In this episode and I talk to Marcus Sheridan who is the owner of a swimming pool company who suddenly learned in the days when his business was suffering in the recession that by creating an absolutely amazing blog just about the questions people have about swimming pools, he managed to hold his company back from the point of oblivion just by doing blogging and answering questions. He’s now known as the Sales Lion and goes around training people internationally on how to do Content Marketing for fiction especially focusing on answering the questions that readers actually have. I talk extensively about the themes in his book, They Ask, You Answer.
Tim Lewis: [00:01:25] Hello Marcus welcome to the show.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:01:26] Tim It’s a pleasure to be here. I think we’re going to have a great conversation today.
Using Content Marketing for Fiction
Tim Lewis: [00:01:31] What would you say to people who say that you can’t use Content Marketing to market fiction books?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:01:38] Well I would question first if they really understand what Content Marketing is and if they get it then I think they’re going to nod their head and say oh I’m starting to see the possibilities because you got to look at it like this: You take an author of a fiction book. Sometimes much of what we’re selling has nothing to do with the story, the words on the page, it’s what’s behind the words on the page.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:02:08] And one of the things that we like to teach our clients when we go into a business is we always say that if we don’t show it, whatever it is, it doesn’t exist. And so what does that mean? Well OK so let’s look at it in simple terms. As you already know I own a Swimming Pool company.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:02:31] And so we manufacture swimming pools and that’s one of the things that I do. But we show the detail of the manufacturing process better than literally anybody in the World. And because of that we’ve built significant momentum when it comes to the way people see our pools and they trust us in a different way.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:02:52] How many authors show their manufacturing process: the way they go about their work, the way they create their story. How many are working to build their brand outside of just the words they put inside of that book. Because as we were discussing before the show the difficulty today is this. Most publishers, and I mean I know as well as anybody, they don’t market your stuff worth jack. That’s not what they do.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:03:21] And so unless you have a tribe before you publish that book it’s very difficult for it to catch fire and unless you continue with that tribe afterwards it’s difficult to continue the momentum. And so I think that’s just a few examples of how yes Content Marketing certainly applies.
Questions at the Bottom of the Funnel
Tim Lewis: [00:03:46] In your book you mention this, why is it important to answer the questions you say at the bottom of the funnel in your content?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:03:53] Well so everybody’s bottom of the funnel is different. But the bottom of the funnel is what serious people,serious buyers want to know about your stuff. Right. And so when you give an example of what I’m talking about.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:04:07] Now I’m just going to use a pool and then I’ll use a book as an example I’ll just kind of go back and forth that way. So if somebody knows they want a fibreglass pool they might say things like how much is a fibreglass cost or is a concrete pool better than a fibreglass pool or what are the problems with the fibreglass pool.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:04:30] Who is a fibreglass pool not a good fit for? Right. These are the things that people ask real buyers want to know. And so when it comes to your books it’s important. You know oftentimes we like to say our stuff what it is and why it’s great. We don’t talk about what it’s not for.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:04:46] And so by saying what it’s not for you, who it’s not necessarily written for. It sounds odd when you think about it but once you really understand this principle of psychology and persuasion when you tell somebody who your service or product is not for it becomes dramatically more attractive to those that it is for.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:05:07] And that’s just one simple example. Another one is let’s say somebody is looking for specific types of books on a specific type of subject.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:05:16] Is it possible that you use content marketing to address those questions so that when they are learning about that particular thing, that you inject yourself into the conversation. Let me give you again I pool and book example. So with respect to swimming pools one of the things that people used to ask me all the time was “hey Marcus I’m not going to hold you but let’s say that you know we don’t get this pool from you. We keep we will but if we don’t get this point from you. Is there anybody else that you might recommend.”
Marcus Sheridan: [00:05:53] Well for a long time I heard that question and it’s a common question because you know people ask you because they trust you enough to ask you you never love hearing that question because it means you’re still looking.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:06:04] But one time I wrote an article who are the best pool builders in Richmond Virginia. Now that is a that’s a major area of ours. Richmond area where we installed pools and I wrote that article and because of the amount of people that searched for “best pool builders, Richmond Virginia” every year that article averages somewhere between one to two hundred thousand dollars a year in revenue for the company.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:06:27] So how does that apply in this case to say a fiction author. So there’s all these different types of fiction books in categories and subcategories and things that people are looking for types of stories that we’re looking for. Consider all the best-based questions people are asking with respect to books like what are the best books for; what are the best fictional novels that discuss X, Y or Z whatever their subject is. That’s the type of conversation you should own through text and you should own it through video. And this is an example of bottom of the funnel place questions that people are searching.
