Lee Odden

Actionable Content Marketing – Interview with Heidi Cohen

Lee Odden     Content Marketing, Interviews

Heidi Cohen

Whether you’ve been in the digital and content marketing game for just a few years, or since before the expression “content marketing” was popular, the tools exist for bright minds to create a brand and communicate their thought leadership. Powered with experience, great ideas and a passion for knowledge attainment and sharing, people like Heidi Cohen have walked the talk with content marketing by using content to advance their position in the digital marketing world.

As the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies and the Chief Content Officer of the Actionable Marketing Guide, Heidi Cohen‘s content marketing experience ranges from being a long time direct marketer for companies like The Economist, a columnist at ClickZ for many years, and past adjunct professor in the Masters in Integrated Marketing program at NYU. Based in New York City, Heidi publishes a very popular blog on all things marketing: Actionable Marketing Guide.

In this pre Content Marketing World interview, Heidi covers all the content marketing bases, from strategy to audience to content to ROI. She even shares business lessons from a few favorite childhood stories.

How important is it for a company to have a content marketing strategy defined before asking internally for budget or engaging an outside consultant? Can experimentation lead to strategy or is a hybrid approach more practical?

Content marketing like social media should NOT be something a business does on the side because it’s in vogue.

A company considering taking advantage of content marketing to achieve its business goals should start by examining its business objectives, target audience, and offering to understand where they have gaps in their marketing plans. This enables them to create specific pieces of content.

Before diving into content marketing, a business should know what’s working and what isn’t or they may wind up reinventing the wheel.

For companies that don’t understand what’s happening to their business or how the market has evolved, it’s useful to bring in an outside consultant to guide them.

Ideally a content marketing plan should come from within your business since it’s core to your strategy and needs to be yours.

What are some ways you can use audience insights to inform your content planning and promotion?

Take the time to understand your target audience including your prospects, customers, influencers, end-users and fans. Use a combination of quantitative and qualitative information. Ideally, this should be based on past purchase behavior and customer interactions.

  1. Create a set of marketing personae so that your content speaks directly to your market.
  2. Develop content that your audience actively seeks.
  3. Place and distribute your content based on your audience’s media consumption habits and their device usage.

Visuals in content marketing are increasingly popular but how important are they really? Is this the beginning of the end of text or just a phase?

The use of images and visuals is NOT new. It dates back to the cave drawings. Viewing visual content is built into our DNA.

The take-away for content marketers:

Employ a variety of forms of visual content to boost your content’s ability to attract the maximum audience.  There’s a lot of content out there. Use every technique you can to break through!!!

As for text, don’t write it off too quickly. Language and writing have evolved over centuries, I don’t think that they’re disappearing any time soon. The proof: Smartphone ownership and use. They’ve grown exponentially recently BUT text and email are among the most popular functions after social media.

The take-away for content marketers:

  • Do as your mother taught you! “Use your words” to explain and help your target audience to understand you. Incorporate them into the 5 basic content types your prospects need and seek.

Content Types

BTW – Note how I used both images and text to convey my point and get your attention?

Is Content Marketing ROI really that hard? What are you doing to measure content marketing performance?

Tracking content marketing ROI is only difficult because, despite the goal of increasing profitability, many businesses don’t think about it until after they’ve created and distributed their content. As a result, measuring results are an afterthought.

To effectively understand content marketing and its contribution to your business, select your metrics after you determine your business goals. Then incorporate appropriate calls-to-action and related landing pages. (NOTE: These are not one-size-fits-all.)

Alice in Wonderland Crown

In the spirit of the Content Marketing in Wonderland (Alice) theme of the #CMWorld eBook series, what was your favorite story from childhood? Any lessons in it for business or marketing today? 

I had 2 childhood favorites:

Le Petit Prince by  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The fox says to the Little Prince, “You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”

This was one of the first books I read in French and I loved the drawings. It’s a book of adult lessons parading as a child’s book.

Marketing take-away: As marketers, we have a responsibility for our customers. It’s a promise we make. This goes back to the 4 Moments of Truth.

Marketing Moments of Truth

Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

I loved this book. Probably because I wanted to live in Manhattan not its suburbs! Or maybe because my dad had high security clearance in World War II and worked on secret stuff he never talked about.

Marketing take-away: You always need to keep tabs on what’s happening around you. Keep up with changes in the environment (including styles, politics, and economics), transformations in technology, and the evolution of competitors. It’s not just your direct competitors. Most businesses do that. Consider the broader set of major players and indirect competitors.

By observing others, you’ll start to walk in your customers’ shoes and see your offering from their perspective.

Thanks Heidi!

Content Marketing Wonderland eBooks

You can get even more of Heidi’s content marketing ROI wisdom from the #CMWorld eBook: Building an Audience Development Strategy for Content Marketing. In fact, here are all 4 eBooks in the Content Marketing World series:

To dig even further into the realm of content marketing, check out the Content Marketing World conference coming up next week Sept 8-11 in Cleveland. If you use the discount code, TopRank, you’ll save $100 off main event and all-access registrations.


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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Hey Lee,

    What an outstanding personality she is, I’ve read about her before and no doubt she is awesome. If people like me would take her as their inspiration then they are more likely to enjoy a successful tenure soon!


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