Dec 23, 2019
What does the data tell us about what is working - and not working - for marketers in 2019 and beyond?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Trust Insights Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist Christopher S. Penn shares key insights from "12 Days of Data", a series of original articles that he and his Co-Founder Katie Robbert have created to analyze 2019 from an analytics perspective and see what marketers should be considering as they plan for 2020 and beyond.
From which social media platforms are delivering results, to how press releases are performing and whether content republishing is worth the time and effort, Chris dives deep into the data and shares some surprising (and some not so surprising) results.
Highlights from my conversation with Chris include:
Resources from this episode:
Listen to the podcast to get more details on the data that matters most for marketers in 2020.
Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast.
I'm your host, Kathleen Booth, and today I'm excited to have
with me my guest, Christopher S. Penn, who is the co-founder and
chief data scientist at Trust Insights. Welcome,
Christopher S. Penn (Guest): Thank you for having me.
Christopher and Kathleen recording this episode.
Kathleen: I am super excited. It is the week before Christmas and I specifically wanted to interview you for this Christmas/holiday episode because you've been dropping what you're calling 12 Days of Data, and we're going to dig into that and what it means for marketers. But first, can you tell my audience a little bit about yourself, who you are, what you do, and what Trust Insights is?
Christopher: Sure. Trust Insights is, I describe it as a marketing data detective agency. If you've got marketing data mysteries, we help you solve them.
As a data scientist, my role in the company is to write the code and process the data to solve those mysteries for clients. So when a client comes in with a challenge of some kind, we've got to figure out how we're going to solve it. Is the problem solvable? Is the problem a knowable problem or not? And sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. So it really depends on what the challenge is.
My background is originally in IT, but life changed radically for all of us on August 24th, 2011, when Google Analytics introduced multichannel funnels, which is their big jump into different types of attribution and life has never been the same since.
Kathleen: Yes. The thing I always say, and my listeners will have heard me say this before, but I kind of always liken it to when you go to the grocery store and you're on autopilot because you just know where everything is that you always buy, and then all of a sudden they move things around, and you're like, "Wait, the milk is in a different place." And I always like to say that Google moves the milk on us a lot.
I love your background in IT. And this is one of the reasons that I've become an avid follower of yours, is that you are amongst, seriously, you are amongst the most scientific marketers I've ever met. Without pandering too much, I am going to say that I am always completely in awe of the insights you're able to extract from data.
So this is a good one. If you're listening and you're interested in analytics or data, pay attention, because this guy knows his stuff. All right, with that said, 12 Days of Data. So first of all, where did this idea come from? I love it.
Christopher: I used to work at a PR agency for a number of years, and one of the things that was always a struggle was, what do you do at the end of your content when a lot of people are out of the office and things? How can you make something that lasts a little longer than just a hobby thing? Or is it so totally self-centric that is like, "Hey, we had a great year!" and it's sort of giving yourself a pat on the back, which nobody really cares about.
And so when we founded Trust Insights two years ago, my CEO and partner Katie Robbert and I were like, "What can we do that doesn't do those things? It isn't self-congratulatory pablum and provides utility." And so last year was our first full year in business. We're just trying to get started and to stay in business.
And this year we got to thinking of looking at the calendar. There's been a recurring column in our weekly newsletter called "In the Rear View," and- I'm sorry, rear view mirror. And essentially, I've written code throughout the year to analyze different datasets like YouTube engagement, Instagram engagement and stuff. And I had the idea at the beginning of December, well, we want to do something. We want to do something unique, but we also don't want to embark on a massive new project. What if we reuse the exact same code, but instead of it being on a shorter timeframe for the newsletter, we just made it for it 2019, year in review?
And that's where 12 Days of Data came from, was this idea of reusing code with all the data we have, to look at what happened to the year that was and the value there for marketers, especially for many of the statistics around things like social media, is to be able to see what happened this year that is worth paying attention to.
Kathleen: I love that. Now, were you analyzing just your own data, or what was feeding into these models that you built?
Christopher: We use a number of different tools, so for a lot of social media data- for Facebook and Instagram, we use Facebook's CrowdTangle software and we monitor about 4,000 brand accounts and about 5,000 influencers in those platforms. So it's pulling out a few million posts at a time.
For YouTube, we use the Talkwalker platform, and we actually have a running task, basically every two weeks, downloading statistics about the top 100,000 videos on YouTube by views, every couple of weeks. So we have a very large library of content to work with there.
