Season 2, Episode 9: Connecting Through Content
On this episode of Outsmart, Nicole and Rex chat with their last guest of 2022, Mark Tay, who leads content marketing in the APAC region at TEAM LEWIS.
In the episode we explore:
- Creating an adaptable, but structured framework for content creation
- The importance of research and planning in a content strategy
- Bringing empathy into your content, from ideation and creation to execution and distribution
Mark: So, I don’t think you need to be emotional to be a good content person. I think to be a good content person, you probably need to be empathetic. It’s more than emotional. You need to be able to feel to some degree and understand what your audience is looking for while still being clear about who it is you are representing. So that’s a little bit more on the empathy side of things. I think the emotional side is really more about, how emotional you are probably decides how you are going to be able to kind of really find that little spark that unlocks a little bit of the part of the audience’s mind that they didn’t realize they really wanted to unlock.
Rex: Welcome back to another episode of the Outsmart Podcast with TEAM LEWIS. We are your hosts, Rex Petrill and Nicole Allen. And today we are joined from across the globe from Singapore, our head of APAC Content Marketing, Mark Tay. Mark, thank you for joining us at what, 11:00 p.m. your time. How are you?
Mark: I’m doing okay. Thanks very much for having me.
Nicole: Mark, so glad that you’re able to join us. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Mark: Yeah, I joined TEAM LEWIS maybe about two years ago, just about that. Before that I was working in a brand studio, which was the content marketing arm of Media Corp, which is one of the larger media houses in Singapore. We were doing like transmedia content marketing campaigns across TV, radio, print, digital, out of home, everything like that, which is kind of fun, kind of big, made us realize how much more potential there was when it came to the market.
Before that, I primarily worked in editorial teams in more like publications like Esquire, August Man, that’s the one from Singapore, as well as the Rake sort of fashionable thing. And for a while I was a photographer because I thought I could take photos. And the reason why I stopped was because I realized I couldn’t.
Rex: Well, you’re very self-aware. That’s very important. So, fashion and photography to content marketing, it does seem that there’s connected tissue there.
Mark: Yeah, to some degree, you’d imagine so, sometimes it’s really about understanding. I mean, one of the things in fashion that we really believe sorry, I’m not like I’m a massive fashionista if anybody can see how I dress nowadays.
Nicole: Mark is wearing a plain gray shirt, everyone.
Mark: Yeah, I’m wearing a plain gray shirt that I just checked before we started recording, and I’m not really sure where this is from. I just pulled it out from the closet. Is there that one thing is that one thing you have in your closet? I don’t know where it’s from, but it’s so comfy. So, one of the things you learn is that there are rules. Right. But the thing is you need to know the rules, not because you want to follow them, but because you need to know the rules, so you know how to break them. And that’s kind of similar to a lot of styles of what we work with when it comes to a lot of the different kind of executions that we look at because that’s really what you’re trying to do. It’s not just about following through. It’s about not just following the rules, but it’s really just about knowing how to figure out the best ways to innovatively, like kind of bend them
Nicole: Speaking of breaking the rules, I was at this seminar last night for my kids school, and a woman was speaking who focuses on cognitive development and just the world around us and how to raise humans who will be able to function in an environment that we know nothing about. And what she was talking about was that for our grandparents, the rate at which knowledge doubled was every 100 years. So, you think about that line of innovation and it’s relatively flat, which also explains why my grandmother is so averse to any sort of change. And then today, in today’s world, the rate at which knowledge doubles and someone will fact check me and tell me I’m wrong. But this is what she said. So, it’s not me, it’s her. The rate at which knowledge doubles is every 13 hours.
Nicole: So, knowledge is quadrupling every day for our kids, in our kids’ lives. And so, she was just talking about the importance of kind of moving away from linear education models and checking boxes and raising humans who are able to be adaptable because we have no idea what environment they’re going to be in. And that rate of, again, knowledge doubling is quadrupling every single day, right? So, knowledge is increasing at such a rapid pace. So, anyway, when you’re talking about breaking rules, it got me thinking about that conversation last night.
