Michael Marchese is the founder and CEO of Tempesta Media, a managed services provider specialized in performance driven content, social and influencer marketing programs for B2B businesses. We discuss how outsourced content creation works, how to measure content marketing ROI, and the use of technology in content creation.
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Hit the Bullseye with your Content Marketing with Michael Marchese
Our guest is Michael Marchese, the founder and CEO of Tempesta Media, a managed services provider specialized in performance-driven content, social, and influencer marketing programs that drive revenue for B2B businesses. Welcome to the show, Michael.
Hi, Steve, how are you? It’s a pleasure to be on.
I am very well. Thank you for asking. And it’s great to have you on this show. I’m very interested in what you have to say because you are doing some things that is a little bit mythical for many of my listeners, I assume, because it is for me. So, Michael, how did you get to the point of building a managed services provider? I’ve never heard of an MSP actually creating content and providing content for people. I always thought MSPs were like technology service providers. And you are actually a technologist, so I’m kind of getting the answer as I’m asking the question. But tell me your journey to figuring out that this is what you want to do and building this business.
Actually, next year, 2023 will be my 30th year in the industry. And so I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to see a lot and I’ve been involved with a lot of organizations that have gone on to become quite successful and well-known within marketing technology and the media industry. Prior to starting Tempesta Media, I was working at Omnicom, which is one of the largest media and advertising agencies in the world, and working with a lot of Fortune 500 customers. And one of the challenges that we had at that time was I saw that content marketing was going to be the future, specifically digital content marketing.I saw content marketing was going to be the future Click To Tweet
The challenge that a lot of businesses, specifically those Fortune 500 businesses, had at that time is they were not structured to really be publishers. They were in the business of making mobile phones, cruise ships, movies, you name it, but they were not publishers in the sense of content, specifically content that could be consumed by their audience. Many of those departments were really structured around collateral. So think of brochures and television advertisements and newspaper and so forth.
Being able to create content that allows you to connect with your audience in terms of blog posts, case studies and other things like that, they weren’t able to do that on a daily basis, let alone a monthly basis. They were structured for quarterly cycles. And the challenge for them was, is their audience was consuming content much faster than they could produce it. And so they came to me and they said, well, we need to be able to plug this gap. You have a global reach, what is available out there? What can we use to take care of this issue? And after looking around for quite some time, I didn’t find that there was any solution out there that could create what I call expert content, industry expert content at scale while not sacrificing the quality.
So you had at that time what were called, I guess, content mills, which were basically marketplaces where the lowest cost person basically wrote content, and that content might have been even incoherent, let alone have any expertise that went with it. And so the quality clearly wasn’t there, even though the cost was there and the ability to scale was there. On the flip side, you had agencies that were trying to create content with in-house copywriting teams, and they really had challenges on the quality as well, because they really weren’t deep experts in their customers’ industries. They were marketing experts. And so I said, how do we put this all together?
So Michael, I was always wondering about this, that I always thought that it’s kind of a winner-takes-all kind of business, because if I Google a topic, then I want to read the thing that comes up on top, because Google prioritizes. Maybe I scroll down a little bit. You know, just go below the advertised, promoted content, obviously, because I want the organic ones. That’s what I’m interested in. And then maybe I look at the first two or three or four, and I’m going to pick one of them because I assume that Google already did the job of prioritizing it. And I always thought that you will only read stuff that is written by someone who is a real expert in it. And I was always wondering how you could even outsource this kind of stuff.
It’s actually a really good question. And actually, in the early days of what you’re calling search engine marketing, which is trying to have your content appear on Google search results, there were a lot of companies out there that were using various, how do we say here, technologies or operational processes that they could get their content ranked in those first results, even though that content wasn’t the most relevant or the most expert or most valuable. With my company, we took a completely different approach and said, you know what, the content has to be written by experts within that industry, because only they are going to truly understand the infinite details associated with that industry.The content has to be written by experts within that industry because only they are going to truly understand the infinite details associated with that industry. Click To Tweet
And they’re the only ones that are going to really be able to provide insight and value. Just like you were mentioning, when you’re putting a query in Google within the search engine, you want to make sure the result that comes back to you is instantly going to answer your question and provide you the insight you need to do whatever you’re going to do. And so we took that approach, and I think over the last couple years, Google and the other search engines that are out there have done a really good job catching up with our technology so that they do a much better job of aligning that expert content with the audience.
