Why the Greatest Content Marketing Companies Start and Stop with CEO and Management Involvement

by Marcus Sheridan

trickle down effect

More than ever, the trickle down effect of management buy-in with content marketing is imperative to big success.

Whether or not you feel trickle-down economics work well in national government, there is no question of their incredible importance when it comes to content marketing success for businesses large and small. In fact, I’ll just toss this one out there for a second:

If your company CEO and/or management team do not fully embrace content marketing, your efforts to find massive success online and have a cultural transformation will very likely fail.

Yeah, sure there are outliers in every realm. And yes, there will be renegades that do amazing things despite the lack of buy-in from leadership.

But the more I seek to help companies go big or go home with building their digital brand and business through content marketing, the more I realize nothing great happens without full buy-in from the top dogs.

Why?

Because success in this business doesn’t happen overnight.

Content marketing isn’t a chia-pet—water today, a vine jungle tomorrow.

chia pet and marketing

Yes, I did just integrate a chia pet into content marketing. :-)

Rather, it follows the principle of the Law of the Harvest.

  • The field must be prepared.
  • The seed must be planted.
  • The beginnings of life must be continually watered and nourished.
  • The crop must be protected.
  • And the harvest eventually comes.

For some businesses, like my pool company, this success can happen quickly.

For others, like those in deeply competitive industries, success may be slower to appear.

But done right, it comes—without fail.

Doing It Right

I think about my clients a lot.

Some are doing very well. I’m not just talking about small gains either. I’m talking about millions of dollars in sales and impact.

I’ve got other clients that struggle. For whatever reason, roadblock after roadblock seem to appear with their content marketing efforts.

  • There is never enough time.
  • The employees are too busy.
  • The website isn’t right.
  • On and on and on.

But the funny thing about this is the fact that companies who have top buy-in never seem to be stifled with these same obstacles.

And when I say “buy-in” I’m not just talking about a CEO who is generally aware of what’s going on.

Rather, I’m referring to someone who is actively engaged in the process and walks the walk with everyone else.

Real Examples of Trickle Down Content Marketing Success

Last year, Yale Appliance’s website and business exploded. A +50 million dollar company, their CEO, Steve Sheinkopf, acts as their head content producer. He spends hours each week producing content, studying analytics, and focusing on ways to improve their content marketing efforts. Although he could easily afford to have someone else do what he does, he realizes the greatest ROI he can have right now with his business is found by leading a company, and an industry, with a new way of thinking and doing business.

Steve Yale Appliance

Despite being the CEO of the company, Steve Sheinkopf has lead his company’s tremendous web and business growth by taking such an active role in their content marketing efforts.

Josh Block of Block Imaging is like any business owner in that he has multiple “issues” that come his way each and every day from all branches of his company. Notwithstanding, he makes the time to write blogs and produce content. He awards employees that are active with the content marketing efforts. He attends marketing conferences just to get an edge. Simply put, he gets it and because he buys in, Block Imaging has experienced massive success through content marketing.

And just last week I did a content marketing workshops for a IT company near Washington DC—Segue Technologies. And how important is content marketing to their Executive Vice President Ron Novak? Here are just a few things Novak has done to ensure these marketing efforts are a huge success for his company:

Segue Blog Strategy Infographic

Ever considered doing an in-house infographic to give employees the vision of content marketing? Here is how Segue Technologies handled it.

1. He brought in over 40 of his employees to participate in a half-day content marketing workshop so they could understand the “How,” “What,” and “Why” of the new marketing approach.

2. He had his team produce an in-house infographic(above) showing the company culture and approach to content marketing, just so the vision would be very clear to all employees.

3. He made it known to employees that content marketing wasn’t simply a “fad” or “option.” Rather, it was a part of the company culture and makeup, and they were “all-in.”

4. He allowed his team to set up an on-site video “booth” where they could produce not just textual content, but video content as well.

With over 100 blog articles already being lined up and delved out to produce, my gut tells me Segue is about to do some pretty amazing things in their industry.