For news and press releases, we use Google's GDELT Project, which is essentially the Google news backend. So it's all the news that Google sees throughout the year. So it's tens of millions of articles and we can extract the data from that, as well.
So that's sort of what we use for these datasets. Because again, you raise a really good point in your question, a lot of retrospectives and claims that companies make use very limited datasets that inherently have some kind of bias in them. Like there's one famous company that, you know, I will not name names, like, "Oh yeah, we emailed our mailing list and this is what marketers think," Well, no, that's just what people who like you think, that's not all marketers. So we try as much as possible to get away from that.
Kathleen: Yes, self-selecting audiences produce very interesting conclusions.
Kathleen: That's fascinating. And I would wager that most marketers aren't even aware of those data sources. So it's interesting that they exist and we could probably have a whole 'nother conversation around that. But I want to make sure we get through our all of our 12 Days of Data, as well as some of the insights from that.
Kathleen: So let's start, and can you walk me through, what were the 12 Days of Data? What were some of the findings that came out of it?
Christopher: Well, it's funny, as we record this, we are still actually in the midst of it. We're on day eight as we record this, of the 12 days. So the ones that have not been finished yet are things like SEO link decay, and email marketing, and content republishing.
But what we have seen so far, for Facebook brands who are running Facebook pages, first thing there, engagement for brands, terrible. One out of every 4,600 followers engages like a comment or share, on brand content. So to put that into perspective, if you were to think about standing in front of your office, if you engage with any one person out of 4,000 you would automatically be doing better than your Facebook page.
The engagement rate is 0.0215. For comparison, email marketing, which is one of my personal favorite channels, had a 2019 engagement rate, according to MailChimp, around 2.62%. So that's 121 times more engagement. So Facebook brands, not really moving the needle all that much.
That's not really surprising. Anyone who's been doing unpaid Facebook marketing knows that you're literally shouting into the void. Influencers have it even worse.
On day two we looked at influencers on Facebook, popular personalities, individuals who have Facebook pages, celebrities like Dwayne Johnson for example. Numbers there? One out of every 11,000 followers engage with content.
When you think about it, so these folks just having a median of 5.6 million followers, and they get 200 reactions per post, is an astonishingly low number. And in that example, you're talking thousands of people you need just to get anyone to pay the slightest bit of attention. Email, 301 times greater response rates.
So any thoughts on the Facebook side before we move on Instagram?
Kathleen: Yeah, I have so many things I want to say. Okay. First of all, to be sure everybody's really clear, we're talking about organic Facebook-
Christopher: Unpaid content.
Kathleen: Business pages and influencers. So it's interesting. I've definitely seen the way the wind is blowing with Facebook business pages. It's been quite some time since I've put much effort into posting on them. Certainly paid is a different story, but organic has not done a whole lot. But I do still hear some business owners saying, "We need to get more followers on our Facebook page," and hopefully they're listening to this and realizing, no, you really don't.
It's really not that important. That would be one thing that would seem to jump out at me, but I'm curious. I want to make sure we're- are we talking specifically about Facebook or does this apply to Instagram as well?
Christopher: No, Instagram is a separate data set. Instagram has a separate API.
Kathleen: Okay. Yeah, they're both owned by Facebook, but that was going to be my guess, because, just kind of anecdotally, what I've seen is very different results on Instagram. So that's interesting.
To what do you attribute the significantly poor performance organically for influencers than for businesses?
Christopher: So because they both use the same account type, the business page, Facebook has deprioritized those in the feed significantly. They've made multiple changes in the news feed over the years to say, "We're going to continue deprioritizing business pages," because two reasons. One, they want to try to get back to that whole friends and family thing to make Facebook more engaging. And two, they want to make more money.
They have basically said, not in as many words, but Facebook is pay-to-play, and anyone who does not realize that at the end of 2019 probably needs to maybe spend some time at a good social media conference or something just to hear and listen to- this is the way the systems work now.
Kathleen: Yeah. Do you think that influencers don't fare as well as businesses has something to do with the sheer volume of followers and the likelihood that some significant percentage of those are probably not real, or they're not- in other words, if you're a business that has 50 followers, the odds are those 50 followers chose to follow you for a real reason? Versus being Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and potentially having millions of people, some of whom could be bots, et cetera. I mean, is there any of that playing into this?
Christopher: I think there's some of that. Some of it, like you said, is the fact that Facebook's algorithm, and this is true of all of these social networks, the algorithms are designed to prize certain specific outcomes. Obviously one of those big ones is engagement.
