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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

Level Up Ep. 5: Thought Leadership and Content Strategy with Andy Crestodina

Andy is the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Orbit Media Studios. He’s spent about two decades helping companies to really get their content marketing right. James and Andy discuss what it really means to be a thought leader, and how such a person can put their growing influence to work for the benefit of others. 

Whether you lead a marketing team or not and whether you consider yourself a thought leader in your industry or not, everyone can benefit from thinking about their personal content strategy. Content, after all, is all about communication, and the ability to effectively communicate is a core tenet of leading.

“The philosophy of the content marketer is to help the person make the best buying decision. They are educators…guiding this person through the decision making process.”

James:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Level Up leadership podcast. I’m your host, James Lee and today’s episode is all about thought leadership and content strategy. So I had the pleasure of meeting Andy a little while ago, and I just couldn’t wait for him to be on this show with me. So Andy Crestodina is the co-founder and chief marketing officer for Orbit Media Studios. I think I got all of that right. All right, Andy. Thanks for being on with me today. 

 

Andy:

Glad to be here, James. Thanks for having me. 

 

James:

Yeah. I enjoyed our conversation so much when we got to meet and at the end of it, I thought, man, I should have hit record before we started talking, but I probably wouldn’t make a lot of friends that way. So I appreciate you coming back to have a second conversation with me.

Andy:

Oh, of course. Yeah, glad to be here. Thanks. This will be fun. That was a great conversation. And I’ve been looking forward to this. 

James:

Yeah, well I have too and I’ll try not to bombard you with too many questions. Just for our listeners here, just to kind of cue up what it is you do. So the subject of this episode is thought leadership. It mirrors a blog post that I wrote, not I wrote, that I read, you wrote it actually. And I enjoyed it quite thoroughly and it helped me to think about it in a new perspective. But attached to that of thought leadership was also having a content strategy and it never really occurred to me until I read your article and then subsequently spoke with you that you actually should write down a content strategy. So this is some of what I’d love to talk to you about. But before I do, I’d love to just know how’d you get into this world of marketing? I noticed it as I was looking at your LinkedIn background, I think you did undergraduate studies in Asian language and literature. So how did you get from there to being a co-founder and CMO of a successful media company?

Andy:

Well, so college, I fell in love with this thing, this language of Mandarin. And just had great teachers and was super motivated and didn’t have a better idea. So I changed my major to Mandarin. Didn’t know what I’d be doing with it, so I also got a certificate to teach. So graduating college, it looked like I was going to become a secondary, like a high school Chinese teacher. There were only two high schools where I could do that student teaching. So I finished my student teaching and then decided not to go right into teaching and instead moved into mom’s basement. This is like a classic story. Got a job at a Barnes and Noble and started applying for other jobs where I could try to use Chinese. There was a position open, international recruiter, applied, got the job thinking I’d be helping people from the mainland come to the US for software jobs. Didn’t happen.

Andy:

They quickly switched that role. So I was not doing international recruiting at all. I was just doing regular IT recruiting. Yeah. So more or less just helping programmers find jobs. This was in the nineties, like kind of in the era, the end of my era as a recruiters Y2K and the tech bubble was inflating and I didn’t want to do that forever. It didn’t get to make anything. I wanted to do something creative. So quit that job started building websites with my friend from high school and roommate from college. He’d been building sites since the mid-nineties. Launched the very first projects in early two-thousands, realized I had to better understand Google search, actually search engines in general, Google hadn’t quite finished winning the battle to become the dominant search engine and had to understand analytics. This goes back to the era prior to Google analytics.

Andy:

And so immediately became like kind of obsessed with digital marketing, just to help our clients get better results from the work we were doing. Fast forward, 2007, I realized I’ve got no way to keep in touch with all these companies that I’ve met over the years and clients we’ve helped. I need an efficient way to keep in touch with lots of people. I’ll start a blog and send my articles to this 300 people that I have email addresses for as a newsletter. That is mostly successful. It starts to evolve. I realized that a higher-touch format like in person would be a much better way to keep in touch with people. Websites are a lot about trust. So I started teaching in live events, giving presentations, and then eventually speaking at conferences. So fast forward a bit, I’m basically a teacher, which was what I was trained to be. I’m a content marketer, which is basically curriculum development. When content marketing is just helpful, useful stuff. It’s like writing technical writing, it’s like curriculum development. So full circle story. Some of the best marketers today are just great teachers. Ironically, I’m not using Mandarin at all, but there is a through-line in this story. And so today I’m a speaker and writer and teacher, and I’m one of those people online who try to help anyone who’s interested get better results.

