Content Marketing and Audience-Led Storytelling: Interviews With Lisa Toner and Christophe Hardy.

We ask HubSpot's Senior Manager of Acquisition about making great content on the cheap. Then we learned about how to listen to your audience and tell great stories from Toyota's Brand Communication Manager.
Maxwell Gollin
October 24, 2018 - 10 min. read

We recently got a chance to ask two social media experts about issues that matter to today’s marketers—and what they had to say was intriguing.

In our first chat, we interviewed HubSpot’s own Lisa Toner. Lisa leads a global team of marketers and is responsible for both HubSpot’s user acquisition and the growth of HubSpot Academy. Plus, she’s a brilliant content marketer herself. We talked about how to create a successful content marketing strategy, spread content and get it seen—all on little to no budget.

Next, we heard from Christophe Hardy of Toyota Motor Europe. Christophe leads Toyota’s social and editorial programs across all of Europe, from strategy and development to implementation and impact measurement. We got to ask Christophe about how to tell a compelling story to a broad audience, how to get your brand to stand out in crowded social feeds, and about the vision for Toyota’s recent “Start Your Impossible” campaign.

These interviews were fascinating, but that’s not even the best part! Both Lisa and Christophe will be going even deeper with their insights when they each give speeches at Spark, an epic one-day social media conference on November 14 in Copenhagen. You can see them speak in person, along with over 20 other social media experts and influencers—learn more about Spark and get your tickets here.

Without further ado, here’s what Lisa and Christophe had to say:

Lisa Toner, Senior Manager of Acquisition at HubSpot: “How to Build a Content Machine Without Spending a Cent”

Q: Lisa, as a Senior Manager on the marketing team at HubSpot, how do you view content marketing in the context of your whole marketing strategy? What role does it play for you and your team?

Lisa: At HubSpot, our content leads drive 70% of our revenue, so it’s crucial that we continue to innovate and add value for our audience through our content marketing.

Content plays a key role across the entire marketing funnel. You need quality traffic coming to your website to generate quality leads for your sales team. Just as importantly, you need relevant content at the bottom of the funnel so your sales reps can help your customers make the right purchase for their needs.

Even after the purchase, content plays a huge role in delighting and retaining your customers over the years by continuing to educate and engage them. That’s why it’s so important to have a strategy and structure for your content marketing; you should never just create, publish, and cross your fingers. You need to deeply understand your buyer personas and each stage within their buying journey.

lisa toner hubspot interview

Understanding your buyer persona is key to making winning content.

Q: With so many different channels available to marketers in 2018, it can be hard to choose which to prioritize. What do you see as the strongest medium for distributing your content right now?

Lisa: The strongest medium for distributing content right now is the channel where your buyer personas are spending their time and are in a mindset to receive your message. Unfortunately, there is no one channel that is best for every business.

My recommendation for marketers or business owners is to assign a lead value to each of their channels based on how much revenue that channel actually drives for them and then optimize their strategy based on that data.

To calculate the lead value per source, you multiply the average sales price for that channel by the average close rate for the same channel.

Lead Value = Average Sales Price * Conversion Rate from lead to customer

For example, if I know my leads from paid advertising spend on average €2,000 with us and they convert from lead to customer at a rate of 10%, the lead value for my paid advertising leads would be €200 (€2,000 x 10% = €200).

Once you know where your most valuable leads are coming from, you can then optimize your marketing strategy to lean more into those sources.

content marketing for lead gen lisa toner interview

Lisa Toner’s advice: lean into the social channels that are getting you the most leads at the lowest cost.

Q: Now to get into the intriguing subject of your upcoming speech at Spark, “How to Build a Content Machine Without Spending a Cent”. Many of us in content marketing know the feeling of writing articles or making videos we think are great, then not seeing the clicks or views we expect. Ahead of Spark, what advice do you have for marketers who are struggling to get their content seen?

Lisa: Great question! I think content success comes down to a combination of the following: 1) Great Research 2) Good Planning 3) Smart Outreach 4) Bold Creativity.

Before you create any piece of content you need to first research if there is a demand for it; does an audience already exist, and if so, where are they and how will they find your content? My team developed a topic scoring framework to decide what content to create and what not to waste our time on.

We score each topic we want to create content on across monthly search volume, if it’s a hot topic, if influencers are talking about it, if it’s evergreen or will need updating regularly, if there’s an existing ecosystem of people actively interested in the topic, and how closely it aligns with our products.

We have a baseline score that a topic must achieve before we will create content for it. Building a scoring framework for choosing the content you invest in creating can be extremely helpful in keeping you focused on what will have the highest chance for success.

Marketers should be spending as much time promoting their content as they should on producing it. A promo calendar is essential and should include various formats of content to promote the core piece of content, whether that’s a video, ebook, article, etc.

You should include a pre-launch phase, launch phase, and post-launch phase in your promo calendar to ensure you build some buzz in the lead up to the launch, capture the majority of people on launch, and then continue to hit new audiences over time after the launch is over.

Your content shouldn’t just cause a spike in your numbers for a day or two, you should be working to create long-tail results so your content continues to drive results for you without active promotion behind it.

lisa toner content marketing interview

3, 2, 1, lift off! Make sure you have a clear plan for how to launch each new piece of content.

Many marketers rely only on their own channels to promote their content, which is a huge missed opportunity.

Look for high traffic blogs or websites that you can guest post on and link back to your content, find influencers who have built a community of your buyer personas and reach out to them, find companies who share your buyer persona and have a complementary (not competitive) product and do some co-marketing with them. You need to think about how you can constantly expand and grow your available audience.

