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Content Creation with Chris Willis

George Grombacher May 8, 2022

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Content Creation with Chris Willis

LifeBlood: We talked about content creation, what it means to align your content, how to make creation more efficient and on message with minimal work, and how to start looking at content as an asset, with Christopher Willis, CMO of Acrolinx.  

Listen to learn why so much of life is about intentionality!

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Chris Willis

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on one level, this is George G. And the time is right to welcome today’s guest strung apart for Chris Willis. Chris, are you ready to do this? I am the morning. Let’s do. Let’s do this. Chris is the Chief Marketing Officer, Chief pipeline officer with acro links is a leader in the world of AI content governance and brand alignment strategy. Chris, tell us a little about your personal lives more about your work and why you do what you do.

Chris Willis 0:38
Sure. So, you know, I’m your average run of the mill cmo that started with a theater degree from a liberal arts college. That’s not really a thing. But it is true. And I think the interesting thing about that was I recognized as one would probably about junior year that this was going to be a challenge from a lifestyle. If it felt good to be directing theater, but I need to get a job. So I, I augmented that, that major with a minor that would get me the job that I wanted, when I grew up, philosophy was my minor. So no, I’m never going to work. As it turns out, never never going to get a job. But I think I have the benefit of being a child of the 80s, I got my first Commodore 64. Right when it came out, I was coding games when I was in high school. And when I did get out of college, I could fall back on having some computer experience to get into a technology business, not necessarily in technology role, and then work myself into those technology roles, became a coder, doing some early visual Java work at the beginning of the internet, which led me into sales, which led me into product project management, which eventually led me into marketing. And here we are. And I think the interesting thing about that, the story arc on that is that there’s a connection there between my education and what I do today. It wouldn’t be such a great connection if I wasn’t a C level executive, but for the sake of argument I am. And so we can talk through the story. As a director, as a theatre director, my only job is to pick the right people to be in the play, give them context, give them priorities, a little bit of blocking, and make the most out of them. That actually is a lot like what I do today, it’s hiring the right people with the right skill sets to do the right jobs at the right time, provide them with the information they need, get all of the barriers out of their way and make them successful. So as it turns out, those four years at Gettysburg College were were worth a lot to what I do today, as far as being a manager as far as being a CMO and owning the entire marketing operation of our business. I’m not sure it helped at all. Okay, got 20 plus years of experience doing that. So it’s it’s all coming together here at agrilinks. And I have 20 years of experience in mobile technology. That’s where I built most of my career, early days of packaged mobile applications into cross operation system platform development, into mobile cloud testing. And then I ran into Andrew Braden camp, the founder of agrilinks. And the product that he has built over many years, solves a very real product for people like me. There is no this isn’t madman anymore. We don’t have a pool of writers that just type typewriters all day creating the words of our company. You and I and everybody we work with our content creators, it’s it’s how the business grows, we come to work, we type things and and, and so there isn’t a line item in my budget for content creation. It’s just a thing that we all do. And because we all do it, we’re not really trained writers, we’re not like keyed into the style guide of the organization. We may or may not know the tone of voice that the head of experience would like us to communicate with. We don’t know the words that we use, and we don’t use, we might be writing heavily technical content, in English in English as a second language. There’s all kinds of things that get in the way of great, impactful content, best intentions, but it’s a long road from best intentions to impact and what agrilinks did does is it helps align it helps move all of that process back to the first draft. We capture the guidelines of the organization, the department, the team write off the whiteboard, make it actionable, the system learns those. And now guides people robot on your shoulder tapping you saying you’re not using the right words, your content is unclear, would you say, I would suggest you try this, you’re not using the proper tone for this, if you add

some changes here, it’s going to make it sound more like us. And so for 15 years, that was really the focus of this product was helping people write better content. What I came here to do, though, is push further. And I think that’s where things are getting really exciting. In the world today. There’s a understanding that content needs to be impactful, it is the touch point. So I mean, George, you probably know, much like me, experienced the last 10 years of people saying, digital shift is coming, you got to get ready, every everybody needs to be aware. And so what we’re trying to do was talk enterprises into doing more on the internet, it was a fear tactic, something’s gonna happen someday. And the only touch point you’re gonna have is the internet. But I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I’m just a marketing person. March 10 20, bam, digital shift happened, Oh, wow. Nobody leaves their house anymore. That’s getting real. And so your touch point, your only touch point with your audience is the content, the collective content asset that you’ve created? It’s how do you talk to your audience, and it matters, and it needs to be impactful. And so when you think through what agrilinks has done for many years, and aligning content around a guideline, the next logical step is to say, hey, are your guidelines, okay? Because the end result of content alignment is a score, it’s a, it’s an objective numeric score that says, if this is an 80, or better, it’s clear, it’s consistent. It’s in the right character, it is inclusive, it’s got the right emotion, it’s everything you want about content. It’s exactly how you envisioned it. Cool, then I put it out in the world. How’s it doing? Is it performing? So what’s the point of it? What’s content you create? What’s the point of it? How’s it working? So if it’s a blog page, why did you build it? Well, because I want to be found for the cool concepts, my company cares about some conversion points in there and trying to generate some leads. How’s that going? Well, we’re not seeing a jumping conversion. Right now there, we have some really impactful content, we have some content, it’s not working. Wouldn’t it be interesting if through your use of AI, and objective scoring, you could see that you’ve created the content you want, then link with post production analytics, and see how that perfect content is performing. And then be able to build some models around that to either identify the fact that you’re right, and then spread that across a wider set of content, or inversely, understand that you’re wrong, that the tone of voice that you create, the words that you’re using are not impactful to your audience. And what we see through analytics is over here, this packet of content isn’t necessarily what you think it should be, but it’s performing really well. And maybe we should learn from that content. And all of a sudden, we’re informing our content strategy, from our audience, audiences, helping us to understand how they want to be talked to, is bringing our company closer, the end result being revenue, growth, retention, customer satisfaction, we’re doing better as a global enterprise, as a result of being intentional. So that’s really what gets me excited right now. That’s what I get up and do every morning.

