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Everything you need to know about content marketing

An Interview with Autumn Sullivan

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood chats with Autumn Sullivan, Director of Marketing and experience at Mobilization Funding

Autumn talks about her journey from literature to marketing. She shares her insights on what makes a good sales funnel. Building a successful buyer’s journey. She also talks about her opinion about content marketing and how to make it successful for any organization and calculate the ROI in content marketing. Read this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-coffee.

It takes time to build up a good seo reputation. It takes time to rank the right way. It takes time to become known for a keyword. if you’re going to do organic inbound marketing, it takes time to build trust enough for someone to click that button.

Autumn Suvllivan
Director of Marketing and experience,
Mobilization Funding
Hello, Everyone. Welcome back to a new episode. Today we have with us Autumn Sullivan, Director of Marketing and experience at Mobilization Funding. Hey Autumn, how are you?

I’m great. How are you?

Perfect. Autumn, before we dive into SEO and content, why don't you introduce yourself to our viewers? Tell us what you do at MF.

So, I’ve been in digital marketing for 11 years now. Before that, I was an editor at Random House for illustrated books. I left New York City and came back to Florida, which is where I’m from. I started my career as a copywriter and I’ve worked my way up to director of marketing, really focusing on content, and customer experience.

What I do at Mobilization Funding is everything that is related to marketing. Everything from our website strategy, website content, SEO or social media, email marketing, sales marketing handoff process, sales service process, all the customer experience. The webinars, the video strategy, and basically everything that touches the customer. And, it’s wonderful. I love having my hands and all those different pies. I love seeing how all those different pieces fit together to make a cohesive experience for our customers that focuses on value for them.

I have been doing SEO for so many years now. And, there are people who only look at SEO, as writing for the search engine. But, since you are a content person as well, you would understand the importance of actually writing for the user, keeping the search engines in mind.You are the perfect mix.

Yeah. My background is English and I got my masters studying poetry. When I started copywriting I was very much of the mind that it didn’t really matter if Google liked it, and it ranked well. Because if you landed on it, and you didn’t want to read it, what was the point? So I had to learn SEO as a secondary skill. I still rely on SEO experts when it comes to the technical side of SEO. I keep it in mind when I’m writing.

Well, you also are not a fan of typical sales funnel. I really like how you compare the buyer's journey to a subway system. Could you explain it here once for our viewers?

Sure. Thank you. So I went on a rant on LinkedIn. This was a while ago, before HubSpot came out with their flywheel. So I was like, “Alright, HubSpot, you can have that one.”

What my problem with the funnel is that it assumes a linear journey. It assumes you’re going to do this, and then this and then this. It assumes that you as the marketer or the salesperson have control of that journey. By putting the right types of content in that journey, you can force the person to go through these steps. Eventually, it will end in an action and decision for you. I still don’t think people operate that way, especially now with a digital platform when there are 5 million distractions a day. You don’t operate linear. You might come in at the decision phase. Everything else has happened offline because someone convinced you because of their experience. So yes, you still have a buyer’s journey, but it doesn’t at all look like the sales funnel.

So, I used to live in New York, and I took the subway everywhere, because that’s what you do. It occurred to me that what I love about the subway, is you could get into the subway system from anywhere, you could go anywhere. I could start downtown and I need to get on the west side, but I need to get to the Upper East Side. So I can take one of them trying to think of what trains are still running on down there. I can take one of the yellow lines and get to Times Square, and I can transfer and then I can take the east side lines. So what I started thinking about was, what if all those different points, all those different entrances on the subway are your social media or your content? Your content that exists outside of your website, your videos, all of that. Your website is kind of Time Square. It’s where all the transfers happen. It’s where the magic happens. But you don’t get to control where they come in, or where they go next. You know that at some point, they’re going to cross into this hub. That’s the magic moment, when they’re in the hub.

That analogy just worked better for me. it released control, which is a big thing in my life and in my marketing. It’s like you have to give up control. I don’t even like the call to act. I think a better term is an invitation to action. I don’t want to make you feel like you have to do something. I don’t want to pressure or force you into doing something. I want you to feel like you want to do something. That’s where that analogy came from. I will map it out with all these different colors of highlighters on whiteboards. This is how it works. It does work.

