Welcome to another episode of B2B Marketing & More! Today’s guest is Tommy Walker, founder of WalkerBots Content Studios, content strategy consultant responsible for starting a Shopify Plus blog and former Global Editor-in-Chief will QuickBooks. Now, as a consultant, Tommy shares the knowledge that he gained over the past 15 years with other brands.
Today we talk about the content marketer’s journey.
In this episode:
- How to turn a blog into a content marketing asset
- The process of determining and planning an editorial calendar
- How often should businesses change the structure of an editorial narrative
- How to include other team members and departments into editorial planning
- Learn more about the Four Act Structure of content editorial
- The importance of evaluating published and old content, and how to do it.
- How to work on content without having all the information
- What are some best practices and critical messages to apply and include in content such as a case study, podcast or video?
- What is content ROI, and how to quantify and measure content success?
- How many website visits does it take for a person to actually convert to a customer?
- Examples of reusing and repurposing content.
- What is the process of creating an industry report?
- How should enterprise marketers manage the content?
Quotes from the episode:
“When you’re thinking about the big [content] piece, what are the smaller things you can create that are modular and put that out there? Something I learned years ago is to create soundbites within your content. What are some tweetables that you can put out there? ”
“Content marketing is not a solo sport, it is very much a team sport, and it’s not just on the content team. If you need to work with other parts of the company to get what you need to be done, try to understand their working cadence and how you can fit into their day so you’re not bashing heads when it comes to their day to getting stuff created.”
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To expand your knowledge about the content marketer’s journey, check out some of my previous podcast episodes, blog post, and videos.
Tommy Walker, founder of WalkerBots Content Studios, and content strategy consultant joins this episode of the B2B Marketing and More podcast to share a content marketer’s journey experience and the knowledge that he gained over the past 15 years with other brands.
Tommy Walker: Thanks so much for having me, Pam. It’s great to be on here.
Pam Didner: All right. Talk to us. Talk to us about your experience in Shopify. I mean, it was a small mom and pop shop and to start with, and you were employee number 14, and you got handed their blog post or whatever you want to call it and became a content marketing machine. Can you share that experience with us in terms of the journey that you went through and, you know, the knowledge that you gain and the insight that you can share with our listeners.
Tommy Walker: For sure. Absolutely. So, um, I was employee number 14 at Shopify Plus, um, and when I had…
Pam Didner: OK. What are the differences between the two?
Tommy Walker: So that was great, that’s a great question. At the time, there wasn’t too much of a difference. Um, and we had to figure that out. The difference now is very clear. Uh, Shopify Plus is basically Shopify plus a whole bunch of other stuff, right? For enterprises and high growth startups, which is great. Shopify is a little bit more of the standard merchant, right. People were looking to get into e-commerce and looking at the more experienced e-commerce side of the house.
So, how did I get there? I was the editor in chief at a Conversion XL website (at the time) and was recruited over into Shopify. Craig Miller, their CMO at the time, had asked, “Hey, would you be interested in running the Shopify plus blog?” And I said, “yeah, that’s great.”
I got over there, and I was asking people, “Hey, what is the difference between Shopify and Shopify Plus? And they were like, “well, from a feature set, there’s not really a huge difference. We have, you know, dedicated customer service and a more customizable checkout.” That was pretty much it. And I said, “well, what about from a voice and tone perspective?” They were like, “Well, we don’t really know.” And this was at the time I was running the blog, which was the most frequent publishing arm of the entire company. We were putting most stuff out into the market.
Pam Didner: So how often do you guys publish at that time?
Tommy Walker: Uh, at the time, we were publishing three times a week. So every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And the way that that calendar worked every Friday, we were publishing a new case study. I tried to leverage the size of the part of the company to our advantage because we had much more direct access to our customers. So we were able to kind of tell these stories and make these case studies every week, which was great. It was a great part of the calendar.
Pam Didner: So, how do you determine the editorial in general? What topics did you chose, and also, do you actually have editorial meetings with your writers? How do that collaboration and communication go?
