Is it possible for a brand to succeed at scale with new content marketing tactics?
For proof, just check out what Evernote is doing.
The organizational/productivity platform has built large audiences across a wide range of fresh channels, including on Medium (100,000+ followers) and with its “Taking Note” podcast a top five tech news show on iTunes).
On top of that, the company excels in developing traditional content such as beautiful infographics and engaging guides.
So, what’s the secret to Evernote’s success? How does the firm approach content creation and content strategy?
To find out, we recently chatted with Forrest Dylan Bryant, the company’s Director of Marketing Content.
Check out the full Q&A below:
Q: What is your background and what is Evernote?
A: Evernote is a place where you can capture, organize, and share your thoughts and ideas. You can keep all of your notes and docs in one place, so you never have to worry about where they are. Your thoughts are always with you, always accessible, and always in sync, via desktop, mobile, and the web. We have more than 200 million users around the world, so our content reaches a pretty broad audience.
I lead a team of writers, and I’m first and foremost a writer myself. But I’ve worked a lot of different sides of the content landscape over the years, from marketing to strategy to CMS management, for big corporations and startups and nonprofits. I also have a background in book publishing, I’ve written novels, been a music journalist, and I’ve spent nearly two decades in community radio. So I guess I take a big-picture view of content.
Q: What role does digital content play for Evernote? Why are you creating it?
A: I’m so glad you asked me that question, because that’s the question all content marketing should begin with: Why are we doing this? Who is it for? And what is it supposed to do, for us and for the consumer? Some organizations never ask those questions, but they’re essential if you want your content to be meaningful and get results.
Here at Evernote, we’re trying to help people manage information — to collect it, organize it, and find it whenever and wherever they need it — so they can focus on the things that matter to them. This company’s mission is helping people do their work more effectively. So our content has to have the same mission. It’s not just about selling the product, because Evernote isn’t just a product. It’s a means to an end.
When you look at it that way, our content becomes an extension of the product. It’s about inspiring people to think better, organize better, and use Evernote better so they can find that freedom to focus. We want all of our content to deliver real value.
Q: What sorts of pieces are you creating? What is effective for helping you achieve your goals?
A: Our content marketing breaks down into a few big buckets, which align with the kinds of pieces our audience responds to the most:
First, there’s educational content that helps people discover Evernote, learn why it might be right for them, and get the most value from it. With that kind of content, our goal is to get people to think about new ways to use the app so they use it more often to do more things. This takes the form of use cases, feature walkthroughs, demo videos, and tips. That’s not completely self-serving. We’ve found that the more notes someone creates, and the more they put into those notes, the more value they get out of Evernote.
Next, there’s guidance and inspiration for becoming more organized and productive. You could call that thought leadership, but it takes a lot of different forms, like interviews with productivity experts and teachers, explainers for popular productivity methods, or looking at the great thinkers of history and how they approached their work.
Third is all the corporate and funnel content that explains new features, tells our story, and builds awareness and gets people to try the product.
In terms of channels, we focus heavily on our blog and social media, but as we branch out we’re seeing the most growth in newer channels. We just hit 100,000 followers on Medium. Our “Taking Note” podcast has repeatedly reached the top 5 for tech news on iTunes, and our series of Facebook Live webinars is getting more viewers and more engagement with each installment.
Q: What do you think is the key to your success with Medium and podcasting? Are there any audience development tactics that have worked especially well for you?
A: I think in both of those cases – with Medium and the podcast – one of the main reasons we have been successful is that we have been focused on giving people useful and relevant content. We are really focused in both of these channels on giving people in-depth content that is of use to them, and that they can take and apply to their own methods of working.
With Medium we are very careful about which pieces we post and which we don’t. We take the audience on that platform into account and focus on things that they are going to be able to get something out of, and interact with, rather than just put up content for content’s sake.
We also focus a lot on quality. We have freelancers but we don’t farm out our content creation. We keep the pool small. We are very careful about editing. We always want to make sure that we present our content in the best possible light. That includes the way that we edit our podcast; quality is hugely important.
In terms of building an audience, we find strategic use of our email newsletter very helpful. We always try to fit in the right pieces of content which we think are going to resonate with the most people. It’s not just everything we have published; it’s highly curated.
Also, we do a lot of cross-channel promotion. If we’ve got something interesting on Medium, we make sure we highlight it on other social channels. That helps a lot.