Mark: Well, that’s a really good point because once when I was with the publications before, one of the things you do when you’re trying to put together your content calendar, you’re trying to put together your entire years’ worth of topics. You plan everything out, right? Especially if you’re going to launch. So, I had a chance to actually launch a couple of publications before wait, wait, sorry, let’s not oversell this. I launched one publication that failed, but essentially, I had a chance to launch a publication. And you plan a lot. You plan and really tons of research goes into it, like Googling. And you also do a lot of prep to build up that content bank. And you do all of this to make sure that you actually can kind of have it all ready so that when the rollout happens, you push it out with as much gusto as you can.
But then I spoke to someone, which this is, by the way, how many years ago would this be? I would say maybe 15 years ago. And this is a time when I think there are people just starting to become content creators on YouTube. And a friend of mine who was a content creator at YouTube, she was just starting out and I was thinking, oh, we should kind of consider doing that for the publication as well. We should try and do like a channel, et cetera, et cetera. And it took very long because we couldn’t figure out what we were trying to do. And the one thing that she said was like the thing about new content creation is you just got to do it. You can’t wait for the plan and everything because it’s not going to work that way. You got to go, you got to do it. You got to just put it out there, see what happens, follow what response and go with that. So, it’s really a very different style of how you would want to roll out a certain bit of content as well, and how you want to roll out a different kind of content plan. So, it’s a very different style nowadays, especially because things move so quickly.
Mark: You’re going to need to adapt quite a fair bit and you’re going to need to just trust. And you’re going to hear me say this a lot — you’re going to just trust that you’re going to get there as long as you’ve done whatever you can in terms of backing up what you’re supposed to do when it comes to the plan, when it comes to the insights that you’re getting, when it comes to the research that you have. At a certain point, you’re just going to have to let the universe or the interwebs kind of just tell you, this is where we need to go, and then go that way. It’s a lot of trust. It’s not like, oh yeah, this is definitely going to work. No one can ever say that.
Nicole: Well, and it sounds like really, I mean, you talk about rules, I talk about knowledge doubling. Now there really are no rules because the environment is changing so rapidly. But you talked about research, and I think that having as long as yes, trust it. But there’s got to be a framework in place, right?
Nicole: So, like, sure, you might not have a perfectly planned content calendar for the next year because you don’t know what is going to happen, right? What moments in time are going to pop up to capitalize on or what creative juices flow through your brain? But you’ve got to have that framework.
Nicole: Talk a little bit about what all that entails.
Mark: Yeah, correct. I mean, I totally agree with you. There has to be some sort of framework. But can you imagine someone who’s planning a content plan on November of 2019 for something? They’re like, oh, we’re going to do this fantastic thing for our new restaurant because next year is going to be awesome. Oh yeah. Cool.
Rex: *record scratch noise*
Mark: Obviously, we don’t hope for anything so drastic to happen around the world, but there needs to be some adaptability. Which is actually why, when you’re putting together the framework, one of the things that we recently kind of where we’re working on when it comes to Singapore is this concept of making sure that we can keep the core content insights very close to home. A lot of times people that come up with content, we recently had a presentation called Spark, for the APAC side. And one of the things I presented on was a little bit more about how many people just think about the different channels, the different tactics, how we’re going to be pushing it out, which is good. You need to do that. Of course. You can’t just go in and freaking cowboy that thing out, right? You need to have a plan. But the thing is, many times they don’t think about what is that content that they’re going to be putting out, what is that core? Not so much about creativity because that’s also another aspect of how we roll it out, but more like, what are they going to be the key insights that you’re going to be tapping on? What are going to be the core content pillars that are going to be basically supporting this entire strategy and tactics, so people don’t think too much about that.