And so now what you’re seeing is there’s a huge struggle right now for a lot businesses because being able to produce a significant amount of content that actually drives results and revenue is very challenging. So, like you had mentioned, you have 10 results typically that show up on that first page of search results. Everyone’s competing for those first 10 results, and you’re absolutely correct. The vast majority of people are clicking on that first page and never going beyond that. And so if you can’t go and create content that is going to resonate with your audience and at the same time be optimized for SEO, you’re wasting your money.
So that’s that’s a big question. I’m also wondering. So, for example, in my profession, people get paid, I don’t know, $1,000 an hour, something like that. How can, how is it possible to find an expert for an affordable sum, I don’t know, $50 an hour, $100 an hour, who will be able to write equivalent quality content or 90%, 80% similar content? How is that possible?
It’s a really good question. Based on our experience, we have vetted over 27,000 U.S. industry experts, and what we found is that fewer than 3 percent of them have that level of depth of expertise and quality of communication to be able to write for our customers. So, you imagine that, right? You go and you review 100 resumes and 100 applications, and only three of them are potentially good enough. And so that’s a real barrier for a lot of companies.
And I think that’s what’s really spawned companies like Tempesta Media as a managed service. They’re in the business of being able to go and vet those people, get them aboard, and then incorporate that in as part of an overall technology solution so that you can get those results. I will say this though, much like other industries, inflation has really hit hard within the content marketing space. So, if you went back as far as five or six years ago, the costs for writing content at that time are a fraction of what they are today.
At that time, many companies could get by by basically hiring a junior marketing person or an intern or what have you, to be able to create the social posts or the blog posts or what have you. Because there’s been such a change in the algorithms of the search engines focused on quality and relevancy and expertise, that approach is no longer viable, it’s a waste of money. And so there’s been a stampede of demand for those deep industry experts, and that’s caused the pricing of content to go up by over 150 percent just in the last 18 months.
So, Michael, let’s say if I wanted to have one of your writers create content from my book, basically, then would they study my book and kind of create content based on that, or they would rely on their own experience and interpret my profession based on their own knowledge, existing knowledge and experience? So, would they study my field specifically or they would just be kind of a broader picture of my field and relying on what they know already?
I think that’s a good question. There’s actually three components that go with that. One is they have to be from your industry, because if they’re not from their industry, they’re not going to understand the nuances associated with the pinnacle principles, right? There’s a lot of detail that goes into that and a lot of insight. So that’s part one. The second part is they have to intimately understand your business. And we have obviously technology and operational that allow us to get those experts up to speed quite quickly and efficiently.
The third part is actually a technology component that many people don’t realize. There is a science behind content marketing that’s really emerged, especially in the last five years, where you not only have to write that content for the audience, but you also have to make sure that that content is optimized for the search engines as well. And so there’s a third piece that goes with it. Unfortunately, there is no person off the street outside of, for example, you or executives of your company that would have the expertise in your industry and the expertise in your company. And so what we’ve done is we’ve compartmentalized those three of them and developed the technology to put all three together on the post-production side so that you get the result as if this was a full-time person on your team without the cost or the overhead.
That’s fascinating. So one of the things that I heard just this week from one of my clients who’s a research company, and they do capital markets research, and what I learned from them was that some, they had some competition, newly emerging competition that are doing research through AI, the use of AI, and AIs are writing blogs. So is this a technology that even you are leveraging when you’re putting the content together?
It’s interesting. There’s been a debate in the industry for probably about 10 years, going all the way back to our founding about, is the future AI or is the future human? And our feeling that we’ve had and the approach that we’ve taken from day one is that you can never replace the human creativity, but you can provide the tools and the capabilities to go and make sure that they can do that much better. And so as it relates to AI, there are companies out there that have created software that can create blogs using AI. The problem is, is those things provide very little insight and value. And most recently, I guess Google came out with an algorithmic update, I think it was in August of this year, where they are now essentially de-ranking content that was AI driven. So they’re not saying that you shouldn’t use AI. It’s just the AI shouldn’t be the end all be all. It should be a tool to be used to help assist that writer who already has the expertise.
