Content Strategy

How Does Content Marketing Help LaunchNotes Build a Billion Dollar Company?

Blake Thorne
March 13, 2023

This is a real content strategy writeup from our friend Blake at LaunchNotes that he was kind enough to share with Superpath. Since this was put together as an internal document, we've changed some of the sensitive details.

Dive deeper into the strategy by listening to the podcast:

Between my salary, a few freelance folks helping with things like podcast editing and writing, and a couple SaaS subscriptions, LaunchNotes is making a not-small investment in content marketing.

I want to talk about why we’re doing this, the moves we’ve made so far, and why we believe this is an investment with potential for a massive return. Most importantly, I’ll share what we’re aiming to do in 2023 to make this happen.

First, some context

Content marketing is old. The Michelin Guide started in 1900. But there were some big shifts in the early 2010s and the dawn of the “web 2.0” era that created an inflection point and new era for content marketing. 

Content marketing search term in Google trends over time

You can trace most modern content marketing back to the early days of HubSpot and their original “inbound” thesis, which went something like this:

  • For decades, businesses reached their target customers by renting attention in traditional media channels. This, of course, is called advertising.
  • But ad channels get more expensive and crowded every year. Like any mature industry: they end up catering to “the enterprise,” with its big budgets and multi-year commitments. If you were a startup, it was very hard to get noticed.
  • Thanks to the internet, the foundations of all this legacy media was starting to wobble. In a very short amount of time, the barriers to entry for publishing and reaching an audience effectively disappeared. Anyone with a website and something to say could publish and reach an audience without all the pesky expensive things like delivery trucks, broadcast antennas, or printing presses.
  • So why continue to rent an audience from some media company when you could build your own audience?! Flip your advertising budget from paying for attention to earning it. Become the go-to content source for your market. Even better, your new media organization can match whatever topics your company plays in—no matter how niche. Sell commercial garden hose nozzles? Start a blog all about commercial gardening, become the #1 trusted destination for commercial gardeners by writing authentically about all the questions and topics they care about. Then, when they’re ready for a hose nozzle, you’re the one they trust and seek out.

Sounds straightforward enough? There’s one important twist. The barrier to entry for creating and distributing content lowered for everyone. This means your company was suddenly competing with an explosion of new content. Standing out is still possible, but hardly a sure thing.

Content offers another massive advantage around unit economics and scalability. Traditional ad platforms have unit scarcity by design. If you want another 1000 eyeballs, you need to pay for another 1000. And the next thousand and the thousand after that. You don’t have to “build” another ad for those next 1000 people, but you might as well be because you do have to pay for it. Doing content marketing is a lot more like doing software: the marginal cost of production is effectively zero.

You create the first version, then you sell or distribute it to as many people who want it for free. All your expense was in creating that first copy. Mr. Beast probably has 1000x the audience he did a few years ago. He’s not doing 1000x the work. Maybe he’s better at creating content but not 1000x better. He might be investing more in production and putting out more videos but certainly not 1000x more. All this to say, there's a huge opportunity here to create compounding returns that wildly outpace your investment.

Ads vs. content marketing investment charts

Our bet: The media machine and the advertising machine

The two pillars of our content strategy map to the two industries mentioned above: media and advertising. Our media-building efforts will focus on using content to capture attention and build an audience across various platforms. Our “advertising” strategy will aim to advertise our product and brand once we have their attention. Put another way: we want to build a large audience of people who have potential to become customers, and we want to figure out how to convert them to customers. If we get pretty good at both things, our content investment will be a huge success.

(Important note here: Although we’re calling this advertising and I’m making a lot of comparisons that make it sound like we’re not doing traditional paid advertising: that’s not true! We will as a marketing team continue to invest and experiment in traditional paid media efforts. I’m a big believer in a blend of both, and I think we can find interesting ways these two motions benefit one another. But that’s out of the scope of a content marketing strategy writeup.)

