Kenda Macdonald: Why your buyer’s brain craves content

Listen and subscribe on: iTunes | Stitcher | Buzzsprout | Spotify

Notes

Kenda Macdonald is the CEO of Automation Ninjas and award-winning author of the excellent book Hack the Buyer Brain.

Kenda shares where here passion for content began and how she has brought both her knowledge of forensic psychology and the buyers journey together to create her incredible business and book. Content marketing backed with science.

Chris and Kenda dig deeper into the science and psychology of the buyers journey and where content plays a role, how content has impacted on both Automation ninjas and their clients and the lessons Kenda has learned along the way.

Listen to more interviews from volume 3:

Additional resources:

Transcription

Chris:
Well, good afternoon, Kendall. How are you?

Kenda:
All right, thank you.

Chris:
Good, good. Well, thanks very much for joining me today. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of you recently.

Kenda:
Yes. Yeah, I’ve basically been living at your house, yes.

Chris:
It’s been awesome! It’s been awesome hanging out. I’m so glad that we’re taking the time to do this as well. I know you’re really, really busy. You’re just generally one of the busiest people that I know, and I mean good busy, as in stuff’s happening. There’s been a lot happening for you, and I’m glad that we’re getting to spend a thing to sort of pick apart your journey through content marketing, and give the listeners a feel for what your journeys look like, what kind of results and challenges you’ve had along the way, and generally just get a feel for it. I think it would be good to just start off with who you are, what type of business you run? Give us a feel for what it is that keeps you busy.

Kenda:
Sure. So I’m Kenda MacDonald. I run a marketing agency called Automation Ninjas. We specialize in behavioral marketing automation. What that really means is we help our customers understand their customers’ journey, create the customer journey, add behavioral elements into it, and then automate that where appropriate. It sounds quite complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. We’re all about marketing automation, and we’re all about making sure that the customer journey is the best experience possible so that businesses can get customer lifetime value out of that.

Chris:
Awesome stuff. I love, absolutely love it. It’s so cool. I’m sure we’ll talk about your book, but it’s amazing to see what’s happened over the last few months with you publishing your book Hack the Buyer Brain and just the buzz that’s been around that book. Even just looking at what’s happening in CMA, everybody is so proud of what you’ve achieved, but actually getting a ton of value from your content as well. You’re essentially in a content … Your business can’t really function without content, right, not to [inaudible 00:02:03] your clients’ businesses as well. Everything is about content. So where did … I know a little bit about your previous career as well, but not so much, I don’t think. Where did content marketing start for you? When did you get involved in all of this?

Kenda:
Right. Well, I was paying my way through university. I had just moved to the UK, and I was putting myself through a university in the UK as an international student, which is very expensive. I had loads of different jobs on at any point in time, up to up to four jobs at one point. I landed this one job as being a personal assistant for somebody who had a company that worked in the marketing automation space. It was kind of how I got introduced to marketing automation. I had no idea email marketing was a thing, and it was really working for that person I very quickly wasn’t his PA. I got really interested in the whole marketing world, and very quickly became his head of operations, and ran that side of the business. It was then that I got introduced to content, and what content was, the pivotal role of copywriting, and how content marketing could be a thing.

Funnily enough, my first introduction to copy and to content marketing was through a lack thereof. As I was doing my research, I was like, “Oh, we really need a website. The website’s really important. Why don’t we have a website?” He just wasn’t interested, didn’t want a website. He didn’t believe that businesses needed websites and didn’t believe that businesses needed a blog. Every six months I’d bring it up, and be like, “I think we should have a blog.”

He’d give me the same answer, and he’d say, “Yeah, but blogs take up to eight months to work, so we’d have to wait that long period of time.” Then in the next six to eight months, he’d still be hustling for leads.

I’d say, “If we had started that blog … I’m quite happy to do it in my spare time. Maybe we wouldn’t be here?” Then we’d have that argument again. Funnily enough, his company shut down straight after that. The second that happened, we started our own business. We started Automation Ninjas, and right from the get-go I knew that, mostly out of stubbornness because he’d not allowed me to do it, that I wanted a decent blog, and I wanted a really good website. I became pretty obsessed with it pretty quickly.