So, let’s switch gears here a little bit. I mean, this podcast is called the Management Blueprint. So I’m always interested in hearing about the framework that help people contextualize what they need to do in your cases to have a more effective content marketing. And in our pre-call, we talked about your Bullseye framework, which I thought was very insightful and very interesting, which allows a company to scale their digital marketing program. So can you explain to our listeners what that framework looks like, this Bullseye framework, and how it can help business owners?
Sure. And the Tempesta Media Bullseye Framework is actually based on data from several hundred million dollars of marketing campaigns over the last 20 years. And what we have found is that there is, and this is, as I said, this primarily relates to B2B businesses, but has applicability to business, to consumer businesses as well. But what we have found is that marketing programs, specifically direct response marketing programs can be ordered in such a fashion that they match up based on the ROI, as well as what the potential for scale is. So if you imagine you’re in, at an activity and you’re staring at a bullseye, for example, if you’re playing darts, at the very center of it is that bullseye. What we’ve found is that content marketing and SEO are in that bullseye.Content marketing is like a bullseye. Start at the center with content and SEO for the highest ROI, then expand outward. But beware of the 100 obstacles that can block your success. Click To Tweet
That means that for any company that’s out there and for all of your listeners, these are the programs that generate the highest return on investment in terms of your marketing dollars. They may not have the greatest scale, but they’re going to generate the best return. Now, as you move beyond the bullseye, you get concentric rings that go around that bullseye. The further out you go, the more potential scale you have of a marketing program, but also the lower potential return on investment. And so we encourage all of our customers, and I encourage your listeners, to follow that bullseye approach, where you start off with the bullseye of content marketing and SEO.
You then move into the first layer outside of it, which is email marketing and retargeting. And retargeting means that you have someone that comes to your site, they leave, and they see your banner ads or other advertisement to get them to come back. That ring that I’m referring to is the second layer that goes with it. And there are up to eight layers of that bullseye approach. And each layer, as I said, as you go out, there are different capabilities of what can be done and then different ROI thresholds.
But for most of your listeners, if you’re designing a marketing program for your company, you want to start and make sure that you master the bullseye and the first couple layers, and you don’t move to the next layer or next ring until you’ve mastered and scaled out the ring or the bullseye prior to that. And what we found with that is that that’s what allows companies to build a sustainable customer acquisition and revenue generation program and do it the most cost effectively possible. Because everyone’s suffering from budget cuts because of inflation. And so you got to make every dollar that you have go farther.
This is really interesting, this bullseye. So basically you create the content, the SEO, that’s the bullseye. And then you’ve got this, it’s like a stone rippling in the lake. You’ve got the different layers going out and more and more scalable, but lower and lower ROI as you get out as you’re kind of adding the layers of the onion. What I’m curious about is that in order even to layer eight to be a positive ROI, what kind of ROI do you need in the bullseye for the content and SEO? How high that has to be in order for you to be able to go all the way and meaningfully scale the whole enchilada.
Sure, and it’s going to differ from business to business, of course, but there’s a general framework that you’d follow. Every business has a gross margin, and this is the cost after whatever they’re delivering, a product or service that goes with it. What we tell our customers is that you want to make sure that you are getting at least a 2x or 3x return on your gross margin. So if you’re spending $100 on marketing and you’re specifically focusing on that bullseye, you want to make sure that you’re getting at least $300 of gross margin back.
If you do that, then you’re balancing maximizing out the most that you can do in that channel, and at the same time maximizing your return that goes with it. We have customers that are doing 10x return, and we have others that are right now at 2x return because they’re investing so hard to maximize that channel to begin with. But generally what we recommend with customers is that if you’re going to do a sustained program, shoot for about 3x ROI. If you’re trying to grow the program rapidly, shoot for a 2x ROI and then reinvest.
So if I did a 3x ROI, is this the average ROI, the weighted average ROI using all the tools, all the layers of the onion, or is just the center, the bullseye piece.
That’s just the bullseye piece. And then what companies can do, and let’s use an example, Steve. So let’s say that I have a widget company and that widget company for every $100 of revenue, I make $70 of margin that goes with it. If I’m going to spend $700,000 on marketing, specifically content marketing and SEO, I want to make sure before I even start looking at the next layers of that or next rings of that bullseye or that dartboard, I want to make sure I’m getting to at least 3x my investment or $3,000 return on my investment. And then once you’ve gotten to that three times return, it’s at that point you have to sit and now make a decision.