Tommy Walker: With the picking the subjects, it was a combination of a few different things. Obviously, you look at the search side of things, but that wasn’t a huge concern of mine, to be honest with you. The main thing that I was looking at at the time, and I still kind of look at this depending on where I am, is taking an observation as I’m going through my own e-commerce experience. As I’m buying stuff and realizing, “Hey, what part of this process, where is the friction here? Where do I see opportunities that these particular sites can do be better?” Making a note of that and continuing to go about that.
As I’m looking at a broader calendar, though, I’m starting to look at the year, right? I come from an acting background. I was an actor for ten years. A lot of what we had done there was about learning subtext, creating story structure, and looking at all of these different things to improve performance.
And the way I look at this computer screen that you and I are talking on right now, it’s not very different from TV screens or movie screens of the past. Right? All of this is performance to a certain extent. So when I was looking at structuring my content calendar, I would break the year up into a four-act structure, right. Where we can say we’re all heading into the very end of the year, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, like that’s big, that’s the biggest…
Pam Didner: That’s a big deal for Shopify and how I build up that momentum to that specific month or that season.
Tommy Walker: Right. So that’s kind of how I was looking at the calendar, was telling the story for four quarters and then breaking that down by each month to say: here is how we can make the perfect website up until the end, and then really get that story, make it pop.
Pam Didner: So, did you follow that four-act structure every single year? I mean, would the story kind of repeat itself, or you are talking about it from a different approach. Um, that is a story. Does the story, uh, stall, you know, because it’s exactly the same four acts?
Tommy Walker: Uh, it can, it can, but the way I think about it is you’ve got one year, and you’ve got that first sort of origin story if you will. Right. And this was what I was looking at when we were there cause at the time, Shopify Plus was primarily for people who felt like they were outgrowing Shopify as a product. Right? So what we were looking at that time was like, you know, if to use a video game reference, it’s what happens when Mario gets the power-up mushroom for the first time, right?
The world is entirely different. People are moving out of their garages to do shifts. Into 3PLs, so third-party logistics. They are starting to bring on employees, all sorts of new things like that. So we’re dealing with that. And then knowing that that stuff is going to get picked up by Google or have its natural discovery process, the following year, we can start to look at that as more of the sequel, if you will. And then start thinking about it like that year over year,
Pam Didner: You’re constantly going back to evaluate your past content? So it’s not like you finish writing a blog post; you publish it, then you move on to the next one. I think you constantly go back to evaluating what has been published. And they either try to create a SQL or possibly, maybe I’m just like – maybe I’m putting words in your mouth – like go back and update and refresh it.
Tommy Walker: I’ll give you an example. So, at the beginning of the month, we would write a piece that would say, you know, “how to build the perfect webpage.” Right. And we’d go, here’s navigation, here’s a hero image. Here’s a, you know how to write a great headline, right? And we’d break down the entire page in that. The following week, we would follow that up with “How to make the perfect navigation” and focus specifically on that.
Pam Didner: So very specific – I hate using the one narrow but particular topic. One specific topic at a time, but it is a narrative; it’s very intentional in terms of what specific topic that you want to talk about. So how long did you plan your editorial? Did you plan that one quarter ahead, or did you play in that whole year, or how does that work?
Tommy Walker: So I would plan it for the whole year, right. At least the loose themes that we would want to do for the entire year. So, you know, uh, the first quarter is this, second quarter, is that so forth and so, on. And we always have to build in room for flexibility, but yeah, we would try to plan the entire year loosely and then kind of break it down quarter to quarter and then month to month and then eventually week to week.
Pam Didner: Yeah. So you do have something at a very high level, but like you said, very loosely, but you have some ideas, and then every single quarter, every single month, you hone into that. So how often do you change the news structure of your annual (editorial) narrative? I mean, did you set it up and then follow that, or do you change it in the middle of the year? Sometimes you have to restructure it due to the new product launches or new features added. Well, Shopify went IPO, some big thing happened. So, how do you make that balance?
Tommy Walker: I try to think about it and then try how I think about it, even now that I’m not at Shopify. You have to anticipate that product marketing is going to come up with something that they want, and they’re going to want it two weeks before they it comes out and yeah, yeah,
Pam Didner: All the time, it was like, “oh, are we going to have a product launch? You know, but this has got to be a secret.” You will not know that product launch until like two days before.