Tim Lewis: [00:07:01] So it it’s almost like those questions that people have just at the end of the buying journey so that I might be looking at your book and another book or something along those lines or even just thinking about a few books and then they happened to stumble across your comparison of all the books in your genre.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:07:19] Yeah. Yeah like thing like like you could do a review of the five best X Y Z books were 2017. I mean that’s a really really strong article right there that potentially could have a lot of legs especially if you are targeting a specific niche and specificity is key here. You don’t want to be generic.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:07:39] In other words you don’t want to just write an article that says the five best fiction books or novels or whatever of 2017, you want to be specific and and if you are specific like you know five best fantasy in you can choose a particular type of fantasy right after you’ve shown by doing this.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:07:58] Now all of a sudden you have a chance to inject yourself in a conversation that you may not have been involved in before and you know Tim this is just this it’s just one simple example. I think it’s actually more important though outside of that that we physically show through the power of video our writing process, our ideation, like how many authors do a visual representation of the timeline of their book?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:08:27] In other words from the time that they came up with an idea to the outline to maybe the proposal to the process of negotiating the proposal to the process of getting a contract to the process of producing your first chapters you know to getting your advance whatever.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:08:46] I mean whatever that thing is. That’s very interesting. And so if you can build momentum yourself around the process of the work that you put into this book well then people are going to pay attention and that is a form of Content Marketing.
Five Types of Questions
Tim Lewis: [00:09:03] I’m going to skip the next question I was going to ask you about reviews because I think we’ve kind of covered that but I think in your book you mention there are so big five types of questions that you ask, could you go over those again?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:09:16] Well I mean in pretty much any industry and you know whether you’re really looking to buy a service, to buy a product, it really doesn’t matter. When we are researching something we want to know five things before we contact the company let’s say or before we walk into the store.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:09:33] We want to know the money question: essentially how much is it; we want to know what are the negatives or the problems with it. What are the issues with it. What are the drawbacks of it. Those are all kind of lumped in the same area.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:09:46] We want to know how it compares to other things that are similar to it. So for example let’s say in my case I was looking to buy a business book there’s been many times when I was comparing business books trying to figure out which was the best fit for me.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:09:59] We want to know what people have said about it in other words reviews. And we want to know what is the best it. So the best of, and just think of all the best based questions that you have researched before, or you have asked before as you’ve researched something online.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:10:14] So again, it’s cost, it’s problems, it’s comparisons or slash versus It’s reviews and it’s best. Those are the big five. And that essentially is what dictates the economy in terms of the way people buy, the way they make decisions.
Tim Lewis: [00:10:28] To paraphrase a little bit of book I think this is based on the idea that obviously people now have got so much more information before they even think about doing something because I do a lot more research and in the good old days that people just wandered into a car showroom and spent a lot of money…
Marcus Sheridan: [00:10:43] I mean the fact is many of us have had experience where we walk in to buy something and we can immediately tell that we are actually more informed than the salesperson is.
Tim Lewis: [00:10:53] Yes
Marcus Sheridan: [00:10:54] You know that’s not uncommon it’s because we have the capability now we have the power to vet and if we want you we can vet extremely well.
Types of Content
Tim Lewis: [00:11:02] Coming back to talking about content marketing in general but what is the best form of content for answering these questions? Should people be using video, podcasts, the written word? What do you have a preference and people should be using with these kinds of content?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:11:18] Yeah. You know how it is I mean I think we should we should try to to use all. I think in terms of the journey that is your book I think you need to show that there’s no question in my mind I think you should show that process and help people develop a deeper relationship with your struggles, with your triumphs during that journey.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:11:39] In terms of asking the specific or answering these specific questions with respect to books in your genre and all the searches that people are making online with respect to books in your genre. Then I would probably focus textually on that.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:11:54] And ultimately it’s a mix right, I mean because we don’t want to try to force feed a video on somebody that’s on video and on a force feed text onto somebody who is not into text.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:12:04] There’s a mix of both out there and I think as authors we need to be versed in all forms and in audio too as we’re doing right now. It certainly can make a big impact. I mean Tim it’s just one of those things where at this point we’re all media companies and if we’re a media company whether you’re a brand of one or brand of a thousand for a media company we think like a media company we’re saying OK how do they want to learn. What is your preferred style of communication. And then we meet that wherever it may be.
