Episode 129 | Posted on

Content Marketing Like a Boss with Clare McDermott

Productivity tools can save you incredible amounts of time when you find and use the rights ones correctly. From getting you motivated each morning to keeping you organized and on schedule throughout the day, they can save you time and ensure you (and your team) are on track to reach those big goals. With that said, focusing too much on productivity tools ultimately becomes counterproductive. Why not start off with the right tools instead?

Here to help you streamline your productivity procedures is Clare McDermott. She’s a productivity tool junkie, an expert content marketer and chief editor, and a skilled demand generator. She’ll talk about all these topics and more in an accessible conversation that will help anyone become more productive.

In this Episode

  • [01:11] – Clare talks about content marketing and her experience as a chief editor at Chief Content Officer Magazine.
  • [04:06] – When does Clare think that content marketing as a discipline began?
  • [07:20] – Clare digs what demand generation is, and how it differs from content marketing. In response, Stephan shares a quick story to see whether it would fit Clare’s definition of demand generation.
  • [13:02] – Clare responds to Stephan’s example, and Stephan then points out that demand generation was a critical strategy for the growth of his business.
  • [14:26] – We hear more about the differences (or similarities) between demand generation and content marketing.
  • [17:44] – Research shows that students still learn better from print than screens, Clare points out in answer to why the magazine is still in print instead of only digital.
  • [20:15] – How did Clare find the right people to interview for articles?
  • [22:04] – Did it ever work for a thought leader to reach out to Clare directly and pitch themselves as an interview subject?
  • [22:47] – Stephan shares a related story about something he was working on with a client.
  • [25:15] – Clare points out that it’s important to look at what other people are publishing to see if there’s traction to the idea.
  • [27:56] – Rarely is the bio relevant, Clare says, then explains what she means.
  • [30:21] – Clare herself doesn’t generally use HARO, she explains, but knows people who have used it successfully.
  • [30:41] – We hear about how Clare’s tool upgrade has affected both her professional and personal life. She then lists some of the tools that she uses.
  • [35:45] – Clare has used Asana, but is starting to rethink it because it’s sometimes too complicated.
  • [38:03] – Stephan shares his own trusted system for getting things done, which involves using Things (for Mac). Clare then recommends The Emergent Task Planner.
  • [41:22] – Other than the one she has just managed, Clare doesn’t use paper planners.
  • [43:36] – Clare talks about the risk of your productivity tools becoming unproductive and taking up (instead of saving) time.
  • [44:38] – We move from productivity to market research tools, with Clare talking about some of the tools she uses for this purpose.
  • [47:39] – For now, Clare’s team is using Google Docs for their writing.
  • [48:34] – Are there any other tools that Clare wants to mention for other purposes?
  • [51:41] – Clare talks about where listeners can find her to work with her or her new company.


Content marketing is the buzzword. Well at least it has been for the past 5 years. If you want the real skinny on content marketing, you need to talk to the former chief editor of Chief Content Officer Magazine, Clare McDermott. In this episode number 129, we talk with Clare and find out the skinny about content marketing. Clare is the co-founder of Mantis Research, where she helps marketers publish original research which is the most underappreciated content type available to marketers. When she’s not working, she likes going into the woods, clearing her mind with a long hike. Clare, it’s great to have you on the show.

Hi Stephan, great to be here.

Let’s start with content marketing. You headed up a very awesome magazine, the Chief Content Officer for nearly eight years. Tell us about content marketing and how that relates to what you are up to as the Chief Editor.

You’re right, it was almost eight years and it seems amazing to think of how much the field has changed over those eight years. I was invited by Joe Pulizzi years ago when he had just launched CMI to edit the print magazine, Chief Content Officer magazine. At that time we were really teaching marketers what it was, what content marketing was. As it evolved, we took on more and more sophisticated topics and talking to more executive audience. For CMI, the magazine was important because it was really focused on the executive audience and what those people cared about, what challenges they faced. It was less in the weeds of how to do SEO or social media and more of what a leader might care about looking into the future.

What are some of the more sophisticated topics?

Technology is always a huge topic and always of high interest. Virtual reality got a lot of interest, also AI of course. The one that really captured my imagination recently was also really popular, it was how voice search is gonna change SEO and what marketers should be thinking about. Topics like that, we don’t necessarily have all the answers yet but these are the things that advanced marketers need to be thinking about and even if not doing, perhaps experimenting in some small way.