Chris:
What does content look like for your business then? What kind of content have you been working on over the last couple of years?

Kenda:
Well, there’s one piece of content that’s been the bane of my existence for the last few years, and that’s been the book itself. The book has been the biggest piece of content I’ve ever produced, but running alongside that has been the blog. Writing the blog itself is what gave me the ideas for the book. I created a YouTube channel, and we also have a podcast, so all three of those mediums … My main focus has been on the written form. I really enjoy it. That’s what brings us the most leads in as well, through the book and through the blog.

Chris:
That’s interesting. So still to this day, it’s the written content that really drives a business forward.

Kenda:
Yeah, definitely. I don’t think that’s the medium’s fault. I think that’s my fault more than anything else because I put so much love, care, and attention into the written form, and I tend to neglect the other two forms.

Chris:
Yeah. So you’d get … This is a funny thing about it. A lot of people say things don’t work, or they do work and when you look at it it’s because either they’re not, or are, putting effort into one of those things. You know what I mean? Like, “Your blog works really, really well. Ours doesn’t.”

It’s like, “Well, that’s because I’m putting a lot of effort in the main, and you aren’t.” Yeah, you get what you put in, I guess. So other than just pure stubbornness and trying to prove someone wrong, why else do you believe that content marketing truly is the way to go to market, to grow your business? Obviously, not just your business but your clients’ business as well. Why are you such a great advocate of it?

Kenda:
Because we’re nothing without content. Literally, everything that comes out of our mouths, every conversation we have is content. Taking control, you either have full control of that and create your own customer journey with your own content, create your own blogs, create your own videos, create your own materials to help you with the sales process, or you leave that to somebody else. You leave it to your competition to create really good content and have people go to your competition instead. So everything is content, and you either take control of that and use it to your advantage, or you let your competition take control of that and use it to their advantage.

Content forms the backbone of everything that we do with businesses now. We’ve got consumers who are desperate to research things and to have more and more and more content to validate their own needs, and if you’re not listening to what the consumers want, and not listening to the fact that they’re demanding really good content, then you’re going to get left behind. It’s a necessity for businesses now. It’s not something we can ignore anymore.

Chris:
Sure. When it comes to … I want to pick your brain here in regards to your book, right? So within the context of Hacking the Buyer Brain, what do listeners needs to understand clearly that goes beyond what we take for granted in terms of knowing why we need to do content marketing? We know we need to do content marketing because people need to find us when they’ve never heard of us before. They need to validate their needs. They need to validate their … increase their confidence and trust around the products they’re buying. What else? What’s another layer that maybe people are missing out on, or misunderstand, or don’t understand at all that they need to understand, to really buy into why content matters so much as part of this buyer’s journey, and understanding customers?

Kenda:
Well, I mean I think the most important part to me is the fact that the brain demands it. There’s a great piece of research done by Brian Knutson of Stanford University. What they did is they took people and put them in fMRI scanners, and asked them to go through the buying process. They said we’re going to show you a picture of something that you might like, and we’re going to show you the price, then whether you push a button to say whether or not you would buy that with real money. They watched the brain activation throughout this process.

What they discovered was the patches formula, the process that the brain actually goes through when it’s making a purchase decision. When they saw the thing that they wanted, the most universal example used in the experiment was a box of chocolates. You see the box of chocolates and the reward center of your brain lights up. Great, makes complete sense. But when you see the price or the cost of a product, the pain center of the brain lights up. That’s literally the part of the brain that is responsible for dealing with physical and emotional trauma, and that’s how we understand the cost of a product.

Doing all of this, the scientists were able to actually, by looking at the brain activation, figure out before the person pushed the button whether or not they were going to push the button. In order to have a purchase decision, there has to be more reward activation than pain activation. There’s a formula that goes along with that. That’s fascinating, because when we know that, and with the more experiments that have been done as a result of this piece of experimentation, this piece of really, really good investigation into how the brain works, there are only two ways to influence a purchase decision; that is to increase the amount of reward activation, or decrease the perceived cost of a product.

