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Digital marketing cut-through in a crowded space: Spike Native Network

Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti
17 January 2018 22 minute readShare
Tim Johnson and Jo Cronolly, Spike Native Network

In an increasingly loud, complex and dynamic online marketing space, the team from Spike Native Network breaks it down to core concepts and realistic goals.


Content marketing may sound like the latest buzzword, but as businesses of all size are discovering, content has become the key to unlocking sales growth and customer loyalty alike.

Jo Cronolly and Tim Johnson, the team behind Spike Native Network – which picked up the Publisher Innovation Award at the 2017 Australian Magazine Awards – join the My Business Podcast to debunk a few myths when it comes to digital marketing.

Listen in to learn about:

  • An introduction to content marketing – what is it?
  • A different approach – providing value upfront for free
  • Learning from the likes of Coke and others, and how you can do it too
  • The costs of content marketing, and the best way to get started

Full transcript

Announcer: Welcome to the My Business Podcast. Insight, inspiration, and wisdom for business owners, wherever they may be. Here are your hosts, Adam Zuchetti and Andy Scott.

Adam Zuchetti: Thanks so much for tuning in. We have a very special episode of My Business Podcast today. I am joined by my usual co-host, Andy Scott.

Andy Scott: Hello.

Adam Zuchetti: Hello, Andy. And we've got Jo Cronolly and Tim Johnson from Spike in the studio. Guys, thanks for joining us.

Jo Cronolly: Hi Adam. Hi Andy.

Andy Scott: Hello, how are you?

Adam Zuchetti: Good morning, how's it going?

Tim Johnson: Good.

Andy Scott: We're all a bit dusty this morning. It's early Monday morning for us, and you guys actually haven't travelled very far to join us today, have you?

Tim Johnson: No.

Jo Cronolly: Same building.

Tim Johnson: I'm upstairs, actually, yeah.

Andy Scott: Literally the floor below us, you guys work, which is great news. And part of the broader Momentum church as well. So tell us a bit about what you guys do, because you're not really within the publishing side that we do, so tell us a bit about what you guys do, and ...

Adam Zuchetti: Yeah, so what is Spike and what are you guys trying to achieve?

Jo Cronolly: Spike is a content amplification platform that allows people that are creating great content marketing to connect with an audience of one million business owners, decision makers, and investors.

Andy Scott: So, in real terms, because that sounds like a well-rehearsed sales spiel, which I love ... But, in real terms, what does that mean for something? What does Spike actually offer a business owner?

Jo Cronolly: If a business owner would like to get in touch with other business owners or decision makers and promote their services or produces, Spike is a gateway to get into that audience. So, we have an audience of one million business owners. They're reading the A.T. Momentum Media mastheads, catching up on the daily news, and Spike will actually serve up other articles, which can be anything from educational courses for MBAs right through to Cisco software. It serves up these articles and allows you to connect with a really super engaged audience.

Andy Scott: This isn't just banner ads and pop-up things, is it?

Jo Cronolly: No. Totally different ball game. Content marketing.

Andy Scott: Tell us more about content marketing, for those that may not understand it.

Jo Cronolly: Content marketing is all about creating different forms of content, be it video, podcasts as we're doing right now, long-form articles, info-graphs, as opposed to your traditional banners and MRECS. It's a way where you can really engage with your audience. You can inform them, you can have the airtime where you can leave them with a different perspective than before they actually engaged with your content. So, you can engage with your audience on an intellectual level and also on an emotional level, and, really, the means of it is to gain a larger audience and, at the end of the day, sell more products or services to them.

Tim Johnson: Yeah, I think it also comes down to storytelling. In essence, you're trying to build a brand and a reason to engage and talk to your target audience, right? Spike sits on the bottom of my business, for example, and at the bottom of particular articles you'll see recommendations from Spike for related articles and related products with the idea being to simply, in that same digestible format, to create a reason to tell a story and give an introduction to a topic, a piece of information that would be related, and give someone a reason to get to know your brand and get to know what you do and who you are.

Jo Cronolly: That's a very good point. Inherently, I think we all are storytellers, and if we remember anything, it is in story format, so you can engage with the audience in story format. Really, if you can create a thread through your content, you can keep that audience coming back for more and waiting to see what type of content you produce next. They're engaging with you on a deeper level than just the products and services that you offer.

Adam Zuchetti: Content marketing sounds very educational and informational, rather than, I suppose, traditional advertising, which kind of seems dictatorial ... Bias, now, "We're great, fantastic!" kind of thing. In terms of those ... The Spike banner on a lot of bulletins and things that goes out, it's got four separate articles, as you mentioned. How do you determine which articles are going out to which databases, clients, and audiences?

