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Interview with Andy Crestodina – Understanding Digital Empathy with The MASTER of Content Marketing – Episode #43

“Our job in content marketing is to show deep expertise on all the related topics…Our job in that case is to simply be active enough to be consistently visible…”

For those of you who have listened to my episodes with Araminta Roberston and Dennis Shiao, you would have heard today’s guest mentioned in both episodes!

My guest today is Andy Crestodina. Andy’s the co-founder of Orbit Media, an award-winning 40-person digital agency in Chicago. Over the past 20 years, Andy has provided digital marketing advice to 1000+ businesses and written 500+ articles on content strategy, SEO, visitor psychology and analytics. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.

In this episode we talk about why seeking projects leads to more work than seeking a job, his definition of content strategy, the importance of original research as the best form of content, how he has developed his personal brand, and much much more!


Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:02  

I can never get used to how loud she is. Alright, we are now recording and 5432 Hello everyone and welcome to episode 43 of Kenny Soto Digital Marketing Podcast. Today we are speaking to Andy Crestodina. Hi, Andy


Andy Crestodina  0:25  

Kenny you are breaking up.


Kenny Soto  0:27  

Oh, no. All right, so we’re gonna try that. Yeah. We’re going to try that intro one more time. 


Andy Crestodina  0:33  

Do you use the video? 


Kenny Soto  0:35  

No, I don’t. 


Andy Crestodina  0:36  

Are you just gonna use the audio?


Kenny Soto  0:37  

 Just audio.


Andy Crestodina  0:38  

Yeah. Okay, then then I hate to say this because I’d like to see you but I suggest we we kill the video.


Kenny Soto  0:44  

 Okay, let’s try that.


Andy Crestodina  0:45  

 It’ll sounds bandwidth that. I know. We can hang out another time. Yeah, I think that’ll save the bandwidth. I mean, it’s, yeah, it can make a difference.


Kenny Soto  0:56  

Let’s see. Is my breaking up now.


Andy Crestodina  0:59  

A little bit, maybe still don’t know. Let’s give it a try.


Kenny Soto  1:04  

Let’s give it another try. Alright, so we’re now re recording and five, four. Sounds good. Three, two. Hello, everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto’s Digital Marketing podcast. We are now up to episode 43 of the podcast and today’s guest is Andy Crestodina. Hi, Andy. 


Andy Crestodina  1:22  

Hi, Kenny. 


Kenny Soto  1:24  

Alright, so before recording, I gave you a little backstory of the podcast and a little description of who our listeners are today, man, just to give them a little bit of background on who you are. My first question for you is, how did you get into digital marketing?


Andy Crestodina  1:43  

Well, I was an IT recruiter was like 100 years ago in the 90s. And I was making personal projects, interactive comic books, fun, weird stuff, in off hours, like at night and on weekends with my buddy from high school and my roommate from college. 


Before we go into my other questions, you said something that piqued my curiosity, you mentioned that getting a project is easier than getting a job. Can you elaborate on that?


It sounds weird, right? So let’s say I may, you know, I need some work done. And I’ve got two options to get that work done, I can find someone to give me some temporary help. Or I can hire someone full time onboard them, pay their benefits, pay their salary, you know, it’s which of these things is a bigger risk. 


Kenny Soto  5:51  

I like where this is going. My next question is, what’s the hardest challenge or challenges that you see when growing a personal brand?


Andy Crestodina  6:03  

Well, there’s a lot of people that just stink at the basics, people that don’t have a professional headshot, or have never Googled themselves to see what other people would see people that don’t reach out and ask for help, or for an introduction, or for a quick like mentoring call. So people that grow personal brands very slowly, tend to have a weak online presence.

They don’t have a polished LinkedIn profile page, they don’t have recommendations. They haven’t even organized their top skills in LinkedIn. The Google search results for their name are garbage. You know, if you just imagine your so digital marketing is a giant test of empathy. Pretend you are that person. Right? That’s considering you, right? Considering your personal brand. What do they do? Well, they’re gonna look you up on LinkedIn or in Google, what do they see? Ah, now you know, specifically, like, just how badly some people do it, how many missed opportunities, there are how many gaps so bad.

So long story short, the biggest challenges is just the basics, blocking and tackling, write, write some guest posts for some decent websites, those are going to appear in search results for your name, get a professional headshot done, get five to get at least five recommendations, get up to 500 plus connections in LinkedIn. Reach out, ask people who have done what you want to do, if they wouldn’t mind spending half an hour on a call with you. People like doing that people like to help the art of asking good book, Amanda Palmer, check it out. It’s just I think people are just failed to either imagine the perspective of the person who’s investigating them as a possible resource as a possible, you know, podcast guest or whatever.

