This week, Peter and Jonathan list their most-hated business buzzwords and talk about false assumptions you could be making about your business. Joe Pulizzi (founder, Content Marketing Institute) also joins in to talk about the six steps of the Content, Inc. model.

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Listen to episode 11:

Show notes:

Audio transcript:

Peter: Jonathan, we’ve talked a little bit about people talking about their businesses. People pitching-

Jonathan: Advertising your business.

Peter: So what worse than to sound stupid when talking about your business?

Jonathan: I can think of nothing worse than sounding like an idiot.

Peter: So we’re going to have a guest on later on, but let’s have a little fun first. What’s some of these things that people say in business?

Jonathan: The business buzz words that people use that—

Peter: “Pushing the envelope.”

Jonathan: —either don’t mean what you think they mean, or you need to stop using.

Peter: If you personally had to remove one thing from your vocabulary, what would it be?

Jonathan: Well, I know my wife kind of gives me grief about this, it’s using the phrase, “speak into” or “give feedback” or “provide input.” It’s kind of like a business-y way to say “talk to me” or “share your thoughts.” There was a point in time I was at a weekend-long conference, and I got on the plane and was having a conversation with my wife. Halfway through she looked at me and said, “Stop talking like that.” It really caused me to pull back for a minute and realize, “Yeah, I just keep using these jargon-y words that mean nothing when you’re having a normal conversation with another person.”

Peter: Actually a popular one that I’m noticing a lot, this is mostly on reality television, but I’m going to say people say this in real life, “that being said” to start a sentence.

Jonathan: It’s like a transition?

Peter: We all knew that that had been recently said, so they’re going to tell us now that it is the thing that they had just said.

Jonathan: Right, and that being said, let’s move on to some other phrases that we want people to stop using.

Peter: What about, “It is what it is”?

Jonathan: What don’t you like about that?

Peter: I just don’t really see the purpose of saying it aloud. What are we gaining from hearing that? If you are willing to say, “It is what it is,” it also means that maybe you’re not able to perform any measurable change, meaning you don’t have any power in the field that you’re probably speaking into—

Jonathan: Or perhaps you just don’t fully understand the problem, and so before you even engage with trying to solve it, you’re just willing to say, “It is what it is; let’s move on.”

Peter: Yeah, it rubs me the wrong way in the same way that a phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it,” which I know Caroline Cummings used as a positive in her earlier guest appearance here. She used the phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it” as a way of saying, “Before you’re excellent at something, just try your best.” I think that’s an okay sentiment. I think the phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it” has some more sort of insidious quality to it in a certain way. It kind of just implies, first of all, that the place that you’re faking it at accepts people who are unskilled and doesn’t notice them and also that you are incapable of simply making it, of just doing a good job.

Jonathan: Yeah, maybe there’s a good litmus test for whether these phrases should pass or fail and whether or not people should keep using them as, “Can you say the phrase without then having to explain what it means?” Maybe you should just trash the phrase and use something else.

I’m going to do three together because they all essentially mean the same thing, and none of them really need to be used: “let’s take this offline,” “let’s put this on the back burner,”, and “let’s table this discussion.” All of those are ways to just say, “hey, let’s talk about this later” or “let’s not talk about that in this meeting.”

Peter: Let’s take it a step further. The industry phrase, “drink the Kool-Aid,” this one’s insidious. This is bad because I don’t know how this caught momentum, and I don’t know why people are comfortable suggesting that their corporate culture is culty enough that it’s metaphorically similar to a mass suicide. What are we saying about ourselves when we’re using these? For some reason, these business ones tend to fall flat and get overused. “bleeding edge,” for example, where “cutting edge” wasn’t “cutty”—

Jonathan: It’s not good enough.

Peter: —enough; it wasn’t close enough, so we had the next—

Jonathan: Had to go to the other side of the cutting edge, the thing that has been cut, the bleeding edge. No?

Peter: No, I don’t think that’s right.

Jonathan: What’s the bleeding edge then? Explain it.

Peter: Well it’s the same as the sharp—

Jonathan: The cutting edge and the bleeding edge are the same?

Peter: Same point, yeah.