Tommy Walker: “Can we have a blog post?” (laughs) So, knowing that that will happen, try to have, you know, when I build out my freelance team, have somebody who can write quickly. And have somebody really good at that. But to answer the question, it’s about building in knowing that things will go sideways or something will change in the industry or stuff like that. There will always be constants, but then you have to also think about where that flexibility needs to be. Not always so rigid, but you try your best to stay on topic and hit those points that you already know will come up.
Pam Didner: Got it. So how big is your freelance team, if you will?
Tommy Walker: Sure. So I always had to 2-10 people, and the reason for that is, uh, I wanted to plan my calendar out. I always want to have at least a month worth of articles in the hopper, just in case product marketing comes up or there’s a drought, and somebody gets sick or any of that. Right. So I always have at least one week planned out, and I want to have at least two people for each rotating week. So the more people you have, obviously, the better you can go about it.
Pam Didner: Does that mean you need a huge amount of money to budget this?
Tommy Walker: Fortunately, at Shopify, I wasn’t restricted by budget. (Pam laughs)
Pam Didner: Aha! (laughs)
Tommy Walker: It’s just, yeah. Uh, you know, throwing dollar bills out there. Um, but at QuickBooks, I had a very strict budget that I had to follow. Fortunately, I got to make my budget. So I would get to break it down by technology and authors and promotion and all of that. And, and yeah, I mean, that’s something I consult on now too, is how you make that budgeting work and have the right amount of people.
And the way that I like to think about this is the more money you’re willing to spend – and this is going to be true across the board, right – but the more money you’re willing to pay, the less time you’re going to have to spend in revision. However, if you have the right deputy editor, which I’ve always had included with this stuff, they’re going to have a more consistent salary, and they’ll be able to do some of those more consistent edits so you can balance it out.
And you’ll always have your lead writer. And this happens with a lot of editorial staff on, you know, newspapers and magazines. You have your lead author, and then you have other people you work with that might need a little more massaging. But the idea is if you get solid with the edit, you can help those who need more attention need a little more love to bring them up to a certain point where you do not have to spend so much time in the editorial. And what’s always been important to me is making it so they become more valuable to the rest of the market. Right.
So I might not have to pay them as much, they’re getting paid more, but there are many other places. But there’s still loyalty internally because that relationship between author and editor is, I believe like it’s, it’s a very close bond. It has to be respected because, as an editor, you’re the first person that sees any of this work. Right.
Pam Didner: So Tommy, did you do any other content formats, such as a case study or podcast or a video?
Tommy Walker: Yeah. Um, so we did case studies. We did the case study every week. And I’ll talk about that a little more in a second, um, how we approach that, but we did many videos, too.
Pam Didner: Do you write a video script yourself, or do you have someone else to do?
Tommy Walker: I was more in the creative development side of the script. Suppose that makes more sense. Now, because many of them, the video stuff we did was more live capturing–like it was more with the merchant. There wasn’t much scripting that had to happen. However, I did have to work with the people over in the agencies that I was working. To pull out certain narratives that we wanted to kind of talk about. So yeah.
Pam Didner: What are some of the key objectives? What are some of the key messages that need to come out, and also is the closing? I think that very important; any kind of video or even podcasts, from my perspective, tend to be the opening and closing.
Tommy Walker: What do we want to get for the B roll? What’s the background that’s going on here? And with our case study, case studies were really important to me, especially in those early days, because we had access to customers. As I started working for larger companies, I realized there are way more layers between you and the customer.
Pam Didner: Oh yes.
Tommy Walker: There was a whole team that I had to go through, uh, at, at one of the other positions to gain access to customers. It was a crazy process.
Pam Didner: I am not surprised. (both laugh) Been there, done it, seen it. Yeah, all of it!
Tommy Walker: Yeah, but fortunately, because Shopify Plus at the time was so small, we had direct access to our customers. And one of the things I noticed when I was doing my market research before we even wrote a single line of text was many competitors out there. And this isn’t just in this space, this is any company really–it was always this problem solution. Results right. Company X works with company Y and sees Z results. And that has its place. But at the time, we were trying to differentiate. So what I was always looking at, and I worked with this excellent author, Nick Winkler, give him a shout out. He was an Emmy award winner, which was great. He was able to pull out these excellent stories from people.