Absolutely makes sense. I mean, how can you control a buyer's journey? You can't actually control a person moving from here to here. He can come from anywhere, right? It's just that whatever is there, whether it's a page or it's any anywhere on the website, it has to make sense and convince a person coming from anywhere.

Exactly. And, you have no idea. That buyer’s journey could take a second. If it’s an impulse buy, like, “Oh, I love that T shirt on Facebook.” Well, my buyer’s journey is, see it on social media, buy it on social media, this big. But, if I’m researching a new solution for Mobilization Funding, I’m probably going to ask one of our partners what they’re using and then go to that company’s website. I’m going to book a demo. Before I look at the white paper, I just want to see what you do. I don’t want to have to watch your video because I want to be able to ask questions. The kind of buyer I am, is going to go straight from asking for a referral, looking at your website and then asking for the demo. I’m not engaging with any of your content yet. I’ll do that after. I’ll verify that after I’ve talked to you. It might not be based on the experience you provide for me. If you’re super salesy, promising I can get you 5 million leads a week on LinkedIn. I will be like, “Yeah, okay.” I’m gonna bounce because you’re giving me false promises, you’re pushing too hard.

What does a typical content marketing team look like?

I think that’s a fascinating question. I’ve had so many different content teams. I’ve been part of the team where there was a content strategist, content writers, and then designers, and then I’ve been a content team of one. I think we were most effective. When there was a strategist or a manager, there was someone who was looking at the big picture, who was paying attention to the objectives of the customer, the goals of the different pieces, mapping out the subway system. Then, there was an SEO expert, coming in on the background and doing that technical link building and all the background magic. The SEO, providing to keep that analogy running, providing the electricity to make that subway system work.

Then you have writers who can focus on language, persuasion and influence. Then you have designers. And I also think there’s a difference between content writers and content creators. I always look for people who have journalism backgrounds because they’re really good writers. They tend to focus on the craft of the writing. This is a very different skill set than a web copywriter. If I need a really punchy CTA, I’m not going to go to that same content writer, I’m going to go to a UX copywriter. So I want one of those on my ideal team.

What are your thoughts on outsourcing content?

I love the idea of outsourcing content. I think anytime you can professionally, and can get the same level of quality. You can do something else that can’t be outsourced. It’s a win, right? When we outsourced our content to freelance writers, it was important to me that I had a good relationship with the writer, and a really solid relationship with a client so that I could be the conduit between the freelancer and the client. I want that client to feel like when they get their content, it came from me. It has to be good. It has to be so informed on their customer and their pain points and their value props, that they’re like, “Yep, you guys know us.” That means the writer needs to have the same level of interest and passion for the client that I do. I hired very specific copywriters for different kinds of clients. I knew this one is sassy and smart and has a wicked edge. That one is going to be great for my retail clients.

Then I have others who were wicked, smart, and could break down really technical concepts into digestible pieces of information, perfect for SAS. It’s having a really solid relationship with the outsourced writers so you can know who is the right resource for that type. I’m all for outsourcing.

It's very interesting, a lot of AI tools are coming up. Mainly a lot of SEO people are using it. Then I see new tools coming up, which are basically AI-generated content. I am not a big fan of it but, still would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Yeah, it’s funny, because like my entire career, there have been articles coming out saying, AI is coming for your content writing job. I’m like, “Okay, I’ll believe it when I see it.” I think AI has its place. I think it’s a useful tool but it cannot fully replace humans. AI is the greatest ability. But humans can emphasize. I don’t care what anyone says, AI poetry is not good yet. It’s random and it’s cold. AI does not feel and that’s what having a human in your marketing does. They can feel, which means they can look at a situation and not just take data and say, these are the different pain points this person is having. We can say, these are the pain points they’re having and because I have experienced similar pain points, I know the emotion.

AI is great for personalization. It’s great for AV testing. I would totally use it in AV testing and for email time. I think it’s a cool tool. I don’t think it’s ever going to replace people.

Absolutely. It just started with chatbots. If I am using a chatbot 90% it's because I want to chat with a human right. So it started there. You're right, things like email marketing, where you want to AV test might work but you can't replace humans at all.

