Joe is the founder of Content Marketing Institute, and has been featured on Forbes as an expert in content marketing. He shares his thoughts on business buzzwords, false assumptions, and content tips for companies to stay ahead of their competition.
This week, Peter and Jonathan discuss their least favorite business terms and how to avoid forming incorrect assumptions about your company. Joe Pulizzi (founder, Content Marketing Institute) also joins the conversation to discuss the Content, Inc. model’s six stages.
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Listen to the 11th episode:
Notes on the show:
- Buzzwords in the business world – (:28)
- Assumptions that are incorrect – (7:56)
- Joe Pulizzi and the Content, Inc. Model – (14:02)
Transcript of the audio:
Peter: We’ve spoken about individuals talking about their companies a little bit, Jonathan. People who are pitching
Jonathan: Promote your company.
Peter: So, what’s worse than seeming dumb while discussing your company?
Jonathan: There’s nothing I despise more than sounding stupid.
Peter: So, we’re going to have a guest on later, but before, let’s have some fun. What are some of the things that individuals say in the workplace?
Jonathan: The buzzwords that people use in the corporate world—
“Pushing the envelope,” Peter says.
—either don’t mean what you believe they do, or you should quit using them.
Peter: What one word would you eliminate from your vocabulary if you had to?
Jonathan: Well, I know my wife gets irritated when I use phrases like “talk into,” “offer feedback,” or “present insight.” It’s a business-like way of saying “speak to me” or “offer your ideas.” I was once at a weekend-long conference and got on the aircraft with my wife and was having a discussion with her. She glanced at me halfway through and exclaimed, “Stop talking like that.” It made me take a step back and think, “Yeah, I just keep using these jargon-y phrases that mean nothing when you’re having a regular discussion with someone else.”
Peter: Actually, a common one that I’m seeing a lot is “that being stated” to begin a sentence. This is mainly on reality television, but I’m going to assume people say it in real life.
Jonathan: Is it similar to a transition?
Peter: We all knew that had been stated lately, so they’re going to tell us now that it’s the stuff they just said.
Jonathan: So, with that out of the way, let’s move on to some additional expressions we’d want folks to cease saying.
“It is what it is,” Peter suggests.
Jonathan: What is it about that you don’t like?
Peter: I simply don’t see the point in expressing it out loud. What do we get out of hearing that? If you’re ready to declare, “It is what it is,” it’s possible that you’re unable to make any quantifiable changes, implying that you have no influence in the area in which you’re speaking—
Jonathan: Or maybe you simply don’t completely comprehend the issue, and instead of attempting to fix it, you’re content to say, “It is what it is; let’s go on.”
Peter: Yes, it irritates me in the same way that the term “fake it ’til you make it,” which Caroline Cummings used as a positive in her last guest appearance here, irritates me. She used the term “fake it ’til you make it” to mean “simply try your hardest before you’re great at anything.” That’s a reasonable sentiment, in my opinion. In some ways, I believe the term “fake it ’til you make it” has a more sinister aspect to it. It basically indicates that the area where you’re faking it allows individuals who aren’t competent and doesn’t notice them, as well as that you’re incapable of just making it, of simply performing a decent job.
Jonathan: Yes, maybe a fair litmus test for whether or not these words should pass and whether or not people should continue to use them is, “Can you utter the phrase without having to explain what it means?” Perhaps you should drop the term and replace it with something else.
“Let’s take this offline,” “let’s put this on the back burner,” and “let’s table this discussion” are the three I’m going to do together since they all basically imply the same thing and none of them actually need to be used. All of these are simple methods to say, “Hey, let’s speak about this tomorrow” or “Let’s not discuss it at this meeting.”
Peter: Let’s go one step farther. This one is diabolical, as the industry term goes, “drink the Kool-Aid.” This is problematic because I’m not sure how this gained traction, and I’m not sure why people are comfortable saying that their company’s culture is cultish enough to be compared to a mass suicide figuratively. When we use them, what are we expressing about ourselves? These business ones, for some reason, tend to fall flat and get overused. “Bleeding edge,” for instance, when “cutting edge” did not mean “cutty”—
Jonathan: It’s insufficient.
