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Thinking Critically with Ann Handley

By January 22, 2019September 23rd, 2019Interviews

As a writer, digital marketing pioneer and WSJ bestselling author, Ann Handley hardly needs an introduction. In this interview, she shares her insights into how marketing has changed over time, the most valuable social media channel for marketers and how to make more of an impact as a marketing professional in your community.

By the way, if you like what Ann has to say with us, you can sign up for her fantastic new biweekly newsletter.

Q: As Head of Content at MarketingProfs and a WSJ bestselling author, you’re consistently named one of the most influential marketers in the country. What has your journey been like in marketing and how has it changed over time?

Ann: Oh boy. How much time do we have…? LOL

I went into Marketing by way of writing.

When I was 8 years old, I wrote in my diary that I wanted to be a “writter.” But I thought writing a diary was boring. I wanted an audience — someone to interact with. I craved community, comments, Twitter, Facebook (even if social media hadn’t happened yet… LOL). (The truth is that the Internet hadn’t happened yet, either.) 

As a kid in the Boston suburbs in the pre-Internet age, my ability to build an audience was limited. So I created a neighborhood newsletter, which I delivered on my bike to my neighbor’s mailboxes.

Eventually, I learned to spell “writer” and I became a writer, journalist, editor, and (when the Internet happened) a content publisher.

I worked at newspapers, magazines, and became the world’s first Chief Content Officer at one company (ClickZ) and now hold the title at another (MarketingProfs).

What I did from my bedroom with my neighborhood newsletter is exactly what drew me—decades later—to Marketing: It’s all about telling a story that connects with an audience.

In that way, Marketing hasn’t changed at all. The tools and platforms have changed. Our approach has shifted. But Marketing fundamentals remain constant.

Measuring ROI has been a consistent challenge for content marketers and marketers in general over the past decade. How do you think the industry has progressed in this area?

Content Marketing overall is getting increasingly better at connecting actions and outcomes. This chart from the MarketingProfs/CMI 2019 content marketing research shows that the most successful content marketers actually MEASURE ROI.

And what’s more, marketing is getting better at identifying an array of goals for content marketing, throughout customer and prospect touchpoints. Getting beyond “brand awareness” is the best way to demonstrate ROI – even if that is the #1 action, still.

Full report

Q: Between writing two books, speaking at conferences and managing MarketingProfs, you’ve really made your mark over the years. What has been your most fulfilling moment so far?

Ann: This moment when I became the first recipient of the Hero Award, and the first Hall of Fame inductee into the Content Marketing Institute’s Hall of Fame. The peer recognition means a lot to me.

Having Everybody Writes appear on the Wall Street Journal best-seller list organically was cool, too.

And more broadly, seeing content embraced by marketing to the point where “content marketing” is just “marketing”….well, that’s everything.

Q: Your book Everybody Writes really hits the nail on the head by saying that while anyone can put a pen to paper; it takes a true content marketer to engage with a target audience. What inspired you to write the book?

Ann: Because you can be a great writer without also being a great marketer. But I don’t believe the opposite is true: To be a great marketer you must be a clear, vivid writer. And communicator.

Q: What advice would you give to marketing professionals who want to be more influential in their communities and organizations?

Ann: Figure out what you stand for. What makes you you?  What’s your thing? Don’t worry too much if it overlaps with what other people’s thing. (It probably does.)  What’s unique will be your approach, take, voice.

Next: Hone your voice.

Finally, step up. I wrote about that here.

Q: What social media channel do you find most valuable for content marketers?

The most valuable social media channel for any individual content creator is the one they love interacting with the most. And yes, your intended audience should be there, too. But if you don’t love it… first and foremost, the rest doesn’t matter. You won’t be the life of the party if you don’t want to be there.

My favorites, by the way: Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. Not always in that order.

Q: What role do you think media monitoring plays for marketers to track their company’s media?

Ann: Of course it’s important to know what’s being said about you and your brand, for all the obvious reasons: Seeing how your brand is resonating and how well your products/services are understood; crisis and reputation management and response; measuring the effectiveness of your efforts.

And this: it’s a great way to unearth content marketing ideas!

Ann Handley is the world’s first Chief Content Officer and an acclaimed writer and communicator who inspires and empowers you to create marketing that your customers will love, igniting real results for your business. She is a writer and the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. Her company, MarketingProfs, is a marketing training and education company with more than 600,000 subscribers. A LinkedIn Influencer, Ann has more than 420,000 followers on Twitter. She is consistently named one of the most influential marketers on social media.