Issue #2. Brittany Berger Perfected Content Scaling at Mention. Now, She’s Teaching SaaS, B2B Tech, and Freelancers to Do the Same

Brittany Berger is a content marketing strategist and consultant for SaaS and B2B tech companies.

Her focus is on helping businesses make more out of the content they have, whether that’s making it stand out more, perform better, or increasing promotion.

She’s “just really focused on helping marketers use what they got.”

Here are some of the lessons Brittany learned while at Mention, how to pair content plus partnerships for better results, and how to turn a content creation process into a well-oiled machine.

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How Brittany went from agency brand marketer to startup marketing maven

Brittany originally cut her teeth on the in-house, brand-side at eZanga, a hybrid agency and platform for advertisers.

Most of her early efforts were focused on driving awareness for both the company and platform. One of the tools in her arsenal was Mention, who eventually had a new role that combined many of her interests at the time, including tech startups and using content to fuel promotion.

At Mention, Brittany had the title Head of Content and PR. That’s rare. Usually, those are two separate departments, let alone two separate roles.

But the decision was practical, according to Brittany:

“I think it was because really Mention has always been so deeply driven by content. They started their blog before they even launched the software to grow the waiting list. And so it’s always been so core to what they do that we weren’t doing a ton of PR when I joined and anything that…any publicity that we did get was mostly driven by content and other marketing initiatives. And so it was really easy for our best approach to dedicating time to PR instead of going to pull out with a strategy was just taking a very PR and word of mouth driven approach to content.”

Everything in digital marketing revolves around content. Can’t do SEO without it. Nor social. So it made sense to lump PR, a term that could mean anything depending on who’s defining it, with the content that fuels it.

That was true with Brittany’s early days at Mention, where pretty much all PR was based around content collaborations. Joint webinars were popular, as we was guest blogging.

The most ambitious of these projects was the Academy, which Brittany had the luxury of diving head-first into during her first week.

“Well, give credit to the head of content that worked [at Mention] before me because [the Academy] was a project that she had started and come up with. So kudos to Shannon. But yeah, so it was a free ecourse about all of the different ways that you could use monitoring in your business. And it was almost a collection of case studies on how different people use sometimes Mention. It was a really great collection from thought leaders, from people at companies like Buffer, CoSchedule, Instapage, and others. We all promoted it together. Everyone was kind of equally featured. All the companies were very heavily featured in it, as well.”

The Academy served several purposes. Cross promoting to each other’s (huge) audiences quickly built everyone’s lists. It also gave them an arsenal of content to repurpose down the road (a topic we circled back on later in this interview).

So investing in one content collaboration campaign paid several dividends. Plus, it was faster and easier to execute than any revenue-sharing partnership or product integration.

“I definitely think the biggest benefit was in the relationships. I think that if we had taken a course that was kind of directly about our product and repurposed it so heavily in any other circumstance, I don’t think it would have performed as well. I think it was because it wasn’t our own content and our own voice. It was outside experts bringing a new perspective to our audience and anything else that we had to offer. I think that that made it really appealing to anyone else stumbling upon our website because it was unlike anything else that we had.”

There are a few tricks to pulling off successful campaigns like these, though.

First is the built-in audience. People aren’t gonna partner with you if you’re bringing nothing to the table.

Second is friction. Or, the opposite: making it as easy as possible for these partners to work with you.

Brittany would even go so far as to create the outlines or content for them, doing all the heavy lifting so they could just show up and be the star.

“Yeah, we went back to those companies and we did a lot of that because I could say like, ‘Do you wanna partner for this webinar? Look, we can use this outline based on your lesson. You don’t even have to do that much work to prepare.’ And so just getting the other companies involved in the repurposing, as well, makes it easier. And so that works well. Also, just sometimes delivering the content on my own and this was just a webinar inspired by one of the lessons, I did that since, as you said, you know, a series of JVs isn’t easy to execute.”

Partnering with other people also let Brittany get more mileage out of limited resources.

For instance, she was already stretched thin leading and coordinating various projects, from the Academy to webinars, email funnels, blog posts, and more. So she relied heavily on working with other people to help shoulder the load.

She was able to almost effectively outsource all blog post creation to external writers. But not until she fleshed out processes, guidelines, and internal systems to make sure they knew exactly what she wanted.