Is there more growth possibility within the bullseye? Like, is there more content marketing or SEO that you can do? If there is, invest there more. If there isn’t, now you need to start evaluating the next ring in that bullseye, which is, as I said, is email marketing and retargeting. And then you repeat that process. And so what would end up happening if over the course of a couple of years, let’s say there’s a company that ultimately gets to the third layer right now, they’re into affiliate and influencer marketing, in addition to those other areas, they may have a four or five X return in this SEO and content marketing. They may have a three X return in the first ring, which is that email and retargeting, and they may only have a 2X or 1.5X return in that third area. For them, that’s the maximum of their capabilities of what they can do given their market, their competitive environment, and their products that they have.
But if they could do a 10X in the bullseye, then maybe they could go out eight layers and still have 1.5 on the outer layer, 1.2 or something. That is fascinating.
Yeah. And that’s what gives every business the opportunity so that every business can, every B2B business can follow this. Where they end up in terms of how far out they go is going to be a function of the size of their market. It’s going to be how competitive is their market space. And then it’s going to be how efficient, how good is their product and service and how efficient are they running their program.
And how good the content is, right?
Right. The content is, for me, Tempest Media is kind of the equalizer across that for all of our customers, so there’s a standard, but, yeah, if they have the expert content and they can do it at scale and they have the SEO expertise and the technology, if they have all that in-house, which few companies do, then, yeah, they absolutely can do that. But what I’m seeing now and what’s been validated by several research studies that have just come out, more and more businesses are choosing just to outsource it to a managed service provider because the technology and the cost requirements of keeping up with all that has gotten really expensive.
So it’s no longer, like I mentioned earlier, it’s no longer, let me get an intern or a junior marketer in to create this stuff, it’s gotten a lot more sophisticated. Much like how television advertising in the 50s started off with some very basics, and all of a sudden now it’s programmatic, dynamic, omni-channel, all these things, and you need really advanced knowledge and specialization to do it.
So your business is professionalized. So, okay, so let’s assume that you’ve got a client, they have a good ROI on their bullseye, they are doing the content creation, the SEO, and then going out on the layers. Now, what kind of obstacles may block their content from being displayed on search engines? What kind of landmines? You obviously, you know the lay of the land, you know what to avoid, but if someone is trying to do it on themselves or use a lesser player to help them? What kind of obstacles can they encounter?
We’ve identified over 100 different obstacles that can actually block a company from creating, optimizing, and scaling their content marketing program. And I’ll share a couple here with, but it’s more than just the content itself. That’s everything that goes with it. And I’ll use an example. If you were to create, Steve, an incredible article about the five principles, five pinnacle principles, and you spent a lot of time putting it together and you publish it on your website, if that page is not included in your site map, for example, on your site, it’ll never even appear to the search engines to index it.
Or another example, you write that content and you’re trying to focus on a certain area, but you never optimize it for the specific readers you’re going after or the keywords you’re trying to rank on. It’ll go nowhere. Or worse yet, you put that content on your page, but you put it on the page in the form of a PDF or some sort of an image, search engines can’t read it. It’ll never show up. So these are just some very basic examples, but these are things that hold people back. I will share with your reader, with your listeners, something that is, turned out to be quite surprising based on some of the research that we did. If you merely added a piece of text at the beginning of your content that provided what the estimated reading time is of your article, just doing that very simple thing, saying, oh, it’s a three-minute read or a five-minute read, that will improve your engagement rates by over 20 percent.
It’ll reduce the bounce rates on your site, which means the number of people coming to your site and just immediately leaving also significantly. So, as I said, there’s over a hundred of these things that we’ve uncovered and we’ve incorporated into our approach and our technology, but we’ve made a guide available on our site. If you go to Tempestamedia.com and go to our resources area, there’s an e-guide there that can walk you through some of those. But that’s really the, that’s an example of the challenge out there. We’re talking about very basic things. These are the things that will separate you from not showing up at all versus showing up in the first page for your specific area.
