How Can Agencies Scale Content Creation in 2022?

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Are you using your resources wisely in order to scale content creation? Are you leveraging partnerships that will help you grow your agency? Content creation is following a classic marketing channel trend and continually evolving every year. If your agency is not keeping up with the increased demand, you're missing out. In this episode of the podcast, Jason talks with Laura Smous and Steve Pockross from Verblio about how agencies are helping their clients do more with content, as well as some common mistakes agencies make when it comes to content creation. They'll also share the biggest investments your agency needs to make in 2022 and how your content efforts can work with AI.

Laura Smous is the VP of Product Marketing at Verblio and Steve Pockross is the CEO at Verblio, and a three-time guest of the Smart Agency Masterclass. He believes content is still king, especially in a struggling economy.

3 Golden Nuggets
  1. Top trends in content creation entering 2022. Keeping up with content demands has become increasingly more challenging for agencies. Clients need original content, but that doesn't necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. Verblio's survey of agencies has shown the current trends include refreshing old content and repurposing content in new ways (like turning videos into blogs).
  2. Mistakes agencies are making in content creation. Verblio has identified 2 key mistakes they're seeing agencies make when it comes to content. First, an over-reliance on technology to create content results in sameness. AI has a place in content creation, but using it to create all content is a mistake. Secondly, it's important to have a content lead who sees and touches content as the core function of their job. If your agency is having people wear too many hats it becomes evident in the content output.
  3. Use AI for things humans are bad at. As Laura observed, "humans are bad at getting started." While she is not a fan of using AI to write content, she says there is a place for it in helping humans get started with content. Some great uses for AI is sales scripts, outlines, and other repeatable functions.
The Changes Your Agency Should Make in Order to Scale Content Creation in 2022

Jason: [00:00:00] Welcome back, agency owners. I'm excited, I have another amazing two guests coming on. It's been a long time since I've done a three-way on the podcast and we're going to talk about the three biggest investments you can do next year. We're going to talk about Verblio's survey that they did to all these agency owners that you need to be aware of. So let's go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Laura and Steve. Welcome to the show.

Laura: [00:00:32] Hi! Happy to be here.

Steve: [00:00:33] Hey, Jason. Good to be back.

Jason: [00:00:35] Awesome. Well, Steve, welcome back. Laura, welcome to the show. So I'm going to start with ladies first. Tell us who you are and what do you do? And then we'll go to we'll. Maybe get to Steve later.

Laura: [00:00:48] Sure. Well, I'm Laura Smous. I'm the VP of product marketing at Verblio. We're a content creation marketplace and platform. And I've been doing some sort of messing around at the intersection of marketing and technology for over a couple decades now, with the last number of years really focused on product marketing for high growth startups. So really happy to join.

Jason: [00:01:09] Awesome. Well, welcome to the show. And, Steve, I don't know how we'd let you back on, but tell us who you are and what you do?

Steve: [00:01:20] It’s good to be back. I'm Steve Pockross. I'm the CEO of Verblio. I've been here for five years. I have been working in startups, nonprofits, and Fortune 500's for the last 20 something years, always in high-growth industries. And Verblio is the intersection of my, two of my favorite places, the future of marketing and the future of work.

Jason: [00:01:35] I love it. I love it. Well, let's go ahead and get into why everyone's listening, which is every year you guys do an amazing survey and you always find out really cool stuff. So what have you found out in the survey? What are kind of the three big investments that we need to be thinking about for 2022?

Laura: [00:01:55] Well, I think the first piece is just that the demand for content has only increased. So, uh, that's a really good thing for all of us, but it is a, perhaps a really frustrating thing for a lot of the agencies that we've been polling because they're having a lot of the, the second piece of that would be they're having a lot of trouble meeting that demand.

So, uh, whether it's hiring, whether it's figuring out how to um, assemble a team of freelancers or whether it's leveraging technology or platforms like ours, they're having a lot of trouble making it work to meet that demand. So they know there's this huge growth opportunity, but rising to the challenge is tough. And I think along with that, there's all of the change that you deal with at any time. Um, but it's just accelerated.

So, um, new content types, huge focus on video. And I think that the biggest piece is figuring out where does AI fit into this puzzle? Is it friend or foe for digital agencies and the ones who are smart enough to figure out how to leverage that are really seeing an unfair advantage?

