Creating Content Your Customers Will Love – Allie Ulrich

Rich: With a degree in fine art and a drive to learn new techniques and technologies, my guest today has built her marketing career from the ground up. Starting in back offices and admin roles after graduating from the University of Southern Maine, she grabbed whatever bits of creative work she could wrangle and learned as she went.

A passion for writing and intuition for social media and self-promotion materialized in the blog Broke 207 in 2009, and she was able to parlay that experience into writing gigs at the Portland Phoenix, and, and eventually into marketing roles in the real estate, higher education, and energy industries.

Her unconventional career path has made her flexible and multi-faceted, to the point where she sometimes refers to herself as the ‘Swiss army knife of marketing professionals’. She is currently the content manager for Envirologix in Portland, Maine. So let’s dive into content marketing with Allie Ulrich. Allie, welcome to the show.

Allie: Thanks so much for having me.

Rich: So, Allie, what was your first job?

Allie: My first job. My real first job was a summer camp counselor when I was 15 years old at the YMCA camp of Maine in Winthrop, the Y camp. But my first professional job after college, there was a law firm that I temped for about 15 minutes where my job was to type big boxes of documents into a database. Like all day, just like boxes and boxes of legal documents. Read it, summarize it, type it up. I didn’t last very long.

Rich: That sounds exciting. All right. So let’s fast forward – no pun intended – to where you are now. What does a content marketer do for a company like Envirologix?

Allie: Well, technically I’m not just the content marketer, I’m the content manager. Which includes content marketing as a big part of it, but also involves kind of brand management aspects and sort of general content. Like the organization and deployment of that content, not just the sort of writing specific content marketing pieces. So it’s really an interesting kind of multifaceted role.

But for the content marketing aspect of it, it’s a lot of looking at sales problems and figuring out what kind of content is going to speak best to that audience. And you know, it could be a video, it could be a white paper. I work in the biotech industry, so there’s a lot of technical content that has to get written. A lot of videos showing people how to use our products as well as kind of more casual content. Like it could be social media content or just lightly informational emails, trying to let people know kind of how to understand what we do in more of a lay person kind of kind of way.

Rich: So it sounds like the content manager position is similar in some ways to a brand manager for a company, except that that there’s a heavier impact or heavier focus on the content creation itself, whether you’re managing it or creating it yourself.

Allie: Yeah. At Envirologix we don’t have a dedicated brand manager. And brand management is something that I’m very passionate about in general. I don’t just want our content to sound good. I want it to look good, and to be consistent, and to have a voice that travels throughout every piece. So I kind of have made that a more key part of my role.

And this is a brand new role for Envirologix, so I’ve been kind of establishing it as I go. And I think the brand management piece is really important. I’m the steward of the content. I’m the librarian, I’m the brand manager, and I’m the creator.

Rich: So like you said, you’re passionate about the idea of this brand management. Why do you think this is so important for companies?

Allie: Brand management is, even whether you’re a tiny company or a giant corporation, making your brand visuals and messaging consistent helps people better understand who you are. If you’re changing your logo every five minutes, if you’re writing casually one day and then very dryly the next day, people don’t really get a sense of knowing who your business is and what it’s all about. And they may not realize even that you’re the same business from day to day if your messaging keeps changing.

I also think that just having a really tight brand presentation makes you look more professional. And again, like I said, if you’re really small. You might expect really tight brand presentations from Apple or Amazon or whoever, but even as a really small business, just being really consistent with your voice and your logos and branding makes you look more professional, makes people think you’re sort of higher value, makes them take you more seriously as a business. And so I sort of can’t tell people enough that it’s never too soon to start thinking about establishing a consistent brand message for your business.

Rich: Okay. Allie, I did want you to come on to talk about content marketing, so I’m going to drive the truck over there for a little while. How do you, when somebody asks you about content marketing, how do you define content marketing?

Allie: You know, I think in the traditional sense, content marketing is sort of what I was talking about at the beginning, which is just taking, instead of just putting out a sales message, it’s creating the kinds of more interactive and educational resources that might be a value to your prospect, that might make them more likely to engage with you. So instead of just being like, “our product is great, buy it.” Now, maybe there’s a calculator or an educational video where they learn something sort of about their own problems, and you don’t necessarily tell them to buy it, you’re just providing them with this information and kind of helping them out. It’s a resource that they want, regardless of whether or not they’re buying into your brand. But it helps you establish yourself as an expert in the marketplace, it sort of sticks your name in their head. It’s just sort of a nice kind of back door than the traditional.