Some of our listeners might not be quite in the same groove as you in terms of content marketing and they might hear those things like VR, AI and voice searching thing. Those are not just content marketing topics, what exactly is content marketing? Are you just taking over SEO and all of these topics that have been around for decades and calling them something new, it’s the same sandwich but it’s got a new name?

Content marketing really is marketing these days, there’s no real practitioner of content marketing that is not understanding just issues affecting marketing in general. I do think that those three subjects that we discussed for someone who is creating content, for someone who’s trying to get attention online with the content, all of those three things are really changing the rules of how they do their work everyday and who’s on the team and what kinds of projects are gonna be successful on which something that perhaps was successful just even a year or two ago is really not gonna work anymore. You’re right, they’re huge topics but definitely of particular interest to content marketing.

Content marketing really is marketing these days, there’s no real practitioner of content marketing that is not understanding just issues affecting marketing in general.

When do you think that content marketing as a thing began, as a term and as a discipline?

Eight years ago, when Joe launched CMI, the term content marketing was just starting to take holes and barely. I think at that time, the more common term was thought leadership. It was left over from the management consulting world from to some degree, financial services. Everyone understood, not everyone but to some extent we understood what thought leadership was. I think once the term content marketing came about, it was a much, much broader term that considered not just the creation of content but all of the science ways in which we attract attention. It was not only about creating the editorial but rather creating the whole infrastructure that would help that editorial be successful.

By the way, I’ve had Joe on the show. Joe Pulizzi, listeners, was the founder of not only the Chief Content Officer magazine and Content Marketing Institute but also Content Marketing World, a fabulous event that I’ve spoken at a number of times. He is currently retired, is that right?

He stepped back from CMI and UBM has taken over CMI. I think that those in your audience who were entrepreneurs might be interested. Joe built that company very successfully. One of the things that I was always really so amazed by was that the core team that he hired in those beginning years really stayed with the company throughout. When I left, I may be wrong on this but I think up until Joe left and there were a number of changes, I don’t think anyone had ever left the company. He had hired a bunch of people and no one had ever chosen to leave of their own accord. I find that a pretty amazing statistic.

That really says something about Joe’s leadership, for sure. Thought leadership was the predecessor to content marketing. It’s funny that the latest edition of The Art of SEO which I co-authored has a chapter that is dedicated to content marketing. It was The Link Building Chapter and then we renamed it The Content Marketing Chapter and made some tweaks to it, expanded the chapter a bit but it was still pretty fundamentally all about link building. This is an important new buzz word. If we’re talking about link building and not about content marketing, some people are gonna think, “Is this really up with the time?” Content marketing is definitely a trending topic that is important for our listeners to wrap their heads around. Let’s keep going on this definition and how it differs from some of the other buzzwords out there. Let’s talk about demand generation, how the heck does content marketing differ from demand generation? Also, what is demand generation?

It’s funny because I have been asked this question before. At different times, I feel like I have greater clarity and at other times I get really modelled about the difference between all these terms. Number one, demand generation is very much a B2B word. That’s important to point out because I think if you said demand generation to someone who’s B2C, I think that they would look at you [00:07:35] because it’s not a term that’s used. To me, demand generation is very much wrapped up with the technologies that make content marketing successful. It’s tied up with marketing automation and the ways how content generates interest at the top of the funnel and how you lead your prospects or customers through the funnel and through that journey of discovering your content, becoming familiar with your brand, gaining trust and all the way to closing a deal. To me it’s very inextricably linked with the technology. To be honest, I think that if you ask 10 people the question, they might answer in 10 different ways.