But again, it trickles down from the top. That’s where it starts. That’s where the magic lies.

Get Your Hands Dirty

I’d love to go on about more clients I’m seeing do amazing things with content marketing, but you get my point.

Am I saying here that the CEO of Apple (or any massive company for that matter) should be blogging? No, I’m not. But at a minimum, the guy needs to understand how consumers think, shop, and research these days—and the role that social media and content marketing play in that process.

And when he knows this, he needs to do something about it, and get his hands dirty in the process.

Speaking of getting your hands dirty, 4 years ago, when my swimming pool company was about to go out of business, I barely even knew what the word “blog” meant.

I certainly didn’t have a clue as to how marketing worked online.

My business partner Jason, equaling my ignorance, had never picked up a camera to record videos in his life.

Today, about 800,000 words later, some people think I’m pretty good at blogging and content marketing.

And Jason, beyond the 1,000,000+ views we’ve had on our YouTube videos, is now creating pieces that make me smack my forehead, something that further distances us from our competitors:

YouTube Preview Image

My point with this article is a simple one. Content marketing is not a passive approach to business. It’s all-in and all hands on deck.

And it starts with the top.

Your Turn:

What has been your success in getting top to bottom buy-in for blogging, social media, and content marketing? Have you seen occasions of success without this buy-in? And in your opinion, how much do you feel that ownership and management need to be involved to make content marketing work?

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Rajkumar Jonnala January 17, 2013 at

Nice to see the article showing the importance of content. Exactly content can win every one’s mind and many bloggers are making huge amount of money through it.

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Wade January 17, 2013 at

Content has to be top priority when thinking about the reader. It’s odd that such a big name CEO would take on the efforts to manage content for his company, however, I see the advantages that it would have on a company as a whole.

In terms of bringing new readers from either social media or the search engines, I would have to say that interaction breeds a lot of success with the content that is marketed on these platforms.

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

Actually Wade, I don’t think it’s odd at all, at least not in a bad way. He clearly gets the massive importance of digital marketing in today’s realm, and sees the value there as greater than any other act he can have on generating new business. Granted, he still does other duties but the guy is a classic example of walking the walk.

Cheers buddy and thanks so much for dropping by,

Marcus

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Craig McBreen January 17, 2013 at

Hey Marcus,

It’s funny you mentioned the CEO of Apple not blogging, because I remember one of Joe Pulizzi’s detailed posts where he wrote about the difference between Inbound and Content Marketing. That guy writes enduring posts by the way ;)

He mentioned that Apple had more passionate subscribers than anyone. They move customers, boy do they move customers! But what is their content marketing strategy? It’s not about blogging for sure, it’s that they’ve built up such a super passionate group of subscribers / brand evangelists over the years, and those folks pimp the brand like crazy.

The top dogs at Apple certainly understand how consumers think, shop, and research and they have created a brand experience like no other around that. But Apple is a monster. For the small- to medium-sized companies I work with, well, the top dog does need to get his hands dirty and he also needs to create brand evangelists of his own, inside the company. I just need to convince said top dog of that fact.

So the “Renegades” post certainly resonated with me, because I understand what these people are going though. My perspective is different. I’ve had my own branding and design company for 17 years, but now I’m fully on-board the content marketing bandwagon. Thing is, I’m having a hard time convincing several of my clients to take the leap. More than a few are “on the fence” though and they will make the right decision, it will just take a little longer. I just need to work on my “convincing” practices.

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

Ahhh yes, the “convincing practices” Craig. I’d be lying if I said it was easy. Fact is, most folks are late adopters, and because of this, they miss a lot of the dang boats. But keep doing your thing my man, them big dogs will start to listen :-)

Appreciate your thoughts,

Marcus

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Frank Strong January 17, 2013 at

Absolutely. All things business start at the top. Management that’s engage can make a remarkable difference — this personifies a company and makes it likeable.

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

I like that word “personifies” Frank. We all want to deal with a name, a face, and real dude. Not just digits on a screen.