And then also just people don’t really stick their neck out enough, even though that’s actually also low risk. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You just person tells you that too busy now and you move on?


Kenny Soto  7:59  

Or another? potential negative, which isn’t so bad is just silence and you’re ignored? Which is fine. Yeah,


Andy Crestodina  8:08  

that’s right. Yep.


Kenny Soto  8:09  

Exactly. So my next question would be, and we’ll do this in two parts. How do you think about your content strategy for your personal brand? And how do you think about the term constant strategy in general? How do you define that?


Andy Crestodina  8:26  

Well, strategy, I think, is an overly fancy word and mostly, is said by people who try to sound smart, it’s not in the I’m not an MBA, I don’t have a marketing degree. But in my best understanding of the meaning of the word strategy is just a plan to reach a specific goal. So let’s just call it that. If a strategy is a plan to reach a specific goal than a content strategy is a plan to use content marketing, to reach a specific goal. So the goals are usually create demand, or just create general visibility and a brand awareness. 


So when I think about content strategy for me and my company, which are virtually the same, I’m one of the co founders here, you know, I don’t do anything else. This is my brand new, the company’s brand are kind of, you know, deeply intertwined. So let’s just combine them and say, you know, this is the content strategy for creating demand creating leads for web design, which is basically all we do every day. 


So how do I create? What is the content strategy for that? It is to be top of mind and consistently visible to decision makers who will someday need a website. And think of us at that time because they saw more expertise coming out of our channels than anyone else. Our job in content marketing is to show deep expertise on all the related topics. So if we can create content that demonstrates deep expertise and do so consist Utley, then you get these recommendations, kind of like how we met Kenny, right? Like someone said, oh, you should talk to this person or oh, you should subscribe to this newsletter. 


Yeah, watch these videos. So our job then in that case, is to simply be active enough to be consistently visible in our channels. And we choose those carefully. We basically write search optimized how to blog posts, we create videos for many of them which popular YouTube channel, we are constantly just continually growing our email list. But that’s we can and promoting content through social channels. That’s it. The topics, digital content marketing, analytics and web design. Okay, great. Frequency. 


Well, you know, to be top of mind with people who need web design, they don’t need it every day, I didn’t do it every four years. And it takes them two months to decide who to hire anyway, so I don’t need to be like a daily blog, I’m gonna go bi weekly. So that’s it, a bi weekly, long form detailed article that demonstrates expertise on these topics. Content marketing, analytics, and web design, promoted through email marketing, search, optimization, and social media. 


And beyond that, the little more advanced things that we’ve gotten better at over the years, which is deeper in certain formats, such as original research, which SPOILER ALERT just crushes all other formats for content. There’s nothing that comes close to original research for attracting links and getting shares and being relevant. And also, we collaborate with influencers. So we’ve do a lot of presentations. We also do live events I give, I speak at conferences, and I’ve built relationships with other influencers, people who are big names and different categories. And we always include them in our content. 


So I would never write an article without including a contributor quote, that’s another important part of how we’re constantly growing our network and creating many PR opportunities like this one. Kenny, thanks for the invite. I’m honored to be here.


Kenny Soto  12:00  

Thank you, my follow up to what you just mentioned, you’re bringing up so many points of wisdom, I love it. Why? Why? Like, can you can you explain more about original research? Is it absolutely necessary? And how do you go about starting an original research project for a blog post or white paper, etc?


Andy Crestodina  12:20  

Yeah, it is not necessary. And none of these things are technically necessary. I mean, you can build a business without any content marketing. I know lots of successful companies that don’t even have a blog, they’re not even active, they don’t do anything on social media. They survived through word of mouth or outbound sales or other things. So so the thing about original research, though, let’s say you’re gonna go into, you know, you’re embarking, you’re building a content strategy and building out a body of work. 


When you create original research and data points that support people’s messages, what you end up with is something that is literally like contributing to the conversation, you’ve solved the problem of, how do I stand out? How do I cut through the noise? You solve the problem of how do I make something original and different and unique? You made yourself the primary source for new information. That is, it gives you an amazing superpower. So let’s say you know, people say I wanted the attention of journalists, I’m trying to do PR. 


Okay, what would what have you ever done on your, in your content that’s worthy of talking about original research? answers that question you got, you can create visuals from those data points, charts and graphs are incredibly shareable. Right? You can, you can do out all the outreach that you do is just way more effective, hey, we just looked at your industry. And we found these insights. 


And you know, this is x percent of people in your industry are doing, you know, this and that. And we’ve been, you know, they some of this is aligns with best practices, but some of it doesn’t. So anyway, if you want to create original research, I think a good place to start is simply by looking at the landscape in your industry and asking like, Are there any missing statistics here? One thing that we’re kind of famous for is this, we’ve done it every year. We do a survey of 1000 bloggers every year, and we have since 2014.