—enough; it wasn’t near enough, so we had to go on to the next—
Jonathan: I had to get to the bleeding edge, the opposite side of the cutting edge, the item that had been sliced. No?
Peter: No, I don’t believe that’s correct.
Jonathan: So, what exactly is the bleeding edge? Please explain.
Peter: It’s the same thing as the sharp—
Jonathan: Are the bleeding edge and the cutting edge the same thing?
Peter: You’re right, we’re on the same page.
Jonathan: So, why are you utilizing various phrases? It’s incomprehensible.
Peter: Well, one is simply grosser than the other.
Jonathan: It is, without a doubt. Let’s speak about cutting-edge technology. What is the point of being on the cutting edge? What exactly does it imply? This may be a good moment to move on to certain words that, although I believe you can continue to use them, a lot of people misunderstand. They don’t understand what the words imply, therefore they use them incorrectly.
Peter: When I leave a meeting and someone says a lot of things that I’m not sure they understand, it makes me wonder whether they understand the most important thing they should be doing.
Jonathan: Yes, it makes you doubt what they’re meant to be doing and whether or not they’re competent at it.
Peter: Without a doubt. A excellent example is cutting edge.
Jonathan: In technology, there is a version where cutting edge makes sense, and I believe it is when you are really doing things that are legitimately pushing things ahead using data, science, and other such things. When someone claims they’re on the cutting edge, I usually hear it in terms of apps or social media, and all it really means is that they’re ready to spend eight hours checking out the Yo App, which just sends individuals a message saying, “Yo.”
Peter: Let’s speak about the term “viral,” which is a wonderful one. I believe the term viral has long since lost its meaning and direction.
Jonathan: Yeah, and simply the notion of having anything go viral, you can’t really follow a formula anymore. Then there’s the notion that just because something is spreading at a particular rate doesn’t mean it’s gone viral or is becoming viral.
Peter: I don’t believe it’s the quantity of views; rather, it’s the spread rate. There is a theoretical rate at which, and this typically has to do with video sharing, a certain number of individuals share the video from the origin source, and that number becomes self-replicating. But, to return to your argument, today it just means “popular,” so why not just say “popular”?
Jonathan, A lot of individuals, I swear, use the word “actually” a lot. It’s almost as if it’s a filler word these days, yet it has significance as well. If any of you, listeners, use the term “really,” it may be a good idea to eliminate it. Instead of simply using it to emphasize, like the word “literally,” replace it with “I was shocked to find out” or “you may not be aware.” It’s a little excessive, which begs the question, “What’s with begging the question?”
Jonathan: When I’ve seen individuals use the term “begs the question,” it’s because they want to segue into a follow-up inquiry after hearing someone explain something, so they say, “Well, that begs the question.” Isn’t that not what it really means? The term “begs the question” really means “inside your initial statement, your statement presupposes a fact, but it’s kind of like a form of circular reasoning where something is assumed to be true within the statement itself.”
Peter: What I believe is important for small companies is what we can learn from this concept of asking the question. When you’re providing data to a prospective client, you don’t want to offer anything that’s logically unsound, logically wrong, or, to put it another way, has holes in it.
Jonathan: Now let’s talk about various ways of thinking that may be incorrect and have an impact on how you run your company.
Peter: There are certain things that are so frequent that they’ve been given a name: logical fallacies. The list of logical fallacies is one of my favorite pages on Wikipedia. The gambler’s fallacy is a term used to describe a set of erroneous thinking patterns. It’s the age-old question of whether if I flip a coin a hundred times, the hundred and onest time will be heads or tails.
Peter: Yes, that’s correct.
Jonathan: All right. Yeah.
Peter: It’ll always be fifty percent; everyone understands that it’s a 50/50 probability. However, if I stated I just flipped a coin 100 times and each time it came up heads, what are the chances that the next one would come up heads? You will be affected by that.
Jonathan: Right, I’m going to say there’s a better chance it’ll be tails since the odds are meant to be fifty-fifty.