Jonathan: Then why are you using different phrases? It doesn’t make sense.

Peter: Well, one’s just grosser.

Jonathan: It absolutely is. Let’s talk about cutting edge. Why the cutting edge? What does that actually mean? This might be a good time to transition into there’s some phrases that, I think you can continue to use them, but a lot of people misuse these phrases. They don’t know what the phrases mean, and so they use them in the wrong context.

Peter: When I leave a meeting, and somebody has said a bunch of things that maybe they don’t know what they mean, yeah it starts to make me question whether they know the primary thing they should be doing.

Jonathan: Yeah, it gives you a little bit of mistrust in what they’re actually supposed to be doing, and whether or not they’re good at it?

Peter: Absolutely. Cutting edge is a good example.

Jonathan: There’s a version in technology where cutting edge makes sense, and I think it’s when you are actually doing things that are legitimately moving things forward with data and science and things like that. What I tend to hear it in is in terms of apps or social media, and all it really means when somebody says they’re on the cutting edge is that they’re willing to spend eight hours testing out the Yo App, which just sends people a message saying, “Yo.”

Peter: Let’s talk about the word viral because that’s a great one. I think the word viral lost its meaning and lost its way long ago.

Jonathan: Yeah, and just the idea of making something go viral, you can’t really follow a formula and make something go viral anymore. Then the idea of simply because something is being spread around with a certain velocity doesn’t mean that it has gone viral or that it is going viral.

Peter: I don’t think it’s a number of views; it’s quite literally the spread rate. There is technically a rate where, and this usually has to do with the sharing of the video, where from the origin source a certain number of people share the video, and that number becomes self-replicating. Again to your point, though, nowadays it just means popular, so why not just say, “popular”?

Jonathan, I swear, a lot of people are using the word “actually” a lot. It’s almost like it’s a filling-space word these days, but that word has meaning too. If you guys out there, listeners, are using the word “actually,” that might be a good one to cut out. Replace it in your mind with, “I was surprised to find out” or “you might not be aware” instead of just using it to emphasize, like the word “literally.” It’s a little over the top, which all begs the question, “What’s with begging the question?”

Jonathan: Where I’ve heard people use the phrase, “begs the question” is after they hear somebody explain something, they want to transition into a followup question, and so they say, “Well, that begs the question”. That’s not actually what that means, is it? The phrase, “begs the question” actually means “within your original statement, your statement assumes a fact, but it’s sort of like a version of circular reasoning where in the statement itself, it is assumes something is true.”

Peter: The interesting thing for small businesses, I think, is what can we learn from this idea of begging the question? When you’ve got a situation where you’re presenting data to a potential customer, you don’t want to present anything that’s logically unsound, logically incorrect, has holes in it, if you will.

Jonathan: Now let’s start talking about some ways of thinking that could be an error and could affect the way you operate your business.

Peter: There are things that are so common that they have a set of names, the typical, logical fallacies. It’s actually one of my favorite articles on Wikipedia, the list of logical fallacies. One group of fallacious thinking styles is often categorized as the gambler’s fallacy. It’s that age-old thing of if I flip a coin a hundred times, what’s the probability that the hundred and oneth time will be heads or tails?

Jonathan: Hundred and oneth?

Peter: That’s right.

Jonathan: Okay. Yeah.

Peter: It will always be fifty percent; everyone always knows that it’s a fifty-fifty chance. Yet, if I said I just flipped a coin one hundred times, and it was heads all one hundred times, what’s the probability that next one will be heads, you will be influenced by that.

Jonathan: Right, I’m going to think that there’s a higher probability that it will be tails because overall, it’s supposed to be fifty-fifty.

Peter: This is great for businesses to think about, and again, I just recommend, check out these Wikipedia articles. They’re great to read. They’re great to see where your brain kind of clicks and what parts of these your brain sort of has trouble with. A lot of times, the reason these are called fallacies and the reason these exist in such common states is because they are so easy to fall into. The best example I love is called, “The Hot-hand Fallacy.” This is a well-researched and well-observed one where originally this idea of if you’re playing a basketball game, and one guy is shooting better than anyone on the team, the tendency is for people to pass to him more frequently. All studies show that it does not actually increase or decrease your generalized probability of making that basket. It’s true, again at the business level, with sales, flash sales, selling one product versus another, pricing points, and that kind of thing.