Appreciate you stopping by man,

Marcus

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Jon Loomer January 17, 2013 at

“And when I say ‘buy-in’ I’m not just talking about a CEO who is generally aware of what’s going on. Rather, I’m referring to someone who is actively engaged in the process and walks the walk with everyone else.”

Really important distinction, Marcus. I was once hired for the sole purpose of taking an organization into digital. So the support was certainly there from up top. But I was on an island to be the designated person to handle this experimental digital “stuff” that no one else wanted a part of. And in a very large organization where most were stuck in their old ways, I really had no chance.

It’s a culture that needs to be more than a person or a department. It needs to be embraced from top to bottom. And “embraced” doesn’t mean “supported” but taking part to participate. It helps immensely to have the CEO participate in social media and to also require that other leaders do as well — and those leaders require their employees to participate.

Of course, all of this needs to be encouraged not as a task but as an exciting way to improve the business and make each person’s job better. That’s the biggest hurdle.

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

Jon, you bring up a great point with your previous client. If I had a dollar for every CMO that has told me, “I believe this stuff but when I solicit help, people tell me it’s not their job…” I’d be pretty wealthy by this point.

This clearly isn’t something that a guy in the corner experiments with while the rest of the world doesn’t notice. Nope, ain’t happening.

thanks so much for adding your thoughts bud, as always.

Marcus

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Ryan Hanley January 17, 2013 at

Marcus,

Another big component of the CEO being involved is customer buy-in. When the CEO creates content customers feel even more connected to the brand. I’m working on this right now in my insurance shop. To-date I’m the only person who’s created content, yet our President’s Message page, a static page with three paragraphs on it is consistently one of our highest traffic pages…

Customers know the CEO runs the show… When they hear from the CEO directly those words have legs.

Not to pimp my own stuff but we did a little in-house Infographic around our Corporate Pledge taken from the feedback of our entire staff… http://www.murraygrp.com/our-brand-is-family/ Won’t be interesting to most people but you’ll appreciate it and the impact it had on our entire organization to see their own words combined in such a manner.

All the best dude.

Hanley

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Joey Giangola January 18, 2013 at

“When they hear from the CEO directly those words have legs.” Could not have said it better myself.

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

Love the visual Hanley!! I tell you brother, I hope they’re paying you good change over there and realize what they have, because if you keep doing what you’re doing someone is going to snatch them skills up pretty fast :-) (And you can tell them I said that ;-) )

Marcus

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iGoByDoc January 17, 2013 at

FREAK Marcus,

You are so on point brother!

With so many types of businesses, big or small, add to that all the types of marketing they are bombarded with, newspaper, radio, TV, Yellow pages, PPC, SEO, SEM, Social Media and now the buzzwords of Inbound and content marketing… trying to get a client or business to understand what they need to do and have them buy in 100% is the ultimate challenge.

I was at an event last night with Duane Forrester from Bing, and listening to him explain how serious the search engines (Bing and Google) are taking into consideration content, and content within context is unreal. How smart these search engines are getting is crazy, so it is more important than ever to not just create content for contents sake… but freaking awesome content.

Beyond content is the absolute importance of social, and the social signals that Bing or Google see. Is your content answering what the searcher is looking for… is it share worthy? Is the “reach” natural. Saw a graph where they can tell if a “social promotion” is a bunch of BS. Meaning if you were to compare a lot of paid people to just like your content, he compared that to a modern day link farm, and can and will devalue you, and you are gone off the SERPS. Buh bye business!

Anyway, the CEO does not just have to buy into “Inbound” or “Content Marketing”, they have to wake up and realize this is not your dads old marking world. All the new digital media has to be deployed, with the proper strategy in mind of course. And right now… content and inbound is the game. The Show. And with the search engines doing what they are doing with combining social influence, businesses better get on board now, or your “Show”… gets cancelled!

Lastly, Duane ended with this, and it is spot on!

- Content is the reason
- Keyword research is the beacon
- Quality is your watch word
- Authority is your goal
- Niche is your starting point
- User experience is your religion

Thanks for the great post Marcus. Looking forward to the next podcast!

