See all blog posts

5 Questions with Jeff Julian

September 18, 2015

Jeff Julian is the Chief Marketing Officer for AJi, a digital agency based in Kansas City. Jeff has been helping companies, such as Microsoft, develop content strategies for over ten years after he launched one of the largest blogging communities, He has been a web developer since 1994, a best-selling author of a book on content management system development, and a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional in XML and SharePoint. Jeff is currently working on a new book titled, Agility in Marketing, which is due out in late 2015.

Jeff will be a presenter at the MN AMA's October 13 event "Building Up Endurance, An Introduction to Agile Marketing."

Jeff answered five of our questions about agile marketing and content marketing.

  1. You founded, one of the largest blogging communities, and you have a strong background in content management systems. How (or why) did you make the transition to agile marketing?

    Seriously, you had to start with that one. Why did I start my career at 17 as a software developer, continue to grow as a thought leader before most of my friends were out of college, create the largest blogging community for other software developers, then pivot and start talking to marketers primarily? Great question.

    In fact, I asked a similar question with the same root to Brian Clark of Copyblogger Media and Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute at Content Marketing World 2015 during a Q&A session. My question to them was:

    In the situation where you build an audience and start to sell services afterward, the Content Inc. model, and over time the audience you are selling these services to changes, do you change what you sell to match your audience or build the audience required to sell the services?

    They both said an audience is extremely hard to build so you would change the offering to fit the audience. Well, that is not the validation I was hoping for.

    I chose the other route and I think I had valid reasons. The pace of change in software requires content to be continuously created. As a news service, we had over 50 posts a day coming out when the machine was oiled well. But just like a news service, the change didn’t allow for content to be relevant very long, so we always had to have our research hat on. That gets very tiring when you are producing content and helping others find their voice. I liked the idea of reaching an audience that builds on past experiences and doesn’t change out the way they do things every few months to something entirely different. Like in design, marketing builds on foundations, and change occurs at a steadier pace.

    Another reason for the transition to marketing was I played the role of a content marketer for 10 years without knowing it. I had built a large audience over time, and I was able to help several friends their own audiences around their niche. I worked with companies like Microsoft on their content strategies, and we handled social media for major events before Twitter even existed. Imagine reading every blog registered for an event of 12,000 developers so you could tag and summarize the posts by hand and feeding it into a machine that several thousand people were consuming at home. Content curation and hashtags before they were a thing.

    Our story changed while we were doing all these great activities. The worst fears of a business owner happened, and the majority of the purchase decisions for our solutions went from the IT team to the marketing team. Within a three year period, we went from having some marketing customers to the point where nearly all our clients are in marketing. How beneficial is an audience of software developers if they are brought in after the decision is made for the platform and the agency to use for services? We asked ourselves that question for a long time and finally decided it was best to sell the audience to a friend of mine who was launching a product for developers. Our plan was to start reaching a new audience using our approach of content delivered around education and entertainment.

    Ever since then, I have worn the title of Chief Marketing Officer at AJi and put away my software development tools. The majority of our target audience personas are marketing professionals who want to do amazing things with their own content to build an audience. As a company, we have as many years of experience doing the very thing most content marketers want to do as we do the production of software.

    So to answer your question, even though agile marketing became a term in the marketing blogosphere around 2010, it was a concept we used since the early days of the community. We really didn’t call it “agile marketing” because we didn’t consider it marketing. Instead, we described it as:

    You know how we build software using Scrum? Well, think of your blog as a product and a blog post as a backlog item. Just break the post down into tasks like research, draft, images, review, and publish. Estimate the tasks and then determine how many posts are possible with the time you have available for blogging.

