Labcast: Using Content to Think Like Your Customers

In the first of this two-part podcast, Marcus Sheridan talked about some of the simple techniques content marketers can use to attract more inbound traffic and leads. Now in part two, Marcus explains why it’s critical for companies to get in the minds of their customers when creating content online, and shares some examples that have worked for him.

Marcus is the owner of River Pools and Spas based in Virgina. For more from Marcus, visit his blog, The Sales Lion, and follow him on Twitter @TheSalesLion.

Podcast Transcript

Marcus Sheridan

Brendan Cournoyer: Hello again, everyone, and welcome to this episode of Labcast. I’m Brendan Cournoyer and today part two of our conversation with content and inbound marketing guru Marcus Sheridan. Marcus is the owner of River Pools and Spas based in Virginia, and he also runs the popular Sales Lion blog at www.thesaleslion.com. In today’s conversation, we talk about some of the great content ideas that are probably staring you right in the face.

Talk about that sort of transparency which I think a lot of companies probably want to shy away from when you talk about even mentioning a competitor brand or anything like that. You’re right. If the whole point is to become the publisher in your industry, then don’t wait for someone else to write that story. Write that story yourself and then also you get to sort of control the message and people are going to find you and really see you as like a certifiable source of information which is really what you want. That’s the whole point.

Marcus Sheridan: Man, I’ll tell you what. I was giving a seminar the other day in Toronto and this one gal, she represents the content marketing for a major soap provider, okay. Like Ivory I think is who it was or somebody else, but it was a major soap provider. I said, “Okay, who are your biggest competitors?” She said, “Well, we’ve got,” and she lists like two or three other brands that are her biggest competitors.

So then I said, “Does anybody out there in the world ever just compare soap brands?” She’s like, “Well, actually, yeah, they compare them all the time. They want to know.”

I said, “Are people typing them in?” She said, “Yeah, I guess they are.” I said, Okay, well why don’t you say we type them in?”

So there was like 125 of us in this session. I said, “I want every one of you all right now to type in Ivory soap versus and then we picked a competitor.”

Would you believe they didn’t even show up in the first page? They didn’t even show up for the keyword phrase of their soap versus their competitors. There was this like baby site, I’m serious, like a site about babies and stuff that was number two and number three. Yahoo answers was number one. So they’re letting, a major multi-million dollar company, is letting Yahoo answers and some baby site dictate their brand awareness versus competitors. Really? What are they doing?

So you say we can’t compare brands. What have they been doing for years on TV?

Brendan: Right.

Marcus: I mean now they’re actually allowed on TV to say Ford versus . . . they don’t even say leading competitor any more. They say Chevy. They actually are allowed to say the name and this is done on TV. So when you compare brands, when you compare products, on your website if you don’t feel comfortable saying I just feel like this product stinks you don’t have to say that. You can say, “Okay, this product has a warranty of this per what their paperwork currently says. So our product has a warranty of that. There’s the difference. Their product is made…it has an outside layer made of this per their whatever. Ours is made of this per our manufacturer specs.”

So it’s just like you’re actually answering the question and it doesn’t have to be opinion based at all. You can just find the factual things that you can definitively compare about these two products. The 2010 Chevy Camaro has 12 inch rims on their vehicle whereas the 2010 Ford Mustang has 14 inch rims. Do you see what I mean? We’re just comparing facts here because people all the time are like, “Oh, there’s nothing else I can do. I can’t talk about competitors. I’m worried I’m going to get sued and this and that.”

I’m like come on guys. Besides your salespeople are doing comparisons every day when people come in and say, “I was thinking about buy this, but I’m also looking at your product. Tell me why yours is better.” They think on that question. Everybody gets that question. So if you’re getting the question, you should be writing about it. Again, it’s not rocket science. The thing about it is as soon as you start doing this, I mean really putting yourself in the mind of a consumer, you write like the consumer, you talk like the consumer, you think like a consumer, Google is going to pick up your stuff.

You’re going to show up for a ton of long tail phrases because you’re going to be thinking question based stuff, longer phrases. You’re going to be known as the voice of your industry because you actually have an opinion. You’re the one that’s actually addressing these things that no one else thinks to of because they’re not using common sense marketing which is unbelievable but it’s true. Financially you’re going to have a windfall. It’s a very simple process.

