Welcome to the second edition of my new Turning Points blog series.
In this series, I interview creative entrepreneurs and successful independent business owners – people like you.
I ask them to share their story and to reveal what their ‘turning points’ have been in both their work and life. Hopefully, you’ll get lots of value from the series.
And if you have missed it, do pop over to the first fascinating interview with crime fiction author Paddy Magrane.
Now onto the next installment…
I’m thrilled to be able to share this exclusive interview with you this month. Mark Masters is a content marketing expert, international speaker and author of the book ‘The Content Revolution’.
Mark has been very generous with his time and been honest about his struggles in business and the lessons he has learnt along the way. Plus, he’s shared lots of advice as well as book recommendations – I’ll definitely be checking out some of these (I can’t get enough of business books!).
And if you’re a book nut like me, I’m sure you’ll love Mark’s very own book which I have previously reviewed here.
Sixth Sense PR interviews content marketing expert Mark Masters
Please tell us a bit about you Mark, and your background and current business
I am from an ad agency background and part of me still yearns for the days when everything was simpler. People paid a lot of money, to see absolutely no return, but spent a lot of time and money on rebrands and big outdoor poster campaigns.
My business is the ID Group and we help companies stand for something and have something to say. This helps them grow their audience, which leads to a better customer base.
When did you first become aware of the concept of content marketing and how quickly did you embrace it yourself?
I first became aware via a book called The Ultimate Sales Machine that I read in 2010 by a man called Chet Holmes.
A whole chapter was dedicated to the belief of ‘education marketing’ where rather than pushing product and services, businesses took a responsibility to assist an audience. That helped cement the all-important bonds of trust and relationship. This makes the whole sales process so much easier – when someone is ready to buy based on the value that they receive.
Can you briefly describe the path to you becoming a content marketing consultant and author?
Everything has to have a start that begins with a commitment.
My moment was January 2012, when I started writing. My early articles were generic, dry and listless posts that had no real purpose to them and sounded like everyone else ie. what does the word brand mean? how to give the perfect presentation. Looking back, I did not give a clear perspective. Over time, I started to find my voice, which I became comfortable with.
In summer 2015, I published The Content Revolution. This was a process of documenting everything that I had learnt and to share with people what they need to do to embrace a content marketing approach.
It is centred on taking ownership of the spaces that small business have control of. I had learnt so much in a short space of time. For instance, I went out to contact all the marketing movers and shakers in the world today (only Seth Godin said ‘no’) to take their view of how the world is changing and the responsibility we all have.
The Talking Content Marketing series is here to take from and learn about marketing today.
In regards to your book, The Content Revolution, how long did this take to write?
I took me around 10 months to write and this included two rounds of editing. I can remember editing on my Mac next to my wife when she was in hospital after giving birth to our second child, Alice.
Looking back now, it was a very exhausting time. I had another 18-month-old daughter and my wife had just given birth to our second child. However, at the time it was something I had to get out there. The only reference from a UK point of view about the content marketing movement was from Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton and their book Valuable Content Marketing (which is a fantastic read).
How did you find the process of getting published and what lessons did you learn?
The main reason to work with a publisher was to work with someone who had a far better knowledge of the editing process, creativity and also distribution. The Content Revolution is published by LID Publishing.
I guess there is also that element of ego massaging when you have a book that is from a publisher, rather than a self-published effort.
However, I fully understand the merits of self-publishing and from what I have learnt, when things get underway for book number two, I will probably self-publish.
Aside from the book, what other ‘content’ do you create?
Over the years, I have taken this ‘human cannonball’ approach to constantly test to see what works in terms of participation and interest. I have wasted many hours doing things that I thought has resonance but did not align with what I do, what I believe in and the audience who buy in.
My Thursday morning email is called You Are The Media and from an increase in subscribers from Dorset, I wanted to bring people together each month. This way we can all learn together and stand shoulder to shoulder as we adopt new approaches. Everyone has something in common, they all receive an email before 8am each week.
Has any one individual or company been particularly influential to your early adoption of, and passion for, content marketing?
The Content Marketing Institute provides a fantastic grounding. It leans into the whole discipline in more detail in terms of application and a valuable source.
I was part of Content Marketing World, in Cleveland US, last year and looking forward to speaking at the 2017 event this September.
Has it been challenging to convince businesses to use content marketing? If so, what are a few typical objections?
Good question. The biggest challenge is that businesses are still very much entrenched in how the world has told them to behave. You tell everyone how good your business is over everyone else. Social media has effectively become free advertising for many businesses and the magnet is always pulling people to apply an old methodology into new spaces. For instance, if I sent an email every Thursday that highlighted new work, client wins and quotes from Richard Branson, I can assure you that audience growth would be zero.
The main objections are centred around the quickest return with the minimal amount of effort (which is why we have Google Adwords, Facebook ads etc). Companies are still very much centred around a campaign mentality ie. let’s give it a go for three months and see what happened.
Businesses need to look at marketing as a profit centre (drawing people in via the interesting content we create and distribute), not a purely cost-centred space (spending money on adverts and borrowing audiences from strangers).
Was there a particular turning point (or turning points) in your life that you’d like to share, in relation to business and content marketing?
It was nearly going out of business in 2010/2011.
We had a customer, that I take full responsibility for, that ended up owing a lot of money (and represented 70% of our company turnover).
They had won a lot of business, via a personalised touch to everything that they created. For instance, pitch documents always referred to the context of the company they were presenting to. Printed newsletters were handed to customers. They created videos that looked at pain points within the industry. Basically, it was not sustainable and they grew too quickly too soon.
However, it was this lesson that made me look at the whole responsibility to be seen as a trusted source by someone else.
What would be your top tip for any business owners seeking to embrace content marketing?
Everything is centred on three key areas:
- Consistency – can you become persistent and embrace an approach that is long-term?
- Alignment – you don’t want to turn into an altruistic mess. Can everything you create, publish and distribute come back to what you believe and stand for?
- Audience – is there an audience out there for you? I don’t mean appealing to everyone, but meaning something to someone. The value we create is for our audience, not on how noble we are as businesses within the communities we are part of.
What are your favourite content marketing books or resources (asides from your own!)?
Probably my favourite book from the past five years has been Mitch Joel’s, ‘Ctrl Alt Delete.’
What’s next for you Mark? What do you have in the pipeline for 2017 and beyond?
The focus is very much on the You Are The Media project. I will rerun the ‘You Are The Media | Strategy Day’ in August (loved doing this at the end of March).
I love this whole idea of the live blog format, where we come from behind our screens and get to know one another better.
My whole quest is to help others recognise the merits that they can build an audience and become a trusted resource. Why continually pay for attention, when people can pay attention?
Where can we find out more about you?
You can subscribe to the weekly You Are The Media email here
You can read my angle of attack on the Owned Media Mindset here
This is what my company does here
You can listen to Marketing Homebrew here
You can say hello on Twitter here