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How the Integration of Content and Commerce Creates a Winning Difference
13th August 2015 • The Digital Entrepreneur • Rainmaker Digital LLC
00:00:00 00:35:09

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Last week we talked about the concept of native commerce as a way to create content, build an audience, and ultimately find out what people will actually buy. It s about creating a unique experience for the right type of person, but how does that happen?

I realized shortly after last week s episode went live that we had just explored the idea of creating a seamless, valuable experience for our ideal customers and clients. We use an integration of both our content and our products and services to make that happen.

So, I called in a favor on short notice to get Robert Rose on the show. He s the Chief Strategy Officer at Content Marketing Institute, among other things. Notably, he s also the author of Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing which makes him the perfect guest following last week s episode.

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The Transcript

How the Integration of Content and Commerce Creates a Winning Difference

Voiceover: Rainmaker.FM is brought to you by The Showrunner Podcasting Course, your step-by-step guide to developing, launching, and running a remarkable show. Registration for the course is open August 3rd through the 14th, 2015. Go to to learn more. That’s

Brian Clark: Hey, Rainmakers. Welcome to another episode of the show designed for all you digital entrepreneurs out there. I’m Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Copyblogger Media.

Today, we’ve got another very special guest, and hopefully this turns out to be the perfect follow-up episode to last week’s show. Let me briefly introduce him before we get into what that was all about. Robert Rose, many of you may know him. He is one of the other big personas over at Content Marketing Institute along with the ineffable Joe Pulizzi. Ineffable — you think he’d like that one, Robert?

Robert Rose: I think it depends on how you spell ineffable.

Brian Clark: I didn’t even catch that. Very nice. Very quick. You Californians — you ve got to look out for them.

Anyway, he’s the chief strategy officer over at the Content Marketing Institute. He’s also the co-host on This Old Marketing Podcast with Joe. He’s a senior contributing consultant for Digital Clarity Group. In particular, we’re going to talk about Robert’s second book today, which is called Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. We may touch a little bit on Joe Pulizzi’s upcoming book, Content Inc.

Of course we will all be in Cleveland, wonderful Cleveland, in September for the big show, Content Marketing World, the biggest show. Robert, thank you so much for joining me.

Robert Rose: Thank you, Brian. This is super fun. I’m super-happy to be here.

Brian Clark: A little behind the scenes here — I hit Robert up on a Friday afternoon. This show will be out on a Thursday, and we record on Monday, so lots of warning, right? You just sit around basically waiting for podcast interview requests?

Robert Rose: When Brian Clark calls, you jump. That’s the rule that all marketers should have.

Brian Clark: Thanks. Check. Mail.

Robert Rose: You got it.

The Audience-First Model That s Becoming Increasingly Popular among Startups and Why It Works

Brian Clark: It occurred to me on Friday, as I was revisiting last week’s show and having read Robert’s newest book, Experiences, that he was the perfect next guest. It was a long shot, actually, despite what he says, that I was able to get him, and I appreciate him being here on short notice.

Quickly, for those of you who may not have caught the last episode , and also for Robert’s edification, last week we talked about this maybe new buzzword or phrase, native commerce. Robert, are you familiar with Thrillist?

Robert Rose: I am. Sure. Yeah.

Brian Clark: It’s a great story. They obviously built the audience first, had an advertising business model, and discovered that one particular advertiser, JackThreads, a clothing line for hipsters — which is a good match for Thrillist, let’s face it — they were advertising over and over and over again. Anyone with any kind of marketing background or advertising background, especially in direct marketing, if you see the same junk mail over and over again, pay attention. It’s working, because someone is spending money to keep showing up.

Thrillist basically said, Let’s look into this closer. They do the due diligence and see the revenue that’s being generated from the channel. They acquire JackThreads, and in five years, they go from $8 million in annual revenue to $100 million and become contact marketers, right? Much more lucrative model. I think that’s one of the best just dollar-to-dollar ads-versus-commerce type spends ever.

