Charles Frydenborg is the CEO of MarketMuse, an AI-driven platform that helps transform how content creators research, plan, and craft their content. We talk about how to keep up with Google’s ever-changing search algorithm, the key elements of an effective content marketing strategy, and why written content is here to stay.
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Build Topical Authority with Charles Frydenborg
Our guest is Charles Frydenborg, the CEO of MarketMuse. MarketMuse’s AI-driven platform helps publishers, e-commerce managers, and creators write more effectively and persuasively about their topics of choice. Welcome to the show, Charles.
Thanks, Steve. I appreciate the opportunity.
It’s great to have you here. So Charles, tell me a little bit about your story. How do you become the CEO of MarketMuse and what’s been your journey to that point in your life?
Sure, thank you for the question. So, I mean, I think there’s a short-term answer and a longer-term one. The short-term one was that after spending two years at MarketMuse, leading the revenue part of the organization, given where we were and the challenges that we faced, the leadership team and the board asked me to move into this role, which was humbling and very gratifying, as you might imagine, at the same time.
When I look back though, at the longer term path, I think the most important part of that journey, as I look back, is my ability to go through very honest introspection. I think it’s very hard for all people to look in the mirror and see what’s really there, as opposed to what they want to see. I’ll be the first one to admit that I grew up a little bit later than a lot of other people, and it took me a little bit longer to figure things out.
But every step along the way, whether it was when I started my sales career at Gartner, when I became a sales leader for the first time, as my responsibilities continued to expand throughout my career, I feel like I was always able to look at me and understand that I was growing, that I was developing strengths, but that there were a lot of things that I needed to work on. I had a lot of opportunities for growth and I kept focusing on that and focusing on that and became a better person, a better husband, a better employee, a better leader, and it’s pretty wild how things turned out.
Tell me a little bit about your journey in developing and growing market views. And we said there’s going to be a reason why you were appointed the CEO. And specifically, I’d like to learn a little bit about any frameworks or I could imagine blueprints that you picked up along the way and you applied in your business.
I think what led me to be asked to move into this role and the EOS framework are tied very closely together. MarketMuse is blessed with two incredible co-founders, Aki Balog and Jeff Coyle, who created the company and brought us through our early stages. And we were growing at a really nice rate. But MarketMuse, like a lot of other companies, second week of March of 2020, the world changed and we were confronted as a VC funded company with a very difficult situation where our expense run rate was high and our growth targets went from something we felt very confident about to something that became entirely unattainable in the space of three or four months.
And as we look to figure out how to overcome those challenges, the sentiment was that we needed to instill more discipline into the business, more structure, more focus around, around really what we needed to do if we were going to come out of the economic impact of the pandemic as a stronger company. And, you know, I’m, I’m not going to misrepresent it. As you know, installing a business framework is not a one-day or one-week thing. It is a long process, and it requires all facets of the organization. But the leadership team, the company, has embraced it, and I feel we’ve made some great progress here in the last year.Installing a business framework is not a one-day or one-week thing. It is a long process, and it requires all facets of the organization. Click To Tweet
So, you mentioned EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System. the entrepreneurial operating system, so what are your favorite tools in yours?
Well, as we, I mean, it’s less about, frankly for me, it’s less about the tool than it is the area of focus. You know, we come from a very entrepreneurial, I’d say even creative heritage as a company. And that can lead you down some wonderful paths relative to the functionality you create and the business issues that you solve. But we felt as an organization that we needed to increase our focus, establish a vision for exactly what we wanted to be and the business issues we needed to solve, make sure that we identified the hurdles and obstacles that were in the way, as the EOS framework refers to as rocks, things that would make our goals either attainable or challenging, and make sure that we were not only picking a path that we felt was optimal, but one where we could be successful and we could execute. And again, we’ve got more work to do, but I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress here in the past year.EOS framework refers to as rocks, things that would make our goals either attainable or challenging, and make sure that we were not only picking a path that we felt was optimal, but one where we could be successful and we could execute. Click To Tweet
Okay, so creating the vision and reverse engineering the rocks, the major steps to get there is what you emphasized here. Okay, so very good. So let’s talk a little bit about market views. So how does market views help business owners improve the quality of their marketing? What are you guys doing to help business owners?
What we do with content creation teams is primarily two things. Number one is we inject data and information into what is typically a very subjective decision-making process across the content creation workflow, starting with the biggest question, which is what should we be writing about? What areas of, you know, subjects should we be focused on? The second part of that assistance, though, goes down to very prescriptive guidance. Once those decisions have been made relative to what it means to be an expert on a particular topic and how do you articulate that expertise, that topical authority in a piece of content.
What makes this particularly critical, Steve, is that the search engine algorithms out there, they have a number of complex criteria that they look at that determines search performance. But the first and foremost of those is topical authority. How you can, again, demonstrate expertise, topical authority, so that you’re not only making your content visible to the target audience through search, but once they engage that piece of content, that it’s aligned with their intent, that it answers their questions, that it informs them, that it reflects well on your brand, and that it enables you to optimize your chance to have them take those desired next steps, whether it’s a purchasing action or just simply wanting more information. Does that help?A decisions have been made relative to what it means to be an expert on a particular topic and how do you articulate that expertise, that topical authority in a piece of content. Click To Tweet
How do you do that when the algorithms are always changing? How do you move it? Do you have to even move with that or you just have it as a given and you just want your clients to provide as good a content as possible, and then hopefully the algorithms are going to appreciate that.