Q: How do you measure the success of your content marketing efforts? Which metrics do you pay close attention to?
A: We look at the fundamentals like clickthroughs and shares, time on page, and that sort of thing, but we’re also trying to dig deeper. Like for an article, there’s a big difference between unique views, average time on the page, and how many people actually reached the end of the article. Those are three totally different metrics, and all basic stuff, but you need to put them together if you want to have a truly useful picture of your content’s performance. And what did the reader do next? Click a link to learn more? Share it? Or just walk away? Reach matters, but engagement matters more.
We always look at comments, not just the number but the sentiment. That’s huge. Only a certain subset of your audience is made up of the sort of people who make comments — the enthusiasts, the passionate, and the cranks — but those are also often the people who care the most, who are most likely to amplify your good content and let you know when you’re not living up to your own standards.
You can also learn a lot from the metrics gathered across your organization, from registrations to customer support tickets to PR share of voice. I want to know how all of it’s doing and why because that tells me where our content is helping and where it isn’t.
Q: Any favorite pieces of Evernote content? What are some good examples of what you guys do?
For the company’s anniversary this summer, we put the spotlight on Stepan Pachikov, the original founder of Evernote. He’s a true visionary and an under-appreciated hero of Silicon Valley, but he also has a fascinating personal story. So one of our writers wrote a long profile that was really a piece of journalism. We wrote it as if it would be published in a prestige magazine like Vanity Fair or the New Yorker. It went deep and didn’t flinch. That piece went onto our Medium channel and became an Editor’s Pick. I was really proud of it.
On a more practical level, we discovered that our customers love being able to save time by using quality, pre-made note templates for specialized tasks, like goal setting or class projects, or even planning a novel. So we assembled an in-depth primer on how to use those templates and provided a whole set of templates that you can add to Evernote with a click. That blog post gathered hundreds of thousands of views in a very short time and people wrote in to thank us for making their days easier. That’s content as an extension of the product.
We also had a crew at the Confab content strategy conference this spring, where we were the official note-takers. Three writers covered every session at the conference, and a notebook full of all of those notes was made freely available to the public afterwards. You can view it even if you don’t use Evernote, but if you do use it, you can save the whole thing with one click and have those notes forever. We did the same thing at SXSW. Again, content as an extension of the product.
But some of my favorite content is when we’re just scrappy. Like when we ran a bunch of Twitter polls and then compiled the results into a fun little infographic summarizing a day in the life of our fans. That’s content as conversation, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Q: Finally, which content marketing trends are you keeping a close eye on? Which formats, tactics, or platforms do you think will have a major impact over the next few years?
A: I find the resurgence of podcasting over the past two years to be a remarkable phenomenon. I’m a radio DJ in my spare time, so maybe I’m just biased towards audio, but what I find most interesting about podcasting is that it allows the delivery of deep content through passive means.
Here’s what I mean by that: reading text or watching a video requires your full attention. It requires an active investment by the audience, not just of time but of focus, and that’s why so many great articles are languishing unread in people’s Evernote, Feedly, and Pocket queues.
But a podcast is audio. It’s still a time investment, but it’s passive. You can listen while you drive, or cook, or do yard work. And it’s perfect for the kind of deep thought leadership content that actually changes minds or inspires people to think in a new way. That’s powerful AND convenient. So I’m a big fan of podcasting.
Over the next few years, I’m also very interested in seeing how native social media content evolves. You’re always going to stand a better chance of gaining attention if you go to where the audience already is. And an even better chance if you’re not “going” there at all, if it’s a natural environment for you. So we choose our social platforms carefully and try to suit the content to the people who are there and the ways they like to interact in those spaces. As artificial intelligence and other innovations come to those platforms, they may enable entirely new ways of personalizing interactions, and that could increase the value of social content exponentially. We’re already seeing that a video session on Facebook Live can be far more engaging than a traditional webinar. Just imagine when your content can be chopped up and reassembled to fit an individual’s interests and needs.
And while it isn’t content per se, I think real-world experiences are going to be increasingly important to brands. The more time we spend online, the harder it is for online content to stand out. It becomes background noise. Real, physical experiences like pop-up stores and fun events bring novelty and immersion. You can touch them, take a selfie in them, have real conversations with real people. When it’s well done, an experience like that has an impact far beyond the few people who are actually there. It touches their whole networks in a unique and authentic way.