You can’t really eliminate costs, because that’s how the brain … You can’t eliminate the pain activation because that’s just how the brain understands purchasing something. You’re giving your resources away. It’s painful. The brain doesn’t want to do that, but you can increase the amount of reward activation.

The easiest way to increase the reward activation is to heighten the position of your brand. In order to heighten the position of your brand, you need to be providing things that the consumers want. They need to understand why the position of your brand is at that certain level. They need to form that relationship with you. The easiest way to do that is content. Going down to the psychology of it, going down to the neuroscience of why this is important, you can heighten the position of your brand, and you can positively influence the sales process through quality content. That’s really the only thing that we have that much control over. It’s really, really important in influencing the outcome of the purchase decision to heighten that position of the brand. You can do that with content in the most cost-effective way possible.

Chris:
Yeah. That is awesome. That’s such a great insight, really powerful stuff. When it comes to your business candor then, and you’re looking at your content, what would you say? Because this is … Honestly, the people listening to this podcast are going to be people like you, business owners, marketers. Would you say when you’re applying all of this theory to your own business, I get curious what that looks like for you in terms of what’s perhaps the best performing content? Or some insights you’ve learned about your own buyers, that have led you to sort of say, “Yup. This clearly works. This is something that we need to do more of.” Or perhaps even in the last six months, you’ve learned something significant that has been a gap for you, for example, that you really need to work on?

Kenda:
Yeah. We’ve been working really hard, and treating ourselves like our own clients. We’ve been working really hard on our content plan, and we’ve taken the entire customer journey, stripped the whole customer journey back, and we’re layering little bits of content onto each part of the customer journey for our consumers. We’ve realized, the insight that we’ve had in doing this process, is that every step along the journey, from when someone is first searching for something all the way through to signing a contract and working with us, all the way through, right through to the end when they’re saying to their friends and business colleagues that you need to go work with these guys, we’ve realized that content plays an important role. One of the most important things that we noticed throughout that process is that our customers consume as much content after they become a customer as they did before they became a customer. They don’t stop consuming our content just because they’re a customer; they’re still interested in the information that we’re putting out. They’re consuming loads of content all the way through.

Secondarily, by taking the content and putting it into a really well-structured journey in the format of the book, has significantly shortened our sales process, significantly shortened id because people consume the book, spend a lot of time with us. They build a relationship with us. They really see the value of what we’re putting out there, and they come to us straight away as a result of reading the book. So we get our best leads from the book, but our customers are still reading all of our blog posts long after they’ve purchased. Even when they’ve been a customer for two, three years, they still wrote our blog posts every single week.

Chris:
Okay, so what you’re telling me is that once you’ve published a book, you can’t just stop blogging? Is that what you’re saying?

Kenda:
Not really.

Chris:
I thought you publish a book and then you’re done? No?

Kenda:
No, no. I think there’s a big mistake that a lot of businesses make when they think that content is only getting leads in. Its role is not to just get leads in; its role is also to keep the people who are your customers nodding their heads, and being happy about the fact that you’re still singing from the same hymn sheet, effectively.

Chris:
Absolutely. I think this is so … You’ve talked to me about this before. You can sort of nudge me on this a few times as well. So to say if you spend a little bit too much time on the awareness stages of the buyer’s journey rather than either more towards the sale and after. This is really what I wanted to pull out from this conversation for the listeners, to say there’s one level of content marketing, which is that you’re writing a blog, right? You’re creating … Maybe you’re doing some big five content. They ask you for buyer’s journey content or whatever, but you’re really at a high level, right? What we’re talking about here is you’re really getting into the specific parts of the buyer’s journey and doing multiple pieces of content for that single part of the journey, to not only help people move through the journey but to move through it faster, and in a much more confident way.

So what I’m seeing in my head is almost like layers, right? What we get into is this layer where you’re at this sort of microlayer where you’re really digging in deep, and you’re pulling it all apart. You’re filling content into each gap, right through the process. I think people don’t realize … I think a lot of people when they’re thinking of content marketing, is that it’s like one layer, one track thing. Actually, it’s multiple areas with multiple tracks, because if you’ve got more than one type of customer, or one type of buyer in one type of industry, more than one type of industry, sorry, you’re going to have different tracks, buyers’ journeys, with different types of questions and problems and challenges, and different types of content. I think it’s interesting the level you’ve gone to. Obviously, a big element here, Kenda, is you’ve got to practice what you preach, right?

