Aimclear’s Mark Traphagen on content marketing, thought leadership and ‘religiously sharing what you know’
"I don’t think we’ve even tapped the potential of what good content can do for a company."
Last week, Duluth-based digital marketing agency Aimclear hired search industry veteran (and frequent SMX speaker) Mark Traphagen as the company’s first VP of content strategy.
Traphagen previously served as senior director of brand evangelism at Stone Temple Consulting, which was acquired by Perficient last July. Traphagen discussed his new role, industry trends and advice he would impart on marketers looking to advance their careers and personal brands with Search Engine Land.
Many know Traphagen for his contributions to former employer Stone Temple’s marketing best practices video series “Here’s Why.” He’s also a regular on social media, the conference circuit and has been included on numerous marketing influencer lists.
In his approach to content marketing, Traphagen embraces the idea that creativity, storytelling, and originality can come together to bridge the gap between consumers and brands, without sacrificing the human element. You don’t necessarily need to be one-of-a-kind to capture an audience — you just need to have a fresh take, and, as you’ll find out, the willingness to share what you know, as Traphagen said in one Here’s Why video.
The untapped potential of content marketing
“I don’t think we’ve even tapped the potential of what good content can do for a company,” said Traphagen.
“[Content marketing] is seeing a certain amount of pushback in the industry now. People are saying, ‘It’s become a cliche,’ or ‘people overemphasize it.’ I sincerely believe that the problem isn’t overemphasizing it — the problem is most companies don’t have a really well-defined data-based strategy for making content effective for their goals. And, that’s my passion these days.”
For those of us that are waist deep in content (and the cynicism that sometimes accompanies it), this begs the questions: What makes good content marketing? How innovative can I really be when my client or boss just wants cookie-cutter blog posts or the occasional social media video ad?
“First of all, you’ve got to be ready to work with businesses where they are,” said Traphagen, emphasizing that every brand has to start somewhere. “Not every business has the internal capacity to do something disruptive or highly creative out of the box. In the beginning, a blog or a video channel might be revolutionary for them. Or, just even having a direction for what content they should be creating.”
The need for synergy between social media and content marketing
Traphagen called attention to the intersection between social media and content. “I see it [social media] as another content channel. I think that most people see it as just a promotional vehicle for the content that’s elsewhere. Part of a holistic strategy is thinking of other channels from a content point of view and bringing that in.”
Social media “is not just a place to post links. It’s another place to create the content that builds the reputation, trust, authority, and awareness of our brand.”
Traphagen pointed to “The Mirnavator” video from outdoor retailer REI as the kind of campaign that can be created when social media and content marketing work hand-in-hand.
Get buy-in to orchestrate content across channels
Traphagen believes that an integrated strategy that leverages every channel (SEO, PPC, social, etc.), is one of the most important factors for effective marketing. Getting buy-in across these various teams starts with education.
“Coming in as a consultant, another factor is to have a mindset that you need to help whoever your contact is to be an effective communicator and educator within their company. If I’m not helping a client to do that, I’m setting myself up for failure and I’m setting them up for failure,” Traphagen warns.
“You need to set up non-threatening education that might bring some of these other channels or departments on board so that you can do something more effective.”
Develop thought leadership by “religiously sharing what you know”
It can be intimidating to experiment, speak up, and garner respect as a thought leader when you’re getting started.
Charisma — and in Traphagens’s case a mandolin — can help get people take notice, but are not as important as you might think, said Traphagen.
“I know so many people who are not necessarily charismatic or the best on camera or the greatest speaker, but whether it’s on social media or conference panels or wherever they are, they are just dogged at sharing what they know, and at the end of the day, I’ve seen those kinds of people gain a lot of respect — respect that leads to opportunities for them.”
The thought that you have to have the personality, the followers and the seniority to be a valuable contributor can be paralyzing.
“You don’t have to become a marketing celebrity to be effective at thought leadership,” said Traphagan. “The main thing is just religiously sharing what you know, participating — whether it’s in forums or Twitter chats — any opportunity you have to contribute.”
It’s definitely not about ego. “Charisma is an awesome thing; if you got it, obviously it can go a long way. But, to me, just being likable and practicing how to get along with people — how to be a contributor — without ego … these are things you can learn,” said Traphagen.
“Marketing is always a human endeavor. At the end of the day, it’s still about human connection, and people want to do business with people they like.”
You can find Traphagen on Twitter at @marktraphagen.