Welcome to Episode Six of What’s Working Now. Today we’re talking about thought leadership and ranking content and search engines. We all know on some level that ranking content is not enough to land new customers. The search engine results are packed with competitors’ content. To get prospects’ attention, you must stand out and give them a reason to dive in further.
To do this, your content needs to demonstrate thought leadership and a compelling point of view. Today, I have Julian Alvarado joining us who is the senior manager of content marketing at Sigma, a data analytics software.
(13:20) Educate for differentiation, and mold it with your company’s unique perspective.
We follow the Challenger Sales model, which basically is that you’re teaching for differentiation. You’re using your knowledge of their business and molding it within your unique perspective to teach customers something new — and then, obviously, show them how you can help them solve their problems with your product.
(17:37) Use mid-volume keywords to develop better content than your competitors.
You really need to find that Goldilocks zone. [The volume] can’t be too high or you’ll never rank. It can’t be so low either — you need to find a term that has a good chance that you can develop content better than the other guy and it has to be relevant to your audience and value.
(21:00) Know your audience when choosing SEO terms since terminology has different connotations for different disciplines.
There’s a bit of friction that exists between your SEOs and your content teams. And that’s where the art and science of knowing your audience and knowing your customer comes into play. For example, the term “Big Data” is a term that we would all assume would be relevant to our industry. And in the analytics world, everyone’s heard of it. You go in, you have every keyword and every one that’s related to it has super high search volume.
But, when you’re using that term in relation to business intelligence and analytics, it’s a no-no. Because of the connotations that it has with a failed period of analytics. So, basically, our team had to go back and work with our SEO to find other terms that would be accurate and relevant. Which is important, because we don’t want to tarnish our credibility with our audience. So that’s where the art and the science come into play.
(22:01) Demonstrate thought leadership with unique views and ideas.
Are you a thought leader if everyone agrees with you? To that point, I would say it’s about discovering a unique point of view. How are you challenging the status quo? And that’s not necessarily to say being controversial for the sake of it. But, it’s just actually thinking about things.
(24:25) Always be on the lookout for new and compelling ways to tell stories.
At its core, all marketing is storytelling. Human beings have been doing this since the dawn of time. If you tell a story, they will come.
(Laura 1:00) Welcome to Episode Six of What’s Working Now. Today we’re talking about thought leadership and ranking content and search engines. We all know on some level that ranking content is not enough to land new customers. The search engine results are packed with competitors’ content. To get prospects’ attention, you must stand out and give them a reason to dive in further.
To do this, your content needs to demonstrate thought leadership and a compelling point of view. Today, I have Julian Alvarado joining us who is the senior manager of content marketing at Sigma, which is a data analytics software.
Alright, Julian, thanks so much for making time to chat today.
(Julian 1:49) Of course, thank you for having me. Looking forward to it.
(Laura 1:52) Yeah, I’m excited to hear from you. So just start, could you share Sigma’s elevator pitch and a little bit about the company?
(Julian 2:02) Yeah, sure. So, Sigma is a next generation analytics and business intelligence solution. So you know, basically, our spiel is that we allow anybody, regardless of their level of technical expertise, to securely explore data at the power, speed and scalability of the cloud.
For folks out there that are like me when I was first looking at the company, you may not really know what that means. You know, it’s basically saying, anybody that can do a simple analysis in Excel – you’re doing a market basket analysis, for example, right? I don’t know if you’re like me, but when I’ve done it in the past, it crashes, right? When it’s larger than a few 1000 rows.
Now, when we’re talking about leveraging the cloud, we’re talking about the ability to analyze datasets in the scale of like, hundreds of billions of rows, all in real time, seamlessly. And that’s without having to write SQL or another programming language. It’s a really elegant and powerful tool, and super intuitive for anybody that’s ever worked on a spreadsheet.