I think so too. Let me just share a quick story and you tell me if this is something that, by your definition, would fit demand generation or something else. When I owned my previous agency Net Concepts which had started in the 90s, it’s a long time ago. Back in about 2002, 2003 time frame, one of our clients was Kohl’s department stores. It was a frustrating project for several reasons but one of them was that I couldn’t show that what we were optimizing on their site or what we would be optimizing in terms of the SEO would not destroy their brand. They’re very concerned that there are gonna be keywords all over the place, it’s gonna be very text heavy and so forth. Yet I couldn’t show any of these, I had zero access to any of their files on their server. What I did is I used a proxy server to pull their content real time from their server just like a web user would with the browser and then inject SEO, optimize the title and optimized the meta description and add some intro copy with the category pages and changed the URLs to make them more search engine friendly instead of a really long and horrible. All this stuff happened on the fly but it was just for demonstration purposes. After demonstrating that they’re like, “Yeah, we can proceed.” I realized, “Wait a second, I could be doing this in the production environment.” A software, as a service called Gravity Stream was born. I created the first pilot just by playing with it to show a client that we weren’t gonna ruin their site with SEO. Within a few months, I had another client, Northern Tool, who is like, “We’re gonna hit the wall in terms of our code freeze deadline in September because we don’t make changes to our website during the holidays, anything that’s backend type changes.” I’m like, “We’re not gonna be able to update your version of IBM HTTP servers so that we can use these rewrite rules to fix your URL structure in time before your code freeze. Wait a second, your old version of your web server does support proxy based rewrite rules. Let’s actually use the technology that I was playing with for Kohl’s on you and we’ll use in the production environment all winter long and fix all the URLs that are search engine unfriendly without having to do the major invasive surgery to your ecommerce platform.” It worked. Technology was born, a software as a service called Gravity Stream that we could charge on a cost per click basis for SEO which was unheard of, 15 cents a click. You could compare that directly to your paid search spend and say, “On average I’m spending 23 cents per click per paid search and I can get organic search for 15 cents, let’s just buy as much of the organic search through Gravity Stream as we can. Nobody would know that such a thing existed so they couldn’t knock on our door and say, “Do you have something that’s like proxy based, we don’t have to do major invasive surgery to our underlying ecommerce platform or content management system. We just want to have a middleware layer that fixes everything in real time. Do you have something like that?” Nobody would ask that because they couldn’t imagine that existed. We needed demand generation. The way that we did that is we continue to operate as an SEO consultancy, as an agency, but more than half of our revenue came from click revenue from Gravity Stream. Nobody knew that for many, many years that that was our major engine for growth and revenue. We had to keep hanging our shingle out as an agency that could audit your SEO, could do link building strategies and keyword strategy and do all sorts of typical agency type SEO work. That was because they would come to us, though, they would do the regular marketing, get RFPs and they’d say, “We are looking for an SEO firm. It’s probably gonna take a couple years for us to implement because of convoluted systems that we’re on.” I’m like, “We have another way.”

The explanation that you just gave is really a testament to the fact of the complexities of marketing and how difficult it is for CMOs to manage both the art and science of it. It’s amazing.

I would argue that demand generation was critical to our growth as business and it was a strategy to continue to hang our shingle out as an agency, as an SEO firm and not as a technology play and then to put out all of our marketing and advertising that was congruent with that positioning. Was that demand generation or would demand generation be more along the lines of what you’re describing, the marketing automation and top of the funnel content discovery?

I think it’s fair to say that it is. I’ve always been someone that I get stymied by labels because different people call it different things and apply it to different subject areas. I think that what you’re describing is also demand generation.

Back to my original question around demand generation, is it part of content marketing, is content marketing part of demand generation? How do these two differ or are they the same? Holding the fact that demand generation is more B2B utilized and less B2C.

Honestly, yes, there’s a tremendous amount of overlap. I don’t know, what do you think, Stephan?

I think it’s pretty much the same. I’m maybe not as sophisticated as some listeners who their day to day job is all demand generation but I don’t think it’s a useful distinction for folks to say, “We’re demand generation and we’re not content marketing,” or, “We’re content marketing but we don’t really do demand generation.” I think you can benefit by focusing on both buzz words and seeing what trans, technologies, opportunities exist in both.

The interesting thing about having been the magazine editor for eight years is that you are talking to marketers and discussing their challenges. I interviewed probably hundreds of marketers over that period of time but I’m not sitting inside a company and managing the process. It’s almost like I’m a student of all of these things but I’m not an actual practitioner of some of these things that we discuss a lot in the magazine. The interesting thing for me as the magazine editor was to what extent when I spoke to one person versus another, they use terms to talk about things that were dissimilar in some cases. It’s industry by industry, it’s different, B2B, B2C. It’s the relative sophistication of a company and to what extent their using some of the strategies that you were discussing or not. At the end of the day, it’s a bit muddles but I wouldn’t venture to put a stake in the ground and the definition or whether they are one and the same because it just depends on who you’re talking to.

Chief Content Officer magazine, CCO, was solely a print magazine or print and digital? I couldn’t find a lot of the articles that I was reading in CCO magazine, the print version, online.