Tim Johnson: It's a good question. That's a constant thing that we're always working on. We're always trying to upgrade our abilities to be able to push the right articles to the right people. Right now, our self-service platform allows you to choose where your article's going and what sort of audience you're interacting with. But, realistically, once you've submitted your content, what takes over is our software, which will essentially pick out and send out a test batch to work our where you're getting the best reach and what kind of audience is interacting well with your articles, and, from there, push harder towards that type of demographic, that type of audience, in order to get the best results.

Andy Scott: Content marketing, too -- And we're used to hearing it because we work in the media space -- If I don't work in the media space, there's an element of it all sounding very much like "Emperor's New Clothes." It's not, like, this new bright shiny thing that's gonna make you a million dollars and gonna be fantastic. Is it something very new, and is it something that all businesses can do? Or is it just something for the big end of town?

Tim Johnson: No, no, it's definitely not for the big end of town.

Jo Cronolly: It's not something new either.

Tim Johnson: No, it's definitely not new either. Look, probably the best example I can give you is Coke, right? When it comes down to Coke, what are the ads that you see? You don't see ... There's no ad that says "Buy Coke." It's just not out there. The way Coke is marketed is a lifestyle, right? You see people running around on the beach, and there's beach balls and ... You name it. Summer of Coke, whatever it is, it's always about a lifestyle, about what you become, who you can be, if you're drinking Coke. That's not a sales pitch, that's framing Coke as a lifestyle that's something you want to be a part of. The sales people behind that are making sure that you've got Coke in your fridge, rather than Pepsi, so Coke's there and available for you to buy, right?

The sales side is completely separate to the content side and the marketing side of it. That's content marketing, in essence there, that's an easy one. No, it's not new at all, and it's not difficult. Yeah, that's a big end of town example, but, if you look at social media and the way that's changed the way that we talk to businesses and we talk about ourselves and the saturation of content that we get flooded with on a daily basis ... If you look at that, a lot of that content is not really about selling. It's about introducing you to an industry, to a product, to a person, so that they can build a relationship with you, so that when you're ready to buy or you need a service, what's front of mind? Ah, that content that I was reading and that person that I seemingly have a relationship with, because they speak to me on a regular basis. That's content marketing.

Jo Cronolly: Yeah, another example would be, at the upper end of the scale ... Xero, who are a media company as well, they have thousands of videos about how to run your business. They don't necessarily sell Xero products or sell Xero products but it's everything from your website to your SEO to all different technical aspects of it. They're trying to add value and help their clients. The back end of it is that they will get sales eventually, further down the line.

But, the second part of your question is, "Can anybody do it?" I think, for start-ups moreso, it's even more important to have a really good content strategy at the front end, a content plan of what you're gonna do over twelve months. Produce new content on a regular basis, as much as you have the time for. One piece a week, as a minimum. It has to be content around your business, around what you're doing, topics that relate to you and you know will relate to your potential clients. But yes, it is for everybody, and no, it's not new.

Adam Zuchetti: I know that a lot of business owners are gonna jack up and say, "Okay, this sounds great in theory -- Cost. Cost is my absolute pain in the bum." Compared to traditional advertising and things like that, when we're looking at content, the time that it takes to put this content together, but also the cost of the amplification through a platform like Spike ... What are we talking? What is the cost difference here?

Tim Johnson: Yeah, that's another good question. I think it comes down to definition, right? Quite simply, you need to have an understanding of what your goals are, who your audience is, and what you're trying to achieve. Say, for instance, whenever your business talks to any potential customer, 99% of those people want to buy your product, and they end up buying your product. You don't have a sales problem, you've just got a problem about getting in front of the right people. That's a pretty clear definition. All you need to do is put more people into that network that you talk to. The sales side of things is already covered, you know that you can do that.

Vice versa, if you're getting people inquiring but not converting them, maybe you need to recalibrate and start talking a bit more educationally so that you can sell better and bring people from understanding your product into a "I want to purchase your product." It comes down to what you're trying to achieve.

On a cost basis, again, it comes down to where you're sitting in that sphere. What are you trying to get out of it? I think, in a cost basis, you can spend $500 a month and try and squeeze a result out, or you can spend 10 grand a month and spread your content and your ideas as far and wide as you can. Either way, you can get a good result.