(Laura 3:05) Your key value proposition is the democratization of data and analytics. And I know that the point of view that you guys take is, allowing non-technical users to do this analysis. So yeah, just talk a little bit more about why you guys are so passionate about enabling non-technical users to do deep dives into data and find their own answers.
(Julian 3:37) Yeah, sure. So I always kind of laugh when I hear the term democratization of anything, right? It’s such a Silicon Valley term, so ubiquitous here.
(Laura 3:45) That’s true.
(Julian 3:46) But, you know, I think it’s funny because I’m originally from the Midwest, and one of my earliest managers told me to avoid that kind of language. But, you know, in the case of Sigma, we really are doing that.
Another interesting way I like to think about it, is the whole idea of decentralizing data exploration. Granted, that’s also super valuable. Let me let me explain a little bit. So, data is at a very high level in today’s world — getting data isn’t the problem, right? It’s coming from everywhere, from applications, wearable devices, everything we do is creating data.
Marketers, for example. I think we have over 1000 tools collecting all that data. It’s insane, you know, and to that point, every organization aims to be ”data driven.” If you’ve ever seen Zoolander, I think of Magotteaux, what he’s like. The whole “Big Data is so hot right now.” But, I digress.
Really, over the last few decades as data and the infrastructure that it collects has grown, so has the evolution of dedicated business seller tools. And, the whole point is that we’re trying to use it to power decision making.
But, with all that said, a simple question comes: how data driven can a company be if your house is divided into two factions? One with those that have direct access to data, and that’s going to be your data BI team. And then those who are held an arm’s distance away from that data, and that’s going to be your business domain experts, the folks responsible for generating revenue.
So, in the traditional BI kind of landscape, you have your data BI teams, they are the technical experts who know how to write all these SQL queries. And, because they’re safeguarding all this data and business experts need to go through them to get their questions answered, [this creates] long queues. There’s a lot of back-and-forth trying to get the answers to those questions and it just leads to a lot of frustration on both teams.
And, at the end of the day, everybody’s just trying to do their job. The data team, they’re not bad guys. They’re trying to keep the company safe from regulatory and compliance issues. And, the business teams just want to do their jobs and be able to make agile decisions in order to compete. So, like I said, this creates a lot of friction and that’s what Sigma exists to remove.
We look at ourselves as a fundamental shift in business intelligence. While a lot of other BI tools fail to extend on that ability to access, explore, and analyze data to the full organization, we take an ultimate approach. We want to empower everybody regardless of your technical abilities.
I don’t care if you can code. If you’ve worked in a spreadsheet before, you can work in Sigma. And you can freely interact with the data and generate your own insights. So, another way to say it is you’re in data exploration mode. Every action that you take gives you immediate feedback. So you can iterate and go deeper and tap into your curiosity. Really performing those “what if” analyses and going down that rabbit hole to discover novel insight that may power your business.
So, at the end of the day, I like to think about it like this: the reason it’s important is because when data is democratized, companies get more value out of their infrastructural investments. They invest in these cloud data warehouses to store all their data, and all these expensive BI tools and stuff like that, but it’s not only getting more value out of that, it’s also getting more value out of their employees. Because when everybody has access to data, they can work together and really unlock the true value of the data.
And, on the flip side is great because employees are going to get more value out of their work because they can leverage their expertise to do their jobs effectively. And who doesn’t like to be on a roll?
So, you know, let’s just be honest, no one likes waiting for anything. Right? I live in San Francisco. I mean, this is a stupid example, but we’re a city notorious for people waiting outside in two-hour lines for a sandwich. But, why would I wait two hours in line for this gourmet, expensive sandwich if I can do it myself at home? I mean, granted, that’s probably not the best analogy, but it’s close to lunchtime, I’m hungry. And I love to cook. And more importantly, I hate waiting. I want the answers now. And I want to be able to kind of go deeper, and do it on my own. So that’s why for us, it’s super important to democratize data.