They actually are for the most print online. It did not exist really in a digital form except that when the article ran the magazine, we often repackaged it to run on the CMI blog. The reason why you perhaps didn’t find it is that as you could imagine the headline, what works in the headline in print is not necessarily what’s gonna work on a blog. The headlines differed enough that sometimes it’s hard to find the article online.

I probably didn’t search hard enough as well. I’m pretty good at searching, I should’ve been able to find that.

Some of the pieces, as you could imagine, for example, of list of technology tools that might work well in print does not work so well as a blog post. Not everything translates over directly so maybe that’s why too.

I was definitely looking for those things that were lists of tools. I don’t wanna type those in all over again just by looking at the print magazine and then I couldn’t find them in the online form. Why print? Because that’s kind of an old school technology for a content marketing juggernauts such as CMI.

Totally old school. It’s funny, I just read an article this past week about a saying that the research shows that students actually learn better from print than screens as far as textbooks though. I’m such a big believer in print that it is a different medium that causes your brain to soak things up differently. I’ve heard other people talk this way too that it’s kind of lean back moment. We wanna run articles in the magazine that are less greedy technical pieces and more sit back and relax and be inspired or be educated but not with extremely complex tactical information. It’s the kind of thing you might read on the train or sitting back in your chair rather than the type of information you consume sitting forward in your chair, looking at your screen. Interviews, those big texture sweeping features about trends and things like that.

Were you primarily the writer of those features and interviews or did you have a whole bevy of content contributors?

We were lucky that a lot of people wanted to write for CMI just to get visibility. Of course there’s always this really shaky balance between wanting to accept from outside contributors but also knowing that people are doing it for a reason and they’re self-interested. I always used to tell contributors, “You cannot make the punch line of your article, this happens to be the service or this happens to be the product that I’m selling.” We did try to hold a very strict line. If you’re an outside contributor, of course you’re gonna be an expert in that field because it’s the area that you’re working in but you really cannot promote your own product or service. We rejected people who couldn’t quite make that transition. There were big feature pieces where we wanted to cover VR or whatever the case might be. A lot of times I did end up writing pieces that I didn’t feel comfortable assigning out.

How did you find the people to interview? Let’s say that it’s an expose on a particular thought leader, let’s say the VR space. How would you find that person to make them the focal point of that article?

After eight years, you start to know a lot of people. I was so lucky that CMI did have a lot of visibility and people wanted to help and they wanted to be involved. I did a lot of just cold outreach too. This is another huge advantage of print magazines, is that when you say, “I wanna run an interview in print for whatever reason.” It’s much more attractive than, “I wanna run your interview on a blog.” For example, Alexis Ohanian from Reddit, that was to say reach out, “We have a print magazine. Can we interview you?” A totally cold relationship but he was willing to be interviewed. We were successful whether through our network of finding the right person or just going out and seeing who is the most talked about person in a given space and just reaching out cold.

It wasn’t that PR firms were pitching you and saying, “You should totally interview our clients. Here is a little bio about him or her.” You’d look at it and say, “This person looks really compelling. I think we will do just that.”

I have to think of the successful PR pitches, there are [00:23:16] small. I got so much PR pitching just because I was on lists. The number that actually were successful were maybe a dozen over eight years because people just, I hate to say it, but the pitches were really bad.

I would’ve guessed that. What about the thought leader reaching out to you directly and pitching themselves as the interview subject. Did that ever work?

Yes. I guess the term I would use would be generous. Sometimes the pitch is, “I’m a really important person and I think you’d learn a lot from me.” Versus the person who reaches out and says, “I’ve recently read X in your magazine. It reminds me of this other topic.” Or someone who’s obviously number one, putting the work and then they’re being generous with their willingness to educate and share information rather than their willingness to put the spotlight on themselves. It’s a very subtle difference but it’s really clear in the pitch of who is wanting to be helpful versus wanting to promote themselves.

I was working with a client on this very thing because they wanted to get into a print newspaper, The Denver Post. They had a new building, they’re a pretty large company that owns Section 8 housing across the country. They were gonna reopen, I guess, a new rehabbed building. That building was really beautiful, it was downtown Denver and they’re gonna reopen it in a few weeks. I’m like, “We can try to get into The Denver Post but it’s gonna be difficult and we have to take a different angle than what you were thinking that you were gonna do and just use a PR firm and all that. Let’s try this angle, I’m gonna find an article that is relevant and recent.” I did find one about the rising cost of apartment rents in Denver and how that’s a problem for people who are not wealthy. I found that article, it was only a couple weeks old. I’m like, “You need to be the one to reach out to this journalist and write something compelling, thought provoking, insightful, as a comment directly to this journalist via email.” He goes to work, he sends it to me after he’s done and I’m like, “Oh no, you’re not sending that.” Thank goodness I told him to send it to me first. I was adamant about that because it would’ve been a disaster, that would’ve gone nowhere. I’m like, “Back to the drawing board. Here’s exactly how we need to do this. It needs to be insightful, it needs to be relevant to the article, it needs to be non-pitchy.”