 And we get 1000 bloggers to answer a bunch of questions. And one of them is how long does it take to write a blog post? And we published this, like a credible answer to that question, how long does it take to write a blog post? The answer is like four hours. It’s like three hours and 56 minutes are something that’s 40% longer than it was seven years ago. So we’re the first people to publish this. It’s a credible number. 


There’s, we publish it over and over time so you can see the trend line how it’s changed. So that’s it’s just, it solves so many problems. It correlates with success. According to other people’s research, like Buzzsumo did this thing like what gets the most links and shares its original research? Go look at the backlink profile. If you’re an SEO go look at the links to any any website that has published original research, you’ll see those are the URLs that attract the most links. So it’s just a dominant, super powerful form of content that you know, 99% of people won’t do. So as soon as you do it, you’re in the top 1%.


Kenny Soto  15:18  

And are you doing this original research just in house with your own employees and team members? Or can you outsource the research to a third party company,


Andy Crestodina  15:26  

you can outsource it. Michelle Lynn. Possible guest she’s brilliant. She she has a company called Mantis research. She’ll she does these things, I don’t know, they’re like probably seven or 10 or 15k projects. And so if you’ve got a budget, if you’ve got a content program like I would, I would consider if nothing else, just using a partner for it, maybe outsourcing it, do it to you know, a couple of times a year. 


But I’ve done it pretty quick. Like I didn’t want it I did a post two weeks ago, three weeks ago, it was like I had a virtual assistant, I made a list of the top 100 blogs, which you can find less anywhere sent the links to to a virtual assistant on a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet had a column for every different visual element on these blogs, comments, share buttons, the top share buttons at the bottom share buttons at the middle related articles, author picture date, pop up window, and I just had the virtual assistant, it took about four hours of their time go through and mark which blogs had which features then I it was I get the the spreadsheet back. 


And it’s like cake and a cake out of the oven it was like this thing’s almost ready to go. All I’ve got to do is give this to my designer to make a graphic out of it. 73% of blogs have a search tool 63% of an author picture. Only 51% of blogs have comments. The pop up 44% are using popup windows. I’m just reading you to you brand new data that I created with only a few $100 the VAs time put into a beautiful graphic that everyone had that’s gotten tons of traction It was immediately linked to from Content Marketing Institute and a bunch of other websites. So it’s it was not the challenges. Most of the challenges can be solved by simply like creative thinking and being resourceful.


Kenny Soto  17:28  

When when it comes to creative thinking, what are like the essential features, if you will, that every website should have whether they are doing a b2c operation or b2b operation.


Andy Crestodina  17:43  

You’re asking good questions. I think one of the biggest missed opportunity on websites is that they don’t stop to imagine like what is in the mind of this visitor. So for example, let’s say there’s a call to action to subscribe to a newsletter. Everywhere you look, you’ll see email, signups submit. It just says email signup, submit, or it says stay up to date. Submit. Why would anyone do that? So if you just again, it’s you know, marketing is empathy. Digital marketing is data driven empathy. Look at that thing that you want that visitor to do. And ask ask yourself if you’ve given them good reasons to do it. 


If you’ve told them what they’re going to get if you’re making a strong promise, if you have addressed their objections and answered their questions, so b2c b2b Look, you know, subscribe to a newsletter become a lead add to cart for E commerce, nobody does anything. Nobody clicks, nobody taps until they believe that that thing is going to be greater value than it then then the cost, right? We all do a split second cost benefit calculation before we click or tap on anything. 


You want to you want traffic from social media, ask yourself why would someone really tap on this link I’m putting into Twitter. Today give them a strong reason to do it. Why would someone follow me? Does my social media bio tell them what I’m going to share with them? Why would someone subscribe to my call to action? Tell them why they’re you know what I’m going to bring to their inbox. Why would they add this to cart? Did I tell them how soon they’ll get it? What the refund policy is what the shipping and taxes are? Is it gonna fit? What are the risks? Why would they become a lead? Did I tell them that? Does this site answer all their questions about our approach to projects? We know does it address their concerns? Did it tell them? You know what to you know, what the top considerations are? Does it does basically does it emulate a sales conversation? 


The best marketing sort of emulates a sales conversation. It answers the top questions that they came to get, you know that they have in mind. It answers some questions that you think they should have asked but they didn’t. And it doesn’t clear specific calls to action right? Look at the verbs in your in your links and buttons. And ask yourself if those verbs indicate a strong benefit or if they reduce the per perceived cost. These are just non obvious but fundamental questions and all digital.