If you are publishing stuff and people are not engaging with it, it becomes sort of a vicious circle where the less engagement means you show up less which means you get less engagement and so on and so forth, until you get to really substantial diminishing returns. It's one of the reasons why a lot of folks have pivoted to Instagram, because they get better results out of that platform. It's not as overcrowded as Facebook is.
Kathleen: Yeah. Although it's starting to get worse, I would say.
Christopher: Oh, yes.
Kathleen: Personal opinion here. So the other thing I was going to say is "amen about email." I just posted something about this, because I'm so sick and tired of people saying things like, "Email is dead," or "Email is boring."
I feel like email is having this total Renaissance. And you're a good example of this, because you have a really great email newsletter, and I hate to even call these things newsletters because it seems to imply some really tired old Constant Contact template that adds no value.
But people like you, like Ann Handley, they're just- there's this movement afoot of really fantastic, I would say bespoke newsletters, and you can look at big businesses like The Hustle, and the... What am I thinking of... Daily Candy? No.
Kathleen: Right, Morning Brew. Yeah. I mean, these are companies that are forming businesses around email newsletters. So, all a long way of saying I could not agree with you more about email being one of my favorite channels. And one of the reasons I like it is so many people screw it up. So for the people that don't, there is such an awesome opportunity to stand out.
Christopher: There is. But I think one of the most important things people don't realize and don't give enough thought to is something we've been saying since 2006, which is don't build on rented land. You don't own- back then it was you don't own your MySpace profile. You don't own your Facebook page. You are at the mercy of private companies. You own your email list, and as long as you pay your bills to your ISP and your marketing automation vendor, you can use that list however you like.
It does not go away. It does age out, parts of it do, and so maintenance and hygiene is important, but fundamentally, email, as long as you get into the inbox, your content is delivered the way you intended. With Facebook, for example, if I post five times on my Facebook page, I don't know if the same person's seen all five updates. When I have five different sections in my newsletter, as long as you open it, as long as it gets to you, the content is arriving in the state as I intended it. And so that's a part that, again, a lot of folks don't think about.
Kathleen: Yeah, I would agree. Okay, so Facebook organic is not good. Email, great, by comparison. What else do you got for us?
Christopher: Okay, let's move on to Instagram. So for brands, for unpaid content, Instagram, we looked about 4,000 accounts.
The average- the median, I should say, the median engagement rate for brands was 0.472. So one out of every 200 followers engages with content.
That's obviously substantially better than Facebook, but it is still relatively low. And what's interesting is that in calendar year 2019, brand engagement of unpaid content went from 0.57% to, as of the most recent, 0.31, which is the most recent reading. And that's a 45% drop in engagement this calendar year for brand content on Instagram that's not paid.
That's a pretty substantial decline. If somebody came to you and said, "Hey, this channel is going to decline 45% in its effectiveness this year," you might give some serious thought as to, how much should I be investing there?
Kathleen: Yeah, and it kind of feels like, to me at least, this is just the natural next step. Now that Facebook owns Instagram, they have a playbook that they've run on Facebook and it feels like they're starting to run that playbook on Instagram, so.
Christopher: Yep, exactly. When you think about it, Instagram stories were created for a very specific reason. A. It was to take some of the wind out of Snapchat's format. But B., It was a natural new source of inventory for ads, because like Facebook, Instagram is essentially running low on inventory, on ad inventory.
So we're having these new formats, IG TV, stories, et cetera. You have the ability to create more ad space.
Now if we flip over to the influencer's side, for Instagram, influencers there- Instagram is more or less the influencer's platform of choice. 1.37% engagement rate median. This is looking at 4,000 some odd accounts. One out of every 73 followers engages with content, so it is a substantially higher engagement rate. Now that's it. Influences began the year at 1.89%, and as of the most recent reading, was around 1.1% so that's about a 40-ish percent decline for influencers.
Christopher: It's still good, but it's not good. Again, email, more than twice as good.
Kathleen: And did you say, I can't remember if you said this, but did you say how the engagement with email changed over the course of the year?
Christopher: No, we don't have those stats folks from MailChimp. MailChimp just published that static stat.
Kathleen: Got it. So we know with Facebook and Instagram that results are declining rather precipitously, we know email is good, we just don't know what direction it's heading, getting better or worse.
Christopher: That's right.
Christopher: That's right.
Kathleen: So Instagram still holds promise, but maybe not for long.