Kenda:
Yeah.

Chris:
I feel the pressure’s on me for this as well, but you take that for granted, I think. A lot of marketing companies just do not practice what they preach, right? I think it’s interesting to say, “Yup. We wrote the book. We’ve got all the content. We actually help people to actually implement this in their companies and their businesses as well, but we’re also doing it for our own company too,” which I feel is a massive deal. It’s hugely important.

Kenda:
Yeah. I’ve had clients come to us simply because of the fact that they’ve signed up for various different things from four or five different … One client, in particular, made me laugh. He said he signed up for four or five different people that he was looking at, that were specialists and doing stuff with Infusionsoft. It was only one company that actually followed up in an automated way and in a manual way. The other four companies all followed up manually. We were the only company who had stuff in place to follow up automatically, and he came with us because we were doing what we said other people should do. I think it’s really important for your customers, that if you’re in this kind of industry you should be practicing what you preach because so many don’t know. The cobbler has always got the worst shoes, right? But I don’t think we can afford to do that anymore.

Chris:
No, absolutely not. It’s confidence and trust as well, I think. Also, when people know that you’re also doing the work, I think it makes them feel like you’ve got true empathy for what’s involved in actually doing it. You truly understand what it takes to do the work.

Kenda:
Yes.

Chris:
On that, what would you say has been your biggest challenge, Kenda, with content marketing and implementing it in your own company, to get new customers and to keep the customers you have?

Kenda:
Well, I think a combination of two things. One was the sheer, massive, enormous job that it was, was very overwhelming. Constantly comparing ourselves against other people who had already done that whole thing, we’re comparing ourselves against companies that had been creating content for 10 plus years. We look back at our content and go, “Oh my God, we’re getting nowhere fast.” That was probably something that held us back.

Also, not starting at a logical place. We tried to start at the beginning of the awareness journey, and didn’t look who our perfect customers were, didn’t look at who they were properly, and realized that our perfect and our ideal customer was actually some way up the awareness journey. We could start there, and work backward from that.

Those were probably the two things that held us back, a little bit of imposter syndrome and comparing ourselves to other companies, and then not being really clear what the most important starting point was, and what the priority was. Those were our two challenges. It wasn’t a technical skill set. It was something that we could do because we do it for clients. We just got stuck because we weren’t … We were weighing ourselves up against the big boys without realizing they had to start somewhere, too.

Chris:
Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a really important point if you don’t let … The beginning of what seems like the beginning isn’t always the most, not just logical, but the most strategic place to start. I think a lot of people think it is.

Chris:
One of the places that we always start with companies, Kenda, is starting with where people are the most hot in the buyer’s journey. You need things to start, but … yeah. That’s where you’re low hanging fruit is. Yeah, I think that’s great. It’s great insight. It’s good that you are coming to that on your own terms. It shows you that you’re doing the work as well, which is awesome. How would you say content marketing has changed your business, changed your career?

Kenda:
When we started out in the industry, we were just the kind of people that you just pointed. You came up with this strategy yourself, and you said just build me this thing. We were basically super, super cheap labor. I knew from the get-go that we had a skill set that was way above super cheap labor, but that was because we had no one behind us. We didn’t have much in the way of Kudos or any authority in the industry. We had to start somewhere, and that was the lowest rung to start at.

Because we started building content around us, the positioning that it gave us we could prove to people that we knew what we were talking about. Because we could prove to people that we knew what we were talking about, our positioning jumped up 7 fold, 10 fold, and now we’re almost at the top of our industry as a result of the content. We’re winning awards for our content. We’re winning all sorts of things. We’ve just … Chris, before I came on this call, Marketing Automation Specialist of the Year for 2019 is what we’ve just been given.

Chris:
That is awesome. Congratulations.