I know those algorithms do shift, and frankly, they shift probably a lot more than people think they do. There are certain varying degrees of the tweaks and changes they make to those algorithms, but we have to change with them. The way we do that is by pulling thousands of pieces of documents on particular topics, seeing how they’ve performed in search and being able to break down why they’re performing that way. And what I guess the miracle here is, it’s not really a miracle, but the magic is that we distill that information for our clients within seconds, where they can understand exactly how they need to read a piece of, write a piece of content to have it perform. And from a competitive lens, how that topic is being covered by organic competitors.
So, I’ve always not always, but since I can try my hand a little bit about tailoring contents to to the supposed algorithm, I mean, I use that application for us, but I’m sure you’re familiar with it. And it was a very painful process because I couldn’t just write an article or I did write the article and then I had to rewrite it I had to inject these keywords and it just made it so clunky and it just made it a dissatisfying experience. So, is there a way to get around this kind of thinking for the way you distill the information and present it. process to handle it or that’s just the nature of the beast?
I don’t think it’s the nature of the beast in the way we attack it. And we’re able to meld that creative input that is so valuable to an effective piece of content being written, while also ensuring that, you know, there’s a structure and a path that we’re providing that gives the writer or editor the insights they need to create the piece of content that will perform. So when a company becomes a client of MarketMuse, the first thing we do is we load their existing content inventory into our platform.
That enables them for the first time to see their content through the prism of our functionality. We’re able to highlight for them the content that they’ve written, that given who they are and the topic authority, topical authority they’ve built, content that should be performing but isn’t. And we can give their writers and editors a very clear prescriptive map to exactly what they need to do to improve the performance of that content. We can also analyze their inventory and identify for them gaps given who they are.
And again, that topical authority they’ve created, we know that if they write comprehensively on that topic, that content will perform. So, we’re again informing their decision-making process relative to what they should be writing about. Once they’ve actually built out their content creation calendar and they know what they’re going to be writing about and when our assistance then shifts to on-page direction where we provide, again, very prescriptive guidance to those writers where we show them, if you’re writing on this particular topic, the content should be approximately 2,500 words long, for example.
It should cover this set of subtopics and this is the depth with which it should cover each subtopic. We provide variances for them because if you’re going to introduce the same topic eight times and you go at it the same way, you’re going to put your audience to sleep, right? So we give them different contextual approaches that they can use to repeatedly introduce a topic but do it in a way which is contextual and engaging. We provide them with a list of the questions that somebody who does a search on this topic is seeking information on.
So they need to answer those questions. And then finally, we provide them with SEO recommendations, technical recommendations. So these are internal pieces of content that you’ve already created that you should link to because it’ll improve your topical authority. And all this happens within seconds of when they do a query.
Very interesting, so what I’m hearing is there are three steps. So first, they give you their existing contents, you audit it, you give them a map, hey, these contents are great, there’s lots of interest, so this is how you should prioritize them in your content calendar. Then when they want to create the content or recreate it, then you give them the prescriptive guidance to exactly how to do it, how long it should be, what keywords should there be, so that it has maximum impact?
Exactly. There’s a third and final step that I haven’t shared with you yet, which is that once they start writing the content, we actually have an offering or a capability, which we call First Draft, which is an NLG content output that’s generated from the content brief that we’ve provided them that provides a jumpstart for them in actually creating the content. So it’s not only about content performance, but it’s about driving efficiency throughout the content creation process.
Wow, that’s amazing. What does NLG stand for?
Natural Language Generation. So what I talked about at the outset relative to understanding content and giving direction as to how to write that content, that’s actually NLP, natural language processing. When we actually create the technology developed output, that’s NLG, natural language generation. These technologies are patented. It’s pretty cool.
That makes sense. Switching gears here, big picture. What are some of the trends that you see in content marketing. What I’m hearing is that, you know, 10 years ago, blogs were older age and then podcasts came along and then video. So do you see the kind of the ground shifting in content marketing? And if so, then what are the hot areas where you can generate content that attracts interest.
The phrase I would use is that the landscape isn’t shifting, it’s expanding. And what I mean by that is the focus has gone beyond primarily written content, as you mentioned, video, audio. There’s all different ways of creating content now at scale that organizations are embracing. But I say expanding as opposed to shifting. The focus on written content creation is not going away. Companies are understanding more and more now that content really is the foundation of demand generation. I’ll poke fun at myself and my background for a moment.
You know, when I started in my career in sales, you could pick up the phone and actually call somebody and get them. After a while, that got more and more difficult, but there were ways to prospect via email. You could prospect via LinkedIn. Those methods of outreach though, do not work anymore. The way to reach your target audience in an optimal way is by proactively informing them, by answering their questions, by creating a perception of subject matter expertise around your brand.