Christopher: Right. And the thing that we said in one of the posts was, look, if you are looking at using influencers for your marketing, don't sign an annual contract. Sign a month-to-month contract, because influencers in particular took a really heavy hit at the beginning of the year.
They had a substantial drop in their engagement in January and then early February so they lost a lot of granite, kind of tapered off and leveled off since then. It's been a gentle decline since then.
But again, if you are talking to an influencer of any caliber, you probably don't want to sign that year-long contract.
Kathleen: That's a really great point, and something that I wouldn't necessarily have thought about, is just how the trends, as far as engagement over time, should inform the way you contract with influencers. That's really interesting, and something that I think is worth continuing to watch.
Kathleen: All right, so is there any good news from social media?
Christopher: It depends on how you define social media. So YouTube, we define YouTube as a form of social media even though it's a video-hosting site, and it is also the second largest search engine on the planet. But it does have a social network, albeit kind of a bizarre one.
YouTube performance data, though, has been really interesting. Now this is the case where we can't, because of the way the API is structured, easily differentiate between brands and non-brands. We actually have to look at the performance data of videos initial of themselves and then try to analyze backwards even what channel it's part of. So we looked at 200,000 YouTube channels, a half a million videos, a YouTube engagement rate on a per video basis is a median of 3.7%, so it's higher than email. One out of every 27 views engages with the content.
Kathleen: Wow. And is that trending up or down? Can you tell from the data?
Christopher: Also trending down. It began the year around six-and-a-half percent and it flattened out in mid-September around that 3.3% mark. And it's actually been bouncing back upwards a little bit.
So YouTube is beginning to recover its engagement, but it's fascinating to look at that.
Something else is really interesting with YouTube as well. YouTube has a very sharp head, which means that the top 10% of channels get huge numbers of views, and then everybody else gets a mixed bag in terms of channel size. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity on YouTube because video is a lot harder for people than taking a picture with their phone for Instagram.
And so for brands that are willing to make the commitment, YouTube's green space for a lot of industry industries is still available.
There's still the opportunity for you to create content in your vertical, in your niche, that is seen, that is followed, especially for lagging industries, highly regulated industries. As long as you can come up with an angle for creating content, you're going to do really well on YouTube.
When we looked at overall performance of those top channels and broke down those 200,000 channels into deciles, 10% increments, the top bracket had a 75,000 median views per video. The 90% bracket was at 35,000 views. The 80% bracket was at 12,000 views, and by the time you get to the 50% bracket is a thousand views.
A thousand views on a video is not an insurmountable number. We all have email lists that are substantially larger than that. And the engagement rates remain pretty consistent throughout. So for brands who are thinking about, "What should I be doing to get some more social performance in the new year?", you've got to take a look at YouTube.
Kathleen: Yeah. Now did the data tell you anything about views and engagement by length of video or anything along those lines?
Christopher: We didn't look at the length of video. That is something that is technically knowable. It's in the API. It's just, we didn't pull that data.
Kathleen: Yeah. So that's really interesting that it's still performing so well. I know YouTube's made a lot of changes over the course of the last year, some of which have been controversial for its creators. So I imagine there's been some tumultuousness within that community, but it sounds like it's worth sticking out. Well, and certainly for businesses that aren't necessarily going on YouTube to monetize, but just really for visibility.
And the engagement is so interesting to me, and I wonder how much of that is generational and I'm sure that's not an answer that comes from the data, but, I have a 13 year old son, and YouTube is his primary, you know, what was TV for me, it's YouTube for him. And so I imagined it there's some real generational differences in consumption habits there.
Christopher: Yep. Yeah, YouTube is far and away. I know this, Pew Research had some of this research and so does Edison Research, in their share of ear research. YouTube is the dominant channel for people under 18, but across the board, because it's tight integration with Google, and the fact that people do a tremendous amount of "how to" searching on YouTube, it's such an incredible place to just spend some time.
So much so that one of the things that we're looking at for ourselves in 2020 is building up our own company YouTube channel, putting more helpful content, doing more tutorials and stuff because we recognize that's where things go.
And if you're good with technology and you can do some video optimization, you can do really well on YouTube for not a whole lot of investment. I know the investment's going to be mostly on the content creation side and you can use, and you should be using some of the more advanced advertising techniques on the platform. But there's a lot to be done.
Kathleen: Yeah. And there are some great tools like TubeBuddy that make optimization pretty easy even for novices. And it's very reasonably priced. So I would agree with you.