But what we did is instead of looking at problem solution results, I said what led to the problem? Obviously, we know that you’re a customer because we’re doing a case study here, and we know that you’re going to have some amazing results because we have a bias, right? We’re only going to show you excellent results. But what led to the problem and what we found when we started to dig into some of these more personal stories, I wanted to treat them more like Rolling Stone interviews.
So we would find out from one of my favorite cases was the problem was, was that the guy’s server room was on fire, and that meant he needed to go to a cloud-based solution, and because he went to the cloud-based solution, he didn’t have to worry about server rooms catching on fire. (Pam laughs) Cool. But what was interesting about this guy’s story is how he found out his server room was on fire. So he was at his bachelor party, and it was about three o’clock in the morning, which already gives you the sort of frame of mind that somebody at a bachelor party at three o’clock in the morning would be in when they find out that their server room is on fire. Right. So that adds a little bit of extra color, some context.
Pam Didner: Yeah. It does add a little drama to it and piques people’s interest.
Tommy Walker: Yeah. Right. And like, in some of the other stories, they got emotional because we wanted to learn their origins, right? What led them to become these entrepreneurs? And we wanted to speak to that entrepreneurial spark. Some people were bullied their entire lives, and their business was almost a direct response to being bold. Some of these came from visits across the world, seeing completely different cultures and bad situations, and finding ways to help in that area.
So some excellent stories came out of this, and they’re very human stories. And at the end of the day, like that’s what we, as people, really want to see, the companies that we work with are invested in the humanity of, of you, right? We want to know that you care about what’s going on in my life, not to like a creepy extent, but we want to know that the product that we’re putting out there will help in some aspects, some real aspects and not just be another number. Right.
Pam Didner: Speaking of numbers. I mean, all those are great content. How did you measure success?
Tommy Walker: That was very difficult at the time.
Pam Didner: Yeah, as a B2B marketer or being in the enterprise for a long period, we always want to quantify the marketing success. And sometimes it’s very, very hard, especially your marketing campaigns or marketing tactic focuses on the top of the funnel because you are building that brain awareness. You try to build that emotional connection, but it’s very hard to quantify that. So how do you suggest that the brands would like to do something similar to quantify the success? Because ultimately, they need to have a Come to Jesus meeting with the VP of Marketing, VP of sales, even a CEO.
Tommy Walker: Um, so it’s been different depending on the company that I’ve worked. Shopify was a very different situation because it was just getting off the ground. There wasn’t a ton for attribution modelling in place. We weren’t able to look at that. So the metrics that I was looking at (because I did have access to them) were returned visitors. And return visitors have always been my true north metric that I try to look at because in a B2B context specifically, the more return visitors you have, the more return visits you have. That corresponds well with the consideration area. Right.
I want people to spend a lot more time with me. New visitors are cool. I love new visitors, but return visitors, that’s really where it’s at. I want to know that I’m retaining people. So that was part of it at Shopify Plus, moving over to QuickBooks. I got to work with this excellent data scientist who helped model several different things.
Like how many visits does it take for a person actually to convert to a customer? Right.
Pam Didner: What is the magic number, according to QuickBooks?
Tommy Walker: Um, that’s proprietary.
Pam Didner: Can you give me a range?
Tommy Walker: I will tell you this, when we were able to double the amounts of, uh, return visits we had from individuals within 90 days, we were able to half the time it took to make a sale. That’s about as much as I can say when it came to that, but it’s a decent amount of visits, right. You know, maybe anywhere between 15 to 30. We’ll kind of give that sort of a range.
Pam Didner: You were like, OK, I’m going to give you a very wide range. Why don’t you guys just do a test yourself? And I agree (both laugh).
Tommy Walker: Yeah, 1 and 100. Um, no, it was really between 15 and 30, is what we would find it, especially in the 90 days. And what we found was that, when you can increase the number of return visits for a single user, um, and increase the number of page views per session, then you’re able to reduce that time to sale, um, really in half, which is incredible.
And it makes total sense when you look at it beyond the numbers perspective, right? If I’m going to spend more time with you, that’s time that I’m not spending with somebody else. And that makes me far more likely to like your stuff and trust you.
Pam Didner: Yeah. The next question I have is in terms of the content you created over some time, do you go back and repurpose some of the content, or do you reuse some of the content? Can you share some of the examples with us?