What's really important is going in with an end-game: "This is what I want to achieve, this is how much I need to spend or I'm allowed to spend per customer or per acquisition or per result, before it becomes unprofitable." Really, just going in with those defined metrics, and working against them, working backwards from that, that's how you're going to get a result. Any marketing can cost any dollar amount; it's an arbitrary figure. It's really about what you get out of it and having that definition set in place.

Adam Zuchetti: But, on the actual dollar figure side of things, you guys have quite a different model of operating. Because it's not the traditional, "Okay, I'm going to buy ten weeks of banner ads, pay up your 10 grand up front," kind of thing. Can you talk us through that?

Jo Cronolly: Yeah, for our platform, it's pay on performance. It takes the risk out of those traditional ways of advertising, where you'll pay X amount of thousands of dollars for a banner, hope that your banner is shiny and sparkly enough and has a correct call to action that will get somebody to click on it. With us, we take all that risk out of it, and we charge on a cost-per-click basis. It's simply two dollars per click to access that premium audience of business decision makers and investors.

You know the exact level of engagement that you're going to get for that investment, then you need to work out from that investment, for every hundred people that click on your content, how many people actually get to the bottom of the article, which you can monitor through your own Google analytics? What other actions did they take from reading this piece of content? How many other pages did they visit? Did they actually carry out that call to action at the bottom, which may be download a white paper, submit your email address and get access to our blog ... It's all very measurable.

The thing about content marketing and content amplification is that there's nowhere to hide. Every client that comes to us has in mind ... They start with our CPC figure, they actually want to work out their CPL figures, their cost per lead, and right down then to a cost per acquisition. How many clicks will it take on Spike for me to generate one customer? The metrics are all there, it's very measurable, and relatively risk-free. It's just about getting the right content in front of the right people.

And, back to what you said about cost and time, consuming great content is time-consuming, but you can outsource it to very well-established companies. Whether it be video content, you can look at companies such as Shootsta. If it's written content, there's many agencies out there that you can outsource it to and that'll take the time aspect away from you. Come to us, we'll amplify the content, we'll get you the right audience, and that's really how you can look at it.

Andy Scott: I want to talk about ... You mentioned getting your strategy right, and you've used the word "education" a lot. As a business owner, what does that actually practically look like? What does educating my audience actually mean? What does a content strategy actually look like? Should I be saying everything that I think from my breakfast, from my this, from my that? Should I be telling stories about all my clients? Should I be just telling stories about me, as an expert? From that, how do I work out the attributions of that? Just saying, "Yeah, check your SEO, do this, do that" ... What are the actual practical steps to make that work and happen, so that I'm not just writing thousands of articles a day and, all of a sudden, I've suddenly broadened being a business owner that runs my business and generates sales for my products-- I'm actually a publisher, that not many people read and engage in my articles with.

Tim Johnson: First of all, content is not just articles. We define content as anything that provides value, so lots of our clients are pushing hard into that video space, because, obviously video is the future. It's virtually all you consume on Facebook and social these days. What it comes down to is providing value. What do your customers want? What are they lacking? Where are their education holes? Where can you provide value?

When people come to us and ask us these questions and say, "Look, I've got a bit of a strategy, I've got a bit of an understanding ... And I'm putting out a series of articles that I think people are going to enjoy," it comes down to value. Do you think that's what people want to read, and what they need? Or is that actually what they want to need? Provide value, back it up with more value, and then, quite simply, keep providing value to the point where you are the expert in their lives and they only have one point of contact when they want to talk about a specific issue or a specific industry which you are involved in. So, using your products is an absolute no-brainer.

Andy Scott: Business owners are mostly very passionate about what they do and believe in the products and services that they refer. Is there a danger that you can be too close to the situation? So what you think is actually interesting and important and really educating people is actually just, you sound like the boring bloke at the party just waffling rubbish.

Jo Cronolly: I think its trial and error. When you produce content, you don't know exactly what's gonna work, you don't have a magic wand and you can't see into the future and you don't know which piece is gonna be really engaging. So you have to produce multiple pieces of content and actually measure them quite tightly. See where the spikes are in your traffic, because, at the end of the day, you're wanting to generate more traffic into your website.

If you find something that works, that's really hitting a point with your audience, create more of that type of content, because you're going to have thought leadership pieces, you're gonna have the product spotlight pieces, you're gonna have the sort of "Dear Diary" pieces where you're just talking about your business in general -- The more you can wear your heart on your sleeve in those pieces, the more people will connect with you, because they know that you're being genuine and vulnerable. Find what works through analytics, and then do more of that.