For me, video has got to be a huge part of anybody's marketing strategy these days. And I think it's really, what I've seen a big shift happening is going from companies like hiring videographers on a case-by-case basis, to companies really internalizing that role because the demand is so great to have video be a part of everything you do these days.
Christopher: The demand is great and a good videographer is going to be- what's the Tom Webster expression, "reassuringly expensive", but the content, if people think from a marketing perspective, how can my content be helpful? You don't have to spend top dollar to make it look like broadcast, unless your company is a broadcast video company, then, yeah, you got to, because you can't look incompetent.
But for your average business, Joe's Plumbing Shop, you really want it to look like a plumber shot the video. So, no super 24 frame per second cinematic camera. Nope, it's the plumber with the smartphone and saying like, "Yeah see this rusted widget here. Ain't supposed to look like that."
Kathleen: Yeah. But I would say even though it could be expensive to hire a videographer, I still think it's far less expensive than, if you really want to produce a high volume of video, trying to outsource it all. You're going to pay way more if you take that approach then if you just bring somebody on board. So there are definitely some economies to be had by internalizing that role. But you're right, some of the most viral videos on YouTube are also some of the least produced. So there's that.
Christopher: Exactly, exactly. And then so last seven and eight days, we looked at something very, very, very old. Again, I used to work at a PR firm. So we decided we would take a look at everyone's favorite punching bag, press releases.
The press release has a median of zero views. Huge surprise there. 60% sent by a wire service, almost 14% sent out by agencies. And this was the part, the one that I thought was interesting. 18% of the email contact information in press releases has already gone bad. We used a tool called MillionVerifier.
And the reason for that, is that public relations as an industry has so much churn. Some agencies have like 60, 70% churn, meaning that someone who works at the beginning of the year, there's a 60 to 70% chance that by the end of the year they're not going to be working there anymore. They will have gone somewhere else.
And so a lot of these pieces of content, people are cranking out tons of content but it's not being read, it's not really valuable, and it's just a fairly unreliable thing.
But one of the fun things we do is we look at the most overused words in releases based on simple frequency counts. And the top 10 list this year are: "service," "first," "leading," "experience," "future," "best," "platform," "largest," "partner," and "solution." Sort of the top 10 of-
Kathleen: Oh, my God. I feel like that's like a mad libs where you could literally just string those words together and you've got a press release. Done. That's so funny.
Christopher: You really could. I said, "We are an industry leading platform with the best service and largest partners with a turnkey solution that future proofs your experience." Boom, got all 10.
Kathleen: Oh my God.
Christopher: But it means nothing.
Kathleen: That is hysterical. And shame on us marketers for using those words and they've become so meaningless. It's like the word "leverage," and "synergy," like, ah. Where's the barf emoji when you need it?
Christopher: Ah, yes, there's a great Weird Al video about that. It's not as bad as people making up words. I saw a job posting the other day on LinkedIn. I almost threw something at my screen. It said it was a B2B technology company, it says, "Become a 'solutionator.'" I'm like, what the heck does that even mean? I think the word you're looking for is problem solver, you don't solution things. You solve problems and you probably need to invest in a dictionary.
Kathleen: Oh my gosh, that's hysterical. So is there ever a time when it makes sense to do a press release in your opinion?
Christopher: For publicly traded companies, the gold standard for disclosure as required by the SEC is regulation FD, fair disclosure, and a press release is the gold standard for meeting disclosure of material events to the public. A number of years ago, the SEC actually ruled that social media was an acceptable channel, but given how algorithms like Facebook's work, there's no guarantee that your investors are seeing that content.
So I would say if you are bound by regulations like that, press release is the way to go. It is provable in court, you have a receipt, you could show you spent the two to $1,200 to release one and you've met your requirements.
Kathleen: Yeah. I would also say in my limited anecdotal experience that the one time I have seen somewhat decent results come from press releases is when you announce another round of funding. You're announcing a strategic investment or an a-round or what have you, because the financial press does seem to pick up on press releases, and other investors definitely look at that. And I think there's a little bit of a, you can definitely get momentum from those kinds of announcements.
But outside of that, I actually just met with a startup yesterday who has a consumer product, and they were super excited to launch it right around Black Friday and he met with me to tell me just how disappointed he was in the results he was getting. And he had spent money on a press release through one of the wire services and his agency sent him the dashboard of results, and it was basically what you said, it was essentially, statistically no results, and then they listed some of the top links that they had gotten and it literally was like Yahoo Finance. It wasn't anything that would ever reach his target audience. So that was just a very fresh example to me that underscored exactly the problem you're talking about.