“I had figured out ways to, like, outsource or streamline that more top-of-funnel content. So we had a lot of guest posts, whether that was, like, case studies from our customers or, again, the collaborations with people in our network. That was sometimes updating old blog posts. Again, I do say I always figured out smart ways to repurpose content because I just didn’t have time to create new content. And then at that point, our strategy had also changed a lot. And so a lot of our older top-of-funnel contents did need to be completely overhauled. And so updating an older piece of content one week would take the place of creating a new top-of-funnel blog post.”

Updating older content couldn’t fall by the wayside, either. Maintaining old content was a top priority, because the old stuff published six-to-twelve months ago is the stuff that brought in the most evergreen search traffic.

Before her time at Mention, Brittany was admittedly against freelancing on her own.

“Back when I was at eZanga, I used to say, you know, ‘I think I’d be interested in freelancing or something one day,’ but I could never see myself owning and running a business. It was just like, because I used to be like, ‘What? No, I know nothing about business. I only know marketing and I know what I do and that’s it.’

However, her time at Mention was so fruitful that it eventually changed her opinion and worldview entirely.

“The way that Mention was just so transparent, the way everyone works together, and it’s all collaborative, that was longer true after working there. And so I really don’t think I would have become an entrepreneur or a business owner if I hadn’t worked in-house there.”

The problem with solo consulting or freelancing, however, isn’t what you do know. It’s everything you don’t. And there’s no better way to figure out how much you DON’T know than by going out on your own.

“Oh, it’s such an adjustment. It was awful. It actually sparked a whole new business and side project for me. I was really awful at it at things like remembering to follow up and making time for admin and I just hated admin so much. And working at Mention, we automated a lot and used Zapier a lot. And so I then started using that in in my freelance services. I built my own kind of DIY CRM for my client work when I was first starting out. I automated it all to Zapier. And then I actually became kind of known for that and I ended up teaching that to other freelancers for a few years. But yeah, I hated it so much that I taught myself automation to avoid it and then taught other people how to avoid admin was kind of the saying.”

How to inject personality into content (without screwing it up)

Read Brittany’s writing. Watch her videos. Peep her tweets.

What does it all have in common?

It sounds… well, exactly like her.

Seems obvious on the surface. But do this long enough and you realize injecting this level of personality into sterile text is exceedingly difficult. At least, without botching it.

That’s especially true with boring, technical, complicated B2B or tech companies. You know, the exact ones that Brittany specializes in.

So how do you balance style and personality, with driving results for the people who’re signing your checks?

Brittany’s answered summed it up better than I’ve ever heard before:

“Editing and adjectives.”

Maybe not necessarily while you’re doing the first draft. But look for ways to add this in during the editing process.

“So, first of all, editing, I think that it’s just a lot easier if I just brain dump and a lot of the personality that I add in and stuff like that, that comes in, in the editing process, you know, making sure that it sounds like me. One of the things I do a lot during the editing process is reading out loud to make sure it sounds like something a normal human would say and not like a robot. And so that’s definitely…it just really helps makes things sound more human and personality-driven. That’s one thing, whenever I am helping someone make their writing sound more casual, just read it out loud. And if it sounds like something you would say and if not, it needs more work. And then, yeah, adjectives.”

Here’s a concrete example to help you visualize how this looks:

“I feel, like, especially when it comes to things like headlines when people want the SEO keyword in there, so it’s just something like the difference between one post I published on the Work Brighter blog recently targeted the keyword digital declutter. And it’s just, instead of, you know, how to do a digital declutter, it’s how to do an intensely-satisfying digital declutter. And it’s just adding those extra descriptors in there to the keyword.”

Another helpful trick is to look for boring, bland adjectives. You know them when you see them, like:

  • Big
  • Small
  • Fast
  • Slow

Brittany likes making these sillier, as opposed to bigger or more exaggerated, because…

“That’s how you kind of end up with the very BuzzFeed of headlines that look like, ‘You’ll never believe what this did,’ or you know, ‘Marketing hacks that will change your life.’ And so I feel like instead of going bigger, I usually go sillier and that brings a lot of the voice in, as well.”

In other words, fight the urge for bullshit marketing content. Because we all know this story ends when it’s taken too far.

A happy-medium to this approach is to use a pattern interruption. Your readers are humming along, expecting one thing, and you hit them with another out of left field. A simple pop culture reference often does the trick.