Kenda:
I’m over the moon about that. They judged that completely independently. We were nominated, but they judged that completely independently. What did they look at? Our blog. They looked at our blog. They spoke to some of our customers, and it was a big part of it, the presence that we put out to the world, our social presence and our website presence of the book, and then our presence with our customers. We would never have been able to get to that point without content, so we’ve been able to charge more. We’ve been able to charge what we’re worth. We’ve been able to work with clients that we would never have been able to work with. We’ve been able to fire clients as a result of content, you know, getting rid of clients that are bad for us. It’s done huge amounts for us, and ultimately it’s given us the accolades that everybody likes to have. Yeah.

Chris:
Well, that’s so, so cool. I love it. You’re making such … This last year or so, it just seems to be such incredible progress. But I know it’s difficult for someone that’s listening to a 25-minute podcast to kind of dig into it, but I know that there’s been so many challenges and struggles along the way, yet we’re still here, still alive, still trying to be better, still trying to make progress. Still saying we’re not good enough yet. We’ve got to do better. It’s just that continuous process, and never giving up, I think, is clear, and your determination to show them something that you’re truly proud of. It’s amazing. I think it’s not just commendable; it’s inspiring. What would you, for those that are listening, what kind of recommendations would you give them for starting on their content marketing journey?

Kenda:
Oh, I think the first thing would probably be to start small. I like to do everything 100%, and so I started with a blog and a video and a podcast. That was a terrible idea. Don’t do that. Just start small. Do something that is achievable but still pushes you out of your comfort zone, to make sure that your goals are really realistic. Start somewhere it’s going to make the biggest impact possible for you. We ended up finding out that our hottest prospects just needed a few little extra pieces of content to push them over the line. That was the content that we started out with, and that’s still our best performing content. If you can start small, then you can start in the most strategic place possible. You’ll start getting a taste for the content, and you’ll be able to push out into other areas.

Chris:
Awesome. To start, I guess, is so good advice. I think a lot of people like you said, Kenda, just jump in with both feet at once. It doesn’t matter what size your company is, right? You’ve got a limited amount of resource, right? You’ve got to hit that. But also I think there’s a key thing there I thought as well, Kenda. If you could go back and just do one thing, no doubt you’d be able to do that one thing way better than you could have done if you were … because you were spreading yourself across multiple platforms with multiple challenges.

Kenda:
I just wasn’t strategic about it. I created a bunch of content I thought people would be interested in, without validating any kind of data at all. I never validated anything, and it was only until we came across Marcus’s book, and then it kind of hit me in the face. I’ve been overcomplicating this massively. I’ve been acting like it’s a big secret to try and figure out exactly what people are interested in when the questions that people are asking is what you should be answering.

Chris:
The answers are right in front of you pretty much.

Kenda:
I was looking for the perfect secret content. This is going to be … It’s not. It’s not that complicated. Just answer the questions people are asking you, yeah.

Chris:
Yeah. The funny thing about Marcus Sheridan’s book is that if you discover it as you have, you went from complex to simple. It makes sense, but see, when people discover something simple, they want to complicate it. That’s funny. We’re wired up so funny, it’s strange.

Chris:
Kenda, it’s been amazing chatting with you. I know you’re a busy, busy lady. You’ve got lots of things going on. It’s been so good spending time with you. Thanks for spending that time with me, and unpacking your journey and documenting it. No doubt we’ll jump back onto the podcast in a few months time, and see where you’re at. We’ll both be able to share something else with the people, but want to make sure that everybody picks up your book. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. If they’ve got any questions, or they want to pick your brain about something, Kenda, where’s the best place for people to do that?

Kenda:
So you can just hit me up on the email or on Twitter. Email is just kenda@automationninjas.com, and then Twitter is just @automationinjas with one n in the middle.

Chris:
Awesome. I will make sure people know where to find you, and they can ask you some questions. Thanks so much for joining me today, Kenda. I really appreciate it, and I’ll speak to you soon.

Kenda:
Pleasure. Thank you for having me.

About Nicola Crawford

Marketing PA at the Content Marketing Academy.
In business, I believe in people first.
Mum to two crazy kids, Alaina and Morgan.
Green belt in Shotokan Karate.
Always learning, always growing.