Peter: This is an excellent topic for companies to consider, and I just suggest that you read these Wikipedia pages. They’re fascinating to read. It’s fascinating to observe where your brain clicks and which portions of these your brain struggles with. The fact that they are termed fallacies and that they occur in such frequent situations is often due to how simple they are to fall into. “The Hot-hand Fallacy,” in my opinion, is the greatest example. This is a well-researched and well-observed one where the initial concept was that if you’re playing basketball and one person is shooting better than the rest of the team, people would pass to him more often. It does neither enhance or reduce your generalized chance of making that basket, according to all research. It’s true at the corporate level, too, with sales, flash sales, selling one product over another, price points, and so on.
Jonathan: Cherry-picking and confirmation bias are two additional logical fallacies.
Peter: Confirmation bias is, without a doubt, one of the most pernicious forms of erroneous thinking. As soon as you believe you are right, you want to cherry-pick the data points that support your position and ignore, if not completely dismiss, data points that contradict your beliefs.
Jonathan: And here is where confirmation bias can really create issues, because a lot of people believe, “Well, just because I have an assumption doesn’t mean I’m just going to look for evidence that supports it.” One issue that may arise is thinking, “Oh, I’m a clever person, so I’ll test things out and try to refute it,” but even in your efforts to disprove your hypothesis, you may be leaving things out without recognizing it. In the end, you’re attempting to prove something you already believe to be true.
This is why scientists must conduct double-blind studies. There will be some kind of effect on the nature of the thinking as soon as you have a subject in there who is conscious of the fact that they are being tested or aware of the nature of the test. Even the tests you conduct are skewed toward proving the argument you wish to make. There is no such thing as pure science, and the same is true in business. There is no such thing as real analytics. Most companies simply create tests and then test the data points that they believe should be checked. There are several methods to liberate your mind from this kind of thinking and break away from the ruts of continuously repeating the same thoughts. Identifying them is usually the first step. Recognize that this is what you’re doing, and then consider if you need to find a way out.
I believe the most common style of thinking that afflicts all companies is referred to as “post hoc,” “ergo propter hoc,” or “cum hoc ergo propter hoc.” This is literally connecting two items that aren’t linked in any way. It rained the day before yesterday, and sales were down. Are those two things connected, Jonathan? They might be or they could not be. Do I offer umbrellas for sale? The one I described before, “post hoc,” occurs when something occurs immediately after something else. Our website traffic decreases when it rains. Why would it happen on a worldwide website like ours? It doesn’t, and it has nothing to do with each other; it’s simply a worldwide coincidence.
Jonathan: The fundamental premise is that correlation does not imply causality. We have a preoccupation, particularly in America, with idolizing individuals who have made it to the top, which is a wonderful example of correlation rather than causation. “What factors led to your success?” we inquire. “How did you do it?” “Well, I never let failure bother me,” and “I persevered when everyone else said no” are two phrases that crop up often. All of these things serve to boost one’s ego. It’s also true that we don’t ask the same questions of those who fail. “What went wrong that led you to fail?” It’s possible that the solution is the same. “Well, I didn’t listen to people when they said something wasn’t going to work, and I didn’t let my failures upset me, therefore I failed.”
Peter: I believe that this is a fantastic approach to introduce our next guest, but I also hope that our listeners will leave the program and try something new. I simply believe it’s a fantastic opportunity for any company owner to broaden their horizons and consider how they think on a daily basis, as well as what tests they’re conducting, as you said Jonathan.
Jonathan: So, as a company owner, attempt to identify your weak areas, test things to uncover those weak spots, and then go back to those terms and phrases you shouldn’t be utilizing. Don’t attempt to seem or sound smarter than you are; it’s OK to utilize your own intellect level, and others will appreciate it.
Peter: Sure, use the phrase that expresses what you’re trying to say.
Jonathan: That’s right.
Peter: There’s no need to complicate things. Is it appropriate for us to meet our next visitor?
Jonathan: That sounds excellent; let’s speak with Joe about it.
Peter: That’s OK.