    When we started to create content specifically for marketers, we wanted to address the problems they faced when creating content. Problems around content management platforms, team dynamics, the volume of content, understanding the audience, and attracting and retaining talented team members. If we could help marketing teams solve these problems, then we will have helped them succeed in their efforts and will build their trust. That trust would allow our company to compete with the largest digital agencies that did not have the same outlook on the customer. Rather than the dial-for-dollars and knocking on every door approach that traditional sales teams use in agencies, we will do something different. We will continue the conversations we started and when the time was right for the client, they might bring us in for our design, strategy, and CMS integration services if they are confident in us.
  2. How do you define agile marketing?

    A simple way of frequently delivering marketing assets to an audience based on their priorities and to their satisfaction, while working at a sustainable pace and adapting to internal and external change.

    To define a way of doing things is hard when one of the goals is to adapt. Because of this, your team's implementation will be different than mine. Even though we use various processes, methodologies, and solutions, the outcomes are typically the same. Those outcomes are team unity, measurable deliverables, forward thinking, a pace that keeps teams productive,and the audience focus we need in modern marketing.

    Related Articles: 4 Things Agile Marketing Does Not Guarantee, A Case for Agile Marketing – Beyond Software Development, and 5 Ways To Help You Get Started With Agile Content Marketing
  3. Technology has obviously changed the way content is created and how people consume content. How can marketers find the content and delivery method that has the biggest positive impact for a company without chasing every new fad?

    I am the worst person to ask this question because I am at my core a fanboy and an early adopter. I make personal technology decision based on emotion and the desire to have new and shiny. I waiting outside CompUSA the day the original iPod was released, I was the first person in Kansas to own a Microsoft Band, and I have been podcasting for over 10 years. I jump on a new technology way before you could even call it a bandwagon.

    However, with an agile marketing approach, I must wait for the solution to provide value to my audience balanced with the resources we have available.

    Let’s start with the fad of different content delivery types. If you are into listening to podcasts but your audience is not. I would not start a podcast and put all your chips on content type. Or you hear Video is King in 2016, but your audience do not consume content away from their desk, you might be added 10 times the production time of an article they love to create one video. Instead continue to create content and use the delivery vehicles you know work, then find interesting ways to repurpose that content into an audio or video feed.

    Another type of fad is ever changing world of marketing tools. Content Management Systems, Marketing Automation, Customer Relationship Management platforms, social listening, and the list goes on and on. Each year something new and shiny comes out. Just like we have been trained to desire the new iDevice and hate our current one in early September, we get the same feeling with our marketing tools. I use a couple questions to help me make a purchase decision on tools:

    - If the tool is around a process, I make sure we have adopted the process with a simple solution before we use technology. For agile process tools that can be using a paper-based approach with physical tasks boards. Going digital to early can cause the team to get caught up in the configuration rather than building the rhythm needed to adopt a new process.

    - For marketing automation technologies, start with handwritten emails and other forms of communication based on events you pull out of your system. I see so many marketers using automation platforms that end up driving their customers away rather than pulling them in. No one wants to follow a machine. If the machine is automating your audience-building process, the audience will be savvy enough to figure it out.

    - For content management systems, you really need to calculate the cost of using the tools we have over time to create content, maintain a look fresh for the customer, and support of new devices. Then compare it to the upfront cost of product and services of a new CMS and the new cost calculation using the new platform to do the same work. The one eject button from the formula I use for CMS platforms is the requirement for IT intervention to release content. If you need to call a developer to get something published, that time delay can cause major issues so I would resolve that problem immediately.

    The final fad I will address is the social media platforms you use. Snapchat, WhatsApp, Periscope, Instagram, and who knows what else is out there may be perfect for your business, or they may be as effective as yelling out your car window on the way home to promote content. The suggestion I make when a new platform becomes vogue is to grab your brands handle and park it. Then to incorporate the platform in your strategy, you need to make sure your audience personas are there. Take an afternoon each month or quarter and sit down with your persona hat on or with a real person and dig around on the platform. If you immediately see specific way to deliver value to an audience, write down your findings. Test and promote with the audience you have and see if anything forms. The worst thing you could do when gauging social interaction is to base reach on your competitor’s audience size. Just like intent is hard to measure, so is the way people build social audiences. They may have used advertising or a shady business to build an audience and will continue the need to use money to reach that audience.
  4. How do you measure the effectiveness of content marketing?