“So I bring a lot of pop culture into my marketing for that reason because people are kind of expecting, you know, lists of marketing tips from Ogilvy or from Seth Godin. But, you know, like, marketing tips from Leslie Knope on ‘Parks and Rec,’ or marketing tips from Beyoncé. That’s not as expected. And I think that pop culture references can really be great because you can go for universal things. Like, even if someone’s not a Beyoncé fan, if I mentioned her, they’re gonna know who I’m talking about. And so I think that there’s definitely an art to pop culture references in content that I would love to, like, teach a workshop about this one day.”

How to use systems and processes to scale content creation

Unfortunately, you can’t just crack jokes all day. At some point, you gotta sell. You gotta drive traffic or backlinks or social shares. And that bottom line needs to grow. Or else.

Brittany relied on systems and processes at Mention to balance the constant-need for new content while growing all of the various projects on her plate at one time.

The only way this happens is through a systematic approach.

“Definitely. I’m very, very, very systems-driven. It’s just my nature and, for me, it’s what lets me be more creative since I can then devote less brain power to thinking what needs to happen next and more brain power into the creative energy and creative thinking.”

Again, she gives a perfect illustration with accepting guest posts while at Mention.

“In terms of accepting guest posts on the Mention blog… I was always putting it in Slack groups and on my personal Twitter and LinkedIn and my personal network that we were open to stuff. I had a Google doc with very clearly-written-out guidelines, all of the info people needed to know. And then I just had, like, a very simple framework laid out for how to respond to those inquiries. When we were planning out the editorial calendar, I knew which days of the week, which slots would be set aside for guest posts so that we can figure out the topic or anything later. And so yeah, everything…I tried to always decide as much in advance and do as much work as possible in advance so that it just gets easier and easier long-term.”

Scaling content is not easy, precisely because it is a creative endeavor.

Most companies find one writer they like. Or maybe two. But the problem is that even two writers don’t scale that well. You figure each one tops out at around ~three to five articles a week (if you’re lucky).

HubSpot, at one time, was doing up to ten per day. Simple math means you need dozens of writers, not one or two. And they all need to be writing in one style with the same set of guidelines so you can produce a consistent result (or ROI on your work).

Brittany learned this early on and used systems to overcome the hurdles.

“I had lists of suggested topics that was pretty in-depth and I gave a lot of information about our specific spins on things too. So, for example, you know, I said, ‘We don’t really want to hear, like, the latest social media news or social media trends. We want to help people use it in their business better. And so kind of just, you know, latest article on Twitter features or something, that’s not what our audience learns best from.’ And so I just very clearly laid out what type of content performs best. And so I put it in the best interest of the guest blogger like, ‘If you want your guest posts for us to do well, this is what it needs to have.’ And so I laid out different topics. If we had certain gaps that we had identified, like, in our content strategy, I would even say, you know, ‘If you want your post to be prioritized, we are specifically looking for, like, this topic, this specific topic.’ And that was a great way to get content that we really needed too. I laid out our voice, our formatting. I would give a lot of information on how we like to use subheadings and other formatting information like that.”

The good news and bad news is that there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. The callout color someone uses on a screenshot can go either way. It’s up to you, though, to specify and provide feedback to course correct along the way.

“There’s not a wrong answer,” Brittany confirms. “It’s just, like, preference. And it’s not, like, I also decided all of that stuff upfront and we had perfect extensive guidelines from the start. It would just be when I was editing, as I realized, ‘Oh, I should really add this in,’ I would add it in and that’s why it was a Google doc versus a web page that would have been harder to make changes to in real time. You know, it was just a Google docs that I could very easily add things to it as I realized what I needed to be more clear about.”

Brittany took all of this first-hand, hard-fought experience and created a product to help others solve the same content-scaling problem.

“So it was just kind of based on my own process for spending so much time creating and promoting content. And, like, as I said before, I just think in processes. I need to systemize that as much as possible so that I can let my mind run free with the creativity and the personality-driven content and stuff like that. And so it started off as just a spreadsheet that had a gazillion different rows and columns in it and it was pretty clunky, which made it harder to keep up with. I wasn’t perfect with it, but I knew that it was something that I needed. And so then last year, when I started getting more into the tool Airtable and the way that they made different views and forms and things like that possible, I kind of knew that that would make things so much easier for me. And I just started using it myself and talking about it to enough people that wanted it, that I eventually made it a templated product for sale.”