A lot of times we did a bit of research and realized, and I can pull out data because I actually have it in front of me. Man, sounds so good. Like I’m a pro. 1 second. So actually, we realized that – do you want me to actually do this the insights part? Because I can.
Mark: This is the first time I’ve had data in front of me that’s written that I can see because I have horrible eyesight too. So, one of the things is, this is from Gartner. Essentially only 12% of marketers believe their content marketing program targets the right audience with relevant and persuasive content. And the one important thing here is 48% of marketers recognize they do not allocate sufficient budget to creating that content, to actually thinking and planning for that content. A lot of the money is spent really about the outside push, which I get, I understand, because to some degree that quantifiable. If I can actually push more, I will probably, you know, we can talk about engagement rates, we can talk about pickup, yes, but essentially the more I push into it, the better it’s going to turn out.
But one of the things and sorry, I might be rambling here, but one of the things that a friend of mine used to say. He says it now still, he’s in construction, so he really works on the ground, literally building up parts of Singapore. And one of the things that he says is a line that people say in construction, which is, if money can solve the problem, there is no problem. Which I was like, okay, it’s true. But the truth is, yes, you can throw money at a problem, but if you want to do that, throw money at the right problem, find that right problem to throw your money at, so you know exactly how it’s going to really affect.
So, yes, of course, tactics channels important, no doubt. But let’s just try and also make sure you’ve spent enough time and money on how you’re actually creating the content from the core bit. Which then creates that framework to what you’re looking for for the rest of the foreseeable future. How are you going to be planning out your schedule?
Rex: I mean, it filters through the entirety of your organization. Like, you’ll get instantaneous feedback if this messaging isn’t working. Maybe.
Mark: Yeah, you do, definitely. You have to kind of just know that that’s what your core is, and then push it out, and then from there, see what the feedback comes, see what feedback you receive. Tweak, readjust, move. It’s like rinse and repeat kind of thing. But it’s, in a sense, rinse, slightly, dye it a different color. Push it out there, try it again. Slightly alter this part. Push it out, try it again. It’s about tweaking in that way, the need to tweak is very important.
Rex: Speaking of making these, you’ve talked about Singapore construction examples, but let’s talk about Singapore and the APAC region and content marketing. It’s so complex. I mean, you and I, Nicole, we’ve had conversations, we talked in London about some of this stuff and just oh, my gosh, just how much diversity there is, even within single countries, let alone the region. So, it’s incredibly complex, and I think from a lot of our clients, US-centric perspectives, it’s just like, well, here’s a core piece of content. Just translate it. It’ll be fine. Yeah. You don’t love that, I’m sure.
Mark: I mean, no, of course I don’t, because it’s a bit of a waste, I feel, especially if, like, translating it. Okay, glad you did that. But it’s just that’s really quite base level because there are a lot of references, there’s a lot of nuance you’re right. In individual countries as well, in different seasons, in different periods of time. And yeah, the APAC region is made up of many, many different many, many different kind of different cultures, different countries, different languages, and it’s going to be quite difficult to just translate it. We try our best as much as possible to localize it. We really want to try and keep it as close to relatability as possible. One of the things I think I tend to say that’s important when it comes to good content is really about being that like whether it’s insightful and relatable is going to be important because of that research that you need to put in to actually get there. But it’s also got to be kind of authentic as well and also got to be consistent and resident from there. The authenticity is going to be quite important as well.
I think you had Simon, Bilbo, on the call before, and one of the things he mentioned was how a lot of he’s seen possibly some brands or some businesses who try their best to just cater to what the audience wants, just that’s it, right? And then they lose sight of who they are as a brand. And that’s also important to be aware of. Don’t do that. You need to be very authentic to who you are as well and figure out how to find that real connecting block between or a connecting insight or connecting…
Mark: Is that the word tissue? Is that where the term tissue session comes from? I asked several people. Nobody has given me a definitive answer.
