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How to stand out as a brand by creating content people love ft. Ann Handley (Inbound Success, Ep. 158)

How to stand out as a brand by creating content people love ft. Ann Handley (Inbound Success, Ep. 158) Blog Feature

August 31st, 2020 min read

In a world crowded with content, how can brands stand out and develop content that people will fall in love with?

Ann HandleyThis week on The Inbound Success Podcast, Wall Street Journal best-selling author and MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer Ann Handley shares her perspective on what makes great content.

Ann debunks the myth that business content has to be "professional" and shares examples of companies that have developed authentic brand voices and, in doing so, built huge followings.

Check out the episode to hear Ann's advice and get actionable takeaways for creating your own brand voice.

Resources from this episode:

 

Ann Handley and Kathleen Booth
Ann and Kathleen recording this episode

Transcript

Kathleen (00:12): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I'm your host, Kathleen Booth. And you guys, this week my guest is Ann Handley. Woohoo! Welcome Ann.

Ann (00:31): Thank you so much. I'm really excited to be here with you and with everybody. So thank you for having me.

Kathleen (00:35): I'm so excited to have you. I don't know why it has taken me until episode 150 something to have you on this podcast. Shame on me. But then again, I will admit, I hesitate to ask the people that I, that are sort of like my marketing idols until I really feel like I have my act together. So I'm just going to say that I, maybe I finally have my act together enough, enough to have you on.

Ann (00:46): I like that. I like that.

Kathleen (01:01): So for, for those who don't know, Ann is a wall street journal bestselling author, the author of Everybody Writes. She is also a keynote speaker who's amazing speaking at live events, if you have not seen her. And she's the chief content officer at MarketingProfs, and I mean, I could go on and on about your resume, but I think you can probably tell us better than anybody your story and how you came to be doing what you do.

Ann (01:27): Yeah. So I think you, you covered the you covered the highlights. I went to school for journalism. In my mind. Journalism training is the best training that any marketer can have, because what that does is it inspires you. It instructs you, it educates you on how to think about the audience. And increasingly that is what marketers need to be doing. I mean, obviously we always need to be thinking about our customers. So thinking about your customers in terms of what they need from you, I think is uniquely suited to to journalists. And so I, I think that my background as a journalist, I worked for a journalist for, Oh, I don't know about a decade or so before I, I joined I launched clickz.com, which is one of the first sources of marketing education online for this using this nascent thing called the internet. And and yeah, and then so from there, I was a journalist for 10 years before I started dipping my toe into the marketing space. And it's surprisingly relevant.

Kathleen (02:40): You know, I couldn't agree with you more. I have hired a lot of marketers in my many, many years, I will not say how many in the industry and by far the best writers I've hired have all been, they've all come from journalism backgrounds to the point where now that's almost like a requirement for me when I put out a job description.

It's not only I feel like, do they know how to really speak to an audience, but they know what questions to ask. Like, that's such an interesting skill that, that I think was surprising to me. And maybe I shouldn't have been surprised to discover that that marketers aren't always the best interviewers and listeners, whereas journalists are really good.

Ann (03:21): Yeah. And that's really interesting because I think about this a lot, you know, I wrote Everybody Writes as you generously pointed out in the introduction, and as much as I believe in the power of good writing, what good writing means in a marketing context is really about providing value for the audience.

So what does your audience need? You know, I hear from people all the time who feel, you know, they say to me, I'm not a good writer and that's not really how I think about, you know, the value of writing because in a marketing context, again, the value of writing is really what is your audience need?

What do you need to give them and what can only come from you? And so I think if you reframe writing in terms of that, it just it'll automatically just improve how you communicate a hundred percent, because you'll be thinking about your audience.

Ann (04:09): And, and that to me is the biggest differentiator between marketers who don't think about the audience, they just think about what they want to say. They want to talk about their products and their services and I get it because that's so exciting to us. We want to talk about that. We get excited about it. We see the value for the people who we sell to.

And so we want to talk about that, but the reality is, you know, you've got to take it one step beyond that, right? Because your audience doesn't care about you. They care about what you do for them. And that's so elemental in so many ways, but at the same time, I see marketers and marketing all the time that doesn't look at the world through that lens. And so I think if we can constantly do one thing, just remind ourselves all the time, you know, what, what is it in it? What is in it for the audience? What do we need to lead with?

Not to what, what not, what do we want to say, but what would be most important and resourceful and what would be most interesting to our audience? And so it's a subtle shift, but I think it's such a key and important one and one that we tend to forget. And I, and I'm guilty of the same, but we've really got to always remind ourselves of that.

Kathleen (05:17): You know, one of my goals before the end of this year is to actually have a baseball hat made that just says "Marketing" on the front. And the reason I want to do that is that I've been saying for so long, this the same thing that now I need like a physical prop for it, which is that we as marketers, we're all human beings, right? We, in our lives, we buy things.