And people are finding now that content, written content is the best way to create buyer opportunities. I think it was Gartner that published a piece of research about a year and a half ago that said when companies are making purchasing decisions that they are two thirds to three quarters of the way through their decision-making process before they reach out to their short list of providers. That puts a complete onus on content, right? Because you can’t create the, you can’t control that pre-sale journey. You need to make sure, go ahead.
Sorry. So it’s clear, it’s clear that it’s content, but in what form? Is it the written form? Do people really read blogs still? Or is it video? Is it a TEDx? Is it a podcast? Do we still consume the content in written form? And if not, then can market news also help with audio and video content generation as well.
Yeah, we are seeing that video and those other alternative forms of media are all very effective. But that the use of written content continues to still increase. For market news, our focus is on written content. When it comes to video, we have, frankly, limited ways of delivering value to our clients through video content. And the only way we can do that is through transcripts of those video conversations. So, you know, our focus is on written.
So let’s talk a little bit about the business and you are a software company that is powered by artificial intelligence. So what are some of the challenges in building an AI-powered software company these days?
What I would add to that is what are the challenges of scaling an AI-based software company that’s also venture funded? And that challenge is that, you know, you’re constantly trying to perform a balancing act. We are very fortunate right now in that our differentiation from our competitors is our functionality. It’s what our platform is able to do and the unique combination of business issues that through that functionality we can solve. But in order to continue to expand that advantage, it requires investment.
It requires investment of product talent and engineering talent as we look to continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible. You know, we talked about five minutes ago about our NLG capability. You know, that is something that is very unique in the quality of its output. And we’ve got to continue to make that our mission one to ensure that we are, you know, in a leadership position in our industry and being able to provide unique value to our clients. And that takes money, that takes people, that takes resources and being able to invest in those resources while scaling the business is at times a challenge.
And where do you see the company going? What is your, do you have a big hairy audacious goal? Like you are supposed to be a 10 year picture, 10 year target, sorry. Do you have a 10 year target or a long-term goal for market news and what does that look like?
I think there’s two answers to that. One is financial, but that’s the boring part of it, which is that, you know, we have a history of growing about 75% year over year, each year, and we want to continue to accelerate that. But I don’t think that that can be the goal, right? And for us, as you said, that big, hairy, audacious goal for me is that MarketMuse becomes the standard of measuring content quality of topical authority.
I like that. And how do you measure that? What is the measurement of content quality? Is there an index that can express that?
We actually have a proprietary measurement that we use that we call a content score, which evaluates the score for any content that our clients are trying to create and also provides a relative comparison, excuse me, to the top performing pieces of content on that subject. So they can, they can lifetime make improvements to a piece of content based on our suggestions and see immediately how that impacts their content score.
And if you would compare Market News with Yoast, it’s probably apples and oranges, but, you know, Yoast is kind of a simple software that you can use to improve your SEO. How would you compare it? What would be a good analogy to compare this to?
Well, to be I mean to be transparent. I mean, I think the I think the apples and orange, you know, the statement that you made is close. It’s actually more complimentary than that. I mean, we’re there a partner of ours. So we look at what they do relative to the scale that they’ve driven. I mean, frankly, it’s an aspiration for us. Our focus right now is on making sure that we’re continuing to improve the in-platform experience that we’re providing our clients through that content strategy guidance, that on-page writing assistance, and the NLG output.
So, if you wanted to kind of summarize or synthesize the strategy of market use into a single phrase, such as your Southwest Airlines, it’s wheels up, you know, you can package this furniture small, put it in the boot of the car, then that’s going to make money for us. Or Starbucks, the third place between the home and the office. How would you how would you synthesize your strategy into a single phrase?
I hope I don’t get my marketing team mad at me here. Off the top of my head, I’d say be an expert. What we help our clients do is understand what it means to be an expert on the topic they are writing about. And if they can execute on that aspiration, on that goal, their content will be visible to their target audience through search. And when that audience looks at that content, it will engage them and it will drive to the desired outcome. So yeah, be an expert.
So, it’s the message to the users of MarketMuse that you have to be an expert and express that, or you actually help them to present themselves as an expert. They are able to present themselves to be an expert. With whatever they have?
Yeah, they’re able and I’m sorry, I don’t mean to step on you there. They’re able to present themselves to be an expert.
I love that. So if the listeners would like to learn more about MarketMuse and your products and your solutions and yourself specifically, where can they learn more and connect with you?
All right. So first for the company, our website, super straightforward, marketmuse.com. We just actually relaunched that website about three months ago now. We’re super proud of it. We think it really answers all the questions a client would have when they go up there. So please feel free to check that out. For me personally, please feel free to reach out to me. Would welcome the opportunity to talk to anybody in the audience. My email is very simple, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me on LinkedIn and reach out. Would welcome the opportunity to connect.
That’s awesome, so Charles Frydenborg, the CEO of MarketMuse. Thank you for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom and your information about your company. And to our listeners, if you enjoyed this conversation, please stay tuned. Next week, you’re going to hear another exciting entrepreneur CEO coming on the show. Thank you.
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