You mentioned the chatbots and it’s finally on websites. It says, “Hi, I’m a friendly service robot.” I’m like, “Oh, delightful, I’m talking to a service robot.” And then I have a certain level of understanding what I’m going to get as turned in terms of responses. If your chatbot pretends to be a human, and then that communication breaks down, you’ve broken my trust. I thought I was talking to a living human. We’re getting close to where you can’t tell the difference but only up to a certain point of communication. Afterwards, it becomes too complex and the bot doesn’t understand what you’re saying anymore.

I think it has a place but I’m always in favor of being super transparent. If you are using AI, you should probably tell people you’re using AI.

When I'm talking to agency owners and digital marketers, how do you calculate ROI of your content marketing efforts? It is very tricky. How do you do it?

Oh, my God! it’s a million dollar question like nobody wants to pay for blogs, I’m gonna pay for PPC ads. As a case study, when I worked at a previous agency, we won an American Marketing Association Award for content marketing for our work with an orthopedic practice. Through our content and good SEO practice, we owned the term car accident doctor in their area, which was Florida. That’s hard and it’s huge. It’s a huge accomplishment. We did it through solid content marketing and they didn’t pay for ads at all. They had a zero ad budget. So, when clients said I don’t want to pay for content, I would bring that to them, and then be like, “Well, Okay, but this is what’s possible with good content marketing.”

At Mobilization Funding, when we set our goals, I’ll say, “Okay, what’s the revenue goal?” Let’s work backwards. Always get in alignment with your sales team. Okay, the revenue goal is, whatever Z. How many leads are based on an average loan? How many close deals do you need to get that? They’re like, whatever that is. So now I’ve got Z and Y. That means I need to bring you a certain amount of visitors to the website. A certain number are going to become leads and a certain number of those are going to close. That’s going to trickle into your revenue number. So that ends up being my website visitor goal. Because we have used Salesforce Pardot, I will go and report on the new leads that close to this month interacted with these pieces of content. I can show you over a month that our article about merchant cash advances is performing better. Every new lead touches it. We have a blog called Margin versus Markup. We work with construction contractors, and it’s a very critical issue in their bidding process. Do I put a blanket markup? Or do I actually figure out what my overhead is? Do I determine what I actually need to mark this up in order to make a profit on my project? So that’s one of our number one blogs. It’s been one of our top traffic drivers for like four years now. I just keep updating it.

So I can go back to my boss or the CEO of Mobilization Funding and say, these pieces of content are incredibly valuable. This is how much traffic they drove of that traffic. This is how many became leads. This is how many became newsletter subscribers, which aren’t leads yet, but they will be, which is the other piece of it. You have to be willing to look at the long view which is the heart as part of content marketing. It takes time to build up a good SEO reputation. It takes time to rank, the right way. It takes time to become known for a keyword. If you’re going to do organic inbound marketing, it takes time to build trust enough for someone to click that button.

We started doing reputation social selling or thought leadership on LinkedIn. So Scott, who is the CEO of Mobilization Funding and I sit down once a month, and we talk about life in general, as well as our industry. We came up with LinkedIn posts for him. He and I write them together, and we schedule them out. It took almost a year, but LinkedIn now is one of our lead sources. They convert into customers without the traditional sales funnel at all. They’re just engaging with a human being who has an interesting perspective on business. They enjoy his perspective on business, and want to learn more about him. They are like, “Can we get a call?” How can you prove the ROI of that? The only way I can do it is to say, that person came from LinkedIn. You have to be able to track that lead source. It’s vital, which is why when I work with companies, I ask what are you using for your CRM? If it doesn’t tie your marketing to your sales, your marketing is always going to lose that battle.

Driving engagement with an increasing number of channels available to connect with customers seems like a challenge now. How do you tackle that?

I try and focus on being where my customers expect me to be and where they want to engage with me. So I don’t chase every new trend. I don’t believe that as a brand, you have to have to be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, TikTok or Snapchat. You need to be where people want to engage with you and where they expect you to be. You can do different types of content if you want to be on different social media platforms, but pay attention to which ones are actually working for you.

I don’t believe in chasing the big trends. Remember, when Clubhouse first popped on LinkedIn and everybody was on Clubhouse. You don’t hear as much about it now. I’m sure it’s still a thing, but it’s not quite the rage that it was when it first came out.