We are marketed to. We know, instinctively as human beings, what we like and what we don't like and what works and what doesn't. But for some reason, when we go into work, we put that marketing hat on and we like forget what it means to be human.

And and so I think that's one thing I want to do before the end of this year is literally have the marketing hat, like sitting on my desk, in my line of sight so that I can keep remembering, like, do not put that marketing hat on when you write and, you know, and, and pretend like you're talking to your friend and not the audience.

Ann (06:09): Yeah. That's awesome. That's a really funny idea. I love the physical manifestation of that. That's really great. I love that. I think, yeah. If we take off the marketing hat while we're writing and then maybe it's okay to put that marketing hat on, when you think about, you know, things like distribution and how are we actually going to leverage the kinds of, of content assets that we've created.

So, you know, that's not to say that there's never a time for a marketing hat, but I think when you were thinking about it as a content creator, and when you're thinking about serving the needs of an audience, it's, it's better to just sort of set it aside for, for a little while and then maybe put it back on

Kathleen (06:49): Oh, for special occasions,

Ann (06:51): Bring it out for special occasions. Yeah. Like that.

Kathleen (06:54): Well, one of the reasons that I have always really kind of admired you and followed you is because I like your writing a lot and I particularly have enjoyed reading your newsletter. And, and to me, at least I can only speak for myself, it, it it's, it makes me feel like I know you, like, you're my buddy.

You know, like I read it and I know things about you as a person, sad things like when your dog passed away and just like, it's funny, I guess it must be with like what celebrities experience, where they walk around and everyone feels like they know with them. I kind of feel like that about you. And then there's something special in the way you've developed it.

And, you know, it's interesting when you talk about giving your audience what they need. Cause I feel like sometimes what the audience needs is information and sometimes what they need is a feeling of belonging and relationship. And you seem to have like intuitively mastered that. So I'd love it. If you could talk a little bit about that.

Ann (07:52): Yeah. That's so wonderful first. Thank you. I, that I've, I've never thought about it quite in those terms, so that's really, that's, that's really, that's nice. Thank you so much. So yes, I publish a newsletter every other Sunday. It's called Total Annarchy.

And if you want to check it out, it's at annhandley.com/newsletter. And I'm sure you'll put links somewhere on this page, right? Yeah. And it's, it's funny because I started that list, started the newsletter because, you know, I've had my own site forever. I've, you know, as, as much as I I've grown marketing process, I've also had my own website and I would occasionally blog on there.

But, you know, what happens when your career is that after a while you, you know, as you go further, along in your career, you stop touching things quite as much, you don't build products anymore and byproducts, I mean, marketing assets anymore, you know, you manage people who do that and you certainly might have a hand in it, but you don't physically touch things quite as much as you once did.

Ann (09:02): At least in my case, that's a hundred percent true. And I wanted something that I would build myself. So I wanted something that would really show me from the ground up. What does it mean?

I like to build an email list now in, when I started at 2018, for example, here it is in 2020, I'm still learning that, you know, how do you actually connect with, with a, an audience, you know, from the start I started with very few people, that email list and here two years later, it's now I just hit 30,000. Wow. Which was, yeah, it was personally really gratifying to me.

So what have I learned a lot in that, about building audiences? And so some of the things that you just talked about, like I said, I don't think I've quite expressed them in that way, but I've felt them, you know, and so connecting with an audience and growing it.

Ann (09:48): It's just, I've learned a whole lot about it and it's really given me something to own and to, to build myself, I get enormous psychic satisfaction out of it. But I also have learned a lot about what does it take to be a marketer in 2020 again, when you, you know, when you're, when you've been in marketing for a long time and when you leave teams, you know, you don't necessarily, you're not in the trenches quite as much. So I really have valued just that ability to do that. And that's really why I started my list. So anyway, all that to say, it's been interesting too, to see its evolution. Like if I go back two years and I look at it, what I was talking about, then I, you know, I felt a little unsure about how is it that I actually communicate.

Ann (10:34): I, I, was it like I can, it feels tentative when I read it now. And here it is two years later, and I've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't. And one of those things to your point is that the more you can be vulnerable, the more you can show people who you are, the more relatable you are and ultimately the more effective any piece of content is.

And so that was just such a big, big takeaway for me from this whole exercise. And yeah, it sounds, again, elemental, it sounds like something I should have known, but I, didn't not in, not in any true sense, you know, not at that level. So that's, it's been really interesting to me just to sort of see that, and sometimes I'll publish something, you know, the thing about just publishing about owning something like I do and publishing it under me, not under MarketingProfs, but under me.