James:

Yeah, that’s amazing. And I can attest to that as somebody who just recently spoke to you, I think we were introduced by a mutual contact, but still, the depth to which we were able to kind of take our first conversation just made me think, this guy just really wants to help people. And that was awesome. And so you ended up really still teaching you, you ended up being what you want to be when you grew up.

Andy:

I’m not sure if there’s anything better. Honestly, like more fulfilling in life, beyond professional, beyond anything, learn something useful and then teach it. That’s a fulfilling life. That’s good. I mean, parents do it, formal teachers do it, trainers do it, anyone anywhere has a chance to make a difference for someone else by teaching them something.

James:

Yeah. That’s amazing. You know, and I think it ties so well to my own philosophies about leadership is that people put a lot of mysticism around it, but at the end of the day, it’s teaching, isn’t it? 

 

Andy:

You’ve embraced this clearly, James, you know, very well, the power of and the impact of teaching and being a good conduit for information and advice and insights and wisdom. That’s what it’s all about.

James:

Yeah. Well, let’s see if we can deliver some of that today. No pressure. 

 

Andy:

And we set some expectations right there. Okay. 

 

James: 

So let’s segue from that into why somebody should even care about if they have a poor digital strategy, why should people be thinking about content marketing? And I’m specifically talking about leaders who are not in the specific discipline of sales or marketing or anything related to that function within an organization. I’d venture to say that the majority of people listening to this podcast are somewhere between, front-level managers of senior living companies to mid to senior-level folks. Probably the C-suite might be a little busy to listen to my, episodes at the moment. But, for the folks listening, they’re probably not all in marketing. So why should they care about this topic of content strategy?

Andy:

Well, if you look at your browsing history and I mean, literally like the history of your own browser, like see where you’ve been lately on the internet. And just try to remember why you visited those websites and then think more broadly why people go to websites, how decision-making works, how a high-stakes decision like senior living gets made. So the simple way to say it is, there’s two kinds of marketing, advertising, and content marketing. Advertising is inherently disruptive. You’re trying to interrupt that person while they’re doing something else. That’s what an ad is. Every ad you’ve ever seen interrupted you, that’s the point of advertising. And there are increasingly more and more ways to not look at ads. To block ads or unsubscribe, or do not call lists and everything, banner blockers. Content marketing is the opposite. It’s not the hammer.

Andy:

It’s the magnet. People search for stuff. They want information. They want answers. People share stuff. People subscribe to get more stuff. People register to get stuff. So content marketing pulls the audience toward you. Jay Baer puts says it nicely. “Advertising is the hype, content marketing is the help.” So no one in your pipeline will make a decision until they have sufficient information to get enough clarity and trust to get their objections addressed. Without content, how on earth do you hope to create demand? All of your visitors, all of your audience, every decision-maker, every influencer, the adult children who are supporting these decisions. If you don’t answer their questions, they know that there are a gazillion other options. So your best hope now is to be transparent, is to not keep secrets. Is to be inside out. Is to share stories, to share insights, to share statistics and data, and anything that helps that person get to that critical threshold of trust. Do they click to subscribe or click to register or click to schedule a tour? That’s the goal. 

 

James:

That’s amazing. I hadn’t thought of it that way before that advertisement is inherently disruptive, but you’re right. When you see an ad you’re pulled away from the thing that you were doing. So I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I love how you said it. I think you said advertisement, and this is from Jay bear, the help versus the hype. That’s a great way to think about this. So from a senior living perspective or whatever mission-driven industry or profession you might be in, if it’s a service-oriented profession, meaning you’re helping somebody at the other end of all of your work, a lot of people probably think about the advertisement, like when they think of marketing, when most people think of marketing, they probably go to advertisement. Is that fair?

Andy:

A lot of people have not yet fully grasped the distinction. So a lot of people, if they look at their marketing budget, they’re basically considering their ad budget. It’s true. 

James:

Yeah. And there’s a much bigger landscape to this obviously. I love this idea, this concept, that content strategy is where you’re helping people. And I think as long as I’ve seen within, on the operator side of the senior living industry, I look at the websites that have represented the organizations I’ve worked with and thought, man, you really don’t learn much from going on to that website. Other than seniors live here, we have great food, great care, great activities, come tour. That’s pretty much most of the websites.