Nicole: Wait, what term?
Mark: Tissue session?
Rex: My mind goes to different places.
Nicole: Yes, I think therapy. Right. Like a tissue set, like sobbing.
Rex: My mind goes to ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’, “are those happy tissues? Or sad tissues?”,
Mark: Oh, that’s funny. But yeah, it probably wouldn’t make a very loud resonance. I always believe that there are many different types of tissue sessions, it doesn’t matter anyway. So, what I think is really important is really trying to find, like, being authentic to what the brand is all about and what it really can do, what it says it does and what it actually does. And then finding that connecting tissue, as we eventually decide, connecting tissue to where it’s to the audience that they’re trying to engage with.
I mean, it’s a tough job. I mean, if it wasn’t a tough job, there wouldn’t be roles set up for it. So, it’s a tough one. It’s more than just translation. It’s a bit more about showing them that you actually care, you know that you actually give a crap about them. That’s important. One of the things that we try our best to do is build in and I always say that when you’re creating this content strategy, when you’re creating this and how we’ve kind of structured it, it’s kind of like a sphere when we’re building it out. But essentially, we look at it as when you’re creating your core content strategies, you’re essentially building a space that you want your audience to feel welcome and you want your audience to feel like they want to be there, and they want to actually engage with you.
How do you build that space? How do you build your home so that people want to come in and hang out and that’s kind of like that. But it’s still your home, right? So, you find an authenticity and balance between come to that. Sorry, that was a bit of a roundabout way of saying it, but yeah. So, yes. Don’t just translate.
Nicole: I’m still stuck on tissue session.
Mark: Really? Tissue session apparently is a real thing. I mean, I’ve had two clients asking, oh, should we have a tissue session? And okay, the first time they said it, I went like, what? The second time I’m like, yeah, I know what it is.
Nicole: Well, if it’s clients saying it Rex it’s definitely not Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Rex: Yeah. I know, I know.
Mark: So, you guys have never heard of that term before?
Rex: I just had to Google it. It’s a meeting where the agency shares a number of creative routes with the clients.
Mark: Yeah, it’s apparently the session you have not just before the main pitch to give them. This is the broad stroke ideas we’re going in which direction you’re happy with, this one? Okay, we will flesh this one out and then you go into the proposal with that one. And apparently, I think it’s a bit more of a creative ad term, but I think it’s because it was probably a session where you really literally write it down on the tissue piece of napkins.
Nicole: And then you crumble it and throw it?
Mark: Which one you want? Okay, this one’s gone. This is before the time of post-its. They wrote it on napkins because everybody was pitching at the bar, obviously.
Rex: That’s a good point. Or like the creative who came up with the idea was crying because the client torque to shreds or something.
Mark: True. It’s true. They ripped it to shreds. Yeah, lots of emotions going on. I think you have to be, to some degree, quite emotional to be a creative because it takes a certain kind of mindset and certain type of character to be able to come up with something on a slightly more creative side and feel.
Rex: Do you feel that way? I mean, I think we think about creative and content in the same breath. Do you find that you are an emotional person? And the best content marketers or content creators bring that emotion to their pieces?
Mark: So, I don’t think you need to be emotional to be a good content person. I think to be a good content person, you kind of probably need to be empathetic. It’s more than emotional. You need to kind of be able to feel to some degree and understand what your audience is looking for while still being clear about who it is you are representing. So that’s a little bit more on the empathy side of things. I think emotional side is really more about how emotional you are probably decides how you are going to be able to find that little spark that unlocks a little bit of the part of the audience’s mind that they didn’t realize they really wanted to unlock.
And it’s kind of like Vitamin C, you need some of it, but too much of it doesn’t really make any major difference. I think on creative, though, you definitely the more in tune you are with your emotions, the more like, well, emotional per se. That would probably give you a bit of a give you a bit of an edge, but you still need to practice, you still need to work at it. And am I an emotional person? Well, I was told that I was because I cried about everything when I was growing up and I was told I was very sensitive as I was growing up.