Ann (11:25): So it's very close to my heart. There's a vulnerability to that. So there's a vulnerability to writing about, you know, my dog passed away anyway, which was a massively emotional experience for me.

Or, you know, this past week I wrote about imposter syndrome and how I still struggle with it from time to time and sort of what I've learned from it and how I've used it differently now than I might have a few years ago or 10 years ago or 20 years ago when I started my career.

So writing about those subjects, you know, it can feel vulnerable and I sort of have to brace myself sometimes because I worry that it's going to, that people are going to be mean about it, basically, that they're going to say, you know, what are you, who are you to write about this? Or, you know, shut your face, or I don't know, whatever.

Kathleen (12:13): Have you encountered that?

Ann (12:15): Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Kathleen (12:16): I would be shocked if you hadn't.

Ann (12:18): Yeah, for sure. And so my point of saying this to you is that I think the more vulnerable that I am and the more vulnerable I feel when I publish, when I hit that button, I'm always a little bit terrified. And I actually think that that's a good thing. How does that relate to marketing?

Because I think if, you know, as I wrote about this past week, and if we're not a little terrified when we're doing, doing whatever it is that we're doing, then I think we're not pushing ourselves far enough as marketers, because the point is, of course in marketing is not to connect with everybody.

And as gratified as I am, that, you know, that they're, that my list has grown to 30,000. There's also a ton of people who have unsubscribed. Right. Of course, because if they don't feel like it's in that, what's in it for them is not a value and that's fine, but I think that's an important lesson for us to learn as marketers too.

Kathleen (13:04): The interesting thing to me about having this conversation is, is, you know, your, as you said, your newsletter as a personal newsletter, but you also create content for MarketingProfs. And I think it would be easy for somebody listening to say, well, that's great. That's a personal newsletter. It's different when you're writing for your business.

And one of the first things that really illustrated to me that it doesn't have to be different actually is something that you turned me on to. I've never told you this story, but you mentioned in a conversation around newsletters, you mentioned the CB insights newsletter, and I, to this day, still use that as an example of how a very successful, very like a business that's in a very professional sector, can have a newsletter that injects a strong vein of, of personality into it.

And the, the part of it that I always shine my, my spotlight on is that I think his name is Anand Sanwal who writes it, he signs off every newsletter with, I love you.

Kathleen (14:09): Who does that in a business newsletter? Like it's so awesome and unexpected and fantastic. And, and they have hundreds of thousands of subscribers. So clearly it's not, you know, causing people to unsubscribe in droves.

But I wanted to, for one, share with you that, like you were the one who first alerted me to that example, which is one that I really love and to this day, still share with people, but also ask you if you could talk a little bit about, you know, that objection, because I feel like it comes up a lot. Like I can't do that in my company newsletter or in my company marketing, because I have to be somehow, you know, display this other level of professionalism.

Ann (14:44): Yeah. I do hear that a lot. And that CB insights newsletter is a really great example of that in part, because of that, I love you, but also, you know, the way that it's written. He, Anand, writes it as a letter. Essentially it starts with hi friend, not friends, right? Hi friend, one person.

Very different than a group, a room full of people. He does not write to an audience. He's writing to one person. And then, you know, the way that he approaches, so he talks about emerging technology, right? He he's he covers the, the the VC world a lot. He covers technology and data science and all kinds of things like that to your point, very, very buttoned up.

And he talks a lot about FinTech, for example, not a category known for its warmth and humanity. And so I love the way that he's injecting that in a very, very unique way.

Ann (15:40): So when he writes it, it's, it's a little snarky, it's funny, it's, you know, it's got definite personalities that, that I love you with the end is not, it's not divorced from the rest of the newsletter is what I'm saying. It's very much baked into the vibe and the approach and his perspective.

And so I think that the broader lesson I think in, in marketing is, is just, you know, a few of those things, like he's, he's grown that list by the way, from 3000 people to, I think he's just over 600,000 now.

Kathleen (16:11): It's unbelievable.

Ann (16:12): I know it's massive. And so just think about the lessons inherent in that, you know? I'm not advocating that every B2B tech company out there, that every B2B company or that every, you know, insert any category here, company needs to approach their marketing and sign their newsletter with an, I love you.

Ann (16:31): What I am saying is, you know, how can you inject your humanity and your personality into what you're doing? I mean, Anand Sanwal is a great example of that, but another one of my favorite newsletters is from a brand called Phrasee. It's with a ph. So Phrasee, I think it is.

And they are based in the UK. What they do is very similar, like an ensemble, lots of personality goes into their newsletter, but it doesn't come from the CEO in this case, it comes from Phrasee. So it sounds different. It doesn't sound like any other tech company out there and Phrasee by the way sells a AI solutions for, for B2B companies

Kathleen (17:14): Also. So also an industry that you wouldn't immediately think of, you know, as lending itself well to personnel.