Tim Lewis: [00:12:35] So what are the biggest mistakes you see people making their content marketing?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:12:41] I think number one by far is they’re now obsessed with the questions their prospects are asking in the way that their prospects we’re asking them because businesses like to talk like businesses and they like to think like businesses and they don’t think like the actual customer.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:12:58] If you obsess over the way the customer thinks then you have the ability to teach at a level that is superior to the majority of people that are in your space. That’s number one, thinking just like the customer.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:13:11] I think number two is many of them come across as being very biased or salesy and that’s not what the consumer or the buyer wants. What they want is they want to feel like you get them, you understand them and you’re so honest with them that you’re willing to say hey this product that we sell, this service that we offer it’s not a good fit for you if you’re willing to be honest and say that like for me as a poor guy you know fibreglass pool is not a good fit for you if you’re looking for something that’s longer than 40 feet were wider than 16 feet or deeper than 8 feet because they have size limitations and they can’t go beyond that.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:13:45] But that’s the type of thing Tim we need to bring out early and we need to come right out with those elephants in the room if you will because if we just bring them to the front door and say hey this is our elephant we become dramatically more trustworthy to the reader or to the viewer and ultimately that’s what we want. I think those are probably the two big mistakes that we see.
Tim Lewis: [00:14:05] I remember in your book says about the fact that you never include yourself in any of these sort of these 10 best people in this particular category for the very reason that sounds a bit self-serving if you’re number one on the list.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:14:19] Yeah but that doesn’t mean you you can’t make it known that you also offer the thing or that you do that thing. You know in so it’s inferred that you also offer that particular product or service. So I wouldn’t shy away from being open and saying hey this is us too. At the same time you’re right. I don’t put myself on a best of list.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:14:41] Now I would not hesitate to reference another list. In other words let’s say a third party did some type of article that was promoting or essentially awarding something that we had done that had ranked us in a particular way or they’d given us some amazing review or whatever.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:15:00] I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to mention those because that doesn’t make you sound like a schmuck. It just helps reinforce whatever that thing is that you’re trying to offer.
Should you hire someone to do this for you?
Tim Lewis: [00:15:11] Now a lot of my listeners of my show have seen just going to be a one man band authors and other people but it will be some people who go you’d be no mains or maybe they’re actually got outside outside income and other things.
Tim Lewis: [00:15:23] Would it make sense for somebody to pay for someone to do that content marketing for them?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:15:27] I’d say in most cases no. And the reason for this is especially if anybody listening to this podcast, there natural teachers, this is their thing. And the one thing that we’re good at is communicating through the written and oftentimes through the spoken word.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:15:44] So with that being the case, nobody can produce your content like you can, I mean it’s just impossible to do this in a way that truly represents the soul of of you. And so could you outsource it. You could, especially if you start to get you know become a larger company if you’re you know doing a couple of million a year maybe but otherwise I would urge those that are listening to this to learn how to do these things in-house.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:16:15] And for the solopreneurs that are listening to this. Well the fact is we’ve all got these intimidations that that we’re not good at you know video might intimidate us or video editing might intimidate us or whatever that thing is but fact is and this is just reality we got to get over it.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:16:33] I mean I tell myself all the time, Marcus you just got to get over whatever that thing is. Didn’t matter how I feel about something the marketplace at this point demands it. So I need to do something to make myself look different, to set myself apart. So that’s our challenge and that’s why I suggest that we look past our supposed issues or weaknesses and we say OK this is what the marketplace now demands and so I’m going to go with it.
Tim Lewis: [00:16:59] I’m going to spring a surprise question on you to bring things together.
An example for an author
Tim Lewis: [00:17:07] So we’ve got a hypothetical author who’s listening to the show called Bob and Bob writes books where there’s a cat detective so there’s a detective who has got a cat and what kind of things should he be doing let’s say that they’re in the process of starting their new book about well being a cat detective or whatever. Well so things should start considering doing in the first instance?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:17:32] Well not that I want to be redundant but I’m going to hit it home because I mean what they need to do, is they need to show how their brain works. Where is the secret sauce made. And the secret sauce for an author is the story, you like where does that come from.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:17:54] Most authors don’t necessarily show or tell that very well. And so I would start the process of showing that, I would document visually speaking the entire process of coming up with the content and I would just potentially crowd-source with the audience too.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:18:11] In other words I would say so you know I’m debating about some names for the you know for this cat detective. What do you think it should be and help people get excited about your work because they’re actually a part of it, make it so that they’re helping produce the story because you put it out there.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:18:30] And you said OK so what do you suggest. This is what you know this is what I’m thinking. It just continued to involve the public. All you need is a few hardcore fans when that book comes out that are going to spread the word, that can make all the difference in the world between popping in the marketplace and it really getting momentum versus just kind of fizzling out.
Tim Lewis: [00:18:49] And I’m guessing that would probably be on video content mostly to begin with.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:18:53] I think so. Definitely mostly video content I guess.
Tim Lewis: [00:18:56] And I should probably be reading every other cat detective book ever known to mankind and starting to think about writing comparison articles and how that book is going to be different to every other one.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:19:07] Yeah well I think I think once the storyline really takes shape and once you get a sense for what else is in the marketplace.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:19:15] And I would start producing textual content about that particular genre and some of the buyer-based questions that you know that hardcore readers are asking. And yeah so I would I would start with that but I probably wouldn’t do that first.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:19:31] I would let the story start to develop and some of the foundation develop and some of the chapters potentially developed and then once I had a better sense of the direction then I would start to produce some of the other content.
