Creating a Culture for Content Creation

Episode #019: Christoph Trappe, Content Strategist at Voxpopme and Chief Content and Marketing Officer at The Authentic Storytelling Project

In this episode, we chat with Christoph Trappe, Content Strategist at Voxpopme and Chief Content and Marketing Officer at The Authentic Storytelling Project. He has more than 20 years of experience in content marketing and journalism. He’s previously worked at Stamats, MedTouch, United Way of East Central Iowa, BVS Performance Solutions, The Gazette Company, and Lee Enterprises. 

We’re talking about how getting your executive team on board with strategic content, creating a culture for content within your business, how designers and content writers should work together, and so much more.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Content won’t drive instant results. Great things take time. 
  2. Meetings in the middle of the day don’t work for content writers. Create a culture that’s conducive to everyone’s schedule.
  3. Let your personality shine in your organization’s content. We’re all human, let’s start writing for humans.

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Episode Transcription

Stephanie Cox: Welcome to real marketers where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness, not permission, obsess about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there’s absolutely no bullsh*t allowed here. And I’m your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I’ve pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola, I have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get done. On this show my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truths about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. Content culture, there aren’t many people that use those two words in the same sentence, at least none that I’ve heard of, except for today’s guest on the show. He’s given a lot of thought to what it takes to create compelling and effective content for a brand. While there are some obvious items that stand out such as a talented writer, gifted designer, a clear understanding of the audience, the goals of the content, the one item that seems to be always missing is how the company’s culture impacts content. I had honestly never thought of it until I talked to today’s guest, and I would guess I’m probably not the only one who had never given this a second thought. But then it was this light bulb moment when he started talking about how creating a culture for content. And I started wondering, why no one had mentioned this concept before? In a few minutes, when you hear my conversation with him, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. In this episode, we chat with Christoph Trappe, content strategists at Voxpopme and chief content and marketing officer at The Authentic Storytelling Project. He has more than 20 years of experience in content marketing and journalism. We’re talking about how to get your executive team on board with strategic content, creating a culture for content within your business, how designers and content writers should work together, and so much more. Well, I’m excited to have you on to talk about all things content, but before we dive into that, why don’t you tell me something about yourself that very few people know about you?

Christoph Trappe: Well, one thing I don’t really talk about publicly too often, but I’m actually a twin. So there you go, my twin doesn’t live anywhere near me, doesn’t look all that similar to me, but there is a another version of me out there.

Stephanie Cox: So I want to maybe start at a really high level and really get your perspective on, what is content and content marketing today?

Christoph Trappe: So when it comes to content and content marketing today, Stephanie, it’s really a differentiator for people. How do you stay in front of people? How do you share your story by offering value? So that’s maybe the biggest differentiator when it comes to advertising, right? We just push out products, out features, buy, buy, buy. And in content marketing, we want to offer value for the audience. Now, how can we share something that ties them closer to us, that helps them solve a problem, that helps them understand something? And then when they’re ready to buy, they can still buy. Content marketers also like money, so let’s get that out of the way, right? When people say,” Oh my goodness, it’s not about selling.” But selling is different, there is a competition in really any vertical anymore. I say,” Oh, that’s really unique.” Like when I go into a new vertical, and then I see,” Hey, there’s 10 competitors already, at least, that do very similar things.” So content marketing and content strategy can help you stand out and can help you stay in front of people, even when you don’t have to sell to them or when they’re not ready to buy.

Stephanie Cox: So then how do you think about getting, let’s say, your C- suite on board with investing more in content marketing when it doesn’t necessarily have those immediate effects that I think a lot of us are ingrained to, right? We all want instant gratification, we want results or sales tomorrow, but content is more of a longer play game. So how do you think about creating the business case around that?

Christoph Trappe: Yeah, so I always like to ask executives, how long did it take you to become an executive? And nobody ever says I became an executive overnight, right? It took them a while to get there or build a company or start a company or whatever, or bring a product to market. So all these things take time, so why does content need to be different? Even when you think about PPC campaigns, right? They don’t always work the day you start them. I mean, I was just talking to somebody the other day [Nava Hopkins 00: 04: 38 ] and she said,” You got to run them, and Google has to learn about your company, and Google has to learn about the industry.” So it’s not just content that takes time, everything takes time. But I think sometimes it’s that old mindset, we do content for something, one thing and we push it out and we see immediate results, right? Even when I grew up in journalism, what would I do? I published the newspaper, right? I write for the newspaper, the paper comes out, the next day it’s a new day. But content and content marketing in the digital world is different, it builds on each other, right? And it’s kind of a longer term process, but once you do it well, and once it works, the communaltive effort over the time that you’ve invested keeps paying off and people keep finding you, and you have a chance at least to show up in search. And of course now we have voice search, so people need to be aware of that as well. But that’s kind of how you have to talk to people about it and make sure everybody’s on the same timeline.

Stephanie Cox: No, I think that’s such a good point that you bring up because… And I love how you flipped it back on kind of the CEO instead,” Well, I mean, did you become an executive overnight?” I think it’s just a really fun way to kind of have that conversation because it’s so true, you can’t instant results from something that isn’t designed to create instant results in the way that they would want. So I think that goes back a little bit, maybe to how you think about the culture for content overall, which I know is something you’re very passionate about. So talk to me about this idea of creating the right culture for creating content, what does that look like in the ideal state for you?

Christoph Trappe: So when I wrote the book, Content Performance Culture, really what I realized is that a lot of people talk about creating content, but they don’t necessarily set it up for that to succeed. And here’s the reality when it comes to content creation, even when you’re highly efficient, it still takes time, right? Even if you do a live stream, or even if you do a podcast, there’s still editing involved, there’s still headline writing involved, there’s still show node writing involved. I mean, it’s not… Everything takes time, so let’s forget about that it doesn’t take time. And what happens is that our days are eaten up by Zoom meetings, by Slack messages, by emails that we don’t need to be on, but all kinds of things that eat up time. And every time time gets taken away from content strategy or content marketing, you just lost that time. And then there’s also studies out there that talk about, it takes you so long to go back to a task after you were interrupted. So I’m not saying,” Stay off my back, everybody.” I mean, you do have to collaborate and that’s a big part of having the right culture, but you have to be strategic about it, right? So pulling in a writer for a meeting in the middle of the day, when you know they’re writing all day, it’s probably not a good idea. Unless they tell you that they like that break, right? But a lot of times it’s better to get them in the morning or get them when they’re done writing and don’t interrupt them necessarily. So we have to set up that culture of what we’re trying to do. And then the next thing, I mean, there’s many things, but another thing to consider, is we have to look at the data. What are people reading? What’s working? What’s performing? What are people searching for? What our good keywords? Going after keywords that have huge search volume, probably doesn’t work for most companies, you have to kind of find that sweet spot of what you write about and what you cover and how you address it. And then the other thing there’s still a lot of watering content down, it’s it’s marketing gobbledygook. Have a unique perspective, have some personality and companies have to do that, and here’s the reason why, because people actually relate to that more, right? When you show some personality, when you’re not so stiff necessarily. And the other thing, fair warning to the content creators in the audience here, technology is getting better and better. I mean the Associated Press is already using machine learning to write some articles, but they can’t necessarily write with personality. They can’t necessarily create a podcast like you and I are talking, so that’s a differentiator for companies as well to create that kind of content.

Stephanie Cox: So thinking about that, you’re the second person I’ve talked to you probably in the last four or six weeks about this idea of AI creating content. How do you balance, right, there’s a lot of efficiency in that, it allows you to create more content, but then also knowing that as consumers, whether you’re marketing, B2B, B2C, or B2B to C we’re all people, we want content that engages us, so how do you balance the two?

Christoph Trappe: Well, I mean, just because it’s created by a machine doesn’t mean it doesn’t engage people, but there’s a fine line. I mean, do I know, can I put it in a better way than a machine can? It depends, I like to think I can. But machines get better at better, right? To think about, how do we optimize it to get you to pay attention to us? And of course they can look at what’s working and what’s not, and so can people. But for content creators to still stay relevant, they got to find that niche. And if I’m thinking about podcasting, I think podcasting is one of the best ways, honestly, for companies to try to stand out because yes, there’s more and more podcasts, but at the end of the day, there’s way fewer podcasts than there is websites, right? And now Google actually shows podcasts in search, so if you are not showing up on you website in the number one spot, your podcasts can, right? Especially if you push it to Google podcasts, which you should. And the other thing is it shows our true personality, right? It’s really, really hard, if I’m a joke, and I like to think I’m not, Stephanie. But it’s really hard for me to think that for 30 minutes, right? People either like me or they don’t. So that’s kind of another thing people need to think about how they get in front of people and then use technology when it makes sense. I mean, the Associated Press writing sports articles, the very simple ones, with a machine, makes sense to me. I mean, it totally does.

Stephanie Cox: So you talked about this idea of creating a culture for content, how do you help a company transition to that? If they’re doing it kind of the way they run every other part of their business, where your content writer, maybe you’re a designer are in meetings throughout the entire day, they’re constantly being interrupted by, whether it’s Slack messages, meetings, et cetera. How do you start to make that transition? And how do you advocate that you should?