Ann (17:20): Yes, very good point. But I love the way that they write that newsletter. And you know, another objection that I hear is, well, we don't have an announcer on wall. We don't want it to come from one person.

I mean, there's a diff, there's a million different iterations on that approach. And so I'm mentioning Phrasee as an example of another iteration of that tons of personality, they use lots of GIFs or, or Jiffs depending on,

Kathleen (17:46): Ann, don't stir that controversy on this podcast now.

Ann (17:51): Oh my gosh I know. We'll get letters. Talk about unsubscribes. That'll just, that'll just launch people into detonate. But they, they use GIFs in their, in their, in their newsletter. It's really fun. The personality just shines through and it comes from a brand. So it's, you know, we're not saying that you have to use, I love you.

You don't have to have a person's name attached to it, although that's fantastic. If you do it, doesn't have to be personal in that approach. It just needs to be personable. So that's what I counsel brands about. It's not about personal, it's about personable.

Are you actually showing people, you know, your personality and yes. Even if you are a brand are you giving them a shred of humanity to latch onto, does it feel like it comes from a person like start there? You know, that's a pretty low bar.

Kathleen (18:41): You would think, you would think. Yeah. So when you, you said you counseled brands and what's so interesting about that statement to me is like obviously a brand isn't a person.

So when you have, let's say a larger company where they're there, you know, there may be isn't that clear or one person who could be the voice. How do you advise companies to determine what the voice of their brand is going to be?

Ann (19:09): Yeah, your brand, I mean, sorry, your brand voice comes from your personality as a company. And so that's going to depend on your brand more broadly, you know, what is your positioning in the market? How do you communicate with your prospects, with your customers? What are you all about?

You know, in a lot of smaller companies that is going to come from the CEO, right? Because a lot of, or the founders voice you know. Dollar shave club, great example of that, right. Right. Comes from the founders sort of quirky, fun, irreverent style.

So in a smaller brand, that's a hundred percent true, but in a larger brand, I think you've, you've got to really just think about like, who, who are we number one, and then just some basic attributes about how, you know, what best defines you. How do you communicate with your prospects?

Ann (20:02): You know, do you want to keep it very buttoned up? And there's nothing wrong with that, by the way. I mean, I think you can be personable and buttoned up. But at the same time, you know, just, just make, making sure that it matches your, your overall brand.

And the way the thing that I always think about is like, what are the three adjectives that best define your brand, right? How do you actually what are the three ways that, that, or three attributes, I guess, that you would, that you would say would best define your brand?

So marketing process, for example, you know, when we think about this, we are marketers marketing to marketers. And so we want them to know that they can rely on us. So we want to project confidence, for example, another thing, though, we want to be approachable.

Ann (20:46): We want them to feel because we are marketers marketing to marketers. We want to have that personal approach, right. That we want to be personable. So we want to be approachable is the way that we define it. And the third way we define it is some elements of unexpected, like sell some elements of fun somewhere.

We don't want to sound like any other marketing training and education company. So what does that element that we can, that we can use to spice up our, our voice from time to time to spice up our content, everything we're doing across the website, across social channels, our email, like all of it.

Kathleen (21:20): I like that approach because I think just the three words, it's very simple. It's approachable. Any company can do that, certainly as a starting point.

Ann (21:29): I mean, you could hire an agency and come in and they will charge you, you know, I don't know, a hundred thousand dollars and do it for you.

Kathleen (21:34): To come up with three words?

Ann (21:34): They can go much deeper, but I'm talking about it, a basic that just, just start there and then, and then blow it out from there.

Kathleen (21:44): So it's one thing to write a newsletter and to have a voice in it. But it seems like, you know, that voice needs to carry you throughout all of your marketing. So how do you do that? You know, like how do you really filter that voice down and seep it and soak it through all the various aspects and assets that you have in your marketing?

Ann (22:08): Yeah. I think one of the things that we used to do in, in in my journalism days when I used to work for newspapers back when newspapers were actually paper we used to have editorial meetings, right? Every day we would have a standup editorial meeting.

And so I think that, you know, that same approach applies to teams of marketers who all need to be on the same page. You know, it can be part of your creative review potentially, but I think it's important to just have that conversation, you know, to talk about your tone of voice as a living breathing document.

So the first thing to do of course, is to write it down, document it somewhere, which sounds incredibly boring, but I think it's just the kind of thing where you need to have it front and center for you and for your teams all the time.

Ann (22:58): Even if it's just a simple Google doc, which is what we have at MarketingProfs, by the way, simple Google doc that you can refer to when you need it just as a refresher and throw in examples, you know, here's how we communicate here. Some really strong examples.