Kenny Soto  20:08  

Andy, how do you define empathy, specifically


Andy Crestodina  20:13  

relatability just knowing what that person cares about. It’s like knowing your audience, and aligning your tone and your topics with them. So it’s not about us. So I wasn’t a call yesterday and we built these, we built these sites a year, it’s the company has, they do something that people need? Right, one of the things they do is like analytics for calls. It’s like they have software that analyzes the calls that their customer service people that your customer service people are making, and then helps them get better call analytics. That’s the thing. People talk about that thing, people look for that thing. 


But they, the client had some other weird name, they wanted to give it without going into details. They wanted to name everything after their terms, the branded terms, what they think it should be called. My recommendation was to call it what people call it, that’s empathetic use the terms they use, bring information to people on their own terms. So it’s classic people just, you know, they get too excited about their own brand. They want to talk about themselves, their websites sound like we love us. 


Nobody cares. Nobody cares about your story. Nobody cares about your value. These are not the primary considerations for who to work with, who to hire, who to who to buy from. People care about their own problems, 10,000,000% more than they care about your story. Empathy is about making it making putting the audience first, not yourself.


Kenny Soto  21:46  

Three more questions. Should all content marketers know SEO?


Andy Crestodina  21:53  

No, you don’t have to. It’s a powerful channel. But it’s not. It’s not required. There are approaches to content that that have, where SEO is just not very important. I know LinkedIn, and social media influencers who are who don’t pay any attention to SEO, and get huge results. You can I’ve seen people who have their content strategy for the first two years, they’re going to do 100% Guest blogging, and no no content for their own site. 


They grow huge personal brands, no consideration for SEO. Some people there, they, you know that they do Account Based Marketing, they reach out to people who are ideal prospects, and everyone they talk to is an ideal prospect. They’re interacting with sharing with engaging with recommending, like connecting with ideal prospects only, they don’t care at all about pageviews, or numbers or quantity, all they care about is talking to the right people. So I think it’s there are examples of content programs that are extremely successful that don’t use any SEO. On the other hand, you should at least understand it. Because if you don’t know how it works, you’re gonna you’re probably going to miss big opportunities, which is unnecessary.


Kenny Soto  23:14  

What are some of the skills that you’ve had to leverage consistently throughout your career, and these can be both hard skills and soft skills.


Andy Crestodina  23:24  

You know, the fact that in the early early days, I was a web designer has really helped me as a content marketer, because I’m comfortable. Just rip it up in Photoshop, or whatever Pixelmator or sketch or whatever people use these days, I’m using Pixelmator, cheap Photoshop alternative. Just do basic mock ups for graphics, I can make charts, you know, if I did a piece of research, if I’m making like, like a diagram, I can mock up the diagram. 


So it looks pretty close before having a polished. I also know just enough about video editing, basically just putting in cuts, adding captions, lighting sound to be able to produce without any budget or help videos good enough for YouTube. So I have slightly better than average digital production skills, images and video. And those are technically they’re hard skills. They’re very, very useful to me, I use them every day. I have huge gaps in my skills. I really wish I was better at Excel and some types of data analysis. There’s lots of stuff I don’t know how to do that I still yet plan to learn.


Kenny Soto  24:34  

Last question, and this is hypothetical. If you can go back 10 years with the knowledge you know now, how would you get to where you are today even faster?


Andy Crestodina  24:48  

Boy, if I had started publishing, long form original research earlier, and if I had gotten more active in YouTube sooner, I would likely have, like, you know, double or triple the audience. Those are things that turned out to be so effective at building engagement that these are, you know, if you could go back in time, you know, besides, you know, going back to the 90s, and registering all the good domain names, probably just go back to when these channels were younger, and just double down on some of the content strategies that lead to outsized results. 


So yeah, I probably would have, you know, made my content strategies, just mostly original research focused and upgraded the format of my content to, to video more often, some of the videos I don’t know, if six years ago, I published a couple of videos that have like, quarter million views. I didn’t even notice it at the time, they were just doing very, very well. So that was a missed opportunity.


Kenny Soto  25:58  

Amazing. Thank you so much for your time today. Andy, if the listeners wanted to follow you and connect with you online, where can they find you?


Andy Crestodina  26:06  

Well, I do my best to give away all all the best advice I have at orbit You can see the examples of calls to action that I just mentioned. You can see examples of the original research I just mentioned, are immediate, that comm slash blog and anyone’s welcome of course, to connect with me on LinkedIn, or I also mentioned, we’re putting all our best advice also on YouTube these days.


Kenny Soto  26:31  

Perfect. Thank you for your time today, Andy, and thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. I hope you benefited from this interview as much as I have and I hope you have a great week. Bye.


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