Christoph Trappe: First of all, you have to make up your mind and realize that that’s what needs to be done. And then the next thing is you have to understand what it actually means to do good content and have a good content strategy. I sometimes go to companies and they say to me,” Oh yeah, we want to create content.” And I say,” Like what?” And they said,” Well, they need content. They need content.” And they don’t answer my question because I don’t think they understand my question, right? So this is content, us recording a podcast is content. Me doing a VR video, which I can now do with my iPhone, with a simple attachment, that’s content. An article is content, a Tweet is content. I mean, me giving a speech is content, so you got to be more specific. And I think we have to bring people along to understand how that works. And then we have to find a way to find the right systems. And back in the day, I mean, I had bosses that would just come up to me all the time, and that’s kind of how it used to be. But today we have to re- allocate the time differently, so I think the agile marketing process is a good way to think about it, right? We’re setting priorities for the next week, we’re working on this for the next two weeks, whatever the timeline might be. And then you might have stand- ups depending what your company is. Some companies publish a lot. I’m not saying you necessarily have to do that depending on your industry and your goals and your sales cycle and all those things, but they have daily stand- ups and that’s where they talk first thing in the morning or whatever, 10 minutes. Here’s are some barriers. Here are some things. Here’s a couple of brainstorms we could talk about,” Hey, I was working on this article. I think I need another graphic, can you add that to your plate, so it doesn’t wait another week?” And then you move on, right? Then you move on. Then you’re working. And I think that that has become very clear during COVID when meetings all of the sudden disappeared, right? And we were all at home and people were just writing, people were just creating. People were editing podcasts, and all of the sudden production went up in some cases, certainly in other cases, it went down because now all the kids were at home and we had to adjust to that a little bit. But you have to understand how people work and how it works and what you want them to accomplish. Do you want them to be there so you can interrupt them 10 times a day? Or do you want them to be there to create content and create a good strategy and go after what matters?

Stephanie Cox: I loved your point about the impact that the pandemic has had on content creators, because I’ve heard and seen very similar things. A lot of those people will have really liked being in their home and being able to focus, and they’ve been able to create, I think really exceptional content a lot faster than they were when they were more in the office setting. Which makes me question not just how we work, but even how offices are structured after all of this, to make people be able to be as effective as they need to be. Or I advocate for remote work being here to stay for anyone that wants it too. But let’s think about this idea of content. You mentioned already about you have writers, you have designers, how do they work together? Because I feel like the constant battle that I’ve seen in my entire career is the designer wants to know the content before they can figure out the design. The writer wants to know what design concept we’re going to go with so they figure out how to best write it, and it’s like this constant, ongoing battle. How would you think about solving for that? Or how do they work together to figure out a solution so both of them can be most effective?

Christoph Trappe: Well, first of all you got to have the same goals and that’s, I think, a big problem I see in companies sometimes. The design team reports up one area and then the content team another area, and then content strategy might be another area. I mean, you’re already setting them up to fail just because now they have to maneuver all those different bosses to begin with. But the next thing is you have to put on a different hat to collaborate differently. And I actually just said this this week and I said,” Okay, here’s how the designers can work with the content team. Here is that could work right when we roll that out in the next few weeks.” And I said, very clear, most of my first ideas are usually crap.” Let’s just be honest. I’m going to say an idea and you’re going to think,” Who’s this guy, he doesn’t have any good ideas.” I talk to think, right? I think out loud, I’m trying to figure out what’s the next best idea. So basically teams need to each other, right? That’s what Steve Jobs talked about, you bring an idea in and somebody says,” Okay, and how about this and this and this?” And by the time you’re done, you have a better idea. So it’s not just as much as throwing things over the wall and saying,” Hey, can you make this look pretty?” That’s, by the way, another thing, if you’re a designer and your only job is to make it look pretty, guess what? I can automate that at some point, and to an extent I already can. So you got to bring your,” I’m a designer, I know what can work and I can collaborate with a content strategist or the content writer to kind of enhance the content that we’re already working on.” And that doesn’t mean to make it look pretty, it makes it more readable or consumable. Somethings should be graphics, they shouldn’t be a paragraph at all. So that’s kind of, I think, where that collaboration comes in.

Stephanie Cox: You said my favorite phrase, which is,” Can you just make this look pretty?” It’s the number one insult to anyone in marketing and content ever, which is,” Can you just go pretty this up?” And I’m like,” You don’t understand what we do.” It’s the start of a new year, which means it’s a great time to rethink literally everything about your marketing, including the culture you’re creating for your content team. Are you scheduling meetings in the middle of the day, which is breaking up their productivity? Do you give them enough freedom to creatively push your content? If not, now’s a great time to start. You’ve been listening to Real Marketers, if you love what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. And don’t forget to tell a friend, all of this marketing, goodness, shouldn’t be kept a secret.