Tommy Walker: Sure. I didn’t mention this earlier, but when we did, one of the different formats we explored when I was at Shopify Plus was a series of industry reports. Right.
Pam Didner: So you guys do primary research?
Tommy Walker: We would compile research from other outside sources.
Pam Didner: Ah, I see. So is the base. It’s an industry report that you compile based on the secondary resources you have?
Tommy Walker: OK. Right. And what we did with these, because Shopify plus was not going to compete on features. Purposefully, we’re not going to compete on features primarily because we couldn’t, but we also decided that. We weren’t going to. I had said we’re going to compete on knowledge, right? So we would do these industry reports, which is a strategy they still use today, which makes me very happy with this. What would happen is we’d have all of that data and information, and then we could repurpose some of that into a blog post, you know, bring some of that stuff in.
But the other thing that we would do is we would merchandise if you will. We’d create trailers for the industry reports. So you have a video going into that, and now you’re repurposing it over into a blog post. And then, with the trailer, you can have these little gifts that come out of it. So there are a number of different ways that you can splice up this information. And with the industry reports themselves, I think some of them had over a hundred pages worth of just pure information.
Pam Didner: How long did it take to create the industry report?
Tommy Walker: Forever! Several months, several months,
Pam Didner: I would not be surprised.
Tommy Walker: No. And we were projecting out for the next five years.
Pam Didner: So the industry information. You gather, you projected the trends for the next five years?
Tommy Walker: Correct. And that was the depth that we were going into. And we were able to take our internal knowledge, even though we weren’t publishing that at the time. Apply that [knowledge] to what was going on here and say that we were at the ground level on some of this stuff. And then, we were able to repurpose a lot of that into other forms of content.
Pam Didner: Definitely. But that requires a lot of planning and intentional effort. I want people to understand that repurposing a piece of content, it’s not very simple, like you pull several paragraphs from one white paper and you write a blog post. It’s a very intentional effort. You are creating a, not a piece of content, even though you are using existing content that you have.
Tommy Walker: Right. And the way to think about it is by making it modular. Right. When you’re thinking about the big piece, what are some smaller things that you can create that are modular and put that out there? Something I learned years ago is to create soundbites within your content. Like in this is, this is different, but like, what are, what are some tweetables that you can put out there? And it’s the same thing as PR, and you know, all of that is you get the, you put the little soundbites out there. What’s the news going to pick up on? And when you’re able to put that stuff in, then it becomes infinitely more shareable. Also, you can use it to repurpose in a number of different areas, especially if you’re planning that ahead of time.
Pam Didner: Being a content marketer myself, where a good period of time, especially in the enterprise, it’s a lot of work. And I think from editorial planning down to the content creation, or even once you create content, you have to repurpose the content is there’s a lot of coordination that needs to happen within the company. And if you have one lesson for enterprise marketers trying to manage the content, what is that one lesson you want to share?
Tommy Walker: Ooh, that’s a good question. Um, Content marketing is not a solo sport. It is very much a team sport, and it’s not just on the content team. If you need to work with other parts of the company to get what you need to be done, try to understand their working cadence and how you can fit into their day so you’re not bashing heads when creating stuff.
Pam Didner: I hear you. Try to understand how they work and their process and work with that.
Tommy Walker: Exactly.
Pam Didner: Very good. Hey, before I end our podcast, I would like to ask you to answer one silly question, and you can pick one out of two. Number one: What is the most useless talent that you possess? The second one is, did you have a ridiculous goal in your life?
Tommy Walker: (laughs) The most useless… I have a few use those talents. I would say that the most useless talent I have is an encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel movies and movies in general, coming from a filmmaking background.
Pam Didner: What about, uh, DC? You are more into the Marvel universe. OK.
Tommy Walker: The Marvel Universe. Um, but movies in general, that’s just from my acting background. So, um, my wife hates watching movies with me sometimes because I’m like, did you know?
Pam Didner: And you’re like, shut up. Can I just enjoy the movie? Don’t tell me!
Tommy Walker: She, she wonders how I enjoy the movie. I’m like, “this is exactly how I enjoy the movie!”
Pam Didner: Thank you so much, Tommy. Glad to have you on my show. And you share a lot of insight with us. I enjoy our conversation.