What's Working in Marketing™: How Content Marketers Should Think About Distribution Tactics and AI with Ryan Law, VP of Content at Animalz
What's Working in Marketing™ is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.
On this episode, we spoke with Ryan Law, VP of Content at Animalz. He’s been doing content marketing for over 10 years with tons of skilled colleagues that live and breathe strategy and execution on a daily basis. He has some polarizing views on content distribution and the use of AI for copywriting that every marketer should hear. As someone who started out in SEO, we talk about the importance of long-form content in a marketing mix. Ryan also shares thoughts on media trends and creating content for the sake of experience, without the goal of data or conversion. It’s a show that’s entirely focused on content, the innovation we are witnessing around the growing industry, and how marketers still get distribution wrong.
You can listen to What's Working in Marketing™ – A Podcast by RightMetric wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Tune In, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts.
Here’s a full transcript of our conversation with Ryan:
Charlie Grinnell: Welcome to What's Working in Marketing, a podcast for marketers that uncovers what's working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world's best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. I'm your host, Charlie Grinnell. On this episode I'm joined by Ryan Law, Vice President of Content at Animals. Ryan, thank you very much for joining me today.
Ryan Law: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Yeah, really looking forward to chatting with you.
Charlie Grinnell: Likewise, I've been a fan of animals for a long time. My co-founder and I both have been reading the blog for years, digging into all things content marketing and you posted on Twitter or LinkedIn, I forget where it was like, "Hey, I'm looking to go on some more podcasts." As soon as I saw that I was like, "I got a message this guy and track them down." I really appreciate you taking the time.
Ryan Law: Yeah, that made me so happy then having you respond to that. It occurred to me I could just ask people to see if they want to chat and actually some people did, which is really cool.
Charlie Grinnell: What a concept, what a concept. I always open these episodes by going back to the beginning. I'd love to just get an understanding of how has your career journey progressed to where you're at today with Animals, what you've done and how it's shaped you into how you think about content marketing today and ultimately what you do at Animals.
Ryan Law: Yeah, happy to. I've basically been doing some variation of the thing I do now since I was at university. Basically, I remember at university I was studying economics and tending bar to pay my way through university, doing a terrible job with the course, with the job, everything. And I just thought there has to be a better way of making ends meet. And a friend of mine recommended I check out some freelance blogging sites.
This was 12 years ago and this was the kind of thing where you'd write the world's worst spameus content like reviewing bourbon and hair curling tongues and stuff, and you'd make $3 per article. But I did a few blog posts through that and I realized, yeah you could actually make money with writing, which was a thing I was good at, a thing I enjoyed. And I finished university, all my friends were off into to finance. I thought that sounded like a terrible idea so I just kept at the freelancing. Basically just sat in my parents' room, University for about three years straight just desperately trying to write blog posts for people. Eventually joined a marketing agency through that because it was way less hassle to work with one marketing agency instead of 10 solo . And basically I been working with an in agencies ever since, including a brief st co-founding my own agency as well.
Charlie Grinnell: Wow. It's funny, the more I talk to different marketers, it always goes back to, yeah I started up blogging about weird things. That's a common theme, whether it's booze, hair products, whatever the thing. It seems like a lot of people have got their start and they're like, "Yeah, the internet was this thing I was interested in. It got really weird for a second and then now I'm here and 10 years later and now I work on content for this company or this company or this company."
Ryan Law: Yeah, totally. Content today is a really mature, respected industry but 10 years ago was this nascent weird thing. You had to spend all your time persuading people that it was worthwhile and it was generally like the black hat SEOs that were the most interested in it to get started with. All the gambling niches and all the poker sites and all that kind of thing. Learned a lot through that experience but I also learned a lot about what I didn't want to do and what I thought was bad about content marketing and that plays into what we do at Animals Today where we generally try and leave the internet in a slightly better state than when we found it, which is a good thing to aspire to.
Charlie Grinnell: Well, I want to dig into that. And this is a very broad question but the word content marketing, what does that mean to you? What does that mean to the team at Animals? I feel like that word content marketing has just been thrown around and slapped onto different things and when you think about content marketing and Animals and State of the Union, what comes to mind?
Ryan Law: Yeah, that is a great question. I'm not even sure I have a particularly succinct answer because the thing we've always focused on is long form written content, and I think that has historically been the dominant form of content marketing, mainly because of SEO basically. The unique thing about SEO is obviously you publish a blog post once and it generates compounding traffic, therefore the amount you spend on that blog post becomes effectively cheaper and cheaper with every passing month. And there aren't many other forms of marketing or even content that do that so a lot of content marketing has just been SEO historically. That's definitely changing today.