Jason: [00:02:50] Awesome. Let's talk about how are certain things changing in our market around blog posts or landing pages or, or the use of video? What are you guys seeing?

Laura: [00:03:03] Well, I think the first is just that, you know, there was already a challenge with content saturation, um, and the, the bar for content quality and what it takes to actually get noticed and, and sort of, and maintain performance was already really high.

But I think with the pandemic, um, there's been this massive rush online, so there's just more stuff, right? So the definition of what's good, um, what's performing content, whether it be a blog post or a landing page has changed and keeps changing. I think that's, that's the first piece. And then I'm also understanding that it's not an option, really not to do video, not to have mixed media content and different ways to consume your content and to have that really be not only some standalone pieces, but part of everything you do.

So really enhancing what used to just be written form content so that it's more engaging so that more audiences can engage with it and it can live in more places successfully.

Jason: [00:03:53] Yeah. You know, when I first started in this business eight years ago, I can't, oh my gosh. I can't believe it. I don't think I had this many gray hairs, Steve or Laura, but, um, I saw so many people just writing blog posts and that's all they were doing. And I felt like there was a lot of tone being lost.

And then I also saw when I just started doing video because I was a horrible writer before we started using you guys. Like literally it was like, people were like, you're an idiot, no more writing. But I like to kind of do the combo of you know, using all of the different mediums.

When I was made aware of you guys, I really liked it because I was like, hey, I'm going to send you my videos, and then you guys kind of summarize this in a blog post, and then we can turn it into micro-content, all that kind of different, really cool stuff. Do you find that a lot of agencies that are using you or are they using you for that? Or what do you see the trends going into?

Laura: [00:04:50] I think the really smart ones are. And I think that's one of the cool things. I mean, there are a lot of, um, agencies and, and direct brands that are using us to just build their core business. They've recognized that content is not only a thing that's necessary to grow a successful business, but it can actually be at the heart of the business itself.

So we're certainly seeing that definitely with niche agencies that really, um, understand that they can focus in one specific area. They can really scale and knock it out of the park by leveraging Verblio as a close partner. But I think there's still quite a few that focus on just one content type, just delivering it in one way and haven't really looked at how do you, how do you think about content is really being, repurposable chopping it up and making the most out of basically every dollar you spend there by making sure that it can live across channels and that people can consume it, how they want to consume it.

And knowing that a lot of us are on the go, we're almost entirely on mobile devices, but we do still have that human need for a deep, rich, engaging content. So it's not one or the other. Um, and I think that that's a thing, you know, a trend that is going away is really over-relying on technology and not thinking about the fact that we do need this really well-rounded content mix to have a, to have an effective content effort.

Steve: [00:06:02] And so one of the things that it follows is content is really following a classic marketing channel trend, which is it matures every single year. And as it matures, basically things that were cutting edge before now become must-haves.

So what we're finding is you've got your marketers who are still doing the must-haves, which is blogs. It just requires more every year. So now it requires blogs, SEO optimization, more frequency, more video. And then we have this next layer of agencies that are looking at how do you actually use this really powerful channel to create more of a competitive advantage, especially as it becoming a more powerful marketing channel.

And so we have a lot of agencies that are investing in, how do you go much bigger than ever thought of before if you have a partner that can help you provide it to do hundreds of pieces a month and really create a competitive moat? Uh, and so we're seeing these really kind of these three different types of agencies.

And I think it's also one other thing point to pull out is it really depends on what vertical is your agency's looking for. If you're in a super laggard industry, you can use some of the old techniques and it still works. But if you're in a super competitive one like, you know, personal injury attorneys where everyone's fighting tooth and nail in order to be successful, you really have to be at the edge.

Jason: [00:07:12] And so is the solution just do more like more content? Is that the trend that you guys see?

Laura: [00:07:19] I think it's a little more nuanced in that. I think one piece is do more. So all the things that were true before is still true, right? You still need consistency, you still need frequency. Um, and that's kind of the bummer, right? Is those, those have become table stakes.

But now we're starting to look at things like content refreshes as important a part of your content strategy as new content creation. And so there's a, there's a level of sophistication required to understand what's the right mix for, for any given client, for any given month, um, what should you be focusing on?

And that's, I think where it's difficult, um, as an agency to, to do that without a partner, to really even understand what are the options. And then two agencies, I think in general, are somewhat risk averse and hiring more people can be, can be a real dangerous proposition if you don't know that you can maintain that.