And by doing that, it also allows you to share that living, breathing document with freelancers or content creators, or anybody who happens to be creating content on behalf of your brand.

So, you know, I think we tend to overcomplicate this whole process, but, you know, internal conversations, talking, you know, calling out great pieces of content that, or, or are great examples of tone of voice within the own or within your own organization.

We do that all the time. And then secondly, a living breathing document, and I'm emphasizing living, breathing document because, you know, your tone of voice, just like your brand, just like your company is not a stagnant thing. It's not like you say, here it is.

And you put it up on a shelf somewhere in your brand guidelines and end of story. I think it's much more relevant if you keep it front and center close by and you, you iterate and evolve it over time. Yeah.

Kathleen (24:04): Now we've talked a lot about voice because selfishly, that was something I wanted to pick your brain on. But you know, I know for you this overarching theme of honesty, transparency, authenticity is like a big focus area right now.

And I feel like for some people, those are very loaded words, especially in the day and age that we live in. And there's a lot of fear around that and what, you know, what are the guardrails to that and that sort of thing. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that.

Ann (24:33): Yeah. I don't know if it's funny, cause I feel like, you know, here we are having this conversation in the we're, we're rolling into the, the, the close to the end of 2020, I guess, in, in, in August. And I started to feel like you can, you can see the end of the year over the horizon. And this has been such a crazy year for, for so many brands for so many people.

I think if there's anything good that has come about from COVID is that I have seen greater transparency and authenticity with brands. Now this has obviously been a very difficult time for, for so many, so many businesses.

But I, I do think that there's also, commensurate with that, there's been a sense of who people are as people within these, these brands, as much as we're getting a sense of of you know, just, just how, how are brands responding and how are people responding?

Ann (25:37): So, you know, just, just as an example of seeing people in their home offices, seeing the challenges that we all deal with right now with kids home and, and the lack of clarity around what's going to happen next. Like nobody knows. And so I think that has added to a layer of, you know, kind of empathy and understanding. I mean, I certainly have a sense of people on my team, what their challenges are much more so than I I did before this pandemic hit.

And you know, and, and we've always been virtual, but I think that this added stress and added layer has only improved our communications internally because there's a whole lot more, I don't know, there's, there's, we're all so hyper aware of each other's humanity right now, I guess, is the best way to put it.

Ann (26:24): How is that playing out with brands?

I mean, I think there's been a couple of great examples of companies who I think have done a really good job and trying to be as authentic and human and, and relatable as possible during this time at the very beginning of this pandemic.

I really liked the way that Arnie Sorenson, who's the CEO of Marriott at a time, when so many brands were issuing emails or press releases to their, to their audiences expressing, you know, during this time during these unprecedented times, and I'm using like unprecedented air quotes during these unprecedented times, you know, we are here for you, we're with you, but I love that Arnie Sorenson did the complete opposite.

Instead they fired up a video camera and filmed Arnie in this five minute video that they shared on social media. And in the video, Arnie discusses just how gutted he is by what's going on around the world, but especially how it's affecting Marriott associates.

Ann (27:27): I think that was just so poignant and such a telling example of what I think so many more CEOs and leaders in business should have done, which is get on camera and turn that camera around, show your audience who you are.

Don't just say during these unprecedented times we are gutted, you know, actually show it. And that's exactly what happened in that video. You know, you could see the emotion on Arnie's face.

So that's a great example I think, of, of using and using is the wrong word, because I don't want to sound like, you know, any brand should be using the pandemic, but, but taking the opportunity, I think to just not just say how you feel, but really show how you feel.

Kathleen (28:11): Yeah, it is so powerful and I'm sure there are many CEOs who probably have trepidation around that. Just like you say, you have trepidation around hitting send, but I think, you know, like you said, if there isn't a little bit of fear, then you must not be doing something, right.

Ann (28:26): Yeah. Yeah. And you know, since then, there's, I mean, he did that back in, I want to say late March, maybe early April, something like that. So pretty early on when we have seen more leaders come out front and center, but you know, not, not as many as I think we could have.

And so I'm just really thinking about how is it that we should be communicating right now. I mean, I think every brand should be having that conversation internally. How do we actually communicate in a way that's different because the world is not different. I mean, the world is a hundred percent different.

The world is a hundred percent different for your company, for your audiences, for the people you do business with for, for, you know, for you, for me, for everybody, it's like, none of it is, is as usual.

And so I think the conversation that needs to be happening internally and every brand out there is, you know, what is our response to this going to be not just now, but longterm. Because I do think that's how we behave right now does have repercussions, you know, years and months and years from now.

Kathleen (29:26): Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Now speaking of the world being a completely different place one of the ways that that has manifested is the whole industry of events has just had an atom bomb dropped on it.

