Sunil Rajaraman knows the power of words. He’s the founder and former CEO of Scripted, a platform that helps businesses outsource written content to vetted freelance writers. Rajaraman is also an advisor at Hired and Sharedesk. This week, we talked with him about content marketing—the continuous hurricane of ineffective literature that comes from businesses with misguided content priorities, and how to avoid being sucked into it.
What is the biggest misconception companies have about content marketing?
1.Everyone’s looking for a quick fix. Many businesses and marketing managers, in particular, think that if you write a compelling piece of content, you’re done. All of the sudden a million people will come to your site and magical things will happen. No.
Every now and then you might get a piece of content that goes viral depending on your industry and what you write, but that’s extremely rare. Content marketers need to go into it with a long-term mindset.
2. Volume. I see people produce too much or too little. The ones who produce too much oftentimes create crap. I haven’t seen many brands or companies produce high volumes of content and succeed. And I think that misconception comes from businesses thinking of themselves as publishing companies. They see a few examples of companies like Buzzfeed and think “Oh yeah, that’s simple, let’s put together a bunch of top ten lists.” That notion of more is more and thinking that you’re a publisher is a bad one. And then on the too little side, you have to produce enough content to appeal to a range of people in different stages of the buy-in process to your product. Many people think that by virtue just putting content out there it works—but if it doesn’t speak to the customer it really isn’t worth anything.
In the last few years we’ve seen the advent of Buzzfeed and other “listicle-like” content plays, what can we learn from them—both good and bad?
What they’ve managed to do is capture this most coveted advertising group, the 18-35 audience, and they just have them. And while it may not seem like there’s a method behind the madness, they’re very savvy about knowing who their audience is. If you look at the average readership of sites like the NY Times, CNN, etc, it skews way older. On the bad side, I think that there’s a lot that can be said that’s negative about poor imitations of Buzzfeed’s strategy but in terms of Buzzfeed itself, all I’ll say is we don’t know whether their business will work long-term. The verdict is still out.
How early should a startup start blogging or creating content and is there an outlet that works best?
As one anecdote, the founder of the now billion-dollar software company, Marketo (disclosure: he’s on the Scripted board of directors) started blogging before they even had a product. He would blog about the product, talk about what they’re building, etc. He was able to build an audience of followers who were impassioned about the product before it even began and and when it came time to sell, boom they had a bunch of leads and interested people. Every company has the equivalent of that. I don’t care who you are; if you have a product, you can do that.
What are some considerations for choosing to go in-house versus contract for content creation?
In terms of in-house versus outsourced, take Scripted for example. We outsource 80% of our content to Scripted writers. But thought leadership pieces, where you have to have a unique perspective on the industry and you as the CEO or founder have to provide your opinion or challenge someone else’s opinion, those are not good pieces to outsource, ever. You have to sit down and do it yourself. You also have to sit down and do all of the first press releases for the company yourself. I’d even recommend against hiring a PR firm for that, because you as the founder are the best person to sell the company. With that being said, a lot of content—especially content that can be well-researched but doesn’t require a unique perspective or thought leadership—can be outsourced fairly immediately, provided you have a good idea of the style, who your audience is, etc. All of that can be communicated to a writer.
What are 3 pieces of advice you’d give a young entrepreneur starting out?
1. Don’t overthink things. In the early stages, you’ll find any number of reasons to talk yourself out of doing your business.
It’s counterintuitive, but that’s what makes entrepreneurship so difficult. Really smart, analytical people often can’t make the jump because they’re not willing to do that.
2. Get good people around you who are experts. Let’s just say you start a business in the jeans industry. Find the expert on the jeans industry, whoever that is. Get them to be advisors – not just for their name, for their knowledge. Maybe it’s the CEO of Levi’s. Get some of their perspective. A lot of entrepreneurs have the attitude that they’re going to, disrupt an industry because this big company is doing it all wrong. But I would make it a point to actually surround yourself with the experts in that space and understand what they’ve done right and wrong. Have your business informed by that. Have respect for the people who’ve done it before.
3. Last, I would say write. Being able to concisely convey complicated thoughts to people is a skill you’re going to need to raise investor money, to market your product, to pitch to customers and more. Learn how to write. Learn how to present. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone, you’re always going to be doing it, so get used to it.
Want to connect with Sunil and other content marketing advisors?