Last week’s guest was Ryan Deiss, and he explained that to me. I hadn’t actually heard that story. I said, “Okay, it’s content marketing.” He said, “No, it’s something more, because there’s such an integration between product and media in the content.” I’m sitting over here going, That’s content marketing. This is what I want to kick over to you, to begin with. I realize that he’s seeing a disconnect, because content marketing done well, that s what I think of. That’s how our business was built. You build the audience first.

That’s why I mentioned Joe’s new book, Content Inc., coming out in September. He’s basically talking about this model that is becoming more and more the norm at the startup level, which is, you start with the audience. You figure out what they want to buy, or in Thrillist’s case, you acquire what they are buying, and then you’ve got a successful business, as opposed to the old product-first model, where you build it and then you pray that someone wants to buy it.

The disconnect that I’m seeing is that the way we think about integrated product/content marketing is the way it should be done, and I think Ryan was saying, But that’s not how it’s being done. You’re doing content marketing if you write some articles for your website or you start a podcast. That doesn’t mean it’s effective content marketing. He went on and on to talk about creating experiences, like why Bass Pro Shop will never get killed by Walmart or Amazon, as the case may be.

That was when I said, “I’m taking for granted that you’re creating the right form of experience,” because let’s face it, it’s all an experience. It’s just not a good one, very often. So I’m going to kick it over to you right there.

Robert Rose: Sure. What a great team-up point. Ultimately, what we’re talking about here is really a chicken-and-egg sort of idea, right? If you’re looking at this as a startup company or as a company that has just introduced a product into the market, building that audience first is an easy perspective to have. Maybe not one that can get executed well and maybe one that’s extraordinarily difficult, depending on your product or the value you’re trying to create.

But it’s different than if you’re a business that’s been in business for 25 years or 10 years or five years, and you’ve already got a product out into the market and you’re looking to, How do we evolve our marketing to actually address this exact issue?

You’ve got a really interesting situation with JackThreads getting acquired there. We’re starting to see that more and more, where instead of trying to actually organically build something from the ground up — because there’s nothing saying that Thrillist couldn’t have said, “You know what? We could build our own JackThreads and take years to do that and duplicate the success and editorial strategy that they’ve got and build our own audience so that we don’t have to advertise there any longer, or quite frankly, we could just acquire them.”

Layering Products, Content, and Experience as a Differentiation Strategy

Robert Rose: We’re starting to see that more and more, especially from e-commerce companies, especially from those companies that have products out there that are sort of being threatened by the Amazons or big boxes of the world and where they can actually create a more compelling, integrated experience in its totality.

That doesn’t mean just an editorial experience. That could mean a physical experience. It could mean events. It could mean all manner of things that cross over the boundaries of physical and digital, but to create something that’s differentiated, that, quite frankly, an Amazon or somebody that’s competing with us and threatening with us can’t duplicate.

That’s really the value of acquiring something like JackThreads. The editorial is great. The experience itself is great. And we can layer over this idea of an e-commerce layer to it. They are not the only ones out there. This just happened with a publishing company in Australia that actually did the exact opposite. They were a publishing company that then acquired a product company to do the exact polar opposite of this, where they’re now layering products into their editorial strategy to differentiate themselves as a publisher.

We’re starting to see this real merger — Joe has talked about this for a long time — this real integration of product and media to become different types of content-driven experiences. Of course, this is what we talk about a lot in the book.

Brian Clark: You just nailed it right there: integration. Yeah, it’s an integrated process. It was a light-bulb moment for me in the sense that maybe people aren’t getting the integration, and I’m taking it for granted, the old curse of knowledge thing.

Let’s unpack this a little. If I hear what you’re saying, that it’s a different process, I agree when you’re starting as an existing company or maybe even an existing line of business, something that you know people want, and the only thing you’re being innovative about is your marketing and creating a better experience than Joe Blow, okay? To me — and of course I’m a big advocate of what we’ve done since 2006 and how we built our company — the easiest companies I’ve started were legal services and real estate brokerage services. I knew people wanted them. All I had to do was create a better experience.