And, and I wanted to ask you about that because MarketingProfs has an amazing annual event, B2B marketing forum, and it was supposed to be coming up here shortly. Tell me a little bit about what you guys are doing.

Ann (29:58): Yeah, well, it is a surprise to absolutely know that the B2B forum, which was supposed to take place November 4th and fifth in San Francisco, California is now going to take place online. So it's going virtual, like every other event out there. It took us a while to get everything in line, but we are now moving full steam ahead with our virtual program.

So it'll be a two day program. And one of the, the things that we've done is, you know, again, just like this conversation, we're having a minute ago about how it's incumbent on every brand to have this conversation, you know, what do we do now? How do we respond? And so a, I guess a silver lining of this pandemic is that we absolutely had to have that conversation internally at MarketingProfs about, you know, what does this mean for us and how do we actually respond in a way that's meaningful. We couldn't take a two day program that was intended to be in person and just poured it into an online platform.

And I was like, okay, done. It just doesn't work that way anymore. And so we had to ask ourselves, you know, what's inherent to a virtual platform that maybe we can't do in person. And so that's an issue that we're working through. Like, is there, is there actually opportunity in a virtual environment? Now, one of the things obviously would be, yes, you can attract an international audience, whereas before not so much,

Kathleen (31:26): Although I will say I was at the event last year and I was actually shocked by how many people I met from other countries at an event of that size. Like, I felt like an outsized proportion of people came in internationally. Much more than I had expected.

Ann (31:40): Yeah. That's a fair point. Yeah. I think compared to other marketing conferences, I'll put it that way. Yeah. Yeah. That is a fair point. But I think even, even more so now, right. Because we just have the, once you, once there's no travel involved and whatsoever, that means that it does open it up to a whole host of people who may not have been able to be there otherwise.

So yes, that's true. And then the other, the other issue that we thought about was, you know, the great part about going to an in person event is that you go there and it's, you meet all these people and you're inspired and you learning all kinds of new things and you just feel like, so I'm so filled up and so on fire.

And then you get back to your office and it's you walk into the door and you sit down at your desk and as you open up your laptop and you've got like a thousand emails from that you need to respond to, and then your boss needs to meet with you and maybe your direct reports need some help and maybe sales wants to have a conversation.

Ann (32:32): And next thing, you know, like by the afternoon, like all those good vibes are just completely just destroyed and you're sitting going, Ugh, what was I going to focus on again? You know? And so we saw that as an opportunity. Okay.

So that moment isn't happening, right? People are not going to walk back to their opposites, right. They're not going to drive to their office on Monday post event and, you know, fire it up. So how do we actually think about that a little bit differently?

So our solution to that was to think about how do we actually extend the inspiration and the learning from something like the B2B forum year round. So what we've done is that anyone who buys a ticket to the B2B forum this year will also get a pro subscription. So that means that you'll get access to our pro community.

Ann (33:22): We have a Facebook group, we have ongoing resources, we have regular webinars and in the fall we'll be introducing masterclasses around various marketing topics.

And so what we're doing there is essentially giving people the opportunity to extend that inspiration and that learning and that access to resources and that networking all year round. So yes, you can get fired up over two days, but then it's not going to go away because you're going to have access to it all year round.

And so I'm sharing all of that with you as an example of how I think so many companies in the brands need to rethink, how is it that we are delivering our products and services with the, the, with empathy, for the mindset of, of those people you sell to, as I said, you know, people are not going to go back to their offices because we're already all in our home offices.

Ann (34:11): And so that meant that we needed to, we needed to strengthen the value for our attendees, but also it was, it was a great opportunity I think, to display something or, or, or, or to address a challenge that I know I felt as a, as a business person, as a marketer, as somebody who loves events.

I mean, I feel that same struggle of going back to the office and just being, you know, all those good vibes being completely destroyed. And so how is it that we could address that? It, it, it, for me, I think it was a it's I'm really excited just to be able to talk about that more. And I'm really excited to see how it plays out long term.

Kathleen (34:50): I think it's really neat that you're including the membership in pro as part of it. Not only because it gives people access to all, all of that learning and education, but, you know, the community aspect, I feel like so much of it's really been interesting to me community online communities have been a thing for a long time.

And but I really feel like in the last 12 to 18 months, some there's been like a tidal shift that has happened. And so much like goodness is occurring in these communities that are out there, whether they're on Facebook or on Slack or on somebody's website, in a, in a platform built there that, especially with us all stuck in our houses right now, it's such a great way to keep the energy going for the rest of the year and to build and, to form those relationships.

And like, I mean, I've been in the MarketingProfs, the pro Facebook group, and there's great content in there, but it's also fun. Like I love watching Kerry when she does her videos.