The Content Remix Planner is part editorial calendar, part topic planner, and part to-do list.

“It takes the kind of static spreadsheet a lot of content marketers use to track, ‘have we tweeted this, have we optimized this for SEO? Have we done email outreach, all the different tasks?’ And it just turns that into an interactive form. So because of the way Airtable works, I can just fill out a form for myself or whoever’s using it when I am promoting content and they just fill out. I write the tweets there in the form. It prompts me and it tells me, you know, like, ‘Turn the title into a question or a pull out an important code.’ It has these prompts for ideas for actual content, too. Once you’ve filled out that form, you have a template for email outreach if you need to do that. You have at least five different social media posts for whatever platform you need to use, but they’re all in there so you can spread those out over the course of a week or a month or whatever. And then also, this isn’t, like, built into Airtable, but I include a video that teaches you how to do this, but you can also set it up to Zapier and your product management tool. So if you’re using something like Asana, you can hook the remix planner up to your Asana account so that it also creates tasks for, say, your social media manager to schedule the content from the database and from the planner.”

Why Brittany’s doubling down on content repurposing in 2019

Content creation is becoming a zero-sum game. There are a couple winners occupying the top three spots on a SERP, and then tens of thousands of losers who’s content will never see the light of day (if not more).

This, in addition to the fact that most results come from old–not new–content means that you can often see a bigger ROI, faster, by repurposing old content instead of new.

Brittany agrees wholeheartedly.

“Especially once you’ve been creating content for a while, like, let’s say you are publishing a blog post twice a week for a year, after year, that is 100 blog posts. And assuming that you put a decent amount of effort into them to making them, you know, decent in the first place, that’s 100 topics. Are there really that much more than 100 topics that your audience needs from you? And so, you know, after that one year, is your effort best spent coming up with new things that maybe target a less perfect audience or is it worth taking the content you already have and going, ‘Has everyone that needs to see this seen this or should we put more effort into that?’ And so that’s the way I see it.”

This approach also dovetails with what Brittany describes as “minimalist content creation.” She elaborates:

“I feel like for a long time, we have been in the content-creation-first mindset where it’s kind of like, ‘Create content now, Figure out what to do with it later.’ And I like to sometimes relate that to, like, the more cowbell skit from ‘SNL.’ Like, whatever the problem is in your marketing strategy, the answer is more content and that’s the way that we’ve been handling things for a really long time. And so we all have, I think, a lot of somewhat useless content sitting around our blog archives. So it’s just time to think less is more, create as much content as you need and use it, and then focus on getting that content to work as perfectly as it can.”

In other words, it goes back to the signal-to-noise ratio. Twenty years ago, the world had a content problem. There wasn’t enough. But today? There’s way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, too F-ing much.

So dial back the frequency and double down on usefulness. The goal is insight, not information.

“Yeah. Like, what can people take away and use from this whether it is a tool, whether it is a resource or just…especially now that I feel like a lot of the content marketing trends are talking more about mindset, you know, even usefulness might also be changing the way someone thinks about marketing or whatever you are teaching in your content.”

Even ‘soft’ emotions matter. Humor, or making someone feel like they’re part if the ‘in’ crowd because they got your dumb 30 Rock reference when no one else did, all adds up to usefulness at the end of the day.

However, the problem for companies isn’t knowing that they should be repurposing or updating old content. The problem is figuring out where to start.

“I like to say the two categories to focus on are your (1) greatest hits and your (2) hidden gems. So, obviously, you wanna take the greatest hits, the things that are meeting their purpose as best as possible. So I think, you know, for some posts that’s gonna be traffic and rankings. For some posts that’s going to be webinar signups or trial signups or whatever. I just take, the top 10 posts that are meeting their goals and you wanna amplify those as much as possible.”

A second simple tactic is to fire up Google Analytics, pull up the most popular content from organic search, and then filter by the highest exit rates.

That means it’s ranking well. It’s bringing people in. But it’s leaking like a sieve because it’s not good enough. So revamp it.

A byproduct of doing less stuff means you have more resources (read: time and money and labor) to make the new stuff better.

“I think I just really wanna hit home that marketers, content marketers, it’s okay to be a little bit lazier and to not be creating so much all the time. It’s definitely all right to be lazy, as long as you have a smart strategy in place and you’re still putting in the work elsewhere.”