If you’ve ever seen, for example, most broker or realtor marketing with the Glamour Shot on the bus-stop bench, I was like, This is shooting fish in a barrel. This was 2002, and I had, over the previous three years, figured out a lot of stuff. But to me, that wasn’t hard at all. Yet I think I hear you saying that a lot of enterprise-level companies or even mid-level or small businesses, they’re doing business. They just need to catch up to the 21st century, and they’re struggling. I found that easier than creating something new, feeding off an audience.

Why Smaller Companies Have an Advantage over Larger Companies in Creating Innovative Experiences

Robert Rose: It’s exactly right. You just nailed it. Joe and I have talked about this, where this is truly the advantage that smaller companies these days have over larger enterprises. The larger enterprises, I can tell you from my own experience that they are having a real problem unwinding the classic purpose of marketing, which of course has been to describe the value, in ever-cleverer ways, of the product or service we put into the marketplace.

They do the bus ad. They do — whatever industry they’re in — their version of the bus ad or the Sunday circular or the TV advertisement or the banner ad or the email or whatever collateral-driven approach they have. That is their purpose, and unwinding that to get to what you’re really talking about, which is, How do I create something that is beyond the product or service I’m putting into the marketplace but that adds value to the experience for the consumer?

It’s one of those things where — and you understand this better than most, honestly — How can I add value to that consumer’s life? Maybe they buy from me, and maybe they don’t. Maybe they purchase something from me down the road. Maybe they purchase something from me today. Ultimately, my goal is that I can differentiate against everybody else that’s out there with the bus ad or the circular or whatever they’re putting out there by creating a more valuable experience.

Content is a great way to do that. There are certainly others. Uber has disrupted an entire industry by simply having a different interface and a better experience into taking a car from Point A to Point B. Airbnb has created a completely disruptive experience by making it a better experience to actually go stay in a remote location.

You start to really cross a boundary, especially in businesses that have those traditional approaches. Is that marketing, or is that product development?

That’s where the big companies really struggle with this, because quite frankly, it hasn’t been the remit of marketing to do this, historically. But for startup companies, it’s everything. There is no separation between those. There are no siloes that have been built up over time, so it seems completely natural to say, “What we’re going to do is we’re going to create a better content-driven experience that differentiates us in the marketplace,” and that is your shooting fish in a barrel, because quite frankly, none of the competitors are doing it.

The Big Difference between Traditional Marketing and Content Marketing

Brian Clark: I’ve been think a lot, even before your book came out, but you said the struggle between traditional marketing and what you’re supposed to be doing now. To me, traditional marketing was a promise of an experience, and content marketing begins the experience.

Robert Rose: That s exactly it.

Brian Clark: That’s the simplest way I can put it. On the last episode, we had this real-world analogy where someone comes into a place. They’re having an experience. And then they exit through the gift shop. I love that, because think about how well certain companies — not the traditional company, but certain companies, everything from theme parks to the Bass Pro Shop or whatever the case may be — they’ve designed that entire space in this experiential mode.

I remember there was a book. Do you remember this book? Fifteen years ago I think, The Experience Economy? People were talking about this forever. I think this was very much pre-content marketing. To me, again, as a scrappy entrepreneur type as opposed to the enterprise budget, content is the best differentiator, what marketing and advertising were supposed to do. Back in the good old days where you actually could have a USP: My toothpaste has … Wait, what did Ultra Fresh have? Remember that?

Robert Rose: The stripe, right?

Brian Clark: The stripe, yeah. It’s meaningless, but it was a differentiator. I think that content is the differentiator now, because everyone can replicate everything. Go to China. You can get it done. Look at someone’s service model. You can copy that. But content and the voices, that’s what’s unique. That’s all we have left. But it matters, because it does a better job at traditional marketing.

Robert Rose: That’s exactly right. It is, in fact, the only differentiator that’s left. The experience that we can create, the content that we can create that surrounds the product or service, is really the only differentiator because, quite frankly, just as you said, the product, especially in today’s technology-driven world, can be replicated. If it can’t be replicated by your neighbor, it can certainly be replicated in another country, maybe in a digital disruptive way.

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