I get a lot of push back from people that say, "Hey man, it's not just writing podcasts and media publications and going on TikTok and video content and all kinds of things." I guess the aspect of this I think is most interesting and most relevant today is that people are more willing to front load content marketing and earliest stage of the buying process. I think historically content marketing, you are basically solving problems, answering search queries and we're seeing a bit of a movement now around media marketing and the idea being that if a bunch of people are already answering those questions and solving those problems, why not go a step earlier in the buying process and just try and entertain people and just get into their heads through that mechanism. Yeah, we basically do long form written content but there's this huge expansion of what content marketing means today, I think.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, and I feel like it's going through a lot of change with the platforms. To your point, you brought up TikTok, you brought that YouTube is incentivizing maybe more longer form content where people are spending time, whereas TikTok is incentivizing shorter pieces of content but longer time spent on the app consuming shorter pieces of content. It is, I'll just call it a mess, it's a mess out there for content marketers, for marketers in general to be like, "I know I have to create content. Where should I be creating content? What should I be creating? Because for every blog post that says short form video is the future, there's another blog post that's saying, Nope, long form YouTube video or long form blog content are really rich in-depth articles." It is kind of this, there's so many different options out there and we see this all the time with our clients where they're just like, I know I need to create content but what is it?
Ryan Law: I find that interesting actually, because you do almost see cycles of specialism followed by generalism, in terms of marketing skill sets.
I got very far in my career by being a great writer and focusing on purely written content but even in the work I do at Animals, there is so much I've had to add to my skillset to even do a good job at the written stuff because I'm distributing it on social and spending a bunch of time there. I'm repurposing it into other formats, holding events and webinars that talk about the content we've written. There's this huge extra set of skills that people required to be a good content marketer today so there is a little bit of a mess in some cases I think.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, I think back to, there was that phrase, however many years ago, content is king but then there's been counter arguments to that where it's like everyone has to make great content now and distribution is actually the name of the game. Just because you made something great doesn't mean that it's going to pop off. Yeah, I feel to your point, there are so many great writers out there. My background is video production so when I got into video production, it was really when DSLR started taking off for video so the 5D mark 2 came out so all of a sudden everyone with $1,000 camera was a cinematographer and had this really artistic, and I think about the... What's that guy's name? Philip Bloom was the British guy who, he was a camera guy, a broadcast camera guy and then all of a sudden he's getting into these artistic films. Vimeo was up on the rise and you're starting to see basically the democratization, so to speak, of content marketing.
Now we're seeing that with writing, we're seeing that with Twitter threads, we're seeing that with video content, we're seeing that across the board. I want to dive into that just around the topic that we're talking about today is all around distribution tactics. You have a polarizing take on distribution and I'd love for you to unpack that.
Ryan Law: Yeah, to your point, I think distribution is one of the hard problems of content marketing for exactly that. When you democratize something, you make it very easy for lots of people to get okay results. And if anything you make it harder to get really, really good results because everyone's suddenly doing the thing that maybe only a handful of people were doing in the past. And I think lots of rigor has been applied to lots of parts of content marketing in terms of writing and keyword research and that sort of thing. And distribution is one of those areas that hasn't had the same rigor applied to it.
And there is a lot of bad advice and a lot of advice that skirts around the actual hard part of it. I think you saw that slightly spicy LinkedIn post I did where I was saying, "If you've got one of these 1,000 checklist items for comp distribution, probably get rid of it, don't worry about it, it's not going to serve you very well. And I still stand by that because the reason those checklists are so popular is because they promise to reduce something that is very hard down to something that is very simple that we all like binary checklist times, we all going through and saying, "Hey, yeah I posted this to those 25 different forums or whatever." But the act of doing that for one is probably not going to have a very big impact. Some of these, they always reference places like Growth Hackers and sites like that, which were active about 10 years ago and today they're just basically ghost towns. Even if you do go through that checklist, you are probably going to just wind people up because every article you publish every week, you're posting to 50 different channels in a complete monologue and you're not making time to solicit interaction and feedback.
And there are so many different types of content as well as you mentioned. There is no one size fits all checklist for that type of content. If you try and distribute an organic search targeted blog post and a thought leadership blog post in the same way, that's the recipe for both of those experiences to suck for anyone that encounters them. Most SEO blog posts are incredibly situationally useful. They're designed to solve a problem that a person has at a particular point in time. Why would you post that to social media? I don't understand the logic behind that.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. One thing I was just thinking about as you were talking through that is yes, we all love that binary checklist of everyone has that nice notion doc where it's like, "Here I am checking off my to-dos." Notion, Whatever other tool you use, it still takes a lot of time to do it well. I think that's something where we've had Ross Simmons on the podcast before and he's all about create once, distribute forever. And I generally align with that sentiment and basically the overarching sentiment that really... That I'm down with is, "You need to put investment into distribution." Creating something that's good, using air quotes here and then posting it once and never thinking about it again. That's a great way to light money on fire basically from a content marketing perspective. If you're cold and need to stay warm and need to start a fire, do that but doing distribution well takes a ton of time and it is an investment.