Doc

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

Doc, heck of a comment buddy. Your passion is jumping off the page, and I love that!! And those are some dang good thoughts from Duane…I think I’ll have to borrow them myself!!!

Can’t thank you enough for bringing it my friend,

Marcus

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Joey Giangola January 18, 2013 at

Marcus,

How much do you charge to personally deliver this message to CEO’s? I bet there are a lot of frustrated bloggers who would love the top brass to hear this with the impact you deliver.

Also, love the take video marketing, you are never going to know what you can do until you try. It’s always fun and exciting to start playing around with new types of media to deliver your message and help educate customers in new ways.

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

Hey Joey, thanks for asking and commenting. The majority of my income as a consultant is split down the middle between giving workshops for inbound and content marketing and then with retainers after the fact. In most cases, a workshop where I fly out to a company and spend the day with the company is in the 7-12k range, with a variety of factors dictating that cost. And to be honest, I expect the number to go up as the demand continues to increase.

Hope that helps a little,

Marcus

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Al Smith January 18, 2013 at

Love this Marcus and couldn’t agree more. Not only do you talk and write about this, you show concrete evidence and examples that it works !

I’m trying to help a company understand this. ProCarerx is a pharmacy benefit management company, providing solution management and medication, for hospice organizations and others. (I hope to be working for them soon) Working on them getting on social media and content marketing.

Maybe we can talk soon.

I am so impressed with what you are doing and have done with this platform. Keep on growing, sharing and helping others. You do it well, my friend. Let me know if you are coming to Atlanta or South Florida (could be moving there)

Thanks again bro. Take CARE.

Al

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

Al, that’s great bud! Glad to hear you’re working with this company, even if potentially, and I’m sure if you’re able to lay out your vision to them, great things are going to happen.

Keep pushing and caring my friend, and thanks so very much for stopping by,

Marcus

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Davina K. Brewer January 18, 2013 at

It’s like what you wrote about multi-author blogs and insourcing Marcus. (Happy 2013 BTW :-) .. been lurking, just getting back into the blogging/social swing of things.) It is incredibly hard to do it all on your own – so the more people that can pitch in, the better. And that’s where it’s essential to have all parties involved, with not just support but leadership from the top.

That’s how you get the accountants and HR directors and product developers involved – making it clear it’s in their and the company’s best interest. I remember back in my old newsletter days, the fighting to get others involved and the fear that it’d take away from their ‘real’ jobs when the reality was – the more sources, participation you had across the organization you had, the better, more successful a newsletter you produced.

I’d love to spend more time teaching analytics, the value of inbound, the benefits of smart social engagement – never you mind some good PR 101 – to clients. I’ve seen the lack of knowledge, lack of support hold businesses back that I’m on the bubble of requiring some training for new biz.. but certainly TOP level buy-in is a must. FWIW.

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Marcus Sheridan January 18, 2013 at

Davina!! How are you my friend? :) Great to hear from you and glad you’re getting back into the swing of things. Love your vision of awareness mentioned here and here’s to wishing us both luck in making that happen!!

smiles,

Marcus

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Rajkumar Jonnala January 18, 2013 at

The top dogs at Apple & other companies certainly understand how consumers think, their interests ,desires,shop, and research and they have created a brand experience like no other around that. The company become the hitler of that market,so on the same way Apple is a great monster. For the small- to medium-sized companies I work with, well, the top dog does need to get his hands dirty and he also needs to create brand evangelists of his own, inside the company. I just need to convince said top dog of that fact.