So I think leveraging a partner that you trust that you can turn on and off scale up and down, um, over time as, as your needs change is a safer way to grow. Also to be able to bring that expertise to your agency without having to always hire.

Jason: [00:08:21] So I like that you mentioned content refresh. I did a masterclass for 50 agency owners yesterday, and I talked about the low-hanging fruit in sales.

And that's contacting your existing clientele and looking at the old prospects, right? That's a low-hanging fruit. I look at kind of content refreshing is low-hanging fruit for content you've already created. So can you talk a little bit more about how are people doing that? Like, are they looking at Google analytics and being like, man, this page is getting a lot of traffic, but like we've changed a little bit. We should maybe redo this or what?

Laura: [00:08:57] Yeah. I mean, there's a few, there's a few different flavors of it. I think that, um, the agencies that we're seeing really take the lead on content refresh, um, understand that they're talking about that and they're able to sort of templatize their strategy or process to match what they're, what they're trying to do.

I mean, there are some very straightforward ones. Uh, my people really focusing on, you know, for example, local SEO for personal injury attorneys. You're going to want to make sure that every one of those many, many hundreds of posts or pages is really hyper-focused on a danger in that area, or, you know, things that might happen, things that are really relevant to that specific location.

And just going back and making sure that that information is, you know, that the statistics are up to date, um, that it is hyper-relevant to, um, the area, all of that is, um, is working really well. And, and from a strategy perspective, that's pretty formulaic. Then you have the other ones that are going back and saying, ok, we have this really strong performing post. It's declining. How do we understand what's missing now? Maybe what other people have caught up on? What other people who are ranking have added that, you know, looking for content gaps.

And then I think there are some that recognize that, you know, content is not really precious anymore, right? They may have thought something was going to do really well, put a lot of time into it. And I think just accepting that the analytics are not telling that story and maybe it's just, you know, the search intent was not there, right? So you may have, uh, thousands of words and it should have been a listicle.

You know, something like that, recognizing we're barking up the right tree that people are looking for this, but the way that we did it, isn't working and we need to redo it and make it a better match what people are actually looking for.

And then that will, um, be much more successful as part of the mix.

Steve: [00:10:35] And we see is kind of, uh, like a it’s still formulaing how agencies are gonna work with this the most successfully. You'll have agencies that are basically saying, hey, we're going to do our table stakes. And then everything left over we'll put into SEO content or into content refreshes.

We have agencies that are coming in and saying, hey, our policy is five to 10% of your blogs or your posts will refresh every year. And then we have agencies that are looking at it bigger and basically saying, hey, we think if we use this percentage, could be 35%, ee fresh all of these. This is the cost for all of these, this is the ROI we expect you to get in our, selling them as larger packages.

So we're, we're looking forward to the dynamic trends as they evolve with agencies.

Laura: [00:11:14] Yeah. And we're, we're finding too that they're, their clients are open to it really, even in terms of what they're charging for it, it's almost an even swap.

They're starting to recognize the value and be as willing to pay for content refresh as they are for new content creation provided that they can be sort of walked through how that's going to impact them.

Jason: [00:11:32] What should agencies stop doing in the new year that you guys have found?

Laura: [00:11:38] Um, I think one thing is, um, maybe an over-reliance on technology. So as, um, you know, we know that the rules change constantly, the algorithms change constantly. So, um, there has been, uh, a huge sort of swarm towards really relying on those tools to tell, to tell us what to write and how to write it. Um, but that's created this sort of sameness in what's out there and, um, they’ve forgotten the human element, right?

So I think that, that complete reliance on technology to do that, thinking that it is really something that can be done without, um, having that human touch I think we'll start to go away. Because uniqueness and sort of authenticity is a piece that is still required for content to perform really well.

And you can't get that necessarily out of a machine.

Steve: [00:12:22] I'll add that I think there's like a couple of different ways that, so that we have agencies that manage us, the agencies that have a person who's senior level who's in charge of content at their agency who looks at it all the time and it's consistent perform really well.

We have, and then we'll have agencies who have a different contact for each member, for each one of their clients to work with Verblio, without having somebody oversee it and how to get the most value from their content. And so we'd really recommend that there's a content lead at your company, whether they're part of the, each one of your client representation or not.