And I think it's often an afterthought, I would say marketing five years ago or 10 years ago but it still happens today probably, where it's like, "Oh my gosh, we're going to take our budget for the sake of easy numbers, a hundred grand, we're going to spend 90 grand producing the thing and then 10 grand to put it some Facebook ads behind it. And that's it. What probably needs to be happening is you need to spend maybe 50 grand or 40 grand producing it and then that other 50 or 60 grand, how can we distribute this? Whether it's some of that budget is going to a co-creator, maybe an influencer or ad budget to go to paid search or paid social or whatever those things are, maybe it's a placement somewhere. What's your take on all that?
Ryan Law: I completely agree with the ethos behind that. I think most organizations of index really heavily on content creation, and I completely agree, they don't focus on actually getting that out into the world. And you end up with companies that have these vast libraries of content that they don't know what they published last year. No one else knows what published, just languish is there despite being really good and really interesting. The only issue I take with that general concept is that it's very easy to spend a lot of time on content distribution tactics that feel useful and have no impact whatsoever. You do have to be very, very selective. I'm a big fan of the proto principle in everything I do, and the first thing I try and do with any problem is work out what is the one or two things I should be doing that if I could only do one or two things, they would be the ones that have the highest impact.
And you know what? It's not posting it to 50 forums or growth hackers or tweeting about it. It's making a list of the biggest industry newsletters in my industry. It's building relationships with the people that curate that content and it's sending them an email every couple of weeks when I publish something that I'm particularly proud of. There are definitely higher leverage ways we can get content out into the world. The influence is another great point as well. Where can you bring other people with established audiences into the content creation process? Give them an incentive to share it for themselves, not for your benefit and through doing so, expose your brand, your ideas to a brand new audience in the process.
Charlie Grinnell: To get very meta, that's literally what we're doing right now.
Ryan Law: And I love Podcasts, this mutual serendipity between the host and the guest that's this wonderful medium. It's what guest blogging used to be 10 years ago when it was an emergent thing, fantastic, isn't it?
Charlie Grinnell: One other thing I just want to touch on that you just said was, this idea of instead of going out and having a checklist of 50 different things to do, you said, Yeah, "What are the two or three things that I can do really well?" And what I noticed that you focused on is, you looked before you leaped, you didn't just grab things off the shelf, "Oh this is easy. I can go post to 20 slack groups and these Facebook groups and this thing." You were like, "Ah, who are the biggest? Where is that audience spending time? What type of content are they consuming?" All these types of things. And maybe I'm biased like this because I own a research company but I think about when I worked on the brand side of things, this concept of looking before you leap, it just seems so obvious, Hey, if we're going to spend a bunch of time and a bunch of effort and a bunch of the company's resources on this, how can we ensure that we're being as efficient and effective as possible, that we're going to give ourselves a chance at getting great ROI?
And the way that we were thought about that was like, "Can we look before we leap?" Whether that's channel selection, whether that's content ideation, whether that's distribution tactics, all these different things. And I think we have the luxury as marketers to be able to see all that because we're digital marketers in 2022 and that's the world we live in. But yeah. What's your take on that research side of things? I obviously have a thing behind me just over my shoulder that says research guide strategy. We're super bullish on this. How does that land with you?
Ryan Law: Yeah, I completely agree. I wish I had had that epiphany when I was a younger market but I definitely didn't. And a lot of the ways I've come to these opinions is through doing the stuff that I think doesn't work anymore. I made... The agency I co-founded I spent a bunch of time with my big old checklist of places to post stuff to, and I do that for every blog post. And it took a little while but you get a feedback loop and you realize that this is not doing the thing you hoped it would do. And you have to be willing to confront that and go, "Okay, what should I do instead?" And the way I normally find out is to look at the companies that I admire that are doing it well.
If you can think of a market that inspires you, well they're probably doing distribution well because unless you are frequenting the dark corners of the internet, they've probably found you through some distribution methods. What has worked for them? What are the strategies that work for them? Many platforms make this very easy to do it. I love Twitter because of the advanced search operators. You can find anyone on there, you can search for their most popular content, the formats, the topics that resonate with people, and you can think, "Hey, what is my version of that?" As you say, the data is there if you go looking for it.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, and I think it's one of those things where to your point, you just said, "Hey, I've had to touch the stove year over year and get burned a lot to learn that." And I always think, I'm like, "You don't have to touch the stove." There is a thermometer gun that you can point at it to be like, "Oh, that's hot." Or, "Oh, that's cold." And which one is safer to the touch so I completely empathize with that.
I want to dive a little bit deeper into, you had a LinkedIn post all around something you called the distribution flywheel and there was a big piece of that that focused a lot on community and building an audience. And so as we talk through what that model is, why is community and audience core pillars that you chose for when building this model?