And short.

And something that really gets the journalist thinking, “Wow, that was a really interesting angle. I wonder if that’s something that we should cover in the future article.” Because they’re not gonna go back and edit an existing article that it ran and print, it’s done, the door is closed on that. You can have something interesting to say. As somebody who’s a CEO or a managing director or whatever of your organization, you can have the credibility to make that insightful observation or have that interesting thought. But then, that’s just a door opener. You don’t make your pitch right in that email.

It’s so important also to just look at what other people are publishing to look at analytics. Sometimes you think you have a great idea and there’s just not a whole lot of traction for the idea online. We interviewed the head of the 9/11 memorial and museum in New York. I remember him saying, “The real key to my success, pitching.” He wanted people talking about the memorial and museum all throughout the year, he didn’t want it to just come up on 9/11. He was trying to make the location relevant all year. What he said to me, it’s so, so important to have relationships with journalist that are outside of my own needs. He said, I write to people all year long just giving tips like, “I saw this, I thought of you.” To just keep that relationship warm and to even be helpful in areas where you yourself may not benefit directly. It’s just to have a one to one relationship with people. Over the years, I did develop one to one relationships with a very small handful of PR people. One in particular, who was just always so helpful, always sending me ideas. We ended up publishing, over the years, I think five or six of their articles from different clients, different ideas that they had but it’s because it was a relationship and I trusted them to deliver really high quality work.

It’s so, so important to have relationships with journalists that are outside of my own needs. Click To Tweet

It is pretty rare but when it does happen, it’s a valuable resource for sure. With those kinds of outreach requests, I get them too because I have these two podcasts, this one, Marketing Speak, and then my other one, Get Yourself Optimized, which is a biohacking, life hacking, productivity, self-help podcast. I get pitches, I get these brain dead pitches that it’s very clear, they’re using a template and they are being insincere saying that they listened to one of my recent episodes. I totally believe that one. Then they go on to give basically a copy and paste of one of their client’s bios. I hate that. They never get any traction with me. There was one PR firm that sent me multiple, high quality interview subjects. I’ve taken so far three of them. They even hooked me up with somebody who is hopefully gonna be on my other show on Get Yourself Optimized who isn’t even a current client of theirs. They’re now a client of a competing PR firm but they were happy to make the introduction which is really cool.

The whole bio, I actually find that rarely is the bio relevant in a sense that it’s an inventory of titles and departments. It’s like, “Put me to sleep.”

You don’t wanna make your pitch too hard, you don’t wanna make it too long of an outreach in that first foire. That’s what we did with the reworked outreach to that Denver Post journalist.

Did it work?

It worked beautifully, not only did he get an article fully about the reopening of this building which is now beautiful and on the same part as more of a luxury building in downtown Denver that it was first Section 8. They had sent the journalist there for the grand reopening ceremony, it was in print as well as online. It was a really great outcome for my client. I would not have predicted that that would’ve happened, that was timing and luck and so forth but it was also the right kind of outreach. After a lot of coaching, we got it right which is really cool. One thing I wanna ask you about in regards to this stuff is HARO, help a reporter out. My inclination on this is not to watch those daily emails like a hock as a marketer or a business owner, an entrepreneur. The best kinds of opportunities are not gonna be in a HARO email. Am I correct in that?

I have to admit, I don’t use HARO but one of our editors of our tech column called Tech Tools, she used it a lot to get recommendations of different tech tools within different categories. She used it really successfully. I personally do not use it.

When she would use it, would she get more than just a list of tools? As a marketer, you’d want to have your company name mentioned, some quote, some sound bite. I’m guessing that didn’t really happen if you’re just looking for a list of tools.