Brendan: One last thing that I wanted to ask you too and it kind of relates to some of the topics we’ve already touched on is you mentioned transparency. You mentioned cost and one of the best parts about your presentation that I really appreciated was you read a post about how much does X cost but then you also write a post about what’s the price. For me I might think well why am I going to write that post? I’ve already covered this.

But it’s about finding the different ways that people are asking for that information, that’s the way they’re going to search for it in Google and all of a sudden you have different posts covering all of those different variations of people looking for that same information. It was just like when you said that I was like that is so simple and it never would have occurred to me. It was great.

Marcus: Well, very good point, Brendan. You see, and this goes back to the way that that happened was because I’ve tried to take ego out of everything that I do. What I mean by that is we screw up our stuff all the time based on the stuff that we know. So we see things from our perspective. We have our own purse of knowledge and that messes everything up. So somebody, if we’re thinking like a consumer, one consumer said to me, “Okay, so what’s this baby going to cost?”

I know I need to write an article about what’s my product going to cost? It’s like what’s the cost of a fiberglass pool. Then the next phone call I get or the next email I get, somebody says, “Could you send me some pricing for fiberglass pools please?” So I’m like ah, sounds the same but very different question and Google sees it differently as well. Yeah, Google picks up on synonyms but they would much prefer an exact match. Right? So there I went and I wrote an article about a price.

See, someone might say what’s a fiberglass pool cost? Somebody might say what does an in-ground fiberglass pool cost. Or somebody else might say generally speaking, what do in-ground pools cost? It cuts all types of phrases. I’ve got I think right now six articles that talk about price and cost that all show up for different sets of keywords and all get tons of visitors, I mean thousands literally every year, because I’ve addressed one topic in a whole variety of manners. If you start thinking of it like that, you’re like oh wow. People say I’m running out of content, and I’m like oh my goodness, here we go. You cannot run out of content if you really think like a consumer and you listen well. It can’t happen.

Brendan: Right, that’s exactly what I was going to say. It’s like people are always struggling to come up with what should we be writing about, what should we be creating content about? Well, you have this one topic. You’ve covered it once. How else can you cover that? Can you dig deeper into it? Can you come up with different variations? Like you said, you have six pieces of content based on essentially the same essential topic idea and you can do that I would imagine for a bunch of different areas.

Marcus: Oh my gosh. Let’s say your company sells 30 different products. Well you should have 30 different price related articles. You should have 30 different cost related articles. So right then and there you have 60 blog articles. That’s the first ones that I would write because that’s the first question pretty much everybody asks. So then I would write another 30 on the problems because when we think we want to buy something, we’ll go online to search for the negative phrases first just to make sure we’re not going to screw up and make a mistake because nobody wants to make a mistake.

So if you sell Ford Mustangs and you sell 2010 Ford Mustangs let’s say; whatever it is. New 2012 Mustangs. You’re thinking about buying one. You totally want it. You test drove it. You’re totally sold. You’re not going to go online and type in positive reviews 2012 Ford Mustang. You’re going to say 2012 Ford Mustang problems, negative reviews 2012 Ford Mustang. That’s what you’re going to type in. That’s how we all think. Don’t ask me why–it’s just what we do.

So because of this fear based mentality that we’re going to make a mistake, type it in, hopefully we’re going to read something that people need to see. In your case if you’re the first to jump on that keyword phrase and you really tackle the negative phrases, like the problems, like the negative reviews, all those things, you’re going to beat everybody to the punch.

You’re going to be really, really successful. You can do that for every product in your company. I could go on and on and on and on about this. Let’s say you have 30 products and those 30 products have 30 competitor products. You should do a versus article for every one. X product versus Y product, which is better and why? Okay.

If you start thinking all these things, like oh my goodness I’ve got 500 articles. When I brainstorm with companies usually, and we just have this type of conversation, it’s literally almost impossible not to come up with at least 100 within the first 20 minutes, 100 blog post titles. It’s hard not to come up with that.