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Lee Kirkby January 18, 2013 at

Cheers from Canada Marcus…on a cold snowy day the pools in Jason’s video look great. Just have to ask are you and Jason clones…he even sounds and looks a lot like you. LOL On a serious side your submission that it has to start at the top is true. When we started on the content focused marketing trail almost three years ago it was not something that everyone embraced. Problem is conventional advertising has a subliminal ego component to it. You get to see your name (or company name) up in lights when the ad appears. It feels good even if the ad does nothing for you. Content marketing does not look anywhere’s a sexy in the early days and I think this keeps a lot of traditionalists away.
Our results have not been as dramatic as River Pools but they are better than anything else we have done in the past and we are staying the course.
Great work.
Lee

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Myrrhcy January 18, 2013 at

Marcus, have you been sharing your stuff with Robert Kaufman Fabrics?
This CEO definitely believes in getting his hands dirty. He’s filming this “behind the scenes” video with his phone and getting traction with this content….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsc3y38jLjs

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Ram Shengale January 19, 2013 at

Content marketing is specially important for small businesses and entrepreneurs online as they have very less resources to market and content marketing for me is the best way to go when you don’t have a lot of monetary support for marketing.

Ra,

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Vince @ How to Create a Website Online January 20, 2013 at

This Blog post is terrific! The info graphic is awesome too! Thanks for all this free information man!

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Geosynthetic manufacturer January 21, 2013 at

Content Marketing Success is the most important part of business.

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Ruth Zive January 21, 2013 at

I don’t think that the CEO has to be invested to the point that he/she is responsible for creating and micromanaging all content marketing activity. However, the buy-in and investment has to start at the top. It can’t just be a peripheral focus; it has to be a priority that has been defined by executive management. No different than any other corporate imperative, frankly. And in my experience, the more ‘invested’ the CEO (both practically and emotionally), the more successful the effort. No doubt.

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Marcus Sheridan January 22, 2013 at

Ruth, I think you really nailed it with, “It has to be a priority defined by executive management.”

Yep, that’s it. Someday I’d be curious to hear from you what that “definition” is for your clients.

Thanks,

Marcus

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Ruth Zive January 22, 2013 at

Interestingly enough, I don’t generally struggle with the client ‘buy in’. The C-level execs seem to get it, conceptually. Even to the point that they will prioritize with their internal teams to make sure that this gets on everyone’s radar. My struggle is in the execution. There is always a gap between what they understand and want in theory and what they are able to execute practically. So unfortunately, we spend a lot of time nagging the powers-that-be to stick to the editorial calendar, identify topics for blogging, select clients to be featured in case studies, prioritize items for press releases, etc.

So perhaps the ‘definition’ of priority is necessarily a function of ACTION and execution. If the organization sees the manager going through the necessary motions (enthusiastically) it will trickle down. Lip service isn’t enough.

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Marcus Sheridan January 23, 2013 at

LOVED this Ruth!!! You pretty much just described 90% of my issues as well!!

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Laura Foley January 22, 2013 at

I love the concept for Jason’s video! The “test drive” is a great way to allow people to try products out before purchasing them, and I’m sure that with a costly product like an inground pool this tactic goes a long way in turning prospects into customers.

One thing, though, is that he doesn’t smile at all or get animated about this wonderful opportunity. I know it’s hard to get excited when you’re just one guy in front of the camera, but it’s like that old trick of putting a mirror next to the phone to remind you to smile during your sales call. People can tell in your voice that you’re smiling, excited, positive, etc. and will be more responsive to your message. In the same way, I think Jason should look at his own videos and ask himself if that’s how he’d talk if the customer was on the lot right in front of him.

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Marcus Sheridan January 22, 2013 at

GREAT feedback Laura. Jason has even joked about that before–how he forgets to smile sometimes–so the reminder is much appreciated.

Thanks so much and hope your day is a great one,

Marcus

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Tony Lam February 4, 2013 at

How to avoid employees from divulging sensitive information from the company or clients during blogging ?

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Marcus Sheridan February 5, 2013 at

Honestly Tony, that’s not hard to do. Employees produce the content, but there is still a “chief content officer” who edits/decides what hits the site and what doesn’t.

Thanks,

Marcus

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Neha January 4, 2014 at

There is always a gap between what they understand and want in theory and what they are able to execute practically. So unfortunately, we spend a lot of time nagging the powers-that-be to stick to the editorial calendar, identify topics for blogging, select clients to be featured in case studies, prioritize items for press releases, etc.

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