Jonathan: Hello, Peter. Joe Pulizzi, the creator of Content Marketing Institute, is our guest today. He’s been in business for a long time. He wants to speak to us about his fourth book, “Content, Inc.,” which is just general excellent advice from an expert in content marketing and creating an audience to sell your product. Joe, thank you for coming.
[inaudible 00:14:23] Joe: I’m delighted to be here. I’m ready to start chatting about content marketing or anything else you two want to discuss.
Peter: Where do you start when it comes to a main street small company, the finest food cart in town, or an online Etsy reseller? There’s an all-or-nothing attitude to this, so how do you even get started?
Joe: Well, you’re correct; all of the communication channels may make you feel completely overwhelmed. There are no longer any barriers to entry for producing content or publishing since it costs you nothing to publish online nowadays, whether you chose to produce a podcast, a blog, or some other kind of social media. Start with “What am I going to do?” rather than “What am I going to do?” Is this going to be an email newsletter or a print publication?” Begin by asking, “What is my story?” “What am I going to talk about, and with whom am I going to speak?” You have many various types of audiences, so who in your audience are you going to speak to if you’re a pet supply store down the street?
Let’s utilize that example since it’s an excellent one. Let’s suppose you’re on Main Street, you run a little pet supply store, and you announce, “Hey, I’m going to start a blog on pet supplies.” “Good luck with that,” I’d remark. How can you compete with companies like Petco and PetSmart, who have multibillion-dollar marketing budgets and are canvassing the area?” You can’t do it. Let’s suppose you have a segment of your audience that is passionate about dogs. Let’s suppose they like traveling with their dogs and happen to be in recreational RVs while doing so. That’s exactly what I’m talking about, concentrating on a certain audience. What’s more, guess what? If you accomplished that, and let’s suppose you created a weekly blog post for that audience and sent it out to your consumers, you might be the world’s leading authority on that subject because, believe it or not, no one else is covering it.
That’s where you have to start modest in this area if you want to grow large, but don’t start with, “Oh my goodness, is it Facebook, is it Twitter, is it LinkedIn?” Simply ask yourself, “What’s the narrative I’m going to tell?” How am I going to make a positive difference in someone’s life and be really valuable?” Then there’s the question of “How do we do it?” “Does it seem to be an e-newsletter, an eBook, a white paper, or a podcast?” You can’t put the cart in front of the horse; you have to find out what the narrative is about first. It’s not about what you sell; after all, who cares about what you sell? No. They are preoccupied with their own issues. Let me flip that around a little bit and use Marcus Sheridan from River Pools and Spas as an excellent example of how you can utilize the Content, Inc. model, which we discuss in the book, to improve your small company.
“We want to become the greatest instructor in the world at fiberglass pools, at building fiberglass pools, at selecting fiberglass pools, and why to do it against concrete pools, and all that stuff,” Marcus adds. They claim to be a teacher initially, then add, “And we simply happen to install them.” I believe that if you want this to succeed, and if you want to create an audience that eventually becomes a customer database for you, or if you want to retain your clients for longer, you must have that mindset now. It’s like, “How am I assisting my target audience every day?” Then, “Oh, by the way, I sell flowers” or “I sell pet supplies” or “I install heating and air conditioning equipment.”
I believe we get so focused on the thing we offer that we forget that most of the time, our consumers are uninterested in it. What is it that they are concerned about? Every day, I’ll have to find out how to provide them an experience that will cause them to cut through the clutter and pay attention to what I have to say, regardless of what I’m selling. That is very difficult for a small company to accomplish, but if you can do it, it will totally alter your business since you will be so focused on your audience’s informational requirements. By doing so, you increase your chances of selling more in the future.
Jonathan: That’s fantastic, and Joe I believe you discussed the Content, Inc. concept briefly before. Could you please clarify it to us?
Joe: What we did was interview dozens upon dozens of these world’s most successful, amazing, and fastest-growing companies, all of which began by developing an audience that returned to their material, whether via email newsletters, YouTube videos, podcasts, blogs, or whatever. They developed an audience and grew into these very successful businesses. We discovered them all around the globe and discuss them in the book. What I did was look at each of those models and reverse-engineer them, and what was remarkable was that they all followed the same six stages.