Christopher: Yeah. You know, news releases, the hint should be in the name. If you have actual news, a news release makes sense because you can then circle back with reporters or influencers in your space. And say, "Hey, here's the official news."
The thing is, most companies don't have anything that's actually newsworthy. They think it's important, and I get that. We're all proud of our accomplishments, but it's not news. It's not something that- it's not like, "hey, the CEO of this company just got caught doing this thing and this thing," like, okay, that's actually news. That's the kind of thing you want to put a press release about out.
But that's actually news. Most of what we do on a day-to-day basis is not newsworthy. And so it's no surprise that news releases are completely unimpactful for most people.
Kathleen: Yeah, and I've also noticed if you really have great news, you're almost always better off spending the bulk of your money to have a PR person actually do one-on-one pitches with relevant journalists as opposed to just blasting it out there via the wires.
So, anyway. Well, that's interesting. Totally, totally reinforces what I had been thinking about press releases. But it's good to hear that it's backed by data.
Christopher: Exactly. So coming up in the next few days, we're going to be talking about content republishing. We know from our last look that approximately 11% of content has been republished this year, which is a high water mark in terms of companies just recycling content on their websites and such because there's a whole bunch of that "do more with less" mindset out there in the world. We'll be looking at SEO link decay, how quickly do links go bad by industry. We did that not too long ago.
Kathleen: Oh, that's going to be interesting.
Christopher: Yeah, it's between like three and 12% of links just die after a certain amount of time. And then we'll finish off on Christmas Eve with our 2020 email marketing forecast as to what weeks of the year in 2020 you should or should not send emails. So that's sort of the last few bits for the series.
Kathleen: Ooh, I love it. I can't wait to see those. Now I know that you've published some content around what you and Katie at Trust Insights are going to do differently this coming year based on what you've learned from all of this analysis. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Christopher: So one of the big things is YouTube, figuring out how to improve what we do on YouTube, to make it more consistent, to make it part-and-parcel of the way we do our marketing.
So we have a weekly newsletter, there's data built into it. One of the things I'm thinking about for the next year is, like I do in my personal newsletter, creating some video content to go in each newsletter. Because it's not rocket surgery, particularly with the kind of stuff that we do. Again, not an expensive production to turn on some screen casting software and just show an example of how to do something. So that's a big thing.
Another big thing is focusing on the properties we own, doubling down on our website, on our email newsletter list, on our Slack community, stuff that we own that we have control over, because social algorithms across the board are going in the wrong direction, down to the right, which is never a good place to be.
And frankly, when you own something, A. You tend to take a little bit better care of it. And B. You really can see much better data. Like we can see data about people in our Slack channel. We can't see that with a Facebook group in anything meaningful. We can see granular detail about who's opening what emails and things. We can see exactly where somebody goes on the website.
And so these are the kinds of things that will help us segment our audience better and get a better sense of, like, this is what to spend time on, what not to.
One of our big watchwords as a team next year is really about focus. Focus on what's working, and leave behind the things that we experimented, we tried, eh, there wasn't a there there for us.
Kathleen: Yeah, that's an interesting point, because I do think marketers get very excited by the shiny and the new, and we tend to spread ourselves really thinly, and that does not produce great results.
So it sounds like for 2020, video, a focus on YouTube. Really, if you look at your social strategy, putting more energy there and then definitely not spending a lot of money on press releases.
Christopher: No, no money on press releases. At the end of the day, and I think this is important for every marketer, your marketing is a product, right? It is a product that somebody buys with their attention, and it is the precursor ownership to actually doing some kind of commercial business with you.
If your product is crap, you're not going to sell them the thing that actually trades money, right? If your newsletter is terrible, if your social media is terrible, you are essentially putting bad product out into the world, and customers will judge that first sale of the content, look at it and go, "you know what, I don't want to buy from these people, because if this is what they do publicly- they're willing to share with the world publicly, I can't imagine what kind of garbage we're going to get behind the scenes."
Kathleen: Yeah. I always like to say, it's about building a habit. Especially with the things like email and YouTube channels, you're trying to get your audience to build a habit of inviting you into their lives on a daily, weekly, whatever that frequency is, basis. And that's really a privilege to be a part of their daily routine and habit. And if you violate that privilege with crummy content, shame on you.
Christopher: Yep, exactly. Think about your marketing as a product treat. If you have a product marketing manager within your company or a product development team, have them critique your marketing as though it were a product. You will get some feedback that will be hard to hear. Like, "hey, you did absolutely no user testing. Hey, you have no QA whatsoever. Hey, there's bugs everywhere."