george grombacher 8:55
Nice. That is very cool. So I, I, I, I think that I tracked all the way through the process. And they it makes a lot of sense, need to make sure that our standards are correct in the first place, that we’re creating content that is aligned to the standards, and then let’s make sure again, and revisit that, in fact that those standards are what we want. And then how is it be received in the marketplace? Is it getting the results that we’re looking for? And the result is is complete alignment with what we want and it’s effective? That is pretty awesome. That is a that is technology for good instead of evil. Chris?

Chris Willis 9:34
It is. So I mean, we’re, we’re, we incorporate AI into our product and you get a lot of okay, so you’re just trying to replace writers and we don’t write anything. People are safe with our software. We remove mechanical work, difficult work, we solve big problems that allow people to be the creative aspect, without the creative And the decision making that humans bring our AI isn’t very valuable. We could make this draconian make decisions for you. You said test, I think you mean quality. I’m just gonna go ahead and change the word quality. But maybe you meant test. Like, maybe that was intentional. And so you need to be the one that makes that takes our guidance, and makes it action. So everybody is everybody’s safe with our happy little robot?

george grombacher 10:28
Yeah, what I wrote down was it’s a robot editor, to a degree. Yeah. So just saying, Hey, George, this, this looks great, buddy, you’re doing awesome. I see that you use this test instead of whatever example you used. So it’s just alerting me it’s sending it back and say, This is excellent so far. But here’s a couple of opportunities, potentially, to optimize this or to make them more aligned with your message for I know that you said that. Inclusion was an important aspect of what you’re trying to accomplish here. Would you consider making tweaks here?

Chris Willis 11:03
Exactly. So if you think in terms of what Microsoft Word does with spellcheck, that’s correctness that’s making sure that your content is not embarrassing, it’s spelled correctly, the grammar is okay. It’s ready to be looked at where it goes from there is taking that correct high quality, like objectively high quality content, and making that content more impactful. And that’s through scalability and alignment to corporate words and phrases and tone of voice and the clarity level required by the audience that you’re communicating with the consistency across the body of your content, things like inclusive language, accessibility, emotion in that content, to create to take this correct content that comes out of whatever authoring environment you use, and make it more valuable. And that’s, that’s where the concept of content impact. And what we identify as content impact platforms come into play is it’s taking a thing, the content and making that content, achieve or surpass the goals that it has, as an asset.

george grombacher 12:17
Nice. And I love the idea of content as an asset. And it’s not really an ideas to fact. But I was thinking, the, the direction or the desire of a medical device company is going to be much different than an amusement park. So the inputs on the for lack of a better term, the front end, as I’m training the AI, what does that look like? What does that mean?

Chris Willis 12:42
It is very bespoke to each organization. Because everybody has their own tone of voice, they have their own words, they have their style guides that they use, whether it’s they use AP or Chicago style, or they have something completely different that they created themselves. The way that we communicate, like you say is different from company and product. But even from department to department. So the way that you speak from a marketing standpoint, or an internal education standpoint, is going to be different than the way that you speak. When you’re creating support tickets. clear, consistent, concise, no emotion answering a question getting a problem solved, versus lively, conversational, hierarchal rule sets stay at the top, we all spell the name of the company, right? But down from their different tone for the people that we’re communicating with different words for the people you communicate with. So if you think of in terms of a pharmaceutical company, the way that you market, a product to a nursing mother is going to be different than the way that you target a product to a 55 year old man. And you would best be served by communicating to each of those people and the the method, the mode that they want to be communicated. And so the ability to take a piece of content that is just the same base source content, and tailoring that to your audiences makes a huge difference in the way that they consume that content. And again, drives and results which is in most cases revenue.

george grombacher 14:24
Very cool. You said that this company had been around for a good little while how long? Not that it’s ever perfect because I’m sure that it’s always being optimized changed, how long did it take to develop this?

