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5 Questions with Ann Handley

You’ve read it, heard it, and some of you live it… Content is King! We’ve written about the importance of content and the marketing tactic called content marketing extensively.

That said, no one knows content like Ann Handley. A couple of years ago, while on vacation, I read her book ContentRules! every day on the beach. I could not put it down.

This book, co-written with CC Chapman, is one of the best (if not the best) book out there on content marketing.

Not only is it a great content marketing resource, but I think it is a great marketing book in general. Combine this with all of the great work she does as Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs and Ann is THE go to resource for content marketing!

She is also one of the nicest and most accessible marketing rockstars I know. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did…

Question One – ContentRules! – Content Marketing Book

I love your book Content Rules! I still think it holds its own as one of the most important content marketing books around. What would you say are some of the most significant changes in content marketing since you and CC Chapman put the book out?

First, thank you. That means a lot to me.

We wrote the book as an evergreen guide to content. While there are some references that might need updating in the next edition, we set out to create a book that would maintain its relevance and import, even in our rapidly evolving social world!

So how have things changed? Most brands seem to embrace the notion that companies are media companies now. So the issues now are less about “why content” and more about “how content”:

  • How do we integrate content into our organizations? 
  • How do we tie content to strategy? 
  • How do we make this work? 
  • How can we launch a pilot program to test our content ideas? 
  • And, then, how do we innovate?

I see this a lot internationally. Many international audiences I’ve spoken to leapfrog right over the why and join the movement in the middle, at execution. I wrote about this after a recent trip to Denmark, and I’ve’ve seen it other places as well.

Question Two – MarketingProfs and Good Writers

MarketingProfs has some of the best writers out there. You guys continually put out the most useful content on marketing in today’s digital world. What do you look for in a writer for your staff? What are the qualities of a “good blogger?”

Thank you!

MarketingProfs doesn’t actually have any full-time staff writers (although many people on our staff do write for the site, they aren’t dedicated to creating content).

We do have editors and programmers, though, whose job is to find the best talent and wrangle them into writing, speaking and producing content for us.

You know that expression, “Those who can’t do, teach…?”)  I think that’s totally wrong. The best content creators for MarketingProfs (and for any quality site, I suppose) are like the best teachers: They know the material so well and are so excited by it that they can relay it to an audience with necessary clarity and passion.

I also think that the best content creators have good editors. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s harder to find good writers than you think. Behind the scenes, a good editor adds a lot to process.

In my experience, there are two kinds of people: Those who think they can write, and those who think they can’t. And very often, both are wrong. A good editor teases the best out of so-called writers and non-writers alike.

Question Three – Online Marketing, Yesterday and Today

You were one of the co-founders at ClickZ back in the golden age of the internet (97-00). Do you think we’re doing this Internet thing better today than we were before the dot bust? Or are we making the same mistakes?

Whoa that’s a big question.

Much of that speculative investing during the dot-com era nonetheless created the vertebrae of today’s Internet.

Without that frenzy…

  • Would it have the same vibrancy it does today?
  • Would it have the same brilliance and be home to the same creative minds?
  • Would we have truly innovative platforms like Twitter and Facebook and Medium and a thousand others without the exuberance of those early days?

I suppose your guess is as good as mine. But I think the so-called mistakes were part of the innovation process, in other words. And all I really know is that there’s nowhere I’d rather be working than where I am today.

Question Four – Content Marketing and Mobile

One of the things missing back in those years was mobile. How do you think mobile has changed content marketing?

Mobile and social combined has been a tremendous agent of change for content marketing — and for business in general, of course.

Clearly, that means that businesses need to ensure their content is accessible on mobile platforms. And we have an opportunity to tell our stories on interesting new mobile platforms like Vine and Instagram.

But it also means that we need to think through some bigger questions that all of us are only now getting our heads around.

When we create content online, we tend to imagine our customers accessing it via a laptop or a desktop. But increasingly that’s not the case. They are searching for us on mobile devices in the middle of a liquor store, or while they are fixing a plumbing issue, or in an airport, or whatever they might be.

So the questions become:

  1. What problems can we solve for people searching for us? 
  2. What questions can we answer? 
  3. How can we help them do something? 
  4. How can we create content that helps people with a problem? 
  5. How can we be there in a moment of need?

Question Five – Marketing Your Clients will Thank You for!

I use a quote you gave me a while back in all of my seminars on content. You said the most important takeaway from your book was to always ask “What marketing will my customer THANK me for?” I think this is brilliant as is but care to elaborate?


That quote isn’t actually in the book: It’s something I’ve thought a lot about after the book came out. I think the key here is empathy.

Brands still tend to create company-centric content: We still default to talking about ourselves: What we do; what we offer.

Your customers, meanwhile, don’t want to talk about you. They want to talk about themselves. So the key is to create content that isn’t based on what you do; rather, what you do for others.

That’s a subtle shift, but a huge one. Innovative content always looks at things from a viewpoint of empathy:

  • How can we help our customers? 
  • How can we shoulder their burdens? 
  • Ease their pain? 
  • What will they appreciate? 
  • What will they thank us for?

Bonus Question – ContentRules! in German?

And the bonus… have you ever listened to your book recorded in another language? I was thinking it would be good to listen to in German while running or working out.

I’m not sure Content Rules is recorded in another language! It’s been translated into 9… but (as far as I know), that’s print, not audio.

But now I’m curious… I’d love to hear it in any language, truly. But perhaps especially Czech, because I want to go to there (as Tina Fey would say).

More about Ann Handley

I think it is also worth posting Ann’s bio for some more of Ann’s greatness…

Ann Handley speaks and writes about how you can rethink the way your business markets. Cited in Forbes as the most influential woman in Social Media and recognized by ForbesWoman as one of the top 20 women bloggers, Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a training and education company with the largest community of marketers in its category.

She is a monthly columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, a member of the LinkedIn Influencer program , and the co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, originally published 2011. Paperback 2012.)

The book has been translated into nine languages, including Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Portuguese. She currently has close to 200,000 followers on Twitter and writes about content, marketing and life at the highly entertaining AnnHandley.com.

A pioneer in digital marketing, Ann is the co-founder of ClickZ.com, which was one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary. She started her career as a business journalist and editor.

Ann is based in Boston, Massachusetts.


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