(Laura 8:55) Awesome. Yeah. And I love how with nearly every piece of your content, that message comes through very clearly. But additionally, you have other specific points of view and thought leadership on each of the subtopics that you cover, as well. So could you share a little bit about how your team went about identifying exactly what Sigma stands for? And what stances to take on the variety of different issues?
(Julian 9:27) Yeah. I think when it comes to thought leadership, everybody thinks there’s this secret sauce. And at the highest level, I don’t know if I’d say there is. It comes down to knowing your space and keeping your ear to the ground for emerging trends. Well, actually knowing what I like.
The first secret is actually working or not actually working with people that are far smarter than you. And that’s Sigma and my team specifically. I’ve been very fortunate in our leadership. Our marketing team, when I joined, was super small. I think maybe six people, eight people. Now we’re 15. We’re small, but we’re mighty. So, my colleagues are the ones that are the data evangelists there. What they say is the scripture to that point. And I’m here to learn as much as I can from them.
So, getting to your question; when it comes to thought leadership and identifying our unique perspective, and then the subtopics to pursue, we (and again, I use that term liberally because it’s mostly my colleagues that are doing it) will usually start with a brainstorming session. And that will come along with research on topics certain folks think are worth pursuing. That kind of stuff can include customer data, anecdotes, going out to see a Medium post, or documentation, or anything, really. No stone goes unturned.
And, at that point we kind of have a giant whiteboard, or in the world of COVID and everybody’s working from home, it’s a virtual whiteboard. And then we have our base goals and success metrics, and see which topics have the potential that meet those.
At the end of the day, we understand that we can’t tackle every single one of those topics. Because it’s one, it’s too much for the public to absorb at the same time. And two, (I think this is actually the critical thing in order for somebody to be sticky) that message, that point of view has to be repeated over and over again. Almost to the point of you kind of [getting] sick of hearing yourself say it again.
(Laura 11:43) Right, right.
(Julian 11:44) It takes time to own the search engines. It takes time for an idea to take hold, to gain traction. And, this requires that we take a deep-dive into no more than one topic per quarter. But that said, we continually build on the previous quarter’s work as we shift our focus to that new topic.
For example, let’s say we’re the BI solution for the cloud, right? For example, we want to own the term “cloud analytics.” If we want folks to know us as the cloud analytics solution, then we need to put a deep stake in the ground. Now,while it’s still an emergent term.
And, this is a great opportunity for us to consider other BI vendors and analytics vendors that claim they are but really aren’t. There’s a lot of stuff you can go back and forth [with] there. I hope that answers your question.
(Laura 12:45) Yeah, that’s good. And I love your point about focusing on a few things, picking a few things that you really want to become known for, because that’s absolutely right. If you try to tackle too many things at once, it just muddies the message. That’s an important point.
(Julian 13:02) Yeah. Can’t boil the ocean.
(Laura 13:05) Yeah, exactly. So I know that you guys have messaging guides for each of the verticals that you’re targeting. And I would love to hear how you use those guides in the content creation process.
(Julian 13:20) Yeah, that’s kind of another thing where I can really compliment how talented and smart the people I work with are. We’re really lucky to have an amazing product marketing team here — they’re always helping. And then the messaging guys, honestly, it just starts with them.
I’m sure you know this — a lot of sweat and tears go into creating those. Whether it be customer research, cross functional collaboration, which can be its own thing because once you get too many cooks in the kitchen, they become a little problematic. But at its core, ours contain your basic titles, and persona research.
So, let’s say we’re working on retail merchandising and talking titles, like merchant operations director or logistics analyst, blah, blah, blah. It’s one of our key differentiators. And then this is the money for us: it’s the use cases. And the use cases, we know they become particularly important for the content creation, because at Sigma we follow the Challenger Sales model, which basically is that you’re teaching for differentiation. You’re using your knowledge of their business and molding it within your unique perspective to teach customers something new — and then, obviously, show them how you can help them solve their problems with your product.