Ryan Law: The impetus behind this is basically the distribution is hard and I wanted to find a way to try and solve that problem for people. And thinking through this, the thing that we want, the thing brands want or individual content creators want is an audience. We want people that know us, that care about our ideas, are willing to engage with us and maybe at some point in the future will give us money, that's the desired end state. And the hard part about that is building that audience from zero when you nobody, knows who the hell you are. Getting to that point of any people following you whatsoever seems impossible and there's not much written about it. A lot of the advice on distribution focuses on companies that already have established brands. There's a little bit of a gap in the discourse from my experience.
This was just a product of reflection of the things that have worked for me that I've seen other people do. And if you want to build an audience, the best place to start with that is a community which is essentially a bunch of existing people that already hang out and already have shared interests that align with the thing that you care about and talk about. That has to be the fastest, most efficient way to build your audience. You go where they already are, you hang out with them, you become a sincere participant in that community, you make the community richer as a result of your engagement. And as a serendipitous byproduct of that, you also give people incentive to engage with you outside the platform as well. Maybe on your social accounts or in your mailing list or whatever.
This was just a bit of an epiphany for me because I've always approached this problem with my marketing hat on and I think putting the marketing hat on is what ruins this for a lot of people because people don't go on Twitter or Discord or Slack to be marketed to. They go there to learn and to have a good time and to be entertained. And I think you have to embrace that and get on board with that before you can put the marketing hat on and try and work out how you can get some value out of that yourself.
Charlie Grinnell: Absolutely. I think about my time working on the brand side of things. What is the type of content that we were creating and what was the purpose behind it? I'll give an example. Back in the day I worked as a video editor at Arc'teryx, the outdoor company, really awesome rain jackets for anybody listening out there, go check out Arteryx. I was working as a video editor and God, how old was I? 21 or something, 21, 22. When I got the job, I was really excited because yeah, I'm going to be editing brand videos and product videos but I'm also going to get to edit the extreme sports like climbing this epic peak or skiing down this thing. One day the head of customer care comes to us and says, "Hey, I have an idea for a video" and I'm like, "Okay." And he is like, "We're going to film a video about how to wash your Goretex jacket."
And at the time I was like, "Boring, don't care." We go, we film this video, we edit the video and it goes on to YouTube. And me being the 21 year old idiot that I was, after a week or two, it had done 2000 views. I can't believe we spent a decent chunk of money and time creating this thing. The jokes on me because now it's their second highest viewed YouTube video of all time. It's done well into the millions of views and why he wanted to do it is he's like, "One of the number one top inquiries that we get from a customer care perspective is how do you wash your Goretex jacket?" Instead of his people writing out this long thing, they literally were able to just respond with a YouTube link, which had a four minute video of how to do it.
Now, where I'm going with all this is number one, I'm stupid and should have realized that that was a good marketing play. But number two, I would've never thought that that was content marketing back then. I didn't really realize that. And this idea of, "Yes, marketing can be used to entertain and inspire but it can also be used to educate and add value and not with this direct sell." And so that was something that I was just so surprised where... And I think someone said it to me back then at the time as it's, regardless of if that person bought has an Arcter jacket or not, they could have a North Face jacket, I don't care, if it's made out of Goretex, they're going to see this and they're going to get value from it, which leaves them with a positive experience of our brand. For us, that's a win.
It might not be directly tied to, "Oh, we did this thing in $1 came in but that concept as a whole. And so I think about that later on in my career I ended up working at Red Bull. We did the same thing where it's like whether you were buying the can, the energy drink or not, you were going to have a really good time with our brand. You were going to be inspired, you were going to be entertained, you might learn something, all those different things. And to your point, I think when we talk about audience and community, that's something that is so often overlooked because of this pendulum in marketing with performance and brand. And we've almost gone to every $1 spent in marketing needs to be $1 or more coming back into the business. What are your thoughts on that?
Ryan Law: Yeah, I absolutely love that. That was pretty much the most pithy and concise definition of brand marketing I've come up with, amazing. But yeah, I actually, I published an article about this topic I think yesterday. Basically the idea that we've become very data driven and we have the expectation that you spend money, you see more money come out of it and every marketing tactic should have some data point associated with it that we can watch go up. And the thing we forget is that the best data at our disposal in terms of page views and engagement and time on page is generally just a proxy for the stuff that really matters, which is whether people know about us and whether they think about us more, whether they trust us, and whether they develop that process of brand affinity.
And we generally hope that the data correlates with those things and sometimes it does more page use probably does mean more people will buy from you but there's a lot of unintended consequence hidden by those metrics. A lot of the things you can do to drive up a bunch of page views can just really people off. Same gated content, you may feel great, all the conversions you got.