    We measure with numbers like audience size, page views, and the number of awards. You know the agency way. Just kidding!

    The measure of ROI has plagued marketing for centuries. I love the quote from John Wanamaker from the early 1900s, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” So the goal we have is to try to get a better grasp on what works, but our stakeholders, team, and processes need to know that we can’t be 100% accurate.

    Since I am a trouble maker, At Content Marketing World I asked an executive of a large technology firm that focuses on cloud implementations a question after they had stated a piece of content didn’t work because it didn’t generate sales opportunities. I said, “We help teams adopt cloud solutions for one of your competitors so I know the problems you face. Since it can take 2 years or longer on some of these decisions to be made as they wait for their existing data centers to become inadequate, how can you determine the content didn’t work? What if you helped them pick your company or remove a competitor from their options with your content, but they just aren’t ready to be tracked as an opportunity?” The presenters response had more to do with external stakeholder measurement than the audience.

    So the first question you have to answer before you get to the full effectiveness question is who drives what the meaning of effectiveness?

    If it is the organization, then you might not do content marketing because it takes far more time to build an audience than to run a campaign. It can be as little as 9 months or as high as several years depending on your focus and the ability to reach the audience you want.

    If you measure effectiveness by the audience, then you need to have a clear call to action in your content. If you want to drive them to subscription, then how many are signing up and how many pieces of content does it take over time for them to commit. If you drive them to more content, did they visit that content and stick around. You start with small manual measurements using your analytics engines and then build tools and techniques to make the process easier over time. When you think you have a hunch, pick up a phone and call someone who is in your audience and interview them. Data doesn’t always show motive and our content can be delivered in disconnected systems, so we need to involve the actual people who we are trying to determine motivation and satisfaction.

    A perfect example is if some of you who attend this upcoming AMA event go back to your office and go to my site to get more information about agile marketing. From a data perspective, a few people searched the company name on Google, clicked on the button for agile marketing on the homepage, and proceed to read several posts. It would be easy to determine that button is really useful and it helped drive awareness rather than just convenience. We want people to consume our agile marketing content, and that button is working. For the majority of marketers who visit our site, they are pretty an unfamiliar term and move right past it trying to solve other problems. Since we saw a surge in traffic driven by the data collected, we may move more agile marketing content to the top of our backlog rather than ask and listen to the audience. In reality, it was the hour you spent with me at the AMA that drove the awareness, but I have no way to know that until I have enough information in the digital platform to ask.
  5. You have a new book coming out soon called Agility in Marketing. What can people expect from your new book?

    The book is for marketing professionals and teams who want to learn more about the process of agile marketing and get some tips on how they can implement and adapt it for their team. I cover persona development, content mission statements, the roles on an agile team, the basics of Scrum agile framework, creating content items and backlogs driving by value, running a Sprint for your team, and some final tips and tricks from years of running agile projects. If any of those terms are foreign to you, come to the AMA session and I will add some clarity.

    The book will most likely be self-published via Amazon with Kindle and Paperback editions. The price point will affordable enough to buy a few copies for the team.

    What information will be presented that they can't find on your blog or in other resources?

    The book is a compilation of the blog posts I have written and interviews I have conducted. I am a huge fan of the blog-to-book strategy because you can get feedback and deliver value to your audience right away. While there will be some exclusive information inside the eBook and print version, the content is mostly available via the blog or our agile marketing page.

    So, yeah read the blog now, subscribe to our content updates, and you will get the book delivered to you while it is in production! My goal with the book is not to quit my day job and live on royalties. Since I am one of the first people to evangelize the message of agile marketing, my goal is to teach as many people as possible and build your trust.

    Currently, the book is near completion and I hope to have a full draft copy ready by the time I present to this group. If anyone is interested in reviewing it, connect with me on LinkedIn and let me know.