Jonathan: Another set of logical fallacies has do with cherry-picking and confirmation bias.

Peter: Oh yeah, confirmation bias is always one of the most insidious ways of fallacious thinking. As soon as you think you are correct, you always want to cherry-pick the data points that agree with you and at least ignore if not fully discount data points that don’t really line up with your way of thinking.

Jonathan: And here’s where confirmation bias can really cause some problems because a lot of people think, “Well just because I have an assumption doesn’t mean I’m only going to pick out the data that proves it.” A problem that can come into it is, “Oh I’m a smart person, so I’m going to test things out and try to disprove it,” but even in your attempts to disprove your theory, you might be leaving out things without even realizing it. You’re ultimately trying to prove what you think is true in the first place.

Peter: This is why scientists have to do double-blind tests. As soon as you have a subject in there who is aware of the fact that they’re being tested or aware of the nature of the test, there will be some sort of influence on the nature of the thinking. Even the tests you run tend to be biased toward the point that you want to prove. There is no pure science, and this is then true on the business side. There is no true analytics. Most businesses are only ever creating tests and then testing the data points that they think need to be tested. Again there’s a lot of ways to free your mind of this kind of thinking to get out of these ruts of constantly going over these same things. The first step is always to just identify them. Know that this is what you may be doing, and then see if you need a good way to get out of that.

I think the number one way of thinking that plagues all businesses, I’m going to use the Latin, it’s called either “post hoc,” “ergo propter hoc,” or “cum hoc ergo propter hoc.” This is literally correlating two things that are not necessarily related. It rained yesterday, and sales were down yesterday. Jonathan, are those two things related? They might be; they might not be. Do I sell umbrellas? The one I mentioned first, “post hoc,” that’s when something happens directly after something. Whenever it rains, our website traffic goes down. Our website’s a global website; why would that happen? It doesn’t, and it’s not related; it’s just a coincidence at the global level.

Jonathan: It’s basically the idea of correlation does not prove causation. A great example of this, of correlation and not proving causation, we have a fascination, especially in America, of idolizing people who have made it to the top. We ask them, “What contributed to your success? How did you succeed?” Things that come up very frequently are, “Well, I never let failure bother me” and “I persisted when everybody else said no.” All of these things that kind of like bolster the ego. What’s true also is that we don’t look at the people who fail and ask them the same questions. “What caused you to fail?” It could very well be the same answer. “Well, I didn’t listen to people when they told me something wouldn’t work, and I didn’t let my failures bother me, and subsequently I failed.”

Peter: I think that this really is a great way of kicking off our next guest, but also hopefully our listeners can leave the show and try reading something new. I just think it’s an awesome way for any business owner to expand and think about the way that they’re thinking on a day-to-day basis, think about what tests they’re running, like you said Jonathan.

Jonathan: Right, so as a business owner, try to find your weak spots, test out things to discover those weak spots, and back to those words and phrases that maybe you shouldn’t keep using. Don’t try to look or sound smarter than you actually are; it’s okay to use your own level of intelligence, and people will appreciate that.

Peter: Yeah, use the word that means what it means.

Jonathan: Exactly.

Peter: No reason to make it more complicated. Should we meet our next guest?

Jonathan: Sounds good; let’s talk to Joe.

Peter: All right.

Jonathan: Hey Peter, today we have Joe Pulizzi, who is the founder of Content Marketing Institute. He’s a longtime entrepreneur. This is his fourth book that he wants to talk to us about, called “Content, Inc.,” just general great advice and an expert in content marketing and building an audience to sell your product. Joe, welcome.

Joe: [inaudible 00:14:23] I’m happy to be here. I’m ready to get talking about a little bit of content marketing or whatever else you two want to talk about.

Peter: For main street small business, for the best food cart in town, for the online reseller of Etsy goods, where do you begin? There’s sort of an everything/nothing approach to this, so how do you even get started in this process?