Nicole: See now we just say that’s big feelings.
Mark: Big feelings.
Nicole: There’s nothing wrong with it.
Rex: Yeah, well, yeah, it’s true. It could be big feelings. As a small boy, I had big feelings. Yeah, let’s just go with that. Yeah, I’m going to use that in one of the future presentations. I had big feelings. People, the way I say it, they’re going to assume I’m saying something else. But that’s fine.
Nicole: The point about empathy, though, I think is a really key one. And again, like drawing back to the seminar, I went to my kids school last night when we’re talking about right and left brain thinkers and how important it is to equip kids when they’re young to have the tools to almost lean more right brain.
Nicole: Because left brain is again, so linear. It’s like you hear, you hear someone’s story about growing up in a third world country and not having access to school, and you just say, okay, well, yeah, they grew up in that place, they didn’t have access and that stinks, the end. But if you have someone who has more of that, like relational thinking where they can really start to connect those dots and relate to that person and that human and have that level of empathy, I think that’s what we I mean, honestly, it would be interesting to see like, studying the brains of marketers. Right. Because I think in general, marketers do tend to lead with that more relational thinking and kind of think of like, if this, then that, and how would I feel if I were in that situation. And putting yourself in the shoes of other audiences, which is so easy when you’re in content marketing, especially because you’re thinking about all the different touch points, all the different audiences, where they’re going to consume and how they’re going to feel when they consume it, right. And what mindset they’re going to be in.
Mark: Yeah, totally. But I do think that, first of all, two things. One of them is like, what is this session that you went for yesterday? That is so insightful. That was like, what was this at a school, did you say? Was it?
Nicole: Yeah, my kid goes to a Montessori school and by the way, he is not even two yet. And these are the kinds of conversations that these parents are having, and I’m like, don’t we just like, I don’t know math, man.
Mark: Yeah. I was like, don’t they just go out, play, eat clay or something. So, on the point about staying empathetic yeah. I do agree that that whole being more right brained in the way that we’re thinking about how we’re going to connect with the audience and thinking about how we’re going to how they’re going to make them feel, how are they going to how is this going to really cause them to be more engaged, perhaps? Maybe kind of lean them, or push them, towards a bit of an action that you want them to have, that can be a bit more on the empathetic side of things. But there’s definitely going to be a need for a bit more left brain practicality, because, truthfully, if you just go full right brain, nothing’s going to happen. It’s just going to be like thought and thought and thought and thought and nothing’s going to really be able to execute. Because the longer you think about a possibility, the longer you think about an idea going out, you’re going to have something that’s going to be able to knock it down. There’s going to be definitely a way that it possibly could go wrong.
So, at some point, it’s actually about the balance. Of course, yes, think about how they feel, but let’s just try and figure out how they feel by doing it and then to some degree, and then figuring it out from there. So, I mean, I’ve had to stop myself from overthinking about a lot of things because otherwise it just doesn’t move. And you don’t actually get the real feedback because there’s only so much you can do as an individual, no matter how worldly you are, there’s only so much you can work with. How much data, how much research you have, there’s only so much. it needs to kind of be tested. You need to let it out, you need to let it breathe. Otherwise, it’s just not going to, you know, and then change.
Nicole: All right, well, Mark, again, thank you so much for joining us. It’s almost midnight, your time, so I think Rex and I will free you from our strong grip here on Outsmart, but it’s been such a pleasure having this conversation. And I hear we’re going to get to see you in San Diego for a TEAM LEWIS event in January, so we’re really looking forward to that.
Mark: Totally. Thanks very much for having me on again, and letting me talk about my big feelings, which I’m not sure whether we’ll be cut in or cut out, but we’ll see how that goes. Yes, it’s really nice talking to you guys and looking forward to seeing you guys over there as well.