Is that a thing that we need to be paying attention to right now for Mobilization Funding? No. This is not a thing that our audience is doing right now. When TikTok came out, everyone was like, “Oh, you need a TikTok strategy.” I was like, we market to construction business owners we don’t need a TikTok strategy.

If you sell t-shirts or video games, you need TikTok strategy, we didn’t. Other than that, you should have some social media presence because literally everyone is on some form of social media. I just don’t buy into the idea that you have to be on all of them. If you are a coach, and you were selling online dance lessons during the pandemic, you should absolutely have a TikTok.

Apple announced changes to iOS 14 right to increase privacy. How do you see that impacting social media campaigns?

Yeah, so I’m probably in the minority on this one, but I am all for it. I think it will make it harder for us, but our jobs should be hard. I can’t remember the exact quote, but I’m pretty sure it was Jay Baer, who is one of my marketing gurus. I love him. I think the quote was, the goal for brands on social media is to be accepted, rather than to be seen as a pernicious interloper. I will never forget that. That’s how you described them as a pernicious interloper, and it’s really true. With all the data that we have, we can force people to pay attention to us. The algorithms are disturbing to the point where people genuinely no longer trust that you’re not listening on their phones, right?

I was talking to my mom about going on a vacation, and the next thing Facebook served me an Airbnb ad. So they must be listening or whatever. It’s just that they have a scary amount of data on us. So maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe we should at least have control over it. We should at least have the choice to say no, please don’t track me across devices.

I actually think it’s time that the user gets a little more control back in that situation. So I’m all for it.

I personally use a lot of GIFs in my marketing campaigns, if the brand can have that funny tone in the content. Where according to you are GIFs most impactful in a marketing strategy.

I can’t get through my day without using at least five GIFs. I am just an absolute addict for them. When I experienced them in marketing, and they are my favorite, I’m like, “Wow, that’s really clever, I wish I had come up with that.” It is the moment when they are surprised. I love them in email. I think they are super fun when they communicate, especially if they can turn the tables on a situation.

If it’s a notice that something is out of stock and it pops up with a funny GIF, that changes my attitude towards what is actually a negative communication. If there’s you didn’t fill in this information correctly, and it pops up. I love stuff like that. I think it’s really fun in form completion pages as well. That’s super funny, like victory. The other thing that I really love about them is that they show your audience, your personality as a brand. There can be this really amazing moment of a shared cultural phenomenon. Like, “Oh, you love Stranger Things as a brand, I love Stranger Things as a person. This brand gets me right like that.

One of my favorite examples of that was JetBlue who became kind of famous for being able to do that in social. Someone bro hooked to them, which is like a My Little Pony thing and they got really in. They leaned heavily into Brony culture. They were like, “Alright, that’s what we’re gonna do.” They referenced the Oregon Trail, which is a really old video game, which Gen Xers all know. They actually have their team

when someone references something they’ll like, lean in hard on. I think that’s so fun. If it’s authentic to you, it has to carry all the way through. It has to be real. Otherwise, it will eventually feel flat. You won’t be able to live up to it. I hesitate to think of a place where I wouldn’t be excited to see one.

It's funny. Last year, when I started this interview series, my invitation emails had GIFs. A lot of times, when I got a positive response from somebody who came to the show, there were some instances where the reply was that I can't say no to such a cute GIF. I mean, it works.

I wish more B2B brands were willing to let their nerd flag fly. I worked for an agency that specializes in SaaS marketing. I would meet with the clients, and they would be like, “our customers just care about the price.” I was like, “literally, nobody just cares about the price.” Everybody wants to have a good day at work. So if you can make your customer smile, you did no harm and you did some good, why don’t we try that?

Some were in and some were like no. Take your wins

What are the best practices to create a persuasive video that prompts action?

It’s a great question. I’ve done a little bit of video marketing. What I have found effective is to be sincere. We talk a lot about authenticity in our industry. I feel like the word has almost become devoid of real meaning because we just say it all the time.  We have to craft an authentic message. If it’s authentic, it should come out from your heart.