And what about the bad vibes you get when somebody reluctantly size as they fill out their contact details and then they open up that pdf and you know what, it's the same as any other blog post they could have read anywhere. That's generally not reflected in the data we have most readily available to. It doesn't mean it doesn't exist. That's still out there. There's still a consequence of what we've done. But love, this is why I like brand marketing. I think more people are switching onto the idea that it's okay just to deliver good experiences to people and not always be able to match it one for one with a concrete data point because the payoff will come in other ways in other forms of data down the line.
Charlie Grinnell: Hey, it's Charlie here and I hope that you're enjoying the episode so far. If you are, I want to encourage you to check out the right metric insight library. It's a free library of data backed research that we've put together to help strategists just like you build your digital strategy based on facts and not assumptions. It's full of strategy tear downs and examples from fast growing brands that have already helped thousands of marketers identify content opportunities, focus on the right white space channels, improve their media strategies and benchmark against competitors. If you want to set up a free account, you can head to metric.co/insight library or just look for a link in the show notes wherever you're watching or listening to this. With that, I want to thank you again for tuning in and I'll let you get back to the episode. Well, I think it's so funny just thinking through like, Oh, what's the last time I put in my contact information to get a piece of content? And I have a burner email account, so I'm like, "Great"
Ryan Law: Exactly.
Charlie Grinnell: And guess what? I'm maybe not that sophisticated. There's a good chance that a lot of other people have burner email accounts to so I'm like, "What is the point?"
Ryan Law: But exactly that.
Charlie Grinnell: I think the one thing that I would say about the data driven piece, I feel like to your point, like I said earlier on, it's 2022, as marketers we're very lucky to have access to the amount of data points and information. That said, I think we've been, we've learned this bad habit from performance marketing that is X has to equal 10, and if it does not equal 10, we're not doing it. Where as, I go more to this phrase of data informed. With content insights, there's so many data points that we can look at from a content perspective that shouldn't dictate yes or no if we should make content, it's more so, "Hey, we know that we're going to make content, Let's create something that we know has a good chance to reach the type of audience that we want to try and reach."
It doesn't have to be this one specific data point and like I said, X equals 10, but it can be like, "Hey, we know that this audience spends time on these channels and within those channels these are the top performing content topics, themes, format buckets, et cetera." And then from there, now that we know that as marketers, we can then take, "Hey, here's what the audience and how they behave. Here's where we're trying to go as a business." What are some things that we can pull together to create this peanut butter and chocolate relationship and then put something out into the world. Where as I feel like a lot of marketers get hung up on data equals the exact answer. And without that exact answer, I cannot move ahead. What's your take on that?
Ryan Law: Well, you really reminded me actually of parallel to this was I studied economics at university, and the mantra is economics is a hard science, it is up there with physics almost. And my process of going through it, you realize it is a soft science. It's basically sociology and psychology with a bit more data rigor involved. It's data informed, it's really useful, valid thing to do. It's not a hard science. You don't have this kind of one to one mapping of inputs and output. I think that's okay. It's a nuance take and it's something I didn't get when I was a bit younger. And you have to have a bit of confidence within an organization to say data is good up to a point and understand that conversation. But yeah, I think you're totally right. I love data informed instead of just wrote and data driven.
Charlie Grinnell: I feel like, yeah again, markers are in everything. It's like, Oh my God, the double D data driven, here we go and we've latched onto that. And I think for me at least, I always get people like, Oh, as a data guy, I'm like, I'm a marketing guy who wants to make more informed decisions and so data happens to be one of those ways. But also if you've worked at a brand for 20 years or at an industry for 20 years, there's a lot of gut and intuition that you have too, and you need both. So I don't know, it's always interesting to talk about that.
Ryan Law: Well, yeah that's a great point. And I think to that point as well, qualitative data is still data, isn't it? That's something... We've always treated it as a second class citizen. But The way we know our marketing is working, Animals is not historically from quantitative data. It's from sales conversations and the general public sentiment and people emailing us all stuff, which is really hard to talk about in slideshow format with graphs, with arrows going up. But it's still incredibly value and incredibly informative. And even today there are tools, Imagine your company's great for this but we use gong ways of aggregating what were individual qualitative data points and making them a little bit more quantitative and view them a slightly broader macro scale. That's a hugely wonderful thing to do. Got an intuition is still a form of data, I think.
Charlie Grinnell: The phrase that we've used internally, and I actually stole this from a guy named Stephan Olander that he's, Stephan Oland is known as Mr. Nike Plus. He was at Nike for 25 years. He was the guy who led Nike Plus, and we ended up speaking at the same conference together. And he kind of talked about this phrase where I was like, "Oh my God, I'm stealing this called informed intuition." How are you taking that data points, whether it's quantitative, qualitative, and then not kicking out the intuition that you have from working on a business or on a brand or in a specific industry. And I was like, "Ah, Chef kiss, I'm stealing the out of that."
Ryan Law: Oh, that's so good. Yeah, I probably will also steal that in some form.