But if you commit to making your product better, meaning your marketing, you will get better performance. Because the reality is, we all know so much of marketing is garbage, that even today you can stand out with good stuff, it doesn't necessarily have to be the best of the best. It just has to rise above the rest of the industry.
That said, also keep in mind that one of the things you are competing for as a marketer is attention, and your competition is Netflix, and Disney+, and politicians mouthing off in the government, and Taylor Swift, and contestants on The Voice. All of those people are competing for the same share of ear, and the same share of mind that you are. So you have got to earn your way into even a few seconds of their day.
Kathleen: Yeah, that's a good reminder. It can sound intimidating, but I always think of it as, you can either win that share of mind by producing the most unique top-notch content, or you can win it by being the most authentic. There are different paths to getting there, and you happen to be a brilliant data scientist who can produce this unbelievable original research.
So if someone's listening and they're thinking, "But I can't do that, that's too complicated," you can also travel the path of extreme authenticity, which brings its own very loyal following and sense of attraction as well.
Christopher: I agree. You know, one of the things, when you look at how people search for stuff, particularly on YouTube, there's a lot of "how to," there's a lot of "explain this thing to me, explain how this thing works."
One of the folks who I think does a super job of this is Robin Happel in the mortuary, funeral home industry, who explains like, hey, this is what's going to happen when a loved one dies, and these are the things you're going to need to do, and these are the things where someone will try and take advantage of you when you're in a diminished emotional state, a compromised state, to charge you money for things that you don't need to pay for. So now, even though it's uncomfortable to think about it, he's doing a really good job of saying like, this is the stuff that you need to know in advance so that when the inevitable does happen, because we all do die, you are prepared, you can make rational decisions.
Kathleen: That is such a great example. And talk about an industry that doesn't necessarily do very good marketing. So there's tons of opportunity.
Christopher: Exactly. But everybody's a customer.
Kathleen: Exactly, at some point or another.
Kathleen: So that actually is a perfect segue into the two questions I always ask all my guests, the first, and you might have already given me the answer, but we'll see, the first being, you know, we talk all about inbound marketing on this podcast. When you think about inbound, is there a particular company or individual that you think is really just crushing it right now?
Christopher: Ah... It's funny because inbound has... Well let me ask you this, I'm going to turn this back around on you. When you say inbound marketing, what does that mean?
Kathleen: To me, it means any form of marketing where you are creating content, assets, campaigns, et cetera., that are designed to attract people, that, I was going to say have a need.
But this is a really hard question, Chris. You're putting me on the spot!
That are designed to attract people at their moment of need, versus marketing that is going out and proactively getting in front of people and trying to convince them that they have a need. I guess that would be how I define it. This is not out of any dictionary, and it's probably wrong, but.
Christopher: Well, I don't think it's wrong because one of the things, I remember back in the heyday of inbound marketing, you're talking 2014, 2015, when social media was not pay-to-play, the folks over at HubSpot who originated the term were all about search and social and all these things that allow you to create stuff that attracts people instead of you having to go spend money on ads.
Well, search has gotten a lot harder. Social media has become entirely pay-to-play. So there isn't a lot of "in" in inbound left. When you look at Google zero click search results, zero click means you don't get that traffic. You may get the customer but you don't get the traffic.
And so when we look at companies that are doing, I would say more digital marketing better, or scaling the digital marketing, I look at folks- he's a very polarizing figure, but I look at Gary Vaynerchuk as a good example of somebody who has figured out, for the type of marketing that he does and for the industry that he serves, he's very good at what he does. Creating massive amounts of content and essentially drowning out everybody else.
Kathleen: Yeah. Well, and to be clear, I should clarify one thing. When I say attract, I think that can include paid, 100%. I think there's a way to do pay-per-click that is very inbound-y, and then there's a way to do it that's not. And attraction is about trying to get in front of the people that are the right fit for you that need something that you have, or that will need something that you have, as opposed to trying to- it's the whole old "force it on them whether they need it or not" mentality.
Christopher: "Grab them by the tie and choke them until they buy."
Christopher: I would agree with that. I think inbound, the modern definition I would say, is probably more about building and maintaining the relationship before somebody needs you. So that when the need does arise, you have share of mind. You're there first. You may be the only choice in somebody's mind and that makes your overall cost per acquisition lower.