The other thing you mentioned is that there are actually KPIs for measuring content effectiveness. What kind of KPIs exist for that?
You know, what’s interesting is that content marketing today feels a lot like advertising back in the 50s. Everyone knew it worked, right? I know I’m spending a gazillion dollars on television advertising, and I know that half of my advertising is working incredibly well, and half of it’s performing poorly. I just don’t know which half, right? The same thing’s happening with content marketing. A lot of companies out there are spending lots of money on content, but they have no idea what blog or what piece of content is going to perform before they do all the work to create it. Right? So, what, you know, I think that’s a big area.
Obviously, we’ve developed those capabilities of predictive analytics that go with that, but that’s a challenge. And so when you get into KPIs, how are you going to measure those success points? Right now, a lot of companies are satisfied with merely counting how many visitors come to their site. And while that’s a good initial metric if you’re new to content marketing, as you progress, you need to overlay other KPIs there. And those include things like how much revenue are you getting? How many leads are you generating? How much engagement are you getting on the site? How many pages did those people work? You want to be able to track that prospective buyer journey so that you know what type of content you need to create going forward to optimize that purchasing process. Those are a couple of examples I would call out right off the top of my head.
So I guess this is where your technology solution comes into play because if there are a hundred different obstacles that you have to avoid and then there are multiple KPIs that are measuring a million things, then this writer, they will not be able to spend time on looking, watching out for all these things. They need technology that will basically, navigate, help them navigate, and then they can focus on creating the content.
And much like you had mentioned at the very beginning, you had said how, manage service provider for marketing. I always thought and assumed that was for IT or technology, right? That’s where this has evolved to, where the technology involved, the complexity of it, the advancements in the area of what you can and can’t do have gone so far ahead that for the average person, you know, average CEO or head of finance or what have you, they don’t know. And it’s not to their detriment, it’s just that these things have gotten very specialized and advanced. I remember when I put out the first banner advertisement in 1994, right? It was a revolutionary concept at that time.
And we had no idea, there were no such things as ad standards, like what size should it be? How much should it weigh? How do we publish it? Right, all these basic things. But anyone could do it. Anyone could create an image, right, at that time in Photoshop or what have you, and go and cut and paste it and put it into their site. It was very simple and easy. Now you think about it, and you think about all the dynamic ads you’re seeing and video and things that are conditional and how it gets targeted. That shows just how much complexity has come into something so simple as a banner advertisement. The same thing is now happening in content and social and influencer marketing.
Well, that’s super interesting, very intricate and very complex. So definitely don’t do it yourself. Don’t do it at home. If you would like to learn about it, then go and check out the resources that Michael has. So, Michael, what kind of resources can people, you mentioned on the website, people can download a white paper on this. How can they, you know, where should they go and how can they connect with your content, your ideas and yourself?
We put together an easy to understand guide in layman’s terms, not to get technical with everything because we know that this is a very real challenge out there. If you go to tempestamedia.com, go to our resources area and select eGuides and white papers, we have an excellent guide that talks about the 100 mistakes companies make building, optimizing and scaling their content marketing programs. And as I said, it’s made to be really easy to understand and be able to implement. And then if you’d like to get ahold of me directly, I’m available on LinkedIn, or you can reach out to me directly through tempestamedia.com. And I’m under there on LinkedIn as Michael Marchese. You can follow me or connect with me, either one’s available.
Okay, well, definitely if you are into trying to create a good ROI or your content marketing and scale it using the bullseye approach and the whole onion approach, then definitely check out the white paper. And I assume that it will just make you understand how complex that is. And then the next step is to reach out to Michael and talk to him how he might be able to help you. So, Michael, thank you for coming to the show. That’s shockingly complex, this area.
Thanks God I didn’t invest too much time the last couple of years in this, because it probably would have been a waste. So thank you for sharing this and letting us know about this resource that people can tap into in terms of content marketing. Thanks for coming to the show. And those of you listening, stay tuned because we are going to go to twice a week shows, two shows a week on Monday and Thursday. So you’re going to get more and more frameworks propping up from Azure Blueprint.
Thank you for your time, Steve, and inviting me on the show. And I wish all of your users and visitors on the site, if you need any help, feel free to contact, but we’re here to help. Thank you.