Ann (35:48): Yeah. It's a lot of good stuff happening there. Kerry did a great job and it's new. Like we just launched that basically in April, I think it was April. Yeah. So again, that was another response to the pandemic, you know, how can we actually connect people without the, who don't have the ability to connect in person anymore? So that was another example of something that we, that we wanted to do as a, as a, as a kind of gift to our, our pro members.

Kathleen (36:14): Well, it's awesome. Everybody should be a part of it. If somebody is listening and they want to check out B2B forum, what's the best way for them to do that?

Ann (36:23): Oh, they can go to mpb2b.marketingprofs.com, or you can just go to marketingprofs.com and you can just click on, sorry, my daughter's coming in.

Kathleen (36:38): Part and parcel of the whole, yeah, the Zoom from home thing.

Ann (36:42): Just got completely distracted. Yeah, you can go to marketingprofs.com and you can navigate to the B2B forum easily from there.

Kathleen (36:48): Great. now shifting gears for a second, I have two questions I always ask all of my guests at the end. And I'm particularly curious to hear what you have to say about these two things. The first one is, of course, you know, we're all about inbound marketing on the podcast. Is there a particular company or individual that you think is really setting the standard for what it means to be, you know, a great inbound marketer these days?

Ann (37:12): Hm. That's a good question. Setting the standard for what it means to be great inbound marketer. Does it have to be B2B or can it be, can be, can be an individual?

Kathleen (37:25): It can be a company from any industry.

Ann (37:32): Okay.

Ann (37:33): Yeah, that's really interesting.

Kathleen (37:35): And you can make more than one too.

Ann (37:37): So, yeah, so I think my, my favorite, I was, it's not really a company organization who I think is doing a great job with their marketing is it's a, I wrote about them actually recently in my newsletter. So maybe it's familiar to you, Kathleen, but it's the economic development agency in Currituck County. If you go to Think Currituck, and it's C U R R I T U C k.com. Thinkcurrituck.com. What I love about what they do is that if you go to their homepage, they have a button right on there that says how to do two different calls to action on there. One is a, I think finding properties, something like that because an economic development agency, you know, they're charged with with, you know, developing the business in that area.

Ann (38:32): But the other one says, call Larry. And Larry is Larry Lombardi, who is the executive director of the Think Currituck economic development agency, of the Currituck County economic development agency. And so all of their their, their marketing efforts are really around Larry.

And so it embodies everything that we're talking about here, you know, that sense of humanity and vulnerability and transparency. But what I love about their approach is that it carries straight through to a call to action on the website. You know, so everything that Think Currituck is doing from both an inbound perspective, as well as, you know, just like again, they've thought through little details like that. I just think it's great. It's just genius. Their blog is, is really solid, really good.

The website is not tons of bells and whistles on it, but it's it's so it's just to the point, you know, it's very direct.

Ann (39:29): And so I, I just love the way they've honed that message. And then it's also wrapped with it's a wrapped around Larry Lombardi's personality. And that that call Larry button is genius. And when you click on that button, by the way, which I did, it gives you Larry's contact info and it gives you his, his telephone number.

Kathleen (39:47): I was going to say poor Larry, his phone.

Ann (39:50): So I called it, I called Larry, of course, because it told me to. That was a call to action on their website. Partly because I was like, Holy, wow, I love this. This is genius. What are you doing here? It's hilarious. I have to meet Larry.

Kathleen (40:03): Yeah, exactly.

Ann (40:04): So when I called Larry, like, hello, Larry, he's like, Hey, I'm like, hi, this is Ann Hanley. And he's like, how can I help you?

Kathleen (40:11): Fantastic.

Ann (40:11): So just a genius use, I think, everything's sort of working together. And I asked Larry, like, how many, how many of these do you get? And he said, he gets about 15 a month, which is not, I honestly thought that it would be a whole lot more, but anyway.

Kathleen (40:26): I bet there's a lot of people who just don't believe like you're really going to get him. And there's probably a lot of skepticism out there cause people aren't used to anyone being that generous with their phone number.

Ann (40:36): That's exactly the point though, isn't it like people aren't used to that level of generosity. So, you know, we haven't really talked about generosity, but that's another great way to think about your marketing was through that lens. And so I love the way that he is so accessible. People don't abuse. It, it turns out and maybe it's because as you say, people don't trust it, but how fantastic is that?

Kathleen (40:55): It's awesome. Well, I can't wait to go check that out. I love hearing examples. So thank you for that one. All right. Second question. The number one pain point that I hear other marketers express is that things change so quickly in the world of marketing and they're, they feel overwhelmed by trying to keep up with everything and to educate themselves and to consume all the content that's out there. So how do you personally educate yourself and stay up to date?