Tim Lewis: [00:19:43] I suppose in some ways what you’re suggesting makes sense in as much as hopefully that will start attracting some viewers to their videos. Who are people who are interested in that genre. And then there are source people to talk to in terms of finding out what the other competitor books and things are and maybe what they actually thinking about in terms of buyers of cat detective books.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:20:05] Exactly. Yeah. I mean look I mean most authors aren’t doing this. And so anything that you do like this it’s going to make you different to make you original so much of Content Marketing for me the reason how I got to have the most traffic Swimming Pool web site in the world and how so many of our clients have gone on to experience similar results is because we were willing to experiment and to test.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:20:28] I mean listening to this, especially if you’re like a solopreneur means you get no red tape. You could just be as creative as you want. You don’t get to ask anybody. So am I allowed to follow that rule. You can make the rules and that’s what it’s all about.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:20:41] That’s why you see industries get turned over on their heads is when somebody comes in, they break all the rules and the rule breakers of today are the rule makers of tomorrow. That’s just how it works.
Views on Self-Publishing
Tim Lewis: [00:20:50] I’m going to ask you another surprise question. Have you ever considered self-publishing and why did you go with Wiley for your book, They Ask, You Answer?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:20:59] Well I mean for me in this case I wanted to. I understand that I’m not the most organised guy in the world always. And so I wanted to make sure that I had a publishing house behind me, could do a good job on the distribution, could do a good job on the cover.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:21:16] Could do a professional editing job those things and plus they had to approach me and they they wanted to work with me. That being said I understood what I was getting myself into. I understood that they were not going to be good at marketing the book and they’re not.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:21:30] I mean they just they leave that up to me and I can’t complain about it because I knew that was the deal. Now not every publisher is like that and oftentimes you know publishers don’t give you a lot of love until you’ve got a big victory under your belt.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:21:43] Once you do they’ll promote your stuff a lot more. But you know in this case Wiley’s fine. But I thought what they could do were things that I would do very very good job at. And I think that turned out to be the case. I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong in self-publishing especially for the person that’s organised that’s done it before.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:22:03] I would love the idea of doing that in some ways especially for me as a speaker. You know if I go in as a speaker and I say hey it’s part of my fee is a hundred books let’s say. Well for the most part that’s coming. That’s coming off of my fee and I’m not really going to make much money at all. Almost hundred bucks. But if it was a self-published book now all of a sudden it becomes a lot more worth it.Learn how to do Content Marketing for fiction authors with @TheSalesLion #authortipsClick To Tweet
Marcus Sheridan: [00:22:29] You know I mean like give me another example of what I’m talking about. One of the major bookstores in all the airports that you see in the U.S. is the Hudson News. The thing about them is you can get on their shelf which is called Hudson Recommends for like three months and it costs about 12000 USD.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:22:50] So if I did that and I know that the average book in that case is going to sell somewhere between five hundred to thousand copies. Five hundred thousand copies. Three months and you’re in a whole bunch of airports around the U.S.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:23:05] Now if you just sell five hundred copies let’s say and you went through a publisher. Well you’ve definitely lost money. You’ve definitely lost money unless you get some secondary promotion out of that.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:23:17] You know and in my case unless I get another speaking gig or unless I get some workshops or some client work but if I had it had self-published it would be easy to write that check because I know that I would probably at least break even. And so some of my friends do self-publishing they oftentimes will go through a venue like that because you know worst case scenario they’re going to break even or make a little bit of money versus somebody like myself.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:23:40] I’m going to spend 12000 USD I’m probably only going to make a thousand out of it. I’m like do I want you know do I want to gamble eleven thousand dollars to see if work comes out of it.
About Marcus Sheridan
Tim Lewis: [00:23:52] So we have just about covered everything about we have covered everything we scratched the surface of it enough. How can people find out about Marcus Sheridan and your numerous business interests?
Marcus Sheridan: [00:24:04] Well I mean hey it’s great being on your podcast Tim and speaking with your audience and if anybody ever wants to contact me you can just email me Marcus@theSalesLion.com and you can find my web site TheSalesLion.com and I’m at @TheSalesLion on Twitter and find me on Facebook I’m public on there too and so, you know all those ways I’m out there, I’m available if anybody has a question. Hit me up and I’ll try to answer you soon as possible.
Tim Lewis: [00:24:32] Well thanks very much for being on the show today Marcus.
Marcus Sheridan: [00:24:35] My pleasure.