 

That’s what it needs to feel like. I wrote a blog years ago for another agency I was working at about viral videos. The example I used was a wildlife company. I was in Ontario with a Canadian Wildlife company and they posted a video. It was just a guy with an iPhone. He is like, “Hey, public service announcement. It’s baby bunny season. Before you mow your lawn, just look for little piles of grass. Any lifted pile of grass up, there could be these little sleeping baby bunnies.” Sometimes there are baby bunnies in your yard and you don’t want to run them over with a lawnmower. The video went explosive, viral because who doesn’t love it?

  

He didn’t sit down with a bunch of strategists and say, How do I make a viral video? He said, this is the thing I care about deeply. I want to show you this. He did another one about finding phones that are hiding, when you’re out running on the trails, which I do all the time. I see baby phones curled up in the bushes. He’s like, “Please don’t rescue phones that you find next to the trail. They don’t need you to rescue them. They are hiding from you. Their mother has hid them there. Leave them there. I fell in love with it. I have used this in  my  work. I just try to tell a good story from a sincere place.

 

I don’t focus on can I make you click. I focus on, can I make you cry? Can I make you smile? Can I make you laugh? It’s really hard to make people laugh. I have so much respect for stand-up comedians.

  

I mean, you’re standing in front of an audience, it’s public speaking. It’s absolutely terrifying.  Then you’re making them break down those walls and laugh together as a group. It’s truly magic. So can I elicit an emotion in you? Even if you don’t click, if I’ve elicited an emotion in you, you will remember me.

I think video marketing and videos are working. But you're right. We had a client who wanted to try video ads. He told us, okay, fine, you want me to do three videos, I need time. I said, No, you don't need time. It just has to be you and whatever you feel. We'll take care of the rest. We will take care of the ad copy. We'll take care of the other things, but the video has to be you. Normally those videos work which actually connect with the audience. Otherwise, nobody would want to stay back and see a one minute or a 30 second video. They just move away?

I know that you can create those whiteboard videos where it is like automated hand drawing. You can do them efficiently. They’re not hugely expensive anymore. But, I’m not sure they’re hugely effective either. I would rather land on a video, playing on a website and have a real person sitting. Like, “Hi, I’m gonna walk you through what we do in this two minute video.” I know that I am not the persona of every brand ever. But I choose to work with clients who want to create real connections. The only way to do that is to be real yourself.

Before you go, what are the l three tips that you would give to content marketers out there?

Three tips for content marketers. So my first tip would be focused on the customer, always.
It’s funny because I kind of became known for that in the B2B world, which was an interesting career trajectory. When I got the position of Director of Marketing experience at the Mobilization Funding.

Scott told the group, at the end of the day, Autumn does not care about the bottom line, she doesn’t care about how many actual loans we closed. Autumn only cares about our customers’ experience. She just cares, are our customers happy? “Oh, we’re broke.” Our customers are happy, Autumn is. But Autumn is good. That may be flippant, but it does show where my passion is. I think it’s really important because you can make goals and other people can give you goals. If you focus on the customer, you’ll win. So that would be my first one.

My second one would be to read great writing. If you want to write great content and make great video marketing, you should watch great videos, and like all different times. Another thing that I always talk to people about on LinkedIn is I bemoan how little fiction adults read in America, particularly business people in America. We reach a certain age and we’re like, well done with Fantasyland, I’m only gonna read for personal development. Yeah, but everything you learned about the world before that was from fiction. You learn personal development as a child from fiction. And if you stop learning personal development from fiction, that’s not new. That’s not fiction, because it’s definitely out there.

If you’re going to make great videos, you should watch great movies. You should see how lighting and soundtrack work. If you take the music out of a horror movie, it’s not scary anymore. Why? Study your craft. That would be the other tip, studying your craft.

And I think the last one would just be don’t forget to enjoy your job. As you get to be creative and that is a huge blessing. How many of us were told that we weren’t going to be writers for a living? That we should get a real job or that we wanted to be filmmakers. They told us that we weren’t going to be the next Steven Spielberg, so we should get a real job. We make our lives, making creative things. We should look at them like creative things.

Continue to play. Continue to enjoy the wonder of getting to write or make movies or design beautiful things for a living.

Well, Autumn, Thank you so much. It was lovely having you and hopefully we'll catch up with you again.

Thank you so much. I’m so honored. Thank you so much for having me. Take care.

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