Ann (41:23): That's a good question. I, I read a lot, I read a lot of industry newsletters but I also, you know, my, my family makes fun of me because I think of everything through a marketing lens. So I I'm right now, I'm, I'm talking to you now from a little town on the, in Southern Maine, right on the coast.

Ann (41:49): And when I go downtown, there's like, there's one little store in town, like one little general store with a tiny little sandwich counter at the back. And when I go down there, I just, I think about everything through a marketing lens and the way that they are approaching everything.

And so I get a lot of inspiration just by the way that I move through the world, which sounds goofy. But man, it's like, I learned so much about what works and what doesn't work and by what I see other people doing myself.

And so, yes, you know, you can read tons of, of online publications and you can, you can educate yourself all day long, but ultimately I think you've gotta just use all, you know, internalize all that information, just look to see what's working around you. You started this call today saying, you know, talking about your marketing hat.

Ann (42:38): And I love that because, you know, we do your point, like you, as you said, we are all being marketed to on a regular basis. And so what, what cuts through the clutter for you? Like, I get a lot of inspiration in that way.

So when I go talk to Lisa down at the grocery at the right in downtown two blocks from here and I listened to her and what's, what's working for her. I get a whole lot of inspiration from that.

And I don't think because I'm going to suddenly start consulting with a bunch of small town, grocery stores, what, you know, what she's doing has and what she's finding valuable and what she's not finding value in has repercussions for a database business or a technology company.

Kathleen (43:21): She's also very close to her customer, which a lot of bigger companies are not. So yes,

Ann (43:25): Yes. That's actually a really good point. Yes. That's in part and, and some things that she's feeling frustrated by, I think, Oh, that's because you're not doing this. Right. Right. Right. And so it's, it's, it's equally when she says something isn't working, it's equally as interesting to me.

So so yeah, so that's actually how I get a lot of a lot of, of education and inspiration also just like social media. I learned a whole lot just by, just by listening on social media and shutting up every once in a while.

And just listening to what people are talking about, podcasts like this one too. I mean, I get a lot of value out of listening to friends and seeing what, what they're talking about just as much as, as I do. Just, you know, just through my own reading and, and and you know, from, from any of that,

Kathleen (44:12): Well, it's really interesting to me to hear you talk about kind of just going out into the world and being a keen observer, because one of the things that I've noticed over 150 plus episodes of doing this podcast is that some of the best marketers I've interviewed - yourself, another person that springs to mind, Marcus Sheridan, who I know you're very close with - they're not trained as marketers. And it's, which is not to say that you shouldn't go out and study marketing.

It's just that what makes them great marketers is that they are keen observers of, of the human condition and, and passionately interested in understanding what makes people tick. And like, that's what makes Marcus such a great communicator is he, he likes to figure out like, how do we connect as people? And I feel like you, you do the same thing. Like there's an instinct in there.

Kathleen (44:59): You know, your training was in journalism. I don't even know what he studied as an undergrad, but he had a pool company. And there are plenty of other examples from throughout the history of the podcast that that's the case for.

And so it, I guess the takeaway for me is really like, you can study marketing and it's good to do that, certainly. And there's a lot to learn from that, as you say, you learn from that as well. But none of that can make up for if you don't have the type of mind that's interested in understanding what makes people tick as human beings.

Ann (45:27): Yes. Yes. And I guess the other thing I would add to that, and also this is a callback to what we were talking about earlier in this conversation, but make something, create something, try it, you know, build an audience. What are you passionate about?

Even if it's something that isn't related to really what you're doing in your job at all? You know, my newsletter is about writing and it's about content. It's it's, I don't necessarily talk about writing all the time, but in this newsletter, that's what I focus on. And that's where I, what I am building an audience around. And so I've, like I said, I've learned a lot about communicating and writing and and what, what people really value and what connects with them just through that act.

So wait in, get your hands dirty. Like you're not gonna learn it just from, from observing, you know, what, what, what other people are doing. I think it's much better if you can really weight in and apply some of that to actually building something yourself.

Kathleen (46:22): That is great advice. And on that note, we will wrap up with, if somebody does want to check out your newsletter and subscribe, where should they go to do that?

Ann (46:30): Yeah. So they can go to annhandley.com/newsletter. They can also go to just annhandley.com and, and navigate there via the newsletter button. Or you can check out anything that we're doing at marketingprofs.com as well. Awesome.

Kathleen (46:44): Well, I will put the links to all of those things in the show notes and of course, check out B2B marketing forum and the Total Annarchy newsletter, two of my favorite things. And if you're listening and you learn something new this week, please consider heading to Apple podcasts or the platform of your choice and leaving the podcast a five star review. That helps us get found by other people. And if you know somebody else who's doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me at @workmommywork, because I would love to make them my next interview. Thank you so much Ann. This was a ton of fun.

Ann (47:15): Yes. Thanks for having me.

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