Joe: Well, you’re right you can get totally overwhelmed with all the communication channels. There’s no barriers to entry anymore to creating content or publishing because it basically costs nothing for you to publish online today, whether you decide, “I’m going to do a podcast or a blog or social media of some kind.” Don’t start with that; don’t start with, “What am I going to do? Is it going to be an email newsletter; is it going to be a print magazine?” Start with, “What’s my story? What am I going to talk about, and who am I going to talk to, specifically?” You have many different kinds of audiences, so if you are a pet supplies company down the street, who in your audience are you going to talk to?

Let’s actually use that example because it’s a good one. Let’s just say you’re right down on Main Street, you’ve got a little pet supply shop, and you say, “Hey, I’m going to start a blog on pet supplies.” I would say, “Good luck with that. How are you going to compete with Petco and PetSmart that have multi-billion dollar budgets that are canvasing that area?” You can’t. Let’s say that you have a portion of your audience that let’s say they’re pet lovers, specifically dogs. Let’s say they like to travel with their pets, and they happen to be in recreational vehicles while they’re doing it. That’s what I’m talking about, really focusing on a niche audience. You know what? If you did that, and let’s say you wrote a blog post to that audience on a weekly basis and sent that out to your customers, you could literally be the leading expert in the world on that topic, because, you know what, nobody else is covering that topic.

That’s where you really have to go small to go big in this area, but don’t start with, “Oh my gosh, is it Facebook, is it Twitter, is it LinkedIn?” Just figure out, “What’s the story I’m going to tell? How am I going to make impact on somebody’s life in some way and be truly valuable?” and then we get to, “How do we do it? Does it look like an e-newsletter, is it an eBook, is it a white paper, is it a podcast?” You can’t put the cart before the horse; you really have to figure out what the story is all about. It’s not about what you sell because does anybody really care about what you sell? No. They care about their own problems. Let’s switch that around a little bit and let me use the really good example, Marcus Sheridan from River Pools and Spas, really notorious small business example of how you can use what we talk about in the book, the Content, Inc. model, for the better.

Let’s just say, what Marcus says is, “We want to become the best teacher in the world at fiberglass pools, at installing fiberglass pools, at choosing fiberglass pools, and why to do it versus concrete pools, all that stuff.” They’re a teacher first, and then they say, “And we just happen to install them.” I think, if you want this to really work, and you want to build an audience that ultimately becomes a customer database for you or you want to keep your customers longer, I think you have to have that mentality today. It’s like, “How am I helpful every day to my target audience?” Then, “Oh by the way, yeah, I sell flowers” or “I sell pet supply goods” or “I install heating and air conditioning equipment.”

I think that we get so focused on the product we sell, we don’t realize that most every day, our customers don’t care about that product. What do they care about? I’m going to have to figure out every day how do I create an experience for them that they’re actually going to cut through the clutter and pay attention to what I have to say regardless of what I’m actually selling? That’s actually very tough for a small business to do, but if you can make that transformation, it will completely change every aspect of your business because you’re so focused then on your audience’s informational needs. By doing that you open up the opportunities to actually sell more down the road.

Jonathan: That’s great, and Joe I think you mentioned a little bit earlier the Content, Inc. model. Can you explain that for us?

Joe: What we did is we interviewed dozens and dozens of these successful, remarkable, fastest-growing businesses in the world that started by building an audience first that came back to their content, whether that’s through email newsletters or videos on YouTube or podcasts or blogs or whatever. They built the audience, became these really fast-growing companies. We found them all over the world, and we talk about them in the book. What I did was, we looked at every one of those models, and we reverse-engineered it, and what the amazing thing was, guys, we found they actually follow the same six steps, every one of them.

The six steps are: One, you start with what your sweet spot is. Your sweet spot is the intersection of something that you’re very passionate about as an individual or a business and something at the same time that you have some knowledge or skill set around, some authority to speak about. A quick example would be, Andy Schneider, who is the Chicken Whisperer, which is a great example we talk about in the book. He actually is the world’s leading expert on raising chickens in your back yard. I love this—

Peter: And whispering.