Rich: So obviously it sounds like you’ve got to understand the customer journey. And you know, some people define that as awareness, consideration, and decision. So when you’re creating content, are you thinking about each component of the buyer’s journey and writing or creating content for that phase of the journey?

Allie: We do. In fact, every time we decide to launch sort of a more structured campaign, we sit down and do a 2 ½ – 3 hour buyer journey. We talk through all the pain points, we establish the persona that we’re going to go after, we talk about all the pain points associated with whatever the product or service is that we’re trying to support at that time. And then we walked through each of those stages and sort of figure out what’s that content that’s going to help them engage on this level.

And it’s pretty fun, actually. I really enjoyed the buyer journey process. And it doesn’t have to be a three hour situation, but I do think it’s important to consider the buyer at each stage.

Rich: So you mentioned earlier that sometimes you’re writing the sales copy, other times it might be the informational or educational. As specific as you can get, how do you determine the needs the content needs for the company? Or another way of asking is maybe just, how do you know what you’re going to write or record?

Allie: I mean, Envirologix is incredibly collaborative. And so I work with our sort of product segment leaders to determine what their needs are. Or maybe I’ll work with sales when something is happening in the moment in the marketplace, and we’re like, oh, we should do some messaging about that. And so they’ll let us know that there’s something that’s happening that we might monitor or react to.

And then we get together, and we figure out how we want to react to it. And sometimes it’s that going through the whole buyer journey, processing, creating content to support each of those stages. And sometimes it’s just as much as sending out an educational email alert, or deciding to boost some keywords on Google or whatever. But it’s definitely collaborative and it’s very much driven by the sort of sales and product support departments in the company.

Rich: You kind of tease us in your answer, but I’m curious. Being an SEO nerd myself, do you consider SEO when you’re creating your copy?

Allie: We definitely consider SEO when we’re creating our copy. We have a digital marketing manager who’s awesome. And you know, we actually were just rewriting our project brief this past week, and keywords and key phrases. What are our customers going to be Googling when they have this problem, or when they want to look for this service.

And so we start getting information from, again, the segment leaders and the product leaders. One of the really most important things about Envirologix as a company, is that they have a focus on something called VOC, which is ‘voice of customer’. Which means every time we launch a big initiative, we go out and we do research and find out what our customers are saying, what they want, what their needs are.

And so a lot of time that VOC drives what our keywords are. But also we have an awesome digital manager who does the homework.

Rich: But also, I would assume that by understanding the words that your customers are using, whether they’re using them at Google or at a networking event, helps you also determine what the content is and the words that you should be using in all the content you’re creating. Correct?

Allie: That’s correct.

Rich: So what to have figured out what you’re going to write, or, and I assume this also includes for some business, at least we can include audio content, it could include illustrations, photography, videography, whatever it is in terms of creating that content that you need. How do you decide where all of that content ends up? Like, how do you distribute that content around.

Allie: Well, I think that most of our content starts tied to a specific initiative, whether it’s a small scale thing like those emails that we were talking about, or the full kind of content marketing journey that hits all the stages. But once we use it once, I believe that one piece of content used one time is basically a waste of time. And so once we create a piece of content, you know, you want to slice and dice it a lot of times. So you use it for its original intended purpose. And then it probably turns into some social posts, maybe it turns into some emails, it could turn into some short videos. You know, maybe it turns into a quiz, who knows. But that piece of information where you bothered to get your VOC and go through your buyer journey and figure it all out, you gotta make the most of that content. But it really depends on the content and what purpose it’s trying to serve, to figure out kind of where I’m going to slice and dice and sort of deposit it.

Rich: All right. So you are coming up with some great quality content. And then like you’re talking about, you’re going to repurpose it, you’re going to recycle it, you’re going to get as much out of it as possible. Which begs the question, do you have some sort of editorial or content calendar you use there?

Allie: You know I do have like a content roadmap, sort of planning out where the big launches are, where the big initiatives are. And so I plot those on my roadmap, and then kind of fill in the gaps with the kind of slice and dices. Does that makes sense?

Rich: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you use a lot of the social media content to drive traffic back to the bigger content pieces, or do they serve a different purpose for you?