Jason: [00:12:55] Gotcha. And for the past year, I've been hearing a lot around AI, around content writing. Where does that fit in? How do you feel that that's changing things in the industry?

Laura: [00:13:07] You know, I think for, for folks who are relying on it completely, you know, they are getting a sort of sameness or a lack of originality, uh, in the content.

So I think that is, uh, maybe not the direction I'd recommend. I would say that, um, figuring out how to use AI for the things that humans are bad at and use humans for the things humans are good at. So an example of that would be humans are bad at getting started, right? They're bad at doing that first step towards that task and AI, uh, it can really do a lot right now to, um, to give you a content outline, to give you a draft, to help you understand points, you should be hitting to do some of that underlying research, even for, you know, fairly specific topics. You know, we've, uh, we've done a lot of exploration of the tools that are out there and, you know, I could write an article on orthopedic surgery that would at least cover a lot of the bases, right?

So kind of getting you to that, uh, jumpstart, uh, is one piece. Humans are also bad at, I think knowing how, uh, how thorough they are, how closely they're following a process. You know, when you think about someone's own ability to determine whether or not they're following a sales script or something like that, not super high.

So I think just being really honest about what we're good or bad at, and then using AI for those things. Because it is really good at making sure you can be consistent, repeatable that there's some sort of ability to learn over time, um, and to actually catalog that information. But allowing humans to really focus on, you know, some of that originality and uniqueness bringing voice and tone.

AI is improving there and it may get there, but there are still a lot of challenges I think in bringing that, that originality to content that AI has not so far been able to touch. So the marriage of the two really, to me, seems to be the, the ticket.

Jason: [00:14:47] That's awesome. Yeah. I'm going to let you guys on a secret. I'm doing the Scooby-Doo moment. I'm really an AI bot. Jason's actually skating. I'm just kidding.

That would be cool. If it could do that. Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you, um, both that you think would benefit the audience before we wrap up and tell them about you guys, a special offer for the listeners?

Laura: [00:15:11] That's a really good question. You know, Steve mentioned having one person be your, you know, your point of contact, something like that, to just make sure that you can leverage efficiencies, you know, pattern match.

Um, I think just, uh, thinking about how can you consolidate the types of entities that are creating content in your organization. You know, we have a lot of folks who have internal content teams. They have external freelancers. They’re messing around with some different platforms and some different things.

They're trying, you know, the, the sort of generic marketplaces, like an Upworker or Fiverr and, um, that's a ton of overhead. And even if you get it right a few times, being able to scale that predictably is super difficult. So, you know, I think. Yeah, agencies should really focus on how can we make our own lives easier and take away some of that overhead and really focus on, um, a handful of scalable resources that can work together.

Because, again, focus on what humans are good at. That time and mental energy is much better spent thinking through a strategy for your clients and strategy for your agency growth than it is, um, just doing air traffic control. So that would be my advice.

Steve: [00:16:16] I have a totally different line of thought, which is a, I'm just thinking back, Jason, to when you were our first guest on our podcast. When we were trying to, uh, right at the beginning of, uh, March, 2020, and we were talking to about what marketers should do at the downfall.

And one of the big things that you stressed was take really good care of your clients. This is when they need you the most. This is like, this is the most important time to be authentic people, to really care about who you're working with.

And I think we're at the opposite side of that trend, which is there's so much business to be had by so many companies and we're seeing so many junior level people coming on and working at agencies and scaling as quickly as possible. I would just say, please be really conscious of your clients and the relationships you want to build on the way up. How many can you take on and really do well, because they'll remember it at the downturn too.

And we'll be having similar discussions, hopefully, hopefully not soon, but, uh, at the next downturn, we all know that they, they, the cycles keep happening.

Jason: [00:17:11] Yeah, anybody can be doing good in business right now. So I love that. It's, it's very customer-focused. Tell us about where people can go, uh, to, you know, try you guys out and tell us a little bit more about that.

Laura: [00:17:26] Well, um, anybody listening here can go to verblio.com/smartagency and get, get a nice discount on getting started with Verblio. Um, and you can also find out a lot more about what we do and all the different types of content we can help you with.

Jason: [00:17:39] Awesome. Well, guys, really appreciate you guys coming on.

Make sure you guys go to verblio.com/smartagency. We've used them for so many years. They do an amazing job. If you're not using them, go try them out.

And until next time have a Swenk day.

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