Charlie Grinnell: Steal away. I want to talk about a LinkedIn post, and I'm actually going to quote you. I have it up and so this is a post you did about a month ago, and you said, "If you're a content marketer and think that AI isn't going to impact your job very soon, dot, dot, dot, you haven't been paying attention." What do you mean by that?
Ryan Law: Well, I mean lots, and I've been thinking about this so much, this is the thing that's taken up all of my head space but I think as an industry, we've heard that AI is going to change everything many, many, many times and we haven't seen much of a payoff and much of that coming to,
Charlie Grinnell: It's been a head vague.
Ryan Law: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And the only reason I care so much about this is because this is the first time that AI has intersected with a thing that I know a lot about and I care a lot about, which is writing and the application of writing through marketing. And I got fairly early access to GT three where got access to the private beater.
And there are very few experiences in my life which have just changed how I think about something and well, there are lots of those but this was a big one, this was a huge paradigm shifting moment. Basically, I took the opening chapter from the book I was writing at time, just a bit of fiction, and I put it into the AI and I asked it to write few paragraphs. And what they wrote was fantastic, really, really good, really beautifully written, interesting concepts and ideas that made me think, Oh, I hadn't done that myself, but maybe I could take it that direction.
And that was the simplest, most naive interaction with the software and it's become more and more nuances. Companies are adding front ends to it and ways to interact with it and ways to shape it and bound it towards formats that are useful for marketing. This stuff is magic and it can do a thing that I thought only humans could do and I think a lot of marketers, understandably so, we're reluctant to admit that we don't want it to be the case, it's scary I totally feel that. But that doesn't change the reality that lots and lots of companies are already using this to do the things that will once the reserve of just people.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, it's interesting, between that, between Dolly with image stuff, insanity, just some of the stuff is wild. I've also seen... There's been a few other recent examples of sure there's writing tools, I think there's a Twitter threat tool now that'll do this, right? Where it's take this and turn it into a Twitter threat. And to your point where you're five years ago you've been like, Yeah, whatever, it's spitting out this shitty English that doesn't really make sense. There's a ton of typos, but now you're like, whoa, it matches my tone of voice or that person's tone of voice and it's actually, whether it's flow, sentence structure, punctuation, language, you name it's all there.
One thing that I thought was interesting, I've played around with this, and this is more on a personal level, is one of the tools I've messed around with was called, I think it's called Jasper. It used to be called Jarvis, now it's called Jasper. And I've almost used it in the past to just come up with topic ideas or edit in real time. Let's say I have an idea for a topic, so I'm like spit it into the AI program, and then it's like, okay, if this is the title of it, come up with three main themes that I want to cover with this, and it would come up with three. And I'm like those. And I would query it again, query it again, query it again. And then I was like, Oh yeah, I actually do like those and I have something to say about those. You would choose those and then it's like, cool, a paragraph or two or three or whatever about this one thing. And again, it's like you're almost editing in real time.
Instead of me staring at a blank page and full disclosure, I am an awful writer, which is why we're on a podcast so I can speak instead of write. But I just thought it was fascinating where it's, for me to output something like that would take me a really long time to write it from a blank page but having these prompts and being able to edit on the fly was so liberating for me and I was still able to weave in my experiences so that Arc'teryx example that I just gave, I could write that in if I was talking about content marketing and then it would take it in a direction that I didn't even really think about where I'm like, "Oh yeah, that actually does make a lot of sense." And so on one hand, selfishly, I get really excited about that, on the other hand, you got to wonder, it's like, what does that mean for content marketers? What does that mean for us as consumers, as the information that we're reading? Are we just going to get to a point where it's like, Yeah, you know what? A lot of this is done by AI, and AI actually does a better job of creating the content that we want to read because they know so much about us.
Ryan Law: The way you described there, I think is the ideal state and use case of this technology. It's where skilled human people use it as a creative sparring partner and a way to blast through some of the creative roadblocks that we typically have. Because no matter how great you are at writing or thinking, whatever, we all have the limitations in our own biases. And AI is something that can just blast through that. It's almost like a really advanced version of the rubber duck unit program is family talk to when they're debugging and whatever.
