Anyone who’s following Sarah Dotson on LinkedIn knows about her recent Pumpkin Spice Report, released just in time for the 20th anniversary of the memorable and controversial pumpkin spice latte (PSL).
Readers of the report, which we’ll call the PSR, receive historical context on the trend and a window into what 1,000 Americans think, feel, and crave about pumpkin spice. The PSR stands out because it’s so different from what you usually see on LinkedIn — and that’s indicative of Sarah’s approach to software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketing.
“I try to take a unique approach, and I think a lot of that has to do with my editorial background,” she says. “I like to tell interesting stories, and I prioritize that above pretty much everything else.”
4 Things Marketers Can Learn From the PSR
What can marketers learn from the PSR and Sarah’s approach? Besides random tidbits like baby boomers being more likely than other generations to say pumpkin spice is overrated, that is.
How to Adopt an Editorial POV
Sarah is editorial content manager at Stagwell Marketing Cloud, where she manages the company blog, Into the Cloud. Her professional role is twofold: raising brand awareness while elevating stories above all else. That means you won’t find Sarah detailing a product’s capabilities and functionality.
Instead, content like the PSR engages readers while also showing them the power of Stagwell’s products. It’s the same thing Sarah does with her monthly brand reports, which are her favorite writing assignments.
Given that she does things a bit differently than many marketers, it makes sense that Sarah started her career in editorial, working her way up to managing editor at a growing tech/art startup called Artsy.
“The main thing I gained at Artsy is a commitment to quality and rigor that I try to infuse into this world of AI-generated, SEO-keyword-stuffed content that’s becoming all too common,” Sarah says. “I try to bring a reported, editorial style to content for the brands I work with now — even if it’s just an explainer on topics like media mix modeling or finding the right influencers to partner with. I also encourage the writers I work with to have a unique voice and a unique POV, more like an editorial operation than a SaaS blog.”
Editorial Content Does Well on LinkedIn
Sarah has found that editorial content can do really well on LinkedIn, especially when packaged as such instead of, say, an infographic or a generalized advertisement.
“We’re finding that our audience really likes being sent to our blog and is super-likely to engage with our LinkedIn posts and read the content,” she says. “Boosted editorial is a big part of our current content strategy.”
The Soft Sell Works
To brainstorm content, Sarah starts with Stagwell’s products, but she doesn’t stop there. Instead of just talking about a product that can perform rapid market-research surveys or measure a company’s perceived brand equity, she zooms out. What stories might illustrate those powers in fun ways for her audience?
“With the Pumpkin Spice Report, obviously there was an element of timeliness that I was trying to capitalize on with the 20th anniversary of the PSL,” she explains, “but outside of that, I wanted to engage readers with a playful piece that illustrated the power of our surveying software and participated in a cultural moment.” The pumpkin spice latte took less than three hours — proving good stories don’t need to delay your content marketing engine.
“I’m a fan of the soft sell — you’ll be hard pressed to find super-overt pitches in my content, and I think that’s OK. Providing real value to your audience is the first step to gaining their trust and interest,” Sarah says. “For this report, that meant giving people a fun read with some light calls to action if the surveying component was of interest.”
Some People *Really* Love Pumpkin Spice
Sarah was shocked to discover that more than a quarter (27%) of people thought pumpkin spice should be available year-round. For the record, she disagrees — pumpkin spice should only grace shelves seasonally!
Keep Your Eye on These 2024 Trends
When asked about 2024 trends, Sarah predicted a rise in subject matter interviews and original research. This is a good thing, she feels, as the rise of AI writing tools lowers the barriers to entry for content creation.
“I imagine (and hope) that content created by people with a unique voice is what will rise to the surface,” she says.
She’s also keeping an eye on the newsletter space. She’s got a hunch that brands might launch newsletters on popular platforms like Substack — not with a clear marketing agenda, but to build credibility with their audience and provide a space for thought leadership.
Advice for Working With Freelance Writers and Journalists
As a leader who regularly collaborates with freelancers (see this recent piece examining brand awareness through the lens of Barbie-mania), Sarah thinks the key is to find people you trust and allow them to do what they do best.
“If I find a writer who has great samples and a unique, engaging voice, I don’t need to micromanage them,” she says. “They don’t need a brief. They’re all pros who have been doing this for years and have the ability to craft way better pieces on their own than if I was forcing some kind of rigid outline.“
Sarah wants freelancers and guest bloggers to let their voices shine bright. “As long as the information is rigorous and accurate, I think giving freelancers the green light to crack a joke and write from their POV only improves the quality of their output,” she says. “This is at the core of my strategy for Stagwell Marketing Cloud’s blog Into the Cloud — high-quality, researched content with a unique voice.”
And her most important advice, which most (if not all) writers will love? “Pay writers as much as you can. Good writers are so hard to find, and they deserve all of the money you can give them!”