Adam Zuchetti: That actually touches on what I was going to ask next, Jo, about what kinds of content and messaging resonates most. Obviously, it's going to really depend on the type of company, the type of audience they're aiming towards, but there must be key trends in what works really well and what under-performs. Can you give us some insights there? You're talking about being very authentic and engaging, that's one aspect, but are there any other trends that really show through quite prominently?

Jo Cronolly: As you said, it depends on what you're promoting, and who you're promoting it to. On Spike, we find that long-form content works really well, because we're dealing with a market of people that are highly educated, very engaged, they have high attention spans. If you were promoting content on Facebook, it's a totally different audience: very short attention span, very noisy atmosphere where you're trying to cut through and compete with so many other different content creators.

It really depends on the platform that you're creating it all for, and the audience. I can't say that there's one-size-fits-all, one thing that works. Humour is always a great way to really engage with people; everybody loves a bit of comic relief, especially in their days ... But, yeah. So wide. It just depends on what you're promoting, and the audience that you're promoting it to, and the platform that you're promoting it on.

Tim Johnson: Well, that's it, yeah. It's really horses for courses, but there's three things that we notice consistently. One is a personality. People don't wanna talk to a brand: they don't wanna talk to Coke, they want to talk to Andy Scott from My Business.

Andy Scott: The fools.

Tim Johnson: Exactly right, there's a face to the name, there's a personality, there's a certain warmth to that ... I don't know, is it warmth, Andy?

Andy Scott: It's something!

Tim Johnson: It's something to relate to, and it's much easier to interact with that. Then there's consistency: If you're sending out a particular piece of content and you send it out on Monday morning at 9 A.M. and everybody expects it on Monday morning at 9 A.M., and then, all of a sudden, it comes out on Tuesday afternoon at 5 P.M., people don't get it. People like consistency. People want to go to work on the train or whatever they're doing, at 9 A.M. on Monday, and they want to consume that one message from you. Consistency is key.

The third one, which is a pretty obvious one, is video. That's just a huge trend that will only continue to grow. People love consuming video: It's easy, it's quick, you can get a huge amount of information across in a very short space of time, and the platforms that we use in general lend themselves to video. Your phone lends itself to video, which is where 90% of content is consumed these days.

Andy Scott: How much does content make, as part of the broader mix of any business' advertising and marketing strategy? Whereabouts do you guys think content sits in that? Is it a driver, is it a leader, is it something that supports and underpins your other activities as well? What is it about?

Tim Johnson: Well, there's a really good example here, and, Andy, you'll know this example well, which is Hubspot. They're a CRM for SMEs, they're a pretty amazing company coming out of the States but not out of Silicon Valley. They rethought the way that they interact with their customers and their potential customers, and now have one of the top performing blogs in the world, something like eight million readers. Hubspot don't really use their products purely as expanding their reach -- They use them to engage their actual customer database, existing customers, and talk to their new customers.

Essentially, they just give away their products for free. You get a free taster, you get six months free, or you just gut forever ... A free access to a small version of a product or a new version of a product, and you start using it, you start to become dependent on it. Then, from there, they use that as a way in to start talking to you and to say, "Okay, look, you're using our product. It's obviously working for you. Here is a whole suite of other products that we can tack on to that," and start to really 10x your activity there.

It comes down to your strategy in particular. Hubspot's strategy is basically build products and give them away for free, and that's their content. They also produce something like 15 articles a day as well. There's a huge amount of content coming out of that. But a lot of that is product-focused, and a lot of the activity they get around that drives their new products, which they then give away for free. They've just got a really, really gratuitous circle that works really well for them. Again, it's just a well thought through strategy that they're executing on a daily basis with absolute regimented consistency.

Jo Cronolly: I believe, Andy, content should be the cornerstone of your marketing strategy, and everything else should focus around that content strategy. If it hasn't been that way so far -- it is a relatively new thing in Australia, when I say, "No, it's not new," I mean globally, especially when we look at America -- But, moving now into 2018, if it isn't the cornerstone of your strategy, and you're very amateur in the content realm, you need to start developing that strategy and direct resources that way.

Adam Zuchetti: Now, we can't talk content marketing without talking SEO, because that's obviously a big part of amplification. You've got the content, all well and good, but how do you then connect it with your target audiences?

Jo Cronolly: Content is absolutely fantastic for SEO. Content marketing, blogs, podcasts, all of that content which is housed on your website will increase traffic through searches. It could be totally left-field searches that people are doing -- I don't know how many times I've searched for something, I've had a question for something online, and I've actually found the answer in a blog post, which has actually got me on to this website that I actually love and I start travelling around it. But, you have to have that, it will increase your SEO.