The six stages are as follows: To begin, you must determine your sweet spot. Your sweet spot is the intersection of two things: something you’re passionate about as a person or as a company, and something about which you have some expertise or skill set, as well as authority to speak. Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, is an excellent example that we discuss in the book. He is, in fact, the world’s foremost authority on backyard poultry rearing. This is fantastic—
Peter: And there’s a lot of whispering.
Joe: And speaking in hushed tones to them. Exactly. He went by the moniker “Chicken Whisperer,” and he had a genuine love for educating. His buddies were curious about backyard poultry, so he began teaching them. He was really enthusiastic about it. At the same time, there was no knowledge of keeping hens in your backyard as a thing, and he couldn’t locate any professional information on the subject. He eventually rose to the position of top specialist in this field. That became his sweet spot, and he now runs a very successful company with publications and books, as well as a radio program with 20,000 weekly listeners. He came up with the concept of the sweet spot, which combines passion and expertise.
After that, you go on to Step Two, which is your content tilt. Simply put, what is an area with little to no informational rivalry in which you may be the world’s top authority on something? Return to the pet supplies example I gave you before. You can’t simply start a blog on pet supplies because there’s too much competition. “Hey, maybe I can be the top expert in individuals who prefer to travel with their dogs in RV vehicles in Upstate New York,” you must concentrate on. You must become that particular, and if you do, you will have discovered an area with little to no competition in which you can be the expert. That is your plan. That’s your strategy: Step One and Step Two.
The third step is to construct the foundation. This is where the work begins. That means you blog once a week, or you have a podcast once a week, or you produce a video once a week. Whatever the situation may be, you must publish as if you were a media business. By the way, this isn’t simple; as you said before, it takes time, but if you have the patience and can do it consistently, like a media business, we’ve discovered that you’ll be extremely successful.
Now we’ll go on to the last three stages. After that, we’d want to gather the crowd. We’re trying to develop an audience, and what’s the best way to accomplish that? Email, believe it or not, is not dead; in fact, email marketing is the most effective method. We wish to have the greatest control over our email subscribers. There’s nothing wrong with using social media to develop an audience on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but we don’t have control over those relationships; Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter do. We want to leverage our social media connections to grow our email subscriber database, which we have some control over.
After that, we’ll go on to Step Five. As we see all of these very successful companies, we notice that they begin to diversify. I used Andy Schneider as an example; after his radio program was up and running, he released the world’s finest book on backyard poultry, which is now the number one bestseller on Amazon. Then, believe it or not, he started a magazine called “The Chicken Whisperer.” He’s become a global specialist, and he does what every successful media business does: after you’ve established a minimum viable audience, diversify your channels. Then, of course, there’s the most crucial question: “Hey, how can I make money off of this?” The last step is commercialization.
So, what exactly do you do? Are you able to persuade your consumers to remain longer? Do you go out and discover new consumers that have never heard of you before and sign up for your newsletter? Could you sell advertising and generate new income sources as a result of your audience? There are many various methods to earn money. It was done by Copyblogger Media, which sells internet goods. It was accomplished by [Maz 00:22:36] using internet goods. Matthew Patrick, who has five million followers on his Game Theory program, monetizes it mostly via product sales and YouTube advertising. Ann Reardon is the baking queen of Sydney, Australia, with two million YouTube followers. She was able to do so by selling agreements with other baking businesses. There are many methods to earn money. At Content Marketing Institute, we accomplish this via our events.
The six-step model is as follows. We go through each of the book’s six stages one by one. It may be the business plan for every small company or entrepreneur who wants to be successful, in my opinion. If you can give it twelve to fifteen months, which many people don’t like to hear, but this isn’t like advertising where you say, “Hey, I’ll advertise; I’ll see all these people coming into the shop.” That isn’t the case. Building a devoted audience takes time, but what we’ve seen is that if you have the patience and put in the effort, you can develop some of the most amazing companies I’ve ever seen.
