Timi Olotu counts a Blue Yeti microphone as one of his most prized tools for content marketing success.
He’s head of content for PatSnap, a fast-growing tech company based in the U.K. For Timi, recording and organizing insights from in-depth conversations with customers and salespeople is a critical foundation for creating content that matters to his target audiences — so much so that fans still want to hear from PatSnap even after they change jobs.
Did you catch that? When people on the PatSnap email list are changing jobs (and getting a new work email), they email PatSnap to make sure they’ll still get marketing emails. That’s insane — and a sign that Timi and the team are doing something right.
I recently caught up with Timi to hear how he’s used a focus on research and creativity to make make content marketing, as he puts it, “a different kettle of fish.”
When you joined PatSnap, how did you start building your content marketing program?
My initial focus was on understanding the full picture of what we create and the kind of influence it has. We experimented a lot and used research and data to figure out what was good for attracting the right kinds of people, getting people to opt in to receive more information, to consider getting on a phone with a salesperson and driving people to message us.
I’ve heard from many content marketers that they’re averse to the idea of data. But I think that's because they've encountered badly managed data, which can stifle creativity and can shut more doors than it opens. In the right hands, data is actually a great stimulus for creativity and for trying things out. It gives you that platform to be able to say, "You know what? I think we should do it this way, not that way."
Much like Jay Acunzo, one of the biggest signals I look for is unsolicited fan mail — people who message us saying "Wow. I love what you do. Thank you so much for creating this content." Or, "I'm changing jobs, but I don't want to stop receiving your newsletter. Please add my new email address to your list."
By the way, I collect all of these. I like to show them to my team and also use it as a metric. Anyone can do CRO [conversion rate optimization] to increase their conversion rate, make improvements to their user experience or write about any topic they want. But when you figure out an approach to creating content that means you strike at a place deeper inside your audience's psyche, that's not something that's easy to bottle up and resell. The only way to copy that is to essentially rip off your editorial process, which your competitors don't have access to.
How do you get your readers to become raving fans? What kinds of questions do you ask to get at new topics that people aren't already talking about?
We start by really understanding what our audience is trying to achieve in their job and the surrounding context. Then we ask them about the obstacles to achieving those goals.
And it’s always really interesting because they start talking about all these little things you might not think matter. Then we ask, “What are some of the ways you try and overcome these challenges?” and then that opens up the conversation for more probing about where they get information, what kinds of information they use, how they feel about your competitors and more.
The key is to standardize the kinds of questions you ask, so you can collect similar types of data and find trends. It's also critical to organize that information so that as a content team you can ask, “Where's the intersection between all the things that matter to our audience and all the things that matter to us?" You end up with a fairly rich map for finding those intersections.
We also assess what our competitors are talking about, because in order to have thought leadership, you can’t just rehash what your top competitors have been saying for the last two years. We need to understand what messages have already been in the marketplace and make sure we give ours a compelling edge.
And when you're able to do that, it's magical. You don't need to publish every day. You don't need to use as many tricks and tactics. When people are compelled by what you're saying, they definitely act. They opt in. They do all the things marketers dream and hope that they would do.
What other tips have helped you achieve content marketing success?
For one, research is key. I try to instill a research sensibility with my team. One of the first things I invested in at PatSnap was a Blue Yeti microphone. We regularly interview people and we need the audio quality to be good. Then we have a framework to document all the key insights, and behavioral and attitudinal trends that we learn from those calls and from talking to salespeople.
But I would say the thing that really gives us an edge is that we spend a lot of time really trying to figure out what we should be talking about. When I joined I tried to stamp out the mentality of having any kind of weekly or monthly publishing quota. We try to stay responsible and do end up publishing pretty much weekly. However, what was important was to shift the mentality away from "we need to be talking" to "we need to be saying something compelling."
How have you made sure your content team has access to leadership and the overall business strategy?
I started communicating my ideas early and used the concept of frameworks to present them. I’ve found people like step-by-step frameworks because it shows you’ve applied rigor and thought through the details, which is immensely helpful to understanding where the ideas came from, their value and any gaps we need to address.
Another thing is just being proactive, and saying it's important we are involved in the strategy. I'm fortunate that I have a supportive manager and when I share ideas with her, she says, "Yep, you're right, and here's what I'm going do to help make that happen."
This is where measuring becomes very important too. Sharing successes and the improvements you make puts you in a more strategic position. This has probably been one of the biggest successes for me. In one presentation to our sales development representatives, I showed them all the things we measure, how that relates back to what's important for them, how our activities support their activities and all the improvements we've made. Most of them were like, "I didn't even know that you measured this much or that you took so much care. You put so much care into what you create and why you create it."
When you do that, you gain credibility and people's confidence — which means they're less inclined to be skeptical of you. It also shows you genuinely care that the things you're doing are working to generate business value.
But at a primal level, collecting that data and sharing it keeps you honest. My job here is not to be an artist. My job is to use my artistry and creativity to generate value.
You’re also a poet. How do you find the time and head space to still do creative work in addition to your day job?
First of all, I try to stay in the orbit of my creative friends so that my mind and my subconscious remain tethered to that space.
And I stay open to creative ideas no matter where I am. One of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, was an American doctor. A huge amount of his poetry is on the back of prescription pads. If ideas came to him, he would scribble down whatever it was and then continue it when the next opportunity came up.
That concept has had a huge influence on me. If I'm in the middle of work and an idea comes to me, I just write it down in my notes on my phone.
Here’s the trick though. It doesn’t have to be complete. I'll just put down a line, a heading, a rough idea and then I'll get back to it when I get a chance.
I also try to consume things that inspire me and be as broad as possible about those sources. Diverging the number of interesting things I put in my brain keeps me enthused and energetic about creating because it increases the likelihood I'll find something new to create that was previously completely out of my realm. I find those to be some of the most exciting things to create.
Thanks, Timi, for giving us a peek inside your creative process. I love Timi’s advice to capture little snippets of ideas wherever and whenever they come to you. He’s inspired me to think about my own creative work as a fluid part of my everyday life, not something I need to set aside time for when all my other work is done. You can find Timi’s work at PatSnap and on his blog.
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