The media machine

The best content comes from people with real experience. Nobody wants to learn their craft from someone who hasn’t done the job. This is the biggest reason most corporate content marketing falls flat. Someone thinks because the end product is written words, they need to hire “a writer.” So they find some junior content writer with an English degree and (big surprise!) this person has nothing interesting to say about enterprise network caching or whatever.

People want guidance, tips, insights, hot takes and commentary from people who have actually done the job. The challenge is most people who have done the job are still doing the job, and not producing content full time. This is why the highest paid people in broadcasting are ex-football players.

If you don’t have a bona fide expert (or several) to create your content, the next best thing is to find them and interview them. You go talk to people who have done the job—you get their quotes, tips, opinions, and insights—and you turn it into content. That’s what media companies do. That’s what we’re doing. With a twist.

The conventional way of doing this goes something like this: Think of a topic to write about —> find a subject matter expert to interview —> reach out to them —> wait to hear back —> schedule something —> wait —> interview them to get expert insights and quotes —> write it up —> repeat from step 1.

This works, but it can be terribly slow, tedious, and inefficient. 

We’re flipping this concept by putting our podcast and AMA series at the center of our content strategy. These are longform, recorded interviews with experts on the topics we know our audience cares about. By doing them over and over and over, we’re effectively building out a massive database of expert quotes, tips, opinions, and insights.

Of course doing the podcast and AMAs just on their own right has a ton of benefits. These attract an audience, it’s great content on its own, it gives us material to promote. And it’s a great excuse to reach out and build a direct relationship with ICPs on a 1-1 basis. Thanks to these interviews, we now have product leaders at Google, Adobe, Jasper, Retool, Starbucks and more who otherwise wouldn’t know we exist. That alone is pretty cool!

But the real magic comes when you realize all the potential of using the content in these interviews as the primary source material for all the other content we do. Now when we write a blog post about a given topic, we  have a library of interviews with experts we can pull quotes and insights from. It makes our content more authoritative. And it circles back to promoting and advertising the podcast and AMA. The same thinking can be applied to TikTok, newsletters, YouTube—whatever we set our sights on. This sets us up to make our content machine hyper-efficient. If we want to branch out to different channels or hire more folks to produce content, we can do that and we don’t ever need to hire product experts or wait to line up interviews. We can give any new content producer, on any channel, direct access to our proprietary library of expert quotes, opinions, and insights.

Here’s an image I love. In 1957, Walt Disney laid out the Disney company’s core strategy in this sketch. You can see how the theatrical films serve as the center of their universe—and on its own is a very compelling product. But the magic comes when you have all these other lines of business supported with little flywheels across each other and the core product.

Disney's core strategy sketch

And here’s our version:

LaunchNotes core strategy chart

Two main things on my radar for improving this in 2023:

  • Obviously we just need to keep building out the core podcast and AMA content and get better at sourcing and interviewing world-class guests. Thankfully a big part of this endeavor I’m not alone on, thanks to Steve and his excellent work on the community and AMA series.
  • Tactically: I want to make these conversations an actual query-able experience for content producers. This means some tool that we load all these longform recordings into, which generates a transcript and lets us search against them. So if we say “let’s write about backlog grooming.” We can type in “backlog grooming” and immediately see every instance of that topic coming up in all our interviews, find what was said about it and by who, and pull out the relevant quotes or insights.

The advertising machine

I’ve just laid out a great strategy for a media company (in case the above diagrams didn’t give it away: I just copied the world’s greatest media company). The problem is, we’re not a media company, we sell software. All these efforts are useless if they don't, eventually, help us sell software. So the strategy work isn’t quite done…

Remember my advertising comparison earlier? Where the whole point of all this is to create the media channel you would otherwise place ads in. For some reason, this is like the single most overlooked thing in content marketing. People do all this work creating the media channel and building an audience, they forget to actually advertise their product.