Tim Johnson: It depends how ... We could talk for days here, there's literally unlimited tools and methods and recommendations we could go through to continue ... To maximise your SEO. What I would say is, if you're starting off and if you're an SMA and you're looking to maximise the benefits out of this is to use your free tools. There's so much free information out there, and it's so easy to digest, because people are doing this. It is not rocket science, it's quite simply ... Go and do your research, go and use your free tools, make sure you're using your tracking.

If your analytics isn't set up right, I guarantee you you'll have someone's son or someone's younger generation who will know and who will be able to help you. Otherwise, engage an agency, and don't necessarily sign up for a huge long contract. Just ask them, "This is the goals that we need to be able to track," and get them to help set it up for you. Use Google analytics, use keyword research tools. There's hundreds of free keyword research tools out there. If you're using any ad words, currently, there's a free keyword research tool in there. It'll give you an idea of what is trending, what kind of search volumes are out there on a geographic basis, so you don't have to look at a worldwide basis, and you can see what kind of keywords are worthwhile trying to shoot for.

Then, also, implement your SEO. Do the basics -- meta tags, title tags, image tags -- I know that sounds all pretty foreign, but virtually every modern website has a really easy SEO tool attached to it, and it's just about providing a way for Google and search engines to look through your site and look through your content, organise it properly according to its importance and its topics, and be able to then promote it across the search engines. Realistically, all Google is trying to do, apart from make lots of money, is try to provide the most relevant articles and information to you when you search. If you make it easier for Google, you're naturally going to be seen.

Adam Zuchetti: Okay. We're running out of time, guys, but I want to finish off by bringing everything we've discussed back to a common point, and the fact that Spike itself is an SME. In terms of amplifying your own messaging and getting your brand and your name and your service out there, how are you guys actually doing that?

Jo Cronolly: Very good question: We have a blog which we produce content on a weekly basis, we publish it on our website. We also publish it on LinkedIn on the same day, so that we can engage with our audience of followers. We create some video content ... We enter into industry competitions that we can get in front of our peers, and ...

Tim Johnson: Yeah, it's interesting. As a B-to-B platform, there's a very specific type of person and professional that we want to talk to. Obviously there are lots of the big media agencies ... We want to talk to them, because they look after hundreds and hundreds of clients that could use our platform in a really beneficial way. LinkedIn is a really powerful one for us, just because that's a playground where all of those professionals are, but, realistically, it comes down to educating the market again.

There are so many competitors in our space, and it's such a ... Still very new, but unique kind of marketplace. What it comes down to is education, again. We've got a pretty strong strategy about using our own podcast, and talking to our network through LinkedIn, and then, lots of ... I mean, Jo's always out of the office, going to event after event after event, just basically spreading the word and getting in front of as many people as we can. What we back that up, in terms of content, with is the education.

How many times people come to us and say, "So, what is Spike? What are we actually talking about here?" A lot of the questions that you asked earlier today ... We back that up with video content, with articles, with a really professional and branded piece that people can go in and simply take a little bit of the weight off us, in terms of having to explain that, but also provide legitimacy and say, "Okay, look, look at these wonderful videos that we've made, and they explain our journey, our process, who we are," and then give us a real platform to then leverage off and say, "Okay, look, this is the platform that we're here to engage with."

Adam Zuchetti: So it seems like the really core elements are face time to make those initial introductions, then you've got the content to back up your "elevator pitch," and then, with that content, maintain the consistency. Keep it coming, keep it regular, keep it on time, so that everyone builds that following, that loyalty, and you become that recognised part of their everyday lives.

Tim Johnson: That's exactly right!

Jo Cronolly: Yeah.

Adam Zuchetti:Alright, fantastic, guys. Thanks so much for joining us!

Jo Cronolly: Thank you very much.

Tim Johnson: Thanks for having us.

Adam Zuchetti: If anyone wants to find out more about Spike, and your blog, and all your wonderful work, where should they go?

Jo Cronolly: Simply come to www.spike.com.au.

Adam Zuchetti: So, S-P-I-K-E.com.au?

Jo Cronolly: Yes.

Adam Zuchetti: Alright, brilliant. Thanks guys, and Merry Christmas to all!

Tim Johnson: Merry Christmas.

Jo Cronolly: Merry Christmas, thank you.

Digital marketing cut-through in a crowded space: Spike Native Network
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Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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