I think that's great, and that's a probably really good access point and quite a heartening way to think about this. But I do also think there is, it's going to be a bad side to it as well because obviously if you put a skilled human and you give them a great tool, they generally make something that looks amazing. If you take an unskilled human and give them that same tool, they probably end up, maybe they'll cut a finger off, they'll be blood everywhere, it's like a disaster for everyone. And these tools, this is the ultimate democratization of this technology. You can freemium software for 50 bucks a month to access these tools and you can churn out hundreds of articles a month if you want to do that, thousands if you're really determined to do it. And while a lot of those people doing that will have skill and judgment and will care about the things they make, I think a lot of people won't. And as I said, I came from the black hat world of SEO where people care largely about page views in the aggregate, How do we bump this up as quickly as possible before the next algorithm update? And people will use that technology in that way as well. But I think we do have to think about the potential negative consequences of this and where we want to position ourselves in opposition to that.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, I agree. I think it is a tool and every business out there, I think in my opinion, needs to be looking at this because with the right skilled people driving the tool, driving the machine, it can be super, super powerful and it could increase output if that was part of the strategy. It could increase length, quality, linking different ideas together. There's so many things that come with it. And yeah, as soon as I saw that LinkedIn post review, I was like, "Yep, I completely agree with this. I do think that this is something that people are sleeping on right now." And obviously it's still early. We know that it's not as easy. Even when I signed up for Jasper or Jarvis or whatever that AI tool is called, I probably spent four hours messing around with it at first, got some really crappy things spat out.
And you're learning how to use their racketing system to query it to get what you want. And they also say when you start using it, the more you use it, the better it's going to be, right? Cause it needs to understand how do you think write the inputs and then what are the outputs that you're accepting based on those inputs? There's all these things but I'm super bullish on this. I just think it is the future. If content marketing is as competitive as it is and earning human attention takes a ton of time to create something that is going to give you a chance of earning someone's attention, you got to got to be using everything around you to try and give yourself an opportunity to be successful.
Ryan Law: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Yeah. I don't even think it's limited to content as well. I think about our company and people writing MSAs and SOWs every day, stuff that needs to be changed a little bit but is largely the same. AI could do that. sales emails, call emails, prospecting, possibilities for this stuff I think are pretty crazy.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. AI, I feel like you and I could just do a separate episode on AI so maybe we do that in a few months. But outside of AI, what are you most excited about when it comes to content marketing? You've been in it a long time, you've seen a lot of stuff, You obviously get to do some amazing work with different brands through Animals. You're sitting around a ton of smart people all day every day, living and breathing this. What gets you fired up? What gets you excited?
Ryan Law: I think the thing I'm most excited about is just I feel like there's a growing tolerance of and hunger for content that is satisfying to create an interesting, just from a pure objective consumption viewpoint. People are more willing to make stuff that is fun and interesting in service of content marketing without having to constrain it within the bounds of, Oh, it has to rank for this keyword, or it has to get x number of page views. And we talked a bit about this today, but basically media marketing I think is becoming more tolerable to people. I think that's really exciting because the classic cognitive dissonance of what I've had to do for a living is that I enjoy writing and I have to write things that are probably not that much fun. I probably wouldn't choose to do if I was doing it just for fun. And I have to reconcile those two.
I think we're reaching a point where that is becoming less and less the case. Some industries, people have been doing SEO for decades. There's not that much low hanging fruit left so they're thinking, "Hey, what is the next frontier of this?" And it is just entertaining people. It's raising awareness a much earlier stage of the buying process. And that unlocks things like one of our customers 360 Learning, they did this amazing docu-series called Onboarding Joey, where they brought Joey on as their head of content, and they filmed the process of onboarding her and the decisions she made and all that kind of thing and they released it as a video series. Wow. That's the kind of thing I could never imagine having that conversation with an executive five, 10 years ago that just think I was absolutely mad. And more and more companies are willing to do that and that's so much fun for people that make content.
Charlie Grinnell: And I want to flip that question. What are the things in content marketing that just grind your gears or annoy you or you're tired of it? I feel like there's a lot of things that we could dive into that could be a whole nother talk show but yeah, is there anything that comes to mind where you're like, why is this still a thing? Or why do people do this?
Ryan Law: Yeah, it's a good question. People have been writing about content marketing for a very, very, very long time at this point that we're basically the first industry to clock onto it, because that's what we solved. And I still see a lot of people solving the same old problems and thinking about the same old problems in the same way that they always have. And there just seems to have been no development in the discourse whatsoever. And honestly, content distribution is probably one of the prime examples of this. The world of today, the places people interact with, the ways they hang out, the nature of social interaction online is so different from what it was 10 years ago. And yet people are still trying to distribute content with that old playbook without taking the time to sit down and think from first principles, Who do I want to reach? Where do they hang out today? What do they care about? Is there a way I can add myself into that conversation? Because when you do anything for 10 years, you do, I think get, there's a tendency to get a bit jaded about everything that happens within it. And yeah, I'm just very tired of people trying to solve the same problems over and over again when there are much more interesting things to be thinking about.
Charlie Grinnell: And I guess trying to apply the same solution, "Oh, we've always done it this way." That's my biggest pet peeve is to your point, going back to basics. And I think a lot of brands, to your point, they've been working on something for 10 years but then when you talk to them and you're like, "What do you know about your audience? Where do they hang out? What do they consume? How do they consume it? How do the competitors in your space effectively reach them? How have the tactics evolved over time?" All those different things. And I think sometimes organizations will be like, we figured that stuff out. And it's like, you actually haven't, because the fact that we're having this conversation right now means that you haven't just politely, you're obviously having a conversation for a reason, whether it's with animals, whether it's with us, whether it's with a consultant or bringing in a new internal stakeholder.