(Laura 15:04) Awesome. So this brings up an interesting point with the Challenger Sales model. So, I’ve read the book. I dove into the research by,, I think it was CEB before they got bought, and all of that. But I would love to hear how you actually use it. Have you created any kind of documents or materials that show how to apply that to marketing specifically? What do you refer to? If that makes sense?
(Julian 15:35) No, I totally agree. So to your question, no I haven’t but my manager, yes. She’s a rock star. And basically, what we’ve done is we’ve met and we will have — let me take it a step back.
So the Challenger Sales model, obviously, is designed for selling, but at the end of the day, marketing is selling too. So, my manager’s kind of broken it down into a funnel view of how we’re leading people. At the top stage, we’re initially teaching — at the top of the funnel — we’re teaching for differentiation. We’re using a unique problem that the customer has, and trying to develop some content that addresses it. And then as we go deeper and deeper in the funnel, we’re getting a little bit more salesy. And then finally, we’re at the bottom, that’s when we’re ready to make our pitch.
When it comes to mapping, we [use] Maslow’s hierarchy. We map a lot of our content there, as well. So it’s not as a strict usage, I guess, in the way that you were describing. But we have definitely systematized it. So it’s not documented anywhere, but it’s just the way that content development occurs at Sigma, just inherently.
(Laura 17:06) Yeah, very cool. And I love that you bring up Maslow, because psychology is such an important part of it as well.
(Julian 17:13) Oh, yeah, definitely, definitely.
(Laura 17:15) So talk to me about keyword research, where does keyword research come into the process when you’re developing content? And additionally, can you share how you identify the intersection of ranking opportunities with what your prospects are actually looking to read about?
(Julian 17:37) Yeah, keyword research, this is a fun one. When it comes to your top of funnel inbound acquisition, content people and marketing people were always at the mercy of Google. And, it’s wild to even imagine that a simple search engine spawned an entire professional industry. But I digress. So for us, it means that any of our SEO optimization, any of our SEO driven content development is at the center of and concentrated, at least, at the top of the funnel.
When it comes to conducting the research part, it’s a bit of an art, because there’s definitely a balance between finding keywords with high search volume and those with lower ones. But you really need to find that Goldilocks zone. The volume can’t be too high or you’ll never rank. It can’t be too low, but at the same time you really need to find a term that has a good chance that you can develop content better than the other guy and it has to be relevant to your audience and value.
So, back in the day, I don’t know if folks in the content world are still using it, but I love frameworks. And one that really stuck with me was the skyscraper technique. And, it basically just involves finding topics that are doing well on search engines as well as social media. And you just reverse engineer it to create a content piece that is better than, let’s say the top three that are ranking and “10x” it. And that tactic will also involve backlinking and existing posts and all that kind of jazz.
So, with all of that being said, there’s one thing I do want to call out because it’s actually top of mind for me right now. There’s a bit of friction that exists between your SEOs and your content teams. And that’s where the art of knowing your audience and knowing your customer comes into play.
So, for example, I said that keyword research is an art, but now that I’m thinking about it, it might be a little bit more like architecture. It’s the marriage of art and science.
So, going back to what I was saying earlier — knowing your audience and how it’s relevant. For Sigma, the term “Big Data,” capital B, capital D. I think it’s a term that we would all assume would be relevant to our industry. And in the analytics world, everyone’s heard of it. You go in, you have every keyword and every one that’s related to it has super high search volume.
But, when you’re using that term in relation to business intelligence and analytics, it’s a no-no, I just learned. Because of the connotations that it has with a failed period of analytics. So, basically, our team had to go back and not necessarily ignore, but work with our SEO to find other terms that would be accurate and relevant. Which is important, because we don’t want to tarnish our credibility with our audience. So that’s where the art and the science come into play.
(Laura 21:00) That’s a great point about starting with the audience, because it’s such a common problem. It’s like, oh, here are all these SEO keywords but wait, are they relevant to what the prospects are looking for? Or are the prospects using them in different ways?