Andy:

It’s a shot of the exterior. It’s four stock photos. It’s some bland copy. And a call to action. That is insufficient to create trust, demand, to create a word of mouth marketing, to separate that brand in any way. So yeah, one easy trick, when one litmus test, go look at your website and ask yourself, is there anything here that only we can say? Or is every word on this page, is every picture on this page, something that a brand new startup from yesterday could also claim. So a huge percentage of websites, literally every bit of information on that site is something that anybody in the industry could say. On the other hand, a testimonial is unique to you, statistics, years in business, number of happy residents, is unique to you. Photography of your food is unique to you. Quotes from your team are unique to you. You know, things that, any kind of accolade, anything that is specific enough to show how you are not just anybody else, can be helpful. It may not be, it may not be enough to do it. It may not be sufficient, but it’s absolutely true. You make a great point and anyone with a website, can just literally scroll down on any page and just ask, is anything here specific or unique to us? Or is it just coming to every website on the internet? 

James:

It probably speaks to the frustration of seniors and their loved ones probably experienced in the customer journey that everything seems geared towards, we’ll tell you all of that if you come for a tour. We’ll tell you what it costs. We’ll tell you what’s different about us, just come on in and we’ll tell you what it’s all about. I don’t know if you have a perspective on this. Why do you think that maybe it’s not exclusive to senior living, but I know I’ve seen it. Why do we not just put our prices online? Why do we not? Why do we not do content strategy in terms of helping people? Like dementia, just to take a very specific example. We know that it is something that is going to affect the vast majority of people who enter the senior living space. So if we’re talking about content that’s helping people, I think what I’m hearing you saying, Andy, is that regardless of whether or not you choose to buy it from us, here is a sleuth of resources that are going to help you deal with dementia, right?

Andy:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You can try to pitch, which obviously, we all need sales, but the philosophy of the content marketer is to help the visitor make a good buying decision. Actually, the best salespeople do this all the time. And you’ve been very close to that conversation and sales trainings over and over. The people who are the best at sales are not hammering the audience, they’re hammering their prospect with a message. They are educators, they’re informing, they’re sherpas. They’re guiding this person through a decision-making process. And in a lot of cases, helping them exclude their brand from another option. You don’t want unqualified people in your pipeline, unqualified people. Unqualified prospects don’t want to be in your pipeline and you don’t want them in your pipeline. So if you are a good teacher and help them get out and make a better choice somewhere else, that that’s a benefit to everybody.

Andy:

Totally. We are long past the era of secrets. Here’s an example. We’ve done this for higher education and higher ed sites don’t like to publish tuition. They don’t want to talk about it. But just go search for the school in Google. You’ll see the tuition on the side. What are you trying to hide? Is the Google search results page for your brand more informative than your website? If so, you are losing. You are not winning that battle because your Google search results page doesn’t have a call to action. You’re not even going to get the visitor in the first place. Having said that, price is special and we have done this for higher ed before. And if you don’t want to be transparent about costs and that’s not strange, maybe there’s a good strategic reason.

Andy:

You can still address it sometimes in a clever way. I’ve seen this done for a university, instead of publishing the tuition, which would have been misleading because most students get financial aid, we added a call to action that said, speak to a financial aid officer about help and questions related to tuition. So you’re not ignoring it, but you’re saying that that information is easily accessible. It’s just a click away. Start the conversation. You’re honoring the fact that that’s an important decision criteria for the visitor.

James:

Well, there’s a lot of work that we can certainly do on our digital presence and move away from the hype, get to the help. That’s a great nugget for me already. I’d like to kind of make a potentially a sharp turn in conversation because I could just pull this thread for 30 minutes. But I want to get to the topic of thought leadership. It was something that specifically kind of appealed to me, partly because what I’m doing now as a departure from my corporate work and community-based work, and senior living. So, I’ve started a consulting business this year, 2021, and I’m doing this, the guest for which you are on the show, Level Up.

James:

And the article that I read that you wrote about thought leadership, there were several things about it that that kind of hit me. But the first one, if I’m being honest was, do I want to self describe myself as a thought leader? It feels very arrogant. It feels kind of icky. And so I kind of shunned away from it from that perspective, but be that as it may, why is thought leadership and what is it first of all, in your own words, what is it and why is it important to any industry?

Andy:

Well, content marketing is about helpful, useful information. You can be educational. Many successful content programs are built on a how-to content. I believe that thought leadership is a subset of content marketing because it’s not just how-to, it adds a new criteria which is literally leadership. Expressing your beliefs so that people know where you’re going and they follow. It is about taking a stand. It doesn’t have to be controversial, but it is assertive and includes almost invariably, some sort of op-ed content. You are stating that you have these beliefs and that you are standing behind them and that this is something that people can also jump on board with. That’s the difference between leadership and management or just regular content marketing and thought leadership. So it’s the third ingredient. This was Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion, logos, pathos, ethos. 