Allie: It depends. I mean, I do certainly like to link back to like, oh, here’s a cool white paper that we wrote, let’s throw it out there and drive people back to that. But sometimes it’s not even driving people back to the physical, full boat content, sometimes there’s just a point in you’ve got a huge white paper and there’s just one point that you want to drive home, and you could just pluck out that single point and maybe that’s a tweet. And maybe it goes back to the page on the website that refers to the product that it’s talking about or something. It doesn’t always have to go back to the full white paper or whatever. Although I do frequently do that.

Rich: So this might be a question that’s better aimed at your digital marketing manager, but how do you get as many eyeballs as you can on the content that you spent all this time creating?

Allie: That’s a great question. And it probably is a better question for our digital manager, but I will do my best. Heather, I’m sorry.

We also have, you know, our marketing department is a really collaborative team. And so we have me doing the content stuff, we’ve got Heather and she’s doing the digital planning, and then we have John who’s our marketing insights guy. And so between the three of us, you know, figuring out who it is that we’re looking for, pulling the right lists, targeting, segmenting. We do a lot of account-based marketing, which actually is sort of less eyes than more eyes. It’s where you basically choose the accounts that you want to go over that you want to serve your content to and serve it just directly to that group of people.

You’re kind of stalking them a little on the internet with your content. So sometimes the most eyes isn’t always the desired end result, it’s the right eyes for us. But sometimes we do want to get the most eyes. In which case it’s a lot of really creative salesforce queries, and working with our segment leaders and our sales team, to make sure that we’re hitting the right folks.

Again, John – our insights guy – he also goes out into the world and tries to find… visibility is really important. Finding out who else we can be targeting and not just sitting and letting our lists stagnate. So it’s a real process. But then like, so he helps us get the right lists to start with. But then if we’re driving demand gen content, I think that those keywords are important right there, and some more of the kind of SEO aspects of things that I definitely can’t speak to – I’m sorry, Heather – are part of it.

And also just, for me, from a content manager angle, trying to make it engaging. I work in an industry that is biotechnology for agriculture, which is actually incredibly interesting. But it’s a really interesting, varied audience that includes farmers, small farmers, and also includes, lab technicians. And so there’s a real variety of people that we speak to and making sure that we are speaking the language of our desired target audience, but then also that we’re being engaging and relevant. So that’s my job. And then Heather gives me the right keywords, and then John gives me the right list.

Rich: So you mentioned that this is a new position at your company. So I’m curious, how do you measure the success of the content? And do you have KPIs that you try and track to see how you’re doing?

Allie: We do, we certainly do have KPIs. A lot of my KPIs are related to sort of content generation. And my personal KPIs are really related to content generation, and deadline management, and librarian related activities. But we also track every campaign. We’ve got the Google analytics going.

And depending on the kind of campaign, like if it’s an ABM campaign, are the right accounts engaging with us? You know, when we think they’re warm enough and we pass them off to sales, is sales able to accept that new prospect and put them in the pipeline? That’s really a big one for us. Like, are they moving into the pipeline? You know, because if we’re warming them up and they feel like they’re hot and ready to go, and then sales calls them and they’re like, ‘Yeah, no thank you. Not interested.’ You know, that’s kind of a bummer for us.

So definitely getting new opportunities into the pipeline is a big part of it. But really just getting engagement. Like we had a recent digital campaign that had a really high click rate that we were really excited about. But then it had kind of a high bounce rate, which was sort of a bummer. So we were getting parts of it right and parts of it wrong. And we’re just, you know, always trying to learn and fine tune what it is that we’re putting out there.

Rich: I’ve definitely experienced situations like that, where you’re like, “Oh my God, everybody’s clicking on this”. And then it’s like, it still didn’t really add up to much more. So sometimes you have to go back and figure out where things got off the track.

So you’ve got a number of roles here in the marketing department. And I think Content Manager is a position that’s relatively new, as far as other positions in a company might go. And maybe a lot of Maine-based companies, unless they’re much larger, don’t have anybody in this role. Do you have any suggestions on when a company might think about hiring a Content Manager as a way to kind of generate more leads and grow the company?

Allie: That’s a tough question. Because in a lot of ways, content is kind of everything. And so having a content manager can be really valuable in terms of, again, that kind of brand management aspect of keeping things consistent and keeping voice consistent. Because I do think when companies are starting out, they’re very much one man or one woman or one person, where they’re trying to do all the things and falling down on half of them, switching hands on the other half. And so, you know, it’s one of those things where a content manager could benefit any company at any point.