I feel like going back to those basics on a regular basis where it's like, maybe not what are we trying to accomplish? Hopefully they have their business and marketing objectives kind of set but more so where are they? All those different things that I listed. And that's something that I constantly find myself running into where it seems like relatively basic low hanging fruit stuff. And I think some marketers would get frustrated by that but it's so important because you said a decade ago, I'm even five years ago, things have changed even two years ago things have changed.
As we start to wind down the episode here, I always ask these last three questions. these are rapid fire. If you want to expand more, you can. Are there any brands who's marketing you admire if you I'll give mine. Apple can do no wrong, they could put out cardboard, and I would pay a ton of money for it, which is very bad for my bank account. But yeah. Who's at the top of your list were a brand that Who's marketing you admire?
Ryan Law: I'm a big fan. Well, most recently actually, I've been really interested in following profit well. This is a company, I've followed them for years and years and years. Actually some of the first content I ever created was designed to unseat their rankings and compete with them for keywords and we're talking literally 12 years ago. One of the things they did very early, Patrick Campbell, company founder, they were willing to invest in media content before people were even thinking about it way ahead of the curve. Really polished high production value, video shows and that kind of thing. And I just love them because they're really early to that and they've also... Patrick has just had a $200,000,000 exit and been bought out by Paddle and brought and joined that company. I love the content they create. I love the kind of strategic element where he was basically, it's a small market.
Lots of people are already doing SEOs so we are just going to do the media marketing thing, I love that. And to see a payoff from it in such a demandable way is amazing. Big fan of Podia as well, course creator software, I just love everything they do. Benjamin over there as well. They did a creative fellowship where they were basically an interactive thing where you could nominate people for their fellowship and just this wonderful use of community and two way marketing where people nominate you and you can reward them and your brand is the thing that gets talked about as your happy accident as a result of that. Maybe lastly, Year as well. Yeah, they put out some content, which again is absolutely mad. I have no idea how you ever justify it. A cartoon series called, I think it's Gear Squad versus Dr. Boring. And it's nice to have examples to point to of content that is fun to consume and it's probably fun to make as well. And ostensibly is doing something positive for their business as well.
Charlie Grinnell: For sure. Okay, next question here. How do you stay up to date on business and marketing? Who are you following? What are you reading? Who are you listening to?
Ryan Law: I'm not a big fan of reading about business or marketing in the general sense. I'm kind of a believer that the most interesting ideas, the ones that are least tapped, are the ones that come from other tangentially related disciplines.
I read a lot from typically really nerdy ics or big tech companies or academics or anyone that spent 20 years doing something incredibly nerdy and then writes about it, I love that. Engineers, Dan Lou or Eugene Way they write about growth models and how their companies function or Yeah, really nerdy into follow a lot of content about academic writing and how to use tools like obsidian and roam research and knowledge graphs and all this stuff that's kind of esoteric and not that helpful and its own right. But it gives you frameworks that you can apply into content marketing, which I think is interesting and novel. And yet in terms of a few people in content, I do follow Dr. Fio Desto. She's a active campaign now but one of the smartest, most wonderful writers. She does this amazing newsletter called Content Folks. And I mentioned Benjamin Elias Podia but he has a wonderful newsletter called Diamond Pencils as well. Just smart individual contributors at companies that want to share their experience. I just, that's the content I love.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. It's funny you brought up the Obsidian Rome research thing. I've started to dive into building a second brain type of thing.
Ryan Law: It's a whole wormhole, isn't it?
Charlie Grinnell: That's another talk show for you and I completely, because I feel like we could go down the rabbit hole. Last question, I'm sure there's going to be tons of questions from people listening to this. Where is the best place for people to get ahold of you online?
Ryan Law: In terms of the things I make, basically Animals Blog is the best place for that. I send out a newsletter every week or two. I spend a lot of time on Twitter and obviously you've been following the stuff I share on LinkedIn as well. Yeah, I enjoy that. Historically, I've been the kind of person that just writes stuff and puts it into the ether and doesn't want to talk about it or have conversations and I've come out of my Shell and Twitter and LinkedIn have been so good for that and I've been learning a lot from people asking questions and challenging my ideas. Yeah, I'd love for people to do that on social media.
Charlie Grinnell: Awesome. Well, Ryan, thank you very much for the time. We'll definitely have you back for another episode in the future, probably to talk about all things AI, maybe building a second brain, there's so many different ideas. Yeah, really appreciate you taking the time.
Ryan Law: Yeah, been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me, Charlie.
Charlie Grinnell: For show notes, other episodes and more content, check out rightmetric.co. If you enjoyed the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening.
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