Chris Willis 14:37
So this product was was actually developed as part of a graduate degree program and the earliest customer bought that product made the decision not to buy the project but buy the product because the intent was if they become a customer, not a investor owner, other customers will come in and help to evolve the product and sell Over the course of 10 years, early on, the product was formed and developed and expanded. In 2017, the company was acquired by a private equity firm in Germany called January. And that was the beginning of the next stage of development. That’s I joined in 2017. And we began the process of of expanding out in the next direction. And that’s where we sit right now is in this scale up period where we’ve been growing pretty aggressively. We have, you know, in the area of 200, and something customers that represent the biggest companies in the world, because this really is a problem at scale. It’s taking hundreds of 1000s, if not millions of documents and making them valuable. So we’ve talked a little bit about content as an asset. But let’s talk a little bit more about that. One of the interesting things that we discovered over the course of the last several years, is that when you talk about things like efficiency, so I mean, you can easily see just from what we talked about, that we’re creating an efficiency in the editorial process, there’s obviously value there, if I don’t have to spend three to four weeks, going back and forth between writer and editor, and then editor and stakeholders, and then legal and writer back and forth, I’m saving time and saving money, I’m getting more done, I’m getting more actionable content, because half of the content that’s created in the enterprise right now is thrown on the floor anyway, because it’s no longer relevant by the time it’s delivered. So this idea of efficiency, I can save you money in your content. And you say that to somebody at a huge company. And I say cool, point to the line in my budget, where I spend money on content, and then you can talk to me about how you save me money. And unless they’re outsourcing everything to an agency, they’re right. It’s not a line item, you’re creating content every day, you don’t have a strict budget for content, it’s words that you’re creating, you’re putting them on paper. And so the redirect there is to think about the body of content that they manage, or their, their office their company has in house, and the value associated with that. And it’s usually a shocking conversation. So if you just take one subdomain at one of our customers in their, in their technical documentation website, a million pages, they can argue about how much it costs to create a single page, we have some mechanisms to try and try and assess that. But let’s say it’s $1,000.

Again, argue and say it’s 500, it really doesn’t diminish where we’re headed to is a billion dollar asset, you have a very expensive asset in your business. Are you managing this? Like a billion dollar asset? And in almost every case, the answer is no. How much are you maintaining? How much are you revisiting each year? What are you reviewing? What are you uplifting? And the answer is usually about 10%. So 90% of your content is aging out on a daily basis in a world where regulations change, compliance requirements change. So you’re creating risk and you’re aging content, because you’re not bringing it up. What if you started looking like looking at this as an asset? How could you get more out of this billion dollars that you’ve spent over time, and this becomes a very interesting conversation for companies. Because you don’t think that you don’t, you don’t think about the things that that employees do on a day to day basis as being that big of an asset. But when you start holding up content next to other assets in the business, it sits next to the product and the brand. From a value standpoint, like this is the thing that drives the business, it is literally the water that is that is flowing through this business keeping everybody alive. And you need to treat it as such. And that’s where we see this need to not just write better content, but own better content, more impactful content, and the ability to look at, for instance, I see this one page, and it’s it’s converting it to 10% that I want it to why like beyond the photopic why? How is it written? What are the what are the what are the fundamental guidelines associated with the creation of this piece of content? Can we find more content? Can we look across all of our content, score all of it and find more that looks like this? And if we can’t, can we make more can we use this as the guideline model to go and take things that we own, make it feel like this and then push it out and see how it converts? And I mean, I’m a marketer, every point of conversion matters because every point of conversion cost me less than the front end and gets more on the back end. All of this becomes impacted leads again too, I’m gonna say the word revenue fan.

george grombacher 20:03
I love it. From theater to philosophy, to helping organizations not only write better content but own better content. It’s a natural, natural progression. Chris,

Chris Willis 20:15
I love it. It’s a thing.

george grombacher 20:17
Okay. Thank you so much for coming out. Where can people learn more about you? And how can they engage with agrilinks?

Chris Willis 20:23
So I am at CD Willis at LinkedIn, and agrilinks is, we would be happy to answer any questions that anybody has. But I think the one thing that I want people to take away from this is I mean, we sell software. And I would love everybody to buy it. But it’s not about the software necessarily. It’s about being intentional. And if you look at, you know, consistency matters, there’s a right way to do things. And if you document that you’re eroding value. If you document that and stick to it, you’re building value. Getting things right, early, saves more time and money. If you measure something, it actually gets managed pretty well. And as it turns out, most things can be measured. So even without software, being intentional about the way that you create content, and why thinking through the What am I writing? Why am I writing? What’s the purpose of this? And how do I make it achieve that purpose? Just that alone? No software? No way. I know technology drives value into the business as something that every single person listening, not listening in the world can do on a day to day basis to create more value for their business.

george grombacher 21:44
I love it. That makes a ton of sense. Christopher, thank you so much for coming on. Again. If you enjoyed this as much as I did, check out akra links it’s acro, a CROLINX COMM you can find Christopher at CP Willis on LinkedIn. I’ll link all those in notes a show that was a lot of sandboard links right in a row Christopher, but with the idea. Thanks again, Chris.

Chris Willis 22:09
Thank you.

george grombacher 22:11
And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

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