Andy:

Without the pathos, you’re not really, I think that’s the difference. I don’t consider myself to be at all a thought leader. I have a successful content program without doing that, but the people who are really good at this, they come out for and against something, they take a stand. I’ll give you an example in the category of senior living. So we worked once with Juniper Communities, you may know Juniper. Lynne Katzmann has some strong beliefs about what life can be in your later years. And to exhibit this have you ever heard of the desert art party burning man?

James:

Yeah. This is kind of an infamous story in our circles. But I’d love to hear you tell it.

Andy:

Well, I’ve never heard it told and I’ve never had a conversation about it except with Lynne. So I’m not sure. I don’t know how the stories go in the community, but this is my view of how Lynne is doing thought leadership. She was not looking for press. She was not looking for marketing outcomes. She was simply doing something that she believed and took a bunch of 70 and 80-year-olds to this party in the desert called burning man. And people noticed. She got press. People stopped and looked at it. It created social buzz. It nailed basically all the marketing outcome criteria, but she wasn’t directly seeking that. It’s like that Ted talk she did. She’s just taking a stand on what she believes. And as such, she became a very different brand. Her marketing sounds different.

Andy:

You’re in your seventies, you’re in your eighties and you are growing as a person. You’re expanding your horizons. Who says that? I don’t see that in senior living marketing. Do you know the Pablo Casals quote? He’s like 95. He’s like this Portuguese cellist, I think Spanish, maybe Spanish cellist. You’re 95 years old dude, and you’re practicing for four hours a day. Why are you doing that? And he says, “because I’m getting better.” Bottom line. Grow. You’re alive. You’re a living, breathing human. You are alive. This isn’t like storage for old people. Senior living is not, it’s about thriving in your later years. Lynne knows that. She believes that. She’s fighting for that. And she has followers for that reason. That’s thought leadership. You can do helpful, useful content marketing without taking a stand. Caring for people with dementia, your white paper, your videos, your webinars. And that’s fine. And it may be successful, but I reserve the word thought leadership for this special category of people who are going to draw a line in the sand and plant a flag because they’re putting their beliefs out there.

 

James:

Yeah. That’s an amazing example of thought leadership and probably the importance of thought leaders within an industry. Maybe they’re the leading horse in the race that kind of pulls everybody towards a different direction.

Andy:

There is. I mean, without question, I bet you Lynne’s competitors talk about her. You have to. Agree or disagree, you can’t really ignore these. I got to ask a question of Seth Godin, legit thought leader, he was in a Q&A at a conference. And I’m like, so thought leadership, what is it, and he said, “thought leadership always makes assertions. And you can be certain that someone will disagree.” If nobody ever disagrees with anything you said, you’re really not even attempting the idea of thought leadership. Not that you have to. It’s optional. Not everyone wants to, and some brands are just too big. Leadership’s not on board. They’ll never go for that. They can’t publish any strong opinions. But for those that do, there is greater glory, especially on social media for people that make strong assertions. 

James:

Well, it definitely seems to be something that strikes a chord with people in my industry. I think there’s a growing number of people who feel a certain level of, I’d say frustration with a status quo. And I think this era of senior living, this COVID environment of senior living, and there’s no shortage of stories that are highlighting us in ways that we probably would prefer not to have. But you know, it seems like a moment for some courageous thought leadership to stand up, share a strong opinion, and to create a path forward. This is an industry that I think people love it. And then, if people who are passionate and leave don’t leave because they find something better, but it’s because that they don’t feel that they can still impact the thing that they love and for their own maybe emotional and mental health, they’ve got to get out of the way for a little bit.

James:

And as I speak with folks in the industry, there’s a, there’s a public-facing part of that, which I think is very closely linked to what we want seniors and families to hear about us. And then there’s the inside kind of commentary that’s going on about how do we change? How do we do better? And I think that the fact that people are aligned within organizations and cannot have a strong opinion or express that, maybe that’s the value of thought leaders within our industry who feel that freedom or have the luxury of not being tied to a corporate entity to do so. Maybe that’s how we change.

Andy:

You expanded the benefits of being a good corporate citizen, a good internet citizen, a true leader beyond what I was saying. I was saying, there’s a marketing, and sales and PR benefit from this. There’s a word-of-mouth benefit from this. You described something that’s more fundamental. I mean, it’s a customer. It’s an employee retention benefit. It’s to keep your team motivated benefit. It’s a, let’s be on the right side of things benefit. Yeah. So, it takes courage. It’s not for everybody. But those that are willing to do it. And when I’ve taught this at conferences, I try to also mention that you can have strong opinions about a lot of things. They don’t have to all be earth-shaking things like, take on the rating systems for senior housing.

Andy:

And someone comes in, puts their foot down, and says, A Place For Mom does not have your best interest in mind. That website is a lead gen site. And it’s not a, don’t make decisions, whatever your position is, but there’s lots of more mundane things that they could come out for or against. We’re sustainable senior housing and that’s why we were close to amenities because we don’t like carbon emissions. Or we think that cruise ships are Petri dishes for disease and we discourage our residents from taking, I don’t know, whatever, I’m just making these up, but you get it. 

James:

Well, it’s interesting. I’ve had a few close friends or colleagues in the industry kind of put that label on me at times of, they might even introduce it that way, like James Lee, he’s such a thought leader in our industry. And I read your blog. And after that criteria, I thought, no, actually, I don’t feel like I’m a thought leader in that. Here’s kind of my feeling on that. I know that there was a mental kind of line to which I would not cross. I have strongly held beliefs and opinions and quite frankly, I have a lot of strong opinions about what our industry is not doing well and what I hope to be a part of in creating positive change, but I can always like looking back on it. I can always see where that line was and my toe just got close to it and then never went over. And the litmus test for me was, most of the comments were positive. You know, it was just affirmative and positive. And I realized, I really hadn’t said anything that invited the other side of this dialogue. And, that was one of the kind of eye-opening kind of truths that came out in the blog for me. 

Andy:

Well, I think I could make the case that what you’re doing is thought leadership. You’ve said at least a few things on this call that are not normal marketing. For example, you pointed out that there’s the public face of these brands and that’s what happens on the inside and that’s not the same. As in like, there’s an inside view, and by the way, this is not an expose piece here, but I’m acknowledging that values are not reflected here. And this was a problem. You also spoke on behalf of the industry, not for a specific brand. You said the issues that need to be addressed across our industry. That isn’t a perspective of a normal content marketer giving advice. That’s not a how-to statement. It’s beyond education. That’s calling something out and pointing toward positive change. Normal content marketers don’t do that. So, James, I’m going to put you in the category of thought leader, because this is, the tone may sound just, we’re just having a conversation, but the scope and the perspective that you’re offering is not normal. It’s beyond that. And that gets to pathos that’s Aristotle’s thing. And you’re doing it.

James:

Yeah, well that’s certainly affirmative if nothing else. I’m going to record this podcast so that I can listen to it at this time, marker. When I’m feeling like I need a little motivation.

Andy:

Just keep going. No, you’re doing it right, James, this is it. You’re doing it right. 

James:

Well, I appreciate it. So, the premise of this podcast is to challenge myself to learn, and in so doing, hopefully help listeners to kind of tap into that realm of, I want to learn that thing too. So, one of the things that came out of my conversation with you, you pointed me to that blog article about I think you asked me, have you written down your content strategy? And, it was one of those moments where I thought, what the hell is my content strategy? Should I have a content strategy? And so I sat down, I did it. And then I updated my social media and my websites to reflect that. So I love this little formula you have, which is our content is where audience X gets information Y that offers benefit Z. So tell me a little bit more about that. I loved it. It made a difference for me, but tell me a little bit about it from your perspective.

Andy:

Well, that aspect of content strategy, and there are other parts of content strategy, there’s your cadence, and your publishing calendar, and your resources, and strategies bigger than that. But that part there is a foundational piece of every content strategy popularized by Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute. And it’s called the content marketing mission statement. Publishers that have had mission statements for a century and they write, and they basically say like, what the newsroom does here, what the publication is about. When a brand does that as they launch a content marketing program, if they document it, they’re statistically more likely to report success, according to the annual content marketing institute survey. So that’s what the industry says. The way that I’ve tried to enhance it or add to that is to make it simpler X, Y, and Z audience X, information Y, benefit C, and then to explain how you can repurpose that into a call to action or a social media bio.

Andy:

So when you turn that into a bio, so for us, our website, our blog posts, our videos, our social, everything we put on social media, and every email we send is where who? Digital marketers. Find what? Content strategy, analytics, and web design advice. Why? To get better results from their website. So now you can take information why the middle part there, practical advice about digital, about content, strategy, analytics, web design, and make that into a call to action. And the results are unbelievable. Like, it’s amazing what happens if you give people a reason to subscribe. They’ll subscribe. It’s like for this podcast. Whatever that says in the iTunes store or wherever that person sees that, if you tell them the benefit of listening and implicitly of subscribing, they’re far more likely to do it. It’s like contact us to talk about, contact a financial aid officer to talk about tuition. If you don’t give people a reason to do something, they’re just not that likely to do it. You’re really not a good marketer unless you give a strong why. So it’s repurposable as a CTA, which is a direct correlation with success.

James:

That’s amazing. It sounds so obvious when I hear it and talk about it now, but I look back on how many, like if I take my extension of this marketing experience, because really at this point I’m marketing myself, I’m marketing my services, my thoughts, my coaching, whatever. So when I looked at my LinkedIn, I looked at my social media and all of that, I thought, okay, what am I actually saying about myself? What is their call to action? Why should they subscribe? And I realized, all of my bios just said, Hey, here’s a little about me. And it had nothing to do with the value for why the audience would want to do something. It was hype, not help.

Andy:

That’s the difference. And most people’s social bios, and just say a little bit of about us and their calls to action to subscribe. I was preparing a presentation for the Smash Conference and I was looking for an example, it was very easy to find examples. Brookdale, big company, right? Their call to action for their email sign up, go look at it. It says, email, sign up, submit. Why on earth would anybody put their email address in there?

James:

Right. I mean, that’s a compelling ask, email submit.

Andy:

It’s a trust thing, right? Yeah. Who wants more email? It’s a really hard thing to get somebody to give you their email. You at least give them a reason to do it. Nobody’s just going to like, just spam the web with their email address.

James:

Yeah. Well, it all kind of comes back to this idea that, the goal, why anybody should care about thought leadership as a subset of content management strategy or content strategy, all of those things kind of tie back to, are you helping the person that you say you mean to help? And that’s kind of the thing that 13 years into this industry of senior living, I started off pretty young. I was in my twenties and I felt this kind of pull to just kind of stay in a career path, be a good steward of this role, move into the next one. Then you’ll get rewarded with the next promotion and someday you’ll make a difference in this industry. But that someday was very, very vague. And after a while I realized, you know what, unless I own this thing, even if I’m the CEO, if I’m not the owner, there’s always going to be a point at which I can’t proceed further than somebody’s permission granted to me to do my passionate work.

James:

So, even if this sounds like a crazy time to jump into doing work for myself, I thought, well, that’s the stake in the ground. That’s the moment to say, instead of looking backwards at the career I had, let’s start looking forward. I’ve got lots of time, hopefully, knock on wood to create the work I want to create. Which brings me back again to thought leadership content strategy. The question I had for you is, I do not make any of my money as of today from that. So I don’t have any sponsors for podcasts. I don’t monetize my blogs or newsletters. So it just costs me time and in some cases, it costs me money. But the more important part is it costs me time. And so where I do make my money is consulting. I have clients and I owe them work and I try to be very diligent about giving them the delivery of my work. They are lucky to have you well, thank you, Andy. Here’s my question. How much time should I be spending on something that isn’t producing, at least in my eyes, a direct kind of revenue path for me? How should I balance that time of being a practitioner of my work and executing it, but also creating content around my work?

Andy:

Yeah, it’s a myth that content marketing is free. A lot of people have said that. I may have said that. There are low out-of-pocket expenses, like technically the cost to launch a podcast, how much money did we spend? The software is free, distributions free, their computer has a mic built-in or something like that. So there are big cash outlays to get involved. But also it can be very, very time-intensive to do this stuff. So I write an article every two weeks and these things are like eight to 10-hour content projects. Every article I write is like in-depth research or super detailed how to stuff and with contributor quotes from experts and sometimes video and detailed screenshots. So, why would I do that?

Andy:

Well, one of the things I keep in mind while creating content is that it’s a bit different than spending time in a normal way. It feels more like investing time because if done with forethought and in a calculated way, it stays out there. Content is durable. These things, unless your content strategy is to publish news, every piece of content that you ever publish will stay in the world and can still get traction, can still be promoted, can still persuade someone. So it’s a flywheel effect. You have to keep doing it for a while before you start to get much traction, ask any YouTuber, ask any social media influencer in the beginning, it’s a big act of faith if you prioritize it, and if you stay efficient with it, it often will pay huge dividends.

