“Two roads diverged in a wood and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost
Sometimes in our business, we might be tempted to take the well-traveled road, the road everyone else is taking. We may not want to put in the effort that taking the harder path requires. In today’s episode, Ali Schwanke and I will discuss how doing video may be harder but worth it. We’ll also discuss Ali’s entrepreneurial journey, content marketing, and quick wins.
Ali Schwanke is the CEO and founder of Simple Strat, a boutique agency that simplifies content marketing for B2B technology companies worldwide. She has more than 15 years of marketing experience ranging from an in-house marketing agency to sales and entrepreneurship. She brings a practical and data-driven perspective to the practice of content marketing. She’s also the co-host of the popular YouTube series HubSpot Hacks.
The Path of Most Resistance
When I asked Ali what the greatest home run of her career is she said the most recent one is the YouTube series Hubspot Hacks. This series has generated over 3 million impressions on YouTube. The channel has almost 9,000 subscribers, and it has generated over 500 different top-of-funnel leads. Hubspot Hacks has also made well over six figures in revenue. “The reason that it’s a home run is,” she explained, “it’s one of those projects that came out of an inclination from a customer experience.”
Ali explained how Hubspot is a marketing technology platform that was originally created to help people automate their marketing activity, but it’s grown into more than that now. “It’s so big now that people don’t really know what to do,” Ali said. “They end up looking for how to do these very tiny things.”
“HubSpot has a lot of different knowledge center articles: ‘here’s how to set up your users,’ ‘here’s how to use video,’ [etc.]. But people were saying, ‘Show me, show me, I still don’t get it.’ [We knew] that people were using platforms like TikTok and . . . Instagram videos were really hot, and so people just wanted to see it.”
“We recorded some screencast videos,” Ali said. “It was literally: I record my screen. My face is on the lower left-hand side, I’m wearing a t-shirt, and we’re just walking through this screen share. We did it for a couple of things like ‘how do I do a workflow,’ ‘how do I do a landing page,’ and discovered that those got thousands and thousands of hits. People started asking us additional questions, and we thought, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here? Why isn’t this content anywhere else?’”
“So we decided to spin that off into a separate series and use that as a lead generator for our agency. We did that, and about six months into it, re-optimized based on what we knew about YouTube SEO at that time. It just took off, and then the pandemic happened and it really took off.”
“Even if there’s a type of content right now from your competition that already exists, people learn in different forms. Video is still one of the hottest places to get some traction because it’s hard [to do]. [But first] you have to be okay with being on video. Yes, you look like that, and yes, you sound like that, so stop freaking out about it. Secondly, you can’t edit a video the way you edit a blog . . . because you have to be a lot more thoughtful when you record it. That scares a lot of people away.”
Hubspot Hacks has been so successful because they gave value away for free to their target audience, and as a result of giving it away for free, they gained credibility and reach. Revenue came as a natural result of that, but it all came from providing value first.
Another reason they’ve been successful is because of the bigger barrier for entry. Video is harder for competitors, so there’s not as much competition there. Sometimes, as water looks for the downhill path and follows the path of least resistance, businesses look for the path of least resistance too.
Often, we should be heading in the opposite direction of the water because most of our competitors are going down the path of least resistance; they’re going to do the easiest thing. If we want to differentiate ourselves, set ourselves apart, and provide something unique, one of the easiest ways to do that is to take the harder path. Video is harder to do; not as many people are doing it, but it presents a great opportunity to position ourselves in the number two search engine in the world, YouTube.
“People forget that YouTube is a place,” Ali said. “It is home to a lot of people who [create] content: Red Bull videos, skateboard videos, cooking videos. But there’s an equal amount of people that are looking for business-to-business how-tos. I know I’ve used YouTube when it comes to ‘how do I do something in Evernote?’ ‘How do I set up something in QuickBooks?’ I’ve ended up on YouTube, and most of the time people don’t think about the journey someone takes after they’ve watched the video. That journey is how inbound marketing actually works. So putting some thought into the journey is important upfront.”
Ali’s entrepreneurial journey actually started in photography. She explained, “I wanted to rid the world of stock photography, knowing that the same four to five people seem like they work everywhere, because they’re in the cooking ads, they’re in the home ads, they’re in the B2B ads. That was several years ago, and at that time, not a lot of companies wanted to pay me.”
“So, I ended up building a business around weddings, babies, so on and so forth. But I still, at the end of the day, really wanted to use this authentic visual perspective to help drive better business marketing decisions.”
As her career progressed, Ali got lots of questions such as how to build a website, which she learned how to do. “Over the course of my career, I learned a lot about marketing from working for both myself and other people.”
She continued, “Where I ended up now is in a world where everybody wants the answer to something before they talk to a salesperson, and that is the role of content. That’s ultimately what I do today, and I love it. I find myself just being consumed by media, by podcasting, by videos, by written content and how it leads someone to make a purchase that they feel good about and solve the problem in their career.”
Content Marketing for B2B vs B2C
Ali’s company used to have a mixture of customers in B2B and B2C. They eventually decided to focus solely on B2B. “As you look at both marketing disciplines, B2C tends to have a very low price point, [and] a lot of one to one decision making.”
“For example, if I go and buy a pair of shoes, that involves me with a lot of different options, [but] at the end of the day it’s my decision. It’s usually not a committee. There’s usually not the need to read about how the shoe functions when I run [or] read about all the different ways that it’s made. You just buy a shoe because you want it, it looks nice, and you thought about it.”
In contrast, B2B is much more complex. “[It] tends to have committees of people that make decisions together. There tend to be larger budgets. There tends to be a lot of complexity involved in the sale. Sometimes [it takes] 12, 18, 24 months. [There’s a] need to continually nurture someone along that buying journey.”
“We found,” Ali explained, “that was so different that we decided to make that shift and focus solely on B2B, which then lends itself to content that attracts them to the website [and] gets them to learn what their problem is.”
They’ll find the solution to their problem, a solution they didn’t even know existed. “It’s almost like it’s their idea that they want to buy that thing, and then they feel like they had a hand in that buying experience.”
Focus on the Quick Wins First
Ali explained that when we’re starting out, we often don’t realize what we can sell. “People will pay money for things that we might otherwise take for granted. You can make money teaching anybody anything. Even if it’s easy for you, it might not be as easy for them.”
We can start with the things we know how to do well. We don’t have to build our business on something complicated that we don’t even understand yet. “People sometimes think ‘I’m gonna make $5 million,’ [but] you don’t make $5 million before you make $5. So, what is the first easiest thing that you already know that you can package and systematize and then turn around to the market?”
Thank you so much Ali for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. Giving away something of value for free can be a great lead generator.
2. Many of our competitors are taking an easier path. We can get ahead by taking the harder path that most people aren’t doing.
3. B2B can often lend itself better to content marketing because its purchase decisions are often more complex.
4. When we’re starting out, we can focus on the first easiest thing that we already know.
Connect with Ali
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