Brendan: And you’re not using AdWwords or anything like that? You’re just using common sense and knowing your customers.

Marcus: We have this problem that we lean . . . you know what? The best keyword tool in the world is your customer and your ability to listen. The two have to come together. So if you hear a question. the first thought that comes to your mind shouldn’t be I need to hurry up and answer this. It should be, “Have I written about this on my website?” If you haven’t written about it on your website, that’s one of the best keyword tools that you’ve been given in awhile. That’s keyword topics you need to write on immediately because asked it.

So if they ask the question then you write the article and then you follow up with an email and then that email said I’ve written an article about what you asked me earlier today. I know I answered it but I want to give you a little bit more to that point and just go here and check it out.

Now what have you done? They’re coming back to your website. They’re going to see important content. I didn’t get a chance to talk about the content marketing world, which hopefully Joe’s going to give me this; he’s going to give me a lot more time this coming year. There’s a whole science behind content marketing tipping points. That’s my big area. I’m kind of coining the phrase because basically what I’ve found is if I can get somebody . . . can I explain this in two minutes, Brendan? Do you have two more minutes?

Brendan: Sure. Please.

Marcus: Let me explain this to you. So at the end of 2010 I looked at every lead that had filled out a form on my swimming pool website. Then I looked at every lead that had turned into a customer and said what’s the difference between these two groups of people. After a little bit of research, far and away I could see that there was a magic number and the magic number was if somebody read 30 pages of my website, that’s a lead that read 30 pages on my website, then I went to their home and did a sales presentation, they bought 80% of the time.

In the pool industry, the average closing rate for an appointment is somewhere between 10 and 15%. So it was a drastic tip as soon as they got past 30 page views. So once I understood this I was like it’s so simple. All I need to do is figure out a way to get everybody in my company, I’m sorry, every lead that comes into my system to read 30 pages of my website. So now I never send an email. I never send anything to a customer.

Like you know how a lot people just send an email saying, hey I was just following up on our appointment or just confirming our appointment next week, see you then, looking forward to it, let me know if you have problems. You don’t send content in those emails. That’s so dumb. Everything I do revolves around 30 page views at my pool company.

I teach other companies now, everything they do revolves around their tipping point because there is a tipping point number of page use plus time on site plus of number of times visited. I mean there are other tips but the big tip, the big tipping point for every product is number of page views.

So let’s say that you’re a lawyer and you have a law firm. You’re going to find that I bet you you’re going to have a tipping point somewhere between 15 and 25 pages at which point that person is going to just come to you and say I’m sold, I trust you, I’m not even shopping. I’m not even shopping. This is what happens when you become the great trust agent through the content on your site.

But you know, Brendan, I would have never known this if I hadn’t been blogging because I had 20 pages on my website when I started. So I hadn’t even reached the tipping point for my own website when I first began with inbound content marketing. So then finally once I started building up the content, I could see the behaviors of these people that would come into the system and it’s like oh my goodness.

I have people that have literally read, because I track all this stuff obviously, if somebody fills out a form I’m tracking everything they’re doing from that point. So I have people that have read 250, 285 pages on my website. It happens all the time. Do you think those people are shopping after that? They aren’t shopping. They’re not getting other quotes. They’re not beating me down on my margins. They completely trust us. They just want to get a pool from us and again it’s like this for every single industry and business out there.

My dad used to tell me this phrase, that if you hang around the barber shop long enough, eventually you’ll get your hair cut.

Brendan: I like that. That’s great. That’s a perfect way to close this out. Thanks very much, Marcus and I definitely look forward to seeing more about the whole tipping point concept next year if that ends up being in the presentation. Thanks again for taking time. I really appreciate it. People can find more from you by checking out thesaleslion.com and they can follow you on Twitter too at the sales line is your handle.

Marcus: Yeah, and I have that free 230 page inbound content marketing made easy ebook on my site. It’s free for anybody. Just gave it to the world. And I’ll tell the response has been unbelievable; thousands of downloads already. So they can check that out as well, Brendan. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I love what you all are doing. Just keep up the hard work man.

Brendan: Thanks very much, man. All right have a good one and hopefully we’ll get to do this again some time soon.

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