Andy:

If you’re in a rush to see the impact of it, there are ways to produce content that what I call zero waste. For example, if you want to, right now, even before you publish this podcast, you and I are both getting value because we’re connected with each other. Collaborative content connects you with influencers or sometimes thought leaders or sometimes prospects, or sometimes journalists. If you want to meet someone, kind of a tough to just say, “Hey, will you talk to me?” Start a podcast and everyone will talk to you.

James:

I found that to be true, case in point. Yeah.

Andy:

Another way. If you produce content that addresses information needs of people who are already in your pipeline, then you can send it to them or share it with them directly. So even if nobody ever shares it or clicks, or if it never ranks in search, or it has a 0% open rate in email, you can deliver content directly to current prospects or people in your pipeline or print that guide and give it to people who took the tour. Produce sales-focused content for people who are already in a consideration stage, and that’s an automatic win. So there’s two, at least there’s at least a couple of ways to produce content that’s guaranteed to produce ROI. 

James:

Well, it’s a helpful perspective to think about it as an investment of your time. It’s not so much an opportunity cost, it’s an investment of your time into something. It’s almost like a Ponzi scheme of content that it comes back to me the source. If I can create something that’s helpful, people will come back to it.

Andy:

Advertising disappears. The second you stop paying for an ad, it disappears from the world. Content marketing never disappears. It stays around forever. Content is slow but durable. Advertising is fast, but temporary. So a good strategist will look at it, look at a brand or look at a value proposition and decide whether to try to play a long game. This company here, web design and we happen to be in Chicago, we generated 900 leads last year. It’s likely I’ve generated a lead while we’ve been talking. People just contact us all day without any ads. I’ve never spent a dollar on advertising. It’s possible to build big brands without ever writing a check for an ad. It’s a hundred percent organic inbound content approach.

James:

Yeah. You know, as I’m hearing you say that Andy, I’m reflecting on how I even got my initial set of clients when I launched Bear Wise Consulting in January and I sat down and I started thinking about creating a little pro forma for James Lee. How am I going to create revenue around my work and I got to that line about advertising and marketing and I wasn’t really sure what to put in there. And I thought, how am I going to convince people to come be a client of mine and to pay me for this work and thought? The clients that I have now, they didn’t respond to an advertisement. They either already knew me from my work or got connected through somebody who knew me and believed in my work.

James:

And I got to think, the time spent on putting my thoughts on LinkedIn and sharing my thoughts in webinars or speaking at state assisted living conferences at the time, I thought, man, I’m not getting paid for this. It’s a lot of time I got to put into it, but I’m looking at the revenue of my consulting business now and I’m linking it back to that time investment. So if I think of it that way, this time investment into content strategy, or thought leadership, that’s going to yield a multiple down the road.

Andy:

It’s probably a year and a half for a lot of people would report on a duration like that. But if it could give you some sense for where this goes, and we’re talking about the benefit of a brand becoming a publisher, in the long run, there are some of us for whom the marketing makes money. People pay to come to our annual conference. People buy the book. There are lots of brands where it’s like Red Bull, extreme example, but they make a ton of money licensing their content like the dude jumps out of the spaceship or whatever. But even smaller brands like ours, 40 person company, people pay to get our content. So in the early days, you’re pitching people to try to get your content in their publication. Fast forward, four years, people start pitching you to get their content on your publication. The laws of physics sort of reverse for brands that do this well enough long enough and hard enough.

James:

Well, that’s something to definitely have as a milestone observation of if I start to sense that shift, I will know that this time will have been for some purpose. I could talk to you forever, but we’re kind of wrapping up on our time allotment together. So I wanted to ask a few other questions beyond thought leadership and content. I’m always curious about people’s perspective on this industry, the senior living industry. I’ve been in it for 13 years and part of my kind of stepping into the consulting and podcasting and doing coaching and leadership development, part of that is honestly, for myself to kind of get out of the echo chamber of senior living. Which is, there’s a lot of great opportunity for change. But I’m always curious what people think about us, who aren’t us. Meaning, the day-to-day work of senior living. What are your thoughts on our industry, outside looking in? And do you have any advice for this amazing industry of people who are seriously passion-driven? They’re the blood, sweat, and tears people that we talk about? What do you think about our industry outside looking in and what piece of advice might you have for us if we want to get better?

Andy:

Well, from the outside I feel sympathy for the adult child influencer who’s looking for a place for her parents, because I think she and you were the one who taught me, it’s largely female.