Joe: And whispering to them. Exactly. He calls himself the Chicken Whisperer, and what he had, he really had a passion for teaching. His friends were interested in backyard poultry, and he started to teach them. He really had a passion for it. At the same time, there was no expertise in the world around raising chickens in your back yard as actually a thing, and he couldn’t find any expert information on it. He actually became the leading expert in this area. That became his sweet spot, and now he’s a hugely successful business; he’s got magazines and books, and he’s got twenty thousand weekly listeners on his radio show. He started with this idea called the sweet spot, passion and knowledge area.

Then you take it into Step Two, That’s your content tilt. Simple enough is, what’s an area of little to no informational competition that you can actually be the leading expert in the world at something. Go back to that pet supplies example I talked to you about. You can’t just do a blog on pet supplies, too much competition. You have to focus on, “Hey, well maybe I can be the leading expert in people that like to travel with their dogs in recreational vehicles in Upstate New York.” You have to get that specific, and if you do, then you’ve found an area of little to no competition that you can actually be the expert. That’s your strategy. Step One and Step Two, that’s your strategy.

Step Three: building the base. That’s where the work comes in. That means, you’re blogging once a week, or you have a podcast once a week, or you have a video that you do once a week. Whatever the case is that you have to actually publish like a media company publishes. By the way, this is not easy; it does take time, as you guys talked about before, but if you do have the patience and you can do it consistently just like a media company does, we’ve found that you’ll be very successful.

Going into the last three steps. Once we do that, we want to harvest the audience. We’re building an audience, and how do we do that best? Believe it or not, email is not dead; email marketing is the best way. We want email subscribers where we have the most control. Nothing wrong with social media, guys, nothing wrong with building an audience on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but we don’t control those connections; Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter own those connections. We want to use those connections on social media to build our email subscription database that we have some control over.

Then once we do that, we get into Step Five. We see all these really successful businesses, they start to diversify. I talked about the Andy Schneider example; once he had his radio show up and running, then he launched the world’s greatest book on backyard poultry, which is a number one hit on Amazon. Then he launched the magazine called “The Chicken Whisperer,” believe it or not. He’s become the world leading expert, and he does what every great media company does is once you get a minimum viable audience, you then go and you diversify the platforms. Then, of course, the most important thing that everybody’s like, “Hey, how do I make money off of this?” Step Six is monetization.

What do you do? Do you get your customers to stay longer? Do you go out and find new customers that didn’t know about you before that subscribe to your newsletter? Could you sell advertising and find new revenue streams against that because you built an audience? There’s all different kinds of ways to make money. Copyblogger Media did it; they sell online products. [Maz 00:22:36] did it through online products. Matthew Patrick, who has five million subscribers on a show called Game Theory; he monetizes it through selling merchandise mostly as well as advertising on YouTube. Ann Reardon, who’s the baking queen of Sydney, Australia; she has two million subscribers on YouTube. She did it by selling partnerships with different manufacturers in the baking industry. There’s all different ways to make money. We do it through our events at Content Marketing Institute.

That’s the six step model. We go through each of the six steps in the book. I feel that it can be the business model for any smaller business or entrepreneur that wants to be successful. If you can give it twelve to fifteen months, which a lot of people don’t want to hear, but this is not something like advertising that, “Hey, I’m going to advertise; I’m going to see all these people come into the store.” That’s not it. It takes time to build a loyal audience, but what we’ve seen is, if you have the patience and you put in the work, it creates the most remarkable businesses I’ve ever seen.

Jonathan: That’s great. Joe, I think you’ve mentioned before that the timeline, twelve to fifteen months of getting this up and running. What do you have to say maybe as a word of encouragement for someone who’s maybe in month six or somebody who’s excited about starting it all right now but they’re going to get six to eight months down the road and they’re not seeing the results that they want to see, they’re feeling burned out and like this was just a wasteful endeavor. What do you want to say to them to keep them going?

Joe: The only thing I can say is, and I’ve been in media business for over fifteen years now, the greatest media companies of all time that we all know and love, they were not overnight successes. It’s funny because somebody was saying, “Yeah, but Joe, but Buzzfeed just came out of nowhere, and in 2012, 2013, their content was everywhere on Facebook.” I said, “Do you know they started in 2006?” And they’ll say, “Hey, well ESPN, look they’re everywhere.” I say, “Did you know they started in 1979?” If you really want this to work and you want your business to be in it for the long term, you’re creating an asset. It’s different than advertising where, if you buy an advertisement, you’ve got to get the value out of that ad right away because it’s gone; it’s not there anymore.

That’s not the case with content; your content will live on as as asset for your organization. Just like your vacuum example, that video that was up there, that might have been created a year ago. If you look at BlendTec, whose a very popular blender manufacturer, they’ve got videos that they created from blending up iPods and iPhones and whatnot from 2007, 2008, that are still going strong and still delivering amazing results for them from a revenue standpoint. I think you have to think about it that way and just be patient. I think if you set your expectations to know, “Look, we’re in it for the long haul,” and then take your wins as you can. If somebody shares your post, that’s great. You want subscribers to your email newsletter; that takes time, but celebrate every one of those as you go.

The first year that I was doing this, I think by the end of the twelve months I hit three thousand subscribers; I was super happy about it. Now five years later, we’ve got a hundred and forty-three thousand. It just gradually works as an asset that builds over time, and if you stick with it, you will be successful. To your point, cheer, you have to be a little bit of “rah rah” around some of the little things that happen if somebody talks about your post or you do get a sale through one of your pieces of content. Share that with your team so that everybody really starts to believe that this thing can work.

Peter: One last thing I’ll throw in, we were talking a little bit about catch phrases, buzzwords, things people don’t need to say in the workplace, common fallacies, common misused phrases; you got any favorites in that genre or anything that these small business owners should avoid in terms of getting too jargony or getting too businessy in their writing?

Joe: My favorite thing to do, and I do this all the time, not to poke fun at certain people, but I go to people’s About Us page on their website. It usually says things like, “we are world class” or “we have revolutionized” or “we are best of breed.” I would just say, just speak like a human being. You don’t need any of those. You run into them, right? Even these big enterprises are the worst at this too because they go and they throw in, it’s like they had some amazing copywriter throw in every type of phrase that you could possibly think of that nobody ever uses in plain language. I would just say, look at your About Us page is a great place to start. If you say it, and it sounds weird, like a person wouldn’t really say it, then you probably need to just rework the whole thing. Just say it like it is.

The content today gets more and more human, and you want to just speak like a human being. I think people appreciate that. If they read whatever you are telling them, and they sort of have to sit back and they’re not really sure, they don’t really get it, you’ve got major problems. You’ve got to cut through the clutter immediately, and any of those big words, just leave them out. Probably my favorite is world class. What does world class mean? Does that mean, “I’m the best in the world”? “I’m going to class that’s in the world”? I don’t know what that means. It’s lost its meaning for people because it’s been used so much. Try something else. Be helpful.

Peter: Help me help you.

Joe: Now we’re all going to go watch Jerry Maguire.

Jonathan: Thanks for talking with us today, Joe. Is there somewhere people can go to find out more information about you or about the book? Where can we find more?

Joe: Absolutely. Anything on the book, Content, Inc., right now you can go to content-inc.com, and you can get information on the book, where to buy it, as well as if you have no money or you’re incredibly cheap, there’s a free chapter there, and there’s an eBook that gives you twenty of the best case studies that we talk about in the book. Go to content-inc.com, and then for all those people on Twitter, I’m easily-accessible on Twitter at joepulizzi, p-u-l-i-z-z-i.

Jonathan: Awesome, yeah, and we can definitely include links to both of those in our show notes, so people can easily access those.

Joe: Fantastic, guys, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. This was fun.

Jonathan: Thanks so much for joining us.

If you have a question you’d like us to answer on the show, send us an email at bcast@bplans.com. That’s bcast@bplans.com. Our theme music is by Jasinski. The Bcast is brought to you by Palo Alto Software, makers of Bplans.com and LivePlan. Visit Bplans.com for everything you need to start planning and growing your business.

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Jonathan Michael
Jonathan Michael

Jonathan is the Engagement Marketing Manager for Palo Alto Software, and has spent the last 9 years developing and implementing digital marketing strategies. During that time, he has learned that empathy and authenticity are strengths by which companies can effectively engage with individuals at every point throughout the customer journey.