(Julian 21:20)Yeah, especially, as there are nuances and nuances are important. It’s very important. And words matter. So, I could instantly ruin a deal. Or, somebody could easily bounce away from one of our pages if I use the word big data when I really need cloud analytics.
(Laura 21:39) Right. So, I would love to hear your advice to other SaaS marketing teams that are looking to do what we’ve been talking about, infusing thought leadership into their content while ranking for SEO and really stand out and attract the prospects that they’re looking for.
(Julian 22:01) Yeah, sure. So for me, and again my specialty is more of SEO inbound acquisition. For me, it’s always maintaining consistency in your messaging. Your tone of voice, the way you speak, that’s number one. Easy, and that rings true. And, whether it’s a blog article, whether it’s an evergreen piece of content, whatever; if it was a byline or whatever it is.
And then the second thing is more related to thought leadership. The way I like to think about it is just a simple question. Like how are you — actually let me back up. Are you a thought leader if everyone agrees with you? To that point, I would say we’ve been talking about all this stuff, but it’s about discovering that unique point of view. How are you challenging the status quo? And that’s not necessarily to say being controversial for the sake of it. But, it’s just actually thinking about things.
I love to read, and there’s this one book called, What If We’re Wrong? And the author is just basically posing questions to things that we accept as fact. So, what if we’re wrong about our understanding of gravity? Well, how certain are we about the way time works? Who or what will be the defining moment of rock music 500 years from today? Can we actually go back and think like Copernicus? He was an odd thought leader, right? He took the information and he had a minimal time challenge coming to convention. And then now the rest of the story is obviously an extreme example, but you get it.
(Laura 23:42) And I love that in combination with what you’re talking about, 10x content. I think so often, the easy thing to do is just to make a massive piece of content that combines a mishmash of everything that already exists. But what I love about what you guys are doing, what you’re saying is “no.” You’re actually coming up with a unique perspective, your own ideas and using that framework then to communicate and get that to rank so that people find it.
(Julian 24:15) Exactly, exactly.
(Laura 24:20) Is there anything else that you would like to share that I haven’t asked you about yet?
(Julian 24:25) Oh, yeah, sure. I’ve been in content marketing for almost six years now. And, what I’ve learned is that it’s a game of copycats. So, I guess my advice to people is what we’re talking about just now; always be thinking about how you can elevate your game, 10x the competition. Always be on the lookout for new and compelling ways to tell stories. You’re right, at its core it’s not even content marketing. All marketing is storytelling. Human beings have been doing this since the dawn of time. If you tell a story they will come.
So, I was mentioning my love of frameworks. When I was starting my career, one of my managers, my mentor, she told me about the 3D storytelling framework. It’s kind of a similar concept about reverse engineering, of sorts.
So, you have your first D and that’s where you start the story. Start with your Desire. Someone has to want something that provides the context since the engine that motivates the story could be a positive outcome or it could be a problem to overcome.
Then you introduce the second D, the Danger. And this is the obstacle. We have a problem and it’s absolutely necessary that friction is the most critical part of the story. There has to be conflict.
And finally you have your Drama. That’s how you’ve created the context. Now you’re about to introduce the magic sword. This is the thing that overcomes that danger that we just talked about and helps the hero, your audience, achieve their goal. Who does it matter to and what does this do to satisfy that need? So, at the end of the day; storyteller. It’s what it’s all about. And just getting your brand out there.
(Laura 26:21) I really like that. I think that’ll be really useful to people. Awesome. Well, this has been fantastic. Julian, thank you so much for taking time and for sharing your insights. This has been fantastic.
(Julian 26:34) Absolutely. Anytime. Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
(Laura 26:38) All right. That’s a wrap. I hope you enjoyed everything that Julian had to share. I know I am excited to put some of his frameworks into action that he shared today.