James:

It’s almost predominantly, the adult daughter. And then I would say, number two is the daughter-in-law and then us guys.

Andy:

Interesting. Yeah. Fascinating insight. But I feel sympathy for or even the potential resident who’s doing this research because, from the outside, it all looks so much the same. These brands look so similar that I don’t know how, at least through a browser on the internet, you can really tell much about how are these different, which one makes sense? Like, it’s like the only way that I could possibly even differentiate these is just by looking at located location, it’s like a location difference. Just a total lack of differentiation from the outside looks to me like a big problem as a marketer. I just don’t understand the brand positioning of these places. Separate from that, I would say that if there was something that tended to work well, so when things look quite bland from a distance, what the consumer will do is look for word of mouth, help, referrals, talk to friends, go to their network.

Andy:

That’s what you and I would do, right? You’d definitely start talking to people. Absolutely. So knowing that is the reality, I would, if I was like a director of marketing at a community, I would say, what is even a little bit different about us and how can we package that up in a way that makes it easier for people to share? So this is the, for example, there’s an activity here it’s different from most. We’ve got a bunch of seniors wearing VR goggles today. This is awesome. It’s hilarious. It’s fun. I need to capture that, put it into a format that goes to everybody that they can then share with others. Facilitate word of mouth, putting a spotlight on that one thing that’s different, and packaged in a format that’s very compelling and that has legs like, like a video. Like put the video into emails that are easily forwarded because without that, you’re really just the same as everybody else. 

James:

I love that. So really at a local level here, and this is a really great point, Andy. A lot of people can feel distant from the topic of marketing content, and strategy, just overall strategy because it feels like it’s a home office task and we just kind of do what they tell us we’re going to do. But everything that you just shared with me as examples are things that a local sales and marketing director could do. And what you’re saying is like help people tell the story you want them to tell about you.

Andy:

That is the ultimate approach to social media. People say they want to go viral, but really viral is just successful word of mouth. If you want to facilitate word of mouth by creating portable, compelling content that spotlights a difference at that community, that is I think your best chance to know highly referral driven category. 

James:

Yeah. That’s amazing insight. All right. We’re going to shift out of this to go back to the macro and finish us up here. If you are not the chief marketing officer for a digital agency, what would you be doing right now?

Andy:

Teaching Mandarin in an Iowan high school. I really don’t know. In a future career, I’m interested in becoming like higher ed, like do like some kind of college level thing. But keeping a foot in consulting probably I’d be doing something like what you’re doing. I’m just trying to be a strategic advisor, kind of a gun for hire, I’d be producing content the way you are right now. But it also tried to augment that by being like maybe even doing like classroom work at a local university.

James:

Well, that was my takeaway is, Andy when you are a grownup, you can be me. That was kind of the point of this conversation. So I’m glad we circled around to it. We finally got that. It’s a long process to get there. No kidding. Of course. I’ve loved this conversation with you, Andy. I hope we’ll continue to stay in touch and have more conversations like this. So if folks are interested in kind of digging in a little bit deeper on everything you’ve shared, how can they find you?

Andy:

My best advice is published every two weeks at orbitmedia.com. If you want that delivered to your inbox, I don’t send any emails except that you get an email once every two weeks, if you sign up at orbitmedia.com. LinkedIn would be my best network if you want to connect with me somewhere. My name, as you know, is spelled like it sounds, Crestodina. And the book is on Amazon, which is really everything in my brain between two covers, for whatever 20 bucks, called Content Chemistry.

James:

You’re telling me, I could have just gotten all of this in book format for 20 bucks?

Andy:

You still can. Yeah. Not too late.

James:

It’s your call to action.

Andy:

I’ll send you a text. You need to just send me a mailing address and I’ll send you a book from this box.

James:

Oh man. That would be awesome. I’ve appreciated this by the way. I’ve taken so much of your advice and just to conversations that we’ve had. And I did publish a LinkedIn newsletter by the way. It’s a weekly newsletter. It’s great. There’s like 1500 people who signed up in just like a couple of articles.

Andy:

Amazing. I’ve never seen anything work that well. Yeah. That is a magical button. If you get that create newsletter button in LinkedIn, make sure to click that.

James:

Yeah. Well, you’re giving me tons of graded by someone to keep you on my quick dial list. Thanks for joining us, Andy. And for everybody else, thank you for listening to another episode of Level Up leadership podcast. Make it a great day.

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Level Up Ep. 5: Thought Leadership and Content Strategy with Andy Crestodina