But I do think that in some ways it’s a bit of a luxury role and making sure that your company is up and running and that your employees are fairly compensated and have insurance. Like all that stuff comes first before hiring a content manager. But certainly there comes a point where you’ve reached, it’s almost like you’ve grown out of your small business pants and you’re ready to get your big boy or big girl or big person pants on. And you know, that to me feels like the time. You’re financially stable, you’ve been financially stable, you’re starting to understand who you are as a business. You know that you need to take a jump to take your business to the next level, and you don’t know what that jump is. I think a content manager can really help you make that jump.

Rich: That makes a lot of sense. And I’ve definitely seen companies over the years where they do have a lot of things working in their favor, but they’ve never focused on the marketing, or the content piece, or the branding piece. Which do seem like, you know, if the Mav laws of, what is it, like self-actualization up at the top of the pyramid of whatever it is.

So it’s like, after you’ve taken care of your shelter and food, then you can start to move up and do other things. I feel like maybe content and marketing. And now of course you’re in content, I’m in marketing, I certainly think they’re critically important for your growth. But at the same time, I hear what you’re saying. That sometimes you have to make sure that the nuts and bolts are working before you can do that next level of growth in your company.

Allie: But I also think that learning about content marketing and learning about content management, kind of as you go as an entrepreneur, as a small business owner, and kind of keeping those things in the back of your head as things that are important and worth exploring. Like put that on your long range to do list and just, you know, as you’re creating your own content and as you’re sort of fumbling through your first marketing initiatives, just kind of say, what would a content manager do? And so you can kind of have the spirit of a content manager in you, until you can afford to hire one.

Rich: And many business owners who are wearing multiple hats may be a content marketer/content manager already. Although that’s just one of the hats they wear because they’re sending out their email newsletters ,or they’re creating a blog ,or something else, or creating some sort of content. But when you get to that certain tipping point, hiring somebody who has the experience, who’s able to write or create some other form of content and understands voice and understands brand, is going to suddenly elevate your company and attract a whole other level of clientele as well.

Allie: Yeah, I think that’s really true. But I don’t want people in small business situations who aren’t at the content manager step yet to think that the work that they’re doing now is not valuable work. Like basically you’re laying the groundwork for your future content manager. When you’re ready to expand, you will be the voice. You know, those are the seeds that you’re planting for them to sow later on. So you know, just because you don’t have a content manager doesn’t mean you’re not creating good content and doesn’t mean that your time spent doing these things isn’t valuable.

Rich: That’s great advice. Allie, everybody who comes on the show we asked this question, I’m very curious to hear your answer. What one thing would you change if you could to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Allie: I’ve turned this question over in my brain several times, and I’m still having a hard time coming up with it. I mean, I’m very torn between, you know, Portland specifically has great free business resources, but I don’t think that the rest of the state has the same access to a lot of the same. And I do actually think that the pandemic has helped those sort of tendrils grow a bit. But just making sort of business growth and education resources that are free, available, and widespread, and accessible. I volunteer with SCORE and it never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t know that it’s there. So it’s not just about adding more business resources, it’s about making the resources that do exist more visible and more accessible to the people who are starting and growing their businesses. I think that would be it.

Rich: I’m glad you said that. Because you obviously are working for SCORE statewide. National organization, great statewide presence. And there is some, you know, Maine SBDC in CEI and FAME Maine, I mean there are organizations. But I think you’re right, that maybe they’re not visible enough to the people who might need the help the most. When I first moved my business to Maine, I had no idea that a lot of these organizations exist. I wish I had. I only found out about them after I had already created my own network and established connections. And then through those connections, I’m like, “Oh, look at all this free stuff I could’ve gotten along the way.” So maybe there does need to be some improved outreach for these organizations, to the very people who need it the most.

Allie, this has been great and informative, and I love it. So if people want to learn more about you, more about the company, where can we find you online?

Allie: Currently the best place to find me online is on LinkedIn as Alexandra Ulrich, check me out. Or you can probably sneak in the back door via Envirologix. If you can’t remember how to spell my name, that’s also cool. I’m still vaguely on Twitter as @Broke207, so you can also reach out to me there, although my content is decidedly less professional.

Rich: All right. And if we ever have another Maine tweet-up, we can all find you there as well.

Allie: Indeed. I will be there.

Rich: Allie, thank you so much for your time today.

Allie: I really appreciate it. Thanks, Rich. This was really fun.