Jonathan: That’s fantastic. Joe, I believe you said before that the timeframe for getting this up and running is twelve to fifteen months. What would you say as a word of encouragement to someone who is in month six or who is eager to get started right now but will be six to eight months down the road and not getting the results they want to see, feeling burnt out and like this was a waste of time? What would you say to them to encourage them to keep going?
Joe: The only thing I can say is that the greatest media businesses of all time, which we all know and love, were not overnight triumphs, and I’ve been in the media industry for almost fifteen years. It’s hilarious because someone said, “Yeah, but Joe, but Buzzfeed simply sprang out of nowhere, and their material was all over Facebook in 2012, 2013.” “Did you know they began in 2006?” I asked. And they’ll say things like, “Hey, look, ESPN, they’re everywhere.” “Did you know they began in 1979?” I ask. You’re building an asset if you really want this to succeed and if you want your company to be successful in the long run. It’s not like advertising, where if you purchase an ad, you have to get the most value out of it immediately soon because it’s gone; it’s no longer there.
That isn’t the case with content; it will continue to serve as an asset for your company. That video that was up there, like your vacuum example, might have been made a year ago. If you look at BlendTec, a well-known blender maker, they have videos from 2007 and 2008 of them mixing up iPods and iPhones and other items that are still running strong and bringing in great income. I believe you should consider things in that light and be patient. I believe that if you set your expectations to realize, “Look, we’re in it for the long haul,” you will be able to take as many victories as you can. It’s fantastic if someone shares your article. You want people to sign up for your email newsletter; this takes time, but you should enjoy each one as it comes in.
I believe at the end of the first year, I had gotten to three thousand subscribers; I was overjoyed. We now have a total of 143 thousand people five years later. It simply functions as an asset that grows over time, and if you stay with it long enough, you will succeed. To your point, cheer, you need to be a little more “rah rah” about some of the little details that occur when someone mentions your article or you make a transaction via one of your pieces of content. Share this with your team so that everyone begins to think that this will work.
Peter: Finally, we were talking about catch phrases, buzzwords, things people don’t need to say in the workplace, common fallacies, and commonly misused phrases; do you have any favorites in that genre or anything that these small business owners should avoid in terms of becoming too jargony or businessy in their writing?
Joe: My favorite thing to do is go to people’s About Us pages on their websites, which I do all the time, not to make fun of them. “We are world class,” “we have revolutionized,” or “we are best of breed” are common phrases. Just talk like a human being, I would advise. None of these are required. Isn’t it true that you’ve run across them? Even large corporations are the worst at this because they go and put in every kind of term you can think of that no one ever uses in plain English, as if they had some great copywriter do it for them. I’d just suggest that you have a look at your About Us page as a starting point. If you speak it and it sounds strange, as if it wasn’t actually spoken, you should definitely rewrite the entire thing. Simply put, tell it like it is.
Today’s material is becoming more human, and you want to just talk like a human person. That, I believe, is something that people enjoy. You’ve got big issues if they read anything you’re telling them and then have to sit back because they’re not sure whether they understand. You need to cut through the clutter right away, so any of those large phrases may be left out. World class is probably my favorite. What does it mean to be “world class”? “I’m the greatest in the world,” does it imply? “I’m going to a class that’s on the other side of the world”? I have no idea what it implies. Because it’s been used so often, it’s lost its significance for most people. Try something different. Be of assistance.
Peter: Please assist me in assisting you.
Joe: Right now, we’re all going to see Jerry Maguire.
Jonathan: Joe, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Is there a place where folks can get additional information about you or the book? Where can we get additional information?
Joe: Without a doubt. If you have any questions about the book, Content, Inc., you can go to content-inc.com right now and get information on the book, where to buy it, and if you don’t have any money or are extremely cheap, there’s a free chapter and an eBook that gives you twenty of the best case studies that we discuss in the book. Go to content-inc.com, and for those of you on Twitter, my handle is joepulizzi, p-u-l-i-z-z-i.
Jonathan: That’s fantastic, and we can certainly provide links to both of them in our show notes so that people can quickly find them.
Joe: It’s been a joy talking with you, gentlemen. This was a good time.
Thank you very much for joining us, Jonathan.
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