Kathleen: Yeah. I talked about this in my talk at INBOUND, it was about brand publishing, and this is something that publishers do really well. Most marketers think, "I have a product, now I have to go find my audience," and publishers think, "I'm going to build a loyal audience. And then once I have that, I can naturally just introduce my products."
And it's like a little flip of the mindset, but a very critical one. And that's why outlets like Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's website, can sell people anything, because they have that audience already created. But there's a lot of companies that do it too. Like Equinox, the fitness brand, has its own lifestyle magazine. There's so many examples of companies that do that well, and that speaks to exactly what you're talking about.
And it goes back to my point earlier about building a habit. If you're already part of somebody's daily life, because you're delivering value to them, and I guess maybe that's a better way to define inbound. It's marketing that delivers value to the recipient
Christopher: Delivers value and builds brand, because one of the things that people are not paying attention to in marketing is understanding how consumers get information. When you are walking around and you're watching people talk to their phones, they're in their homes, they're talking to their smart speakers, and their smart devices and stuff, there's not a screen, there's not a keyboard.
And so if you have brand, then somebody can say, "Hey Alexa, play the Marketing Over Coffee podcast," and it can find that, right? They think about that, but there is zero search result. There is just brand. Nobody says, Alexa, show me the 2200 marketing podcasts that are available. Nobody wants to do that. So if you don't have that brand, that loyal audience as you say, you are in a incredibly dangerous and very expensive position.
Kathleen: Yeah, I would agree with that.
All right. Second question is, this conversation is a perfect example of this. Digital marketing is changing so fast. Much of it driven by technology, and search engines, changing the rules of the game, or moving the milk. How do you personally stay up-to-date and educate yourself?
Christopher: So one of the things I do is, in my newsletters, I put together links of things that may be worth reading and one of my cardinal rules of a newsletter is if I didn't learn anything when I was putting it together, certainly nobody else is going to.
So I ended up building myself a system where, I subscribed to about 1500 blogs, and the posts from those blogs goes into a SQL database. Then there are four pieces of software I wrote that scrape those blogs, scan them for specific keywords I'm interested in, and score them, and then I take the top 100, and that's what I look through when I'm putting together my newsletter.
And more often than not, there's like, ah, I didn't know that happened, click on my old links to read the article, and go, "that's actually something I needed to know about." So I have essentially a curation system I built for myself to stay on top of what's happening, because you're right, it does change so fast.
Kathleen: Chris, when are you going to productize and sell that?
Christopher: So... one of the focus points for 2020 for us is improving our products and services, because a lot of what we have- I describe myself as an engine builder, which is important. You need an engine, but you also need things like seats, wheels, the steering wheel and stuff, and those things I tend not to build. So we're going to try and figure out how to put some polish and shine in the interface on a lot of things, because right now the interface to a lot of these things is a little command line on my computer. But yeah we'll get there.
Kathleen: Yeah. I mean, sign me up for the early beta when it gets ready, because that sounds like an amazing solution to this problem of drinking from a fire hose for a marketer.
Christopher: We have two clients that are using it right now and they actually use it for their social schedule, we wrote an extension for it for Agorapulse. So it just makes a hundred posts in a CSV and just load the whole thing up. We did it that way because we wanted to make sure that we got the timing right, they wanted to be testing around the clock to determine what times of day people engage with their content.
So they put up a hundred posts at a time, scheduled evenly throughout the day, and then can see in their social media tools, these are the times when our audience is actually active.
Kathleen: Man, it is just amazing what you can do if you know how to write some lines of code.
Christopher: That's the challenge.
Kathleen: Very, very cool. Well, I am just blown away. This is so fascinating and it's totally got me thinking about some things I want to be doing next year. So I appreciate that. If someone's listening and they have a question for you, or they want to learn more about this, or they want to read 12 Days of Data, where should they go online?
Christopher: Easiest place to go is to our website, trustinsights.ai. Simple place, you can find everything important from there.
Kathleen: Awesome. Well, I'll put that link in the show notes. I will probably also try to link to 12 Days of Data to make it as easy as possible for you to find.
Kathleen: If you're listening, and if you are listening and you learn something new, which, let's be honest, if you listen to this whole thing, you've definitely learned some new things, it would be fantastic if you would head to Apple Podcasts and leave the podcast a five star review. Speaking of data and algorithms and the way search works, reviews help a lot, so that would be great if you could do that.
And if you know somebody who's doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me @workmommywork, because I would love to make them my next interview.
Thanks so much, Chris. This was a ton of fun.
Christopher: Thank you for having me.