marketing World Master Class 2013 in New York City. Photo by Buddy Scalera.

Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi at the Content Marketing World Master Class 2013 in New York City. Photo by Buddy Scalera.

And related to that, what sort of guidance would you offer to senior-level marketers?

Find someone to oversee content marketing in your organization. If someone doesn’t own the function, no one does. If no one owns it, it doesn’t get done…ever.

I’m very interested in how content marketing is evolving, particularly visual content marketing. What sort of trends have you observed in the way brands have used visual elements in their content marketing?

I believe there are opportunities in visual simply because most brands use text to communicate today. That won’t change (the text part), but we need to diversify our channel strategy, just like we do with stocks. We are overweight in text and underweight in visual. Now that our customers have all these devices where they can see images and video all the time, we better pay attention. Also, Facebook and other social platforms are giving visual priority…so there’s that.

All that said, we all have a different story to tell. Sometimes we can say it best with words. Sometimes with pictures. Sometimes with both. Sometimes long-form. Sometimes tweets are enough. There is no silver bullet to a content marketing strategy. I’ve been involved in hundreds of content marketing strategies and every one has been different.

Are there brands out there that are doing a particularly good job using visual content in their marketing? If there are, what makes their visual approach effective?

Red Bull (of course). Their Red Bull Media House actually syndicates out their 500 videos and 5000 photos and makes money directly off the imagery. I love what GE has done with their GE Garages program. Lowes’ Vine program is amazing. Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” truly made a statement.

The best part about all of them…they are part of consistent content marketing programs. The reason why content marketing programs fail (for the most part) is because they stop.

How can and/or should marketers use visual content?

I can’t answer that. We need to first go through developing a content marketing strategy. Who’s our audience? What are their pain points? What keeps them up at night? How does this mix with our marketing objectives? Etc, etc. Once we ask ourselves all these questions, we’ll start to see if there is an opportunity in visual or not.

Where can people get in touch with you?

Google “Joe Pulizzi”
@JoePulizzi on Twitter
EpicContentMarketing.com for the book
ContentMarketingInstitute.com for the biz.

What’s next for you?
I’m heads down working on our two events, Content Marketing World Sydney (March 2014) and Content Marketing World (September 2014). That, and I’m taking the summer off (fingers crossed).

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  • Great interview-I really like the format. Joe’s “Blog to Book” strategy is smart and helps determine what’s going to resonate with audiences long before committing to print.

  • It’s a good way to build an audience and guide them to your product when it hits the shelves. I remember reading Mitch Joel’s book and he said that he had a similar strategy. Both are smart dudes.

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