Anything that is boring or “samesie” will not be shared, guaranteed. You should always aim to make your content remarkable and shareable. Give your audience something to talk about, that way they become promoters of your content for you!

Q: Content marketing has gotten big in the past few years, and it’s no surprise why to experts like yourself. Looking ahead to 2019, what marketing trend do you think content marketers should be paying attention to?

Lisa: Bots are getting smarter and more popular. I would strongly advise marketers to get educated on what’s now possible with conversational bots and how they can integrate them into their marketing strategy. More and more, consumers are expecting a personalized experience with brands and bots are a way to scale that 1:1 conversation effectively.

They can also become a great content distribution channel if you can keep your Facebook audience engaging with your bot. Check out HubSpot’s ‘How to Get Really Good at Marketing in 2020’ to learn everything you need to know about bots and how to be successful with them in your marketing.

Christophe Hardy, Manager of Social and Editorial Brand Communication at Toyota Motor Europe: “Stop Talking at Me. Please Talk to Me. Audience-led Storytelling in the Age of Plenty”

Q: Christophe, as the Manager of Brand Communication, Social and Editorial, for Toyota Motor Europe, you must have a lot of thoughts on brand communications on social—and maybe even a few favorite examples. So I’m curious to discover what brands you think are doing an excellent job of storytelling on social?

Christophe: I do think there’s a lot of good storytelling out there, but a consistent long-term approach is what’s making the difference. Not surprisingly, some of the more niche brands are excelling at this—the likes of cycling apparel brand Rapha and custom motorcycle and surf brand Deus Ex Machina come to mind. It’s much easier for them not to overcomplicate their messages and keep everything in line with the essence of their brand.

That doesn’t mean that some of the world’s biggest brands don’t achieve this. Both Nike and Red Bull are great at storytelling—combining big statements (like Breaking2 by Nike and Red Bull’s Stratos) with stories that come straight out of their communities. I also really appreciate the single-mindedness of Land Rover’s adventurous spirit and Patagonia’s way of integrating sustainability at the core of their storytelling.

Q: Running a social media program can be difficult for any brand, not to mention one as huge and globally recognized as Toyota. What would you say is the biggest challenge of creating a social media strategy for such a famous brand on such a large scale?

Christophe: I often say that these days, ‘social media’ tends to be the most used and abused word in many organizations. There are often many stakeholders who all see value in using social; each with their own view, their own opinion, their own priorities… Sometimes rightly so, sometimes not.

Bringing these together in a single strategy with a clear focus and objective is a challenge. Working towards that objective with a unified, aligned effort is even more challenging. The added complexity in large organizations is that often these stakeholders are working very much in silos and it’s difficult to remain fully aligned on an operational level.

Q: This year, your organization came out with the very bold “Start Your Impossible” campaign. So with that campaign laying out the mobility vision for Toyota, could you walk me through how you have been activating the storytelling around #StartYourImpossible on social?

Christophe: The Start Your Impossible campaign kicked off around the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, and marked the beginning of our global partnership with Olympics/Paralympics leading into the 2020 Games in Tokyo. The campaign brings to life our global vision to deliver ‘ever better mobility for all’. In addition, it follows an announcement by our President that Toyota will move from a car company to become a human movement company.

At the heart of this sits a belief that when you are free to move, anything is possible. This was translated in a storytelling campaign that in the first phase focused largely on the amazing and inspirational stories of Paralympic athletes achieving their impossible.

At the back of the first global push, we were happy to see how many of our markets embraced this and started telling the stories of local athletes to make it even more relevant on a local level. And as we progress, we could even move beyond athletes, as the idea of starting one’s impossible is relevant for every human being, and on every level. 

Q: Part of the title for your upcoming presentation at Spark is “Stop Talking at Me. Please Talk to Me.” From a communications perspective, what is one piece of advice you would offer social media professionals to help them stop talking at their target audience and actually talk to them?

Christophe: Always start from your audience first. Look at their interests, what drives them, how they interact, etc. Then try to figure out how you can align your messages with what people are really interested in. Take this as a starting point to develop your creative work and communications approach.

There is still too much work that goes out, which is sometimes even really good, but just falls somewhat short of the mark because it starts purely from the brand or the product. And sometimes people just don’t care, regardless of how good the creative work is.

christophe hardy interview brand communications toyota

Knowing your audience is key to effective storytelling on social media.

Q: At Spark, you’ll be talking about how brands can cut through the noise on social media and reach consumers at a time when there’s just so much branded content and advertising vying for their attention. If a marketing team wants their social content to really capture people’s focus, what’s a good way to stand out from the crowd?

Christophe: Again, first of all, try to capture people’s attention by tapping into their interests. It’s what they look out for, anyhow. And tell real stories. People like stories. It’s something they can relate to, it’s something they remember. Also, these days, supposed “stories” are often reduced to a single image or statement, and they might get a like on Facebook, but does that really influence perceptions?

You either need to deliver longer storytelling, or you need to spread your story out over time in a consistent and coherent way. And obviously, quality is key.

In addition, dare to be unexpected. In some of our recent brand work, we focus on people, sometimes not even mentioning our brand apart from a sign-off, and not showing a car at all. It’s refreshing, and makes it far easier to connect with a broad audience who might not be interested in cars.

Thank you, Lisa and Christophe! You’ve given us all a lot to think about. If you want to learn more about Spark and all the other great speakers there, just click the link below: