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AO: What was one unconventional growth tactic that you ran that did support surprisingly well?

Ben Parr: So even before my co-founders, Matt, Lisa, and I started Octane AI, Matt, my best friend, of a decade and co-founder CEO, we started a publication called Chatbots Magazine. And Chatbots Magazine was started right after Facebook opened up the messenger platform. And it was more of a way for us to understand what was happening. We didn’t have an idea quite yet, but we were starting to form some of the concepts. It was clear we wanted to build community and we started this publication and it really took off.

Matt wrote a landmark piece article that still ranks in the top in Google for chatbots. It’s the guide to chatbots. We put it on Medium and we got lots of people to write content for it. And one of the big things that happened was, you know, nowadays Chatbots Magazine gets over a million readers per year. And the strategy was so effective for us to not just get our attention and get attention out there, but to start generating leads. 

So we did it again. We started a new publication Ecommerce Magazine right around the time when we knew that we were going to focus on the e-commerce vertical for our software. And we were able to replicate some of the same things we did with Chatbots Magazine for Ecommerce Magazine. So, the super short, unique strategy that we have is creating publications around the areas in which we’re going to enter. And there’s lots of benefits that happen as a result. I can dive deeper into it.

AO: This is so good. It’s the concept of having a podcast or a marketing arm, but you’re specifically doing this publication and it makes a lot of sense. So tell us, is there any more detail you can give us about the impact of this strategy?

Ben Parr: I mean, there’s a couple of different levels of impact. So one, Chatbots magazine was a big part of why we got our first funding round when we raised one and a half million from general catalyst and a bunch of other investors was because before launch, we showed we had traction with the community we were building. And when you’re raising money, you need to show some kind of traction. And our traction wasn’t necessarily like here’s the product and here’s the customers. It was here’s the community we’ve built. We have a captive audience. We can sell them. And that helped us raise our first round.

So this is like a different thing than say, the standard SaaS style, like here’s the sales you got, but that actually helped us a ton with getting the company launch. We’ve gotten dozens of customers out of both Chatbots magazine, E-commerce magazine from a couple of different factors. One is yes, we have embedded different kinds of advertisements for Octane AI in both publications. And yes, we collect email addresses for newsletters and for promoting our playbooks and things. And we’ve definitely gotten hundreds of downloads of our playbooks and have people go through our sales process as a results.

But also for example, when we started E-commerce magazine, we actually reached out and interviewed about a hundred different e-commerce leaders. A lot of them are potential customers, the CEOs and presidents and founders of big e-commerce brands. We were going to target and we became friends with them by interviewing them and putting up interviews on the site. And that helped us build a relationship with them. And in fact, helped us get some of our very first customers and some of our key logos that helped us launch in the Shopify ecosystem in 2018.

AO: I love it. Say, we want to do it. Say, we’re good friends. I just called you. I’m trying to get the marketing arm moving. And maybe even before we have a product, like give us a step by step playbook on creating one of these.

Ben Parr: So, there’s two paths you can take. One, you want to collect a lot of user generated content and second, you want to hire a lot of people to make content, or get a lot of partners to write content, both ways work. They require different strategies. And we use both strategies for each publication. If you want to go the user generated route, you go with medium, medium that when you go request articles that are on the subject, you have people start writing about it for E-commerce magazine. The other method, you’re writing the method, you’re going to hire some part-time writers as well, and pay him per article. 

In addition to having your partners who may be looking for exposure, you may be agency partners or tech partners or customers who write and co-create content in that way. So, that’s one step. Another step is you have to write a landmark article. That’s like a centerpiece. The reason Chatbots magazine took off in part was because Matt wrote this super long detailed guide on chat bots. And he interviewed over 50 people, experts in the area who were all quoted, who all shared the article.

So you want to write a really detailed piece, that’s really very valuable to your audience. Really long, really thought out, an interview or quote people from your vertical or industry, your customers, your partners, your prospects, because there’s a viral effect that happens. They all share the article when they’re quoted in it. And that helps spread the word. And then if you’ve done this phase and you’re starting to build some traction, you’ve gotta have a system to consistently get new content up and edit it and put out there and create new content that targets the names and areas you’re going for.

And then lastly, you need to start building up the email list and start building up the affinity between that brand and your brand, and then your main brand. So, we eventually started adding some of the calls to action for Octane AI and Chatbots Magazine, or we might, you know, we started sending emails about our playbooks to the Ecommerce Magazine audience, not directly like buy Octane AI, but, we came out with this 250 page, Facebook messenger and SMS marketing playbook, you know, go get it here.