I want us to think about capitalizing on our own media audience the way we would if we got free ad space in some other media company. If some super popular product podcast gave us a free 30-second ad, what would we want to say? If some popular product blog gave us 360,000 pixels of space to put an ad on, what would we put there? Would we just promote more of our content? Would we ask for an email address? Maybe, but I bet we’d also think bigger. So let’s have those conversations and run some experiments.

There’s a lot more we can get into here and some things we’re excited to experiment with. I’ll be sharing more as we get some stuff rolling here. We’re a little further along in our media machine escapades, I would say. There we have a vision for what we want to do and how we’ll execute, and we’ve begun to execute. And for the advertising machine I’d say we have that solid vision of what we want to do: next steps are figuring out how we’ll execute and starting to run some experiments.

Focus areas for 2023

1. Podcast zero to hero

We roughly need to 1000X our audience. This is a super ambitious target, but I think we need this kind of “big swing” thinking in order to be in the right mindset here. The good news: we’re still early in our journey, we’re publishing with consistency, and we’re always improving at creating the content and getting amazing guests.

What did I base this on? We’ve heard anecdotally that 10k per episode is a baseline for a pretty popular, solid podcast audience. And we know a pretty popular podcast in our niche gets around 50-80k per episode. We're in a pretty similar niche, so we know there’s at least 80k people out there who would listen to a podcast like this.

Again, very ambitious. But if we’re going to achieve venture-scale growth as a company, we need to be making some venture-scale-type bets in our marketing efforts. As the hub of our entire content strategy, we feel this is a good place to place this bet.

Two things that will help us get here:

  • Great content: Are we reaching for better and better guests, getting better at interviewing and production quality, and consistently doing a lot of episodes.
  • Growth tactics: Are we thinking beyond the show and finding unique ways to promote and get the word out about the show.

2. Triple organic search

We saw a good amount of organic entrances from Google in 2022 to the LaunchNotes website:

  • About 13% came direct to our homepage
  • About 80% came to a blog page
  • The remaining to other marketing site pages (/pricing /careers etc.)

Blog traffic each month grew (on average) 5-10% month over month. If we do that again we’ll see blog traffic nearly double. That’s if we did no new content and just basic SEO hygiene, combined with some implied continued lift from just overall brand growth. If we layer on some new, targeted content—we should easily double blog traffic again.

I’m confident we could capture a lot more traffic than this. But I’m not confident it would be the right traffic. Setting huge traffic number goals here could create the temptation to do content that moves traffic but doesn’t move the needle for our business. I’ve worked at several companies (and talked to many people who’ve experienced the same) where website organic traffic is up and to the right, but the business metrics are flat or shrinking. I badly don’t want this, so while the overall traffic bet is smaller—the emphasis on impact for the business is higher.

3. See an impact on the business

  • Goal: Capture anecdotal signals that people who become customers heard about us through our content channels

This is the beginning of our advertising machine efforts. Even though we’re early in our journey here, we want to get some signal that all this work at the top of the funnel is translating to actual impact on the business. 

In October we added a form field to the signup flow for the community. Asking people: “How did you hear about us?” It’s an open text field: they can write whatever they want, or skip it. It obviously creates some inconsistent, unstructured data. That’s fine for now. We’re just combing for signal and patterns. We pipe these into a Slack channel. It’s very fun and interesting to see these come in and see what people type. 

We want to start capturing this for product signups and demo requests—maybe in the future we can look at ways of making these more structured. But our initial goal is to create a path to see that the upstream work is having an impact. Because of some of the fuzziness on what we’re measuring here, we don’t have a quantifiable goal around this yet. But I’m hopeful we can start to look at some once we get some of this up and running.

What’s next?

This is our thinking on the 1-year horizon, and there’s a lot of tactics we’ll be doing that aren’t laid out on this blog. Of course if you have questions, feedback, suggestions: please reach out to me!

If you liked reading this, check out our podcast episodes with Blake Thorne: 

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