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Talking Content Marketing – With Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson_talking_content_marketing

Talking Content Marketing gives a warm welcome to Carla Johnson. 

Carla has had my her consultancy, Type A Communications, since 2001 and works with enterprise companies, startups and nonprofits who want to build audiences and differentiate themselves from everyone else in the marketplace. In 2015, she co-authored Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing  with Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute (and also wrote the foreword for The Content Revolution).

Carla is curious. She loves to dig into why things are the way they are, or why people do the things that they do. Carla believes that curiosity is crucial to telling great stories.  

Her curiosity is a good thing because the heart of everything she does is based on storytelling. Carla believe that stories, and the ability to bring them to life through experiences, is how marketers create value for brands outside of the products and services that our companies sell. Carla also believe that infusing those stories across the enterprise and living them is how marketing sparks innovation.

Finally, she believes that creating value and driving innovation needs to be the impetus of every marketer and every marketing organisation.

This provides the framework for our discussion. Lets jump in…. 

Does the new era of marketing (experiences) reward those who can define what they stand for and change a behaviour in others?


Early in my career I worked for architects who designed children’s hospitals and I learned so much about how to design great experiences. Architects look at what emotions they want to create and then reverse engineer from there.

Children feel scared and isolated in hospitals so the designers looked at how they could make patients feel safe, comforted and even add fun and play into the mix. Then they created physical environments that told that story with children as the heroes – from underwater themes to outdoor adventures, each hospital was unique and reflected that organization’s expertise and changed the behaviour of children and their families.

Instead of feeling worried and anxious, people felt engaged, informed and entertained while the children healed. Amazing experiences are based on great stories.

Great stories come from a company knowing what’s truly distinguishing about itself.

You have to dig deep to know what your brand stands for, but it makes everything that comes after that – telling stories and creating rich, meaningful experiences – much easier to do really well.


Can a content driven approach be far stronger when it is embraced by the whole company and not just someone doing the content at a desk on third floor? 

In my opinion, the only way we can make content-driven experiences real is if the entire company understands and embraces the story behind the experience.

By defining what’s truly unique about our companies, as you asked in the previous question, we know what difference our brands makes in the lives of our customers.

Employees want to make a difference and to work for companies that make it a priority. Just working for a bigger bottom line lacks purpose. We see research that says that employees who work for companies that have a strong sense of purpose see greater revenues, but they also see lower employee turnover, higher engagement and greater innovation.

It’s not just a content-driven approach, but a story-driven approach that makes the difference by giving employees an organizational purpose to move forward.


Do you still see one of the biggest challenges for a content approach being companies still happy to self promote and interrupt, rather than becoming the value for others? Is this because this is the way business has been for generations? 

Most marketers are still stuck in the 4 P’s of marketing – product, place, price and promotion. This concept was developed in 1960.

It worked more than 50 years ago because there were so few channels to connect with audiences and there was little competition for attention.

People didn’t see that approach as interrupting their lives. But now that the attention span of a human is less than that of a goldfish, and brands compete with videos of cucumbers scaring cats and music videos with Hollywood budgets, the 4 P’s are no longer relevant, especially in B2B marketing.

As marketers, we have to look at the SAVE model that was developed by Motorola Solutions. Instead of talking about product, we need to pay attention to the solutions we can deliver that solve people’s problems.

Instead of place, our digital world now focuses on access. How can we created a cross-channel experience that looks at the entire customer journey? Instead of price, let’s talk about the value we deliver to customers. And instead of promotion, which we know every audience is tired of, let’s educate people at every touch point in the relationship.



Switching from the 4 P’s to the SAVE model are how we as marketers switch from being brand centered and interrupting people and move into becoming customer centered and put solving problems first.



Where do companies go wrong when looking to embrace a content approach? 

The biggest fail is that we don’t take time to create a content strategy.

Without a strategy, companies don’t know what deserves priority. Without knowing what takes priority, it’s hard to know what to say “yes” to, but more importantly, what to say “no” to.

Marketers get tons of requests for content, but unless we know if or how that fits into a bigger strategy, we’ll stay stuck in order-taking, reactionary roles, instead of becoming a strategic function of the business.

Before we can move into more strategic roles, we have to create content strategies that support the business strategy and move it forward.


I like the ‘Facts are boring. Facts are commodities. Facts are not differentiating’ statement (from Experiences). Do businesses need to step up and entertain an audience and not just ‘do the marketing’? 

Facts have their place, but companies put them front and center because they don’t know how to tell stories that bring context to those facts.

Author Brené Brown puts this perfectly when she says that maybe stories are data with a soul.

Facts don’t have meaning in and of themselves but that what we use as marketing in many cases. It’s the stories we tell that facts support that make facts insightful, and there’s a million fun ways to entertain people with stories.

But “entertain” means different things to different audiences. What entertains an industrial engineer will be very different from what entertains a stay-at-home parent. Before we can entertain audiences, we have to know what matters to them first. So we have step up and tell stories, that’s true. But we also have to step up how well we know our customers.  


Is full impact made (better customers, people who are on side) when you have a passion for what you do and create the experiences around it to a receptive audience? 

Passion is contagious and you can’t help but get caught up in it. I look at Emerson, a $22 billion global industrial manufacturing company based in St. Louis, Missouri. They’re absolutely passionate about solving problems for their customers and that’s a story they’ve told well for over a decade.

One of the problems that the industrial manufacturing industry faces is a scarcity of new talent. Smart graduates don’t see this industry as fun and sexy when they leave college because they compare companies like Emerson to Google, Spotify and Netflix.

Emerson has a passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) so they launched I Love STEM – an experience that centers around their brand story of solving problems and reflects their passion for all things STEM.

It’s why articles that touch on how to light up cancer cells and the future of urban mobility make sense and connects Emerson with a bigger audience that shares their passion for the fun side of science and fuels interest with existing and potential customers, but also a pipeline of potential employees.


IMG_3696Thanks to Carla for stopping by and giving her perspective on the need for businesses to create differentiating experiences. 

Here are some places to find out more from Carla.

The book Experiences (highly recommend it): click here

Carla on Twitter: click here

Carla’s consultancy: click here

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