And they would go though, they’d give more information. We would figure out which of them were qualified. They go through our sales process. And that’s the quick step by step process. There’s obviously more things to building a publication. It’s not necessarily an easy path, but it really builds a really strong community and something that’s not really replicable, and it’s pretty defensible when you build that community. 

JS: Thank you for this. This is awesome. How do you balance between optimizing the publication too much, running too many ads, putting too many lead capture forms and the right balance?How do you actually determine that? 

Ben Parr: There’s no simple way to determine that. I think it’s going to be less than what you’re doing with your own company’s blog. And again, another optimization is how much goes into the publication, which is your own company blog. You don’t want to neglect that direct SEO way. Determine what kind of content goes on one versus the other. And again, more user generated content is better for the publication. You know, it doesn’t dilute your company’s main brand in terms of how many there’s no real good answer. I think it’s just, don’t be too in people’s faces and make sure that if you’re offering content from the main brand it’s really relevant and, or helpful, like a playbook, a guide, more than just get our stuff. 

AO: Oh, that’s so good. The next question I have is, if we’re trying to create that landmark article, can you help us with topic selection besides just the obvious? Are you doing keyword research?

Ben Parr: Yeah. I mean your always doing keyword research.  The nice thing is there’s certain topics that you couldn’t write about on your blog because it doesn’t quite make sense, but maybe you want to target in a more broad sense. Say you’re writing, like in our case e-commerce, our blog might have more messenger and SMS related things, but maybe there’s some e-commerce related topics that don’t necessarily make sense for the Octane AI blog, but they’re perfect for the Ecommerce Magazine. Yeah. We’ll definitely pick our topics, and people will propose topics too. I think a big thing is if we’re thinking about a topic and we really want to rank it for it, we’re going to write the most detailed article we can, put as many people as we can and put a lot of time in it.

AO: Got it. So, the partner strategy, you talked about getting people to guest blog, what does that email look like? So you’re going to medium, and you’re asking people who are writing about the topic to write an article on your publication as well. Is that right?

Ben Parr: Well, Medium. So there’s two methods. If you’re doing the Medium method, you don’t need to write a thing. Medium has a system for just requesting an article be added to a publication. So, they probably already wrote hundreds of articles and people wrote hundreds of articles on the subject, in the area that you’re like business is in. And so it may be, you’re just requesting the articles to begin. And then you get their email address and you can start building the list of like a community just for the writers of the publication. Like Chatbots Magazine has 700 writers, emails go out to those writers, topics, ideas, things like that. They start writing new articles.

You don’t need to write anything super fancy in Medium. If you’re gonna hire your own writers and all that. And like your guest writers, like I think it’s the last like, look, it’s just like, if you’re built up an audience, then it’s super easy for people to be like we want to give you some exposure. We want you to write about what you already know, something super valuable, something super simple. You’d be surprised how many people are very well ready and willing to write interesting content.

AO: Man. That’s so good. The only other question I have is any roadblocks that you would mention that as someone starting to do this same strategy?

Ben Parr: I mean, it’s not an easy strategy and it does take time. You’re not gonna see results immediately. And I think we were able to accomplish it, because we have media experience. I used to be the editor Mashable and we have community experience. My co-founder CEO, Matt, founded several companies around community for music artists, and was the first Product Head at Ustream. And so I think the big roadblock is getting content and writing really great content and just sticking with it for a little bit.

And the only other roadblock is making sure that you have resources to do this and the content you need for your main blog. So it’s an advanced strategy, but it does work if it’s done correctly. One other bonus too, is as a publication, you could go to a lot of conferences as press, which opens up not just free press passes, but opens up interesting introductions and opportunities. You wouldn’t get otherwise,

AO: Man, that is so good. George, you got anything else? 

JS: No, it makes total sense. I think the roadblocks, or as you said, you have this background in content. And yeah, we’ve known each other for a while. I remember when you were over at Mashable. So you have a sort of secret weapon in terms of knowledge and having done it, but you know, if you can nail this man that it sounds like it can really, really drive a lot of value and not just from a branding perspective and community, but really driving leads for the sales team. So that sounds awesome. Thank you so much. 

AO: Thank you so much, man. This is amazing, man. 

Ben Parr: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

AO: That’s it. Another great episode of The One Growth Show , the official podcast of growth marketing conference to learn more about upcoming events, visit and subscribe to the newsletter. If you enjoy this episode, let us know. We’d really appreciate it if you’d give us a five star rating, super easy, just click the last star on iTunes, and also share this episode on social media. After all you want your network to know you’re the person they can always turn to for the best growth and marketing content, don’t you?

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