The department that she was sourcing for was a place where we would run a person’s recommendation of a tool that they personally use so it’s not coming from a tech company but rather from a marketer who uses XYZ tool that they’re recommending. A particular month might be dedicated to a social media management and everyone writes in with the tools that they prefer. She used HARO for that and did really nicely. She got great recommendations every month that she used. I sometimes did the work for her when she wasn’t able to do it. I’m a huge fan of G2 Crowd, I don’t know if you use them, they do technology reviews. I got some great material from them as well as just reaching out to my networks, sometimes just sending out little surveys via email asking what tools they use in different categories.

Did you ever go to Product Hunt as well?

No, I’ve never been there.

You gotta check that out.

I will.

That’s a pretty cool site for new interesting tools that solve interesting problems.

I have sometimes a mild amount of mania for tools. I just like trying things out, disposing of them, trying new ones. I’m on the eternal quest for tools.

I know that you wrote something in a recent Chief Content Officer magazine about updating your tool just recently and jokingly called yourself Clare 2.0. Let’s talk about that tool upgrade and how that’s affected your professional and personal life.

I was bordering on mental illness in December because I was leaving CCO and launching a new business with a colleague of mine. As you may know, running a business which we’re both in different cities, managing teams, they are even in different places and the clients not local as well and doing everything online. We wanted to be really intentional about the tools that we chose because some of them align nicely with one another, others do not. I started trying things out in a very systematic way, in a way that was different from the past where I’m just trying things. It was such an interesting exercise because I do feel like I am maybe 20% more efficient than before simply because of the tools that we chose, the way we’re using them, the kind of systems that we put in place alongside the tools both from a personal productivity perspective but as well as a work collaboration perspective.

Let’s go through your suite of tools that you’re using that added that 20%.

I don’t know if I’m gonna remember all of them, some of them may not have even made the list. Airtable, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them.

Yup, I tried them out. Personally I didn’t see that it was worth migrating off with my current systems to switch to Airtable but I did gave it a try. It’s cool.

It’s a nice combo of spreadsheet and database. We use it for the editorial calendar. For that, it’s really, really useful.

Why is it better than a Google Sheet?

I’m a very visual person and there are really nice ways to format columns in a way that differs from Google Sheets in terms of creating tags that you can color code, creating checkboxes. I found that part to be really nice. We also put in files and artwork into individual cells. When a blog post, for example, is getting ready to be published, though I actually stopped putting files because we’re using Drive, but we may stick art files into the records there just to make sure that we know which one we’re using and which one is linked up to it. I have found that super useful, it’s beautiful. That is also important to me, it’s really clean and nice to look at.

How is that better than using Asana which is what I use and my team uses to keep my podcast editorial calendar up to date. We’ll have the headshot of the guest, we’ll have important links to include into the show notes, we’ll have any kind of comments about issues with the audio as I was recording. That all goes into a card format.

We use Asana too. I’m starting to rethink Asana because I feel like sometimes Asana is built for designing a rocket ship. It’s almost too much, do you ever find that?

A bit. There was a learning curve, for sure. When I switched from Trello which is more straightforward, it’s also a card based kanban. It’s a very elegant tool but there were aspects to Asana that Trello didn’t have and we’re like, “Maybe we should switch.” We keep getting feedback from people that we should be using it and we’re not so let’s give it a go. Whenever I look back, it was a painful transition, it definitely was. Asana does have the card process or approach now that Trello has in addition to the original approach that they had of lists and whatever their original structure was. We definitely wanted to switch to the card format. That works for us.

You’re right, Asana, the design is really clean. After you get the hang of it, it is very intuitive. I like Airtable because if you have a group of people contributing, for example, to the blog that are not on your team. It’s so much easier for people to figure out. If you have freelance contributors coming in and out of the process, Asana is much too complicated to bring people into.

There are a lot of these tools out there for project management just like Basecamp.

I’ve tried them all.

I’m sure.

Trello is unattractive to me.

What’s your favorite then?

I’ve really liked Airtable. The tool that we’ve been using a lot more recently is Todoist. It’s a nice replacement for Wunderlist, if people are familiar with that. It’s a little bit simpler and I almost wonder whether we’re gonna get away from Asana just because it’s too complex.

You are using Asana still?

I am but we’re rethinking.

Todoist, I know Mike Vardy, the productivityist is very keen on Todoist. My personal trusted system, I followed GTD, Getting Things Done, is Things for the Mac, it’s by Cultured Code. It syncs seamlessly with all your devices. If you run a Mac—you have to be on a Mac, not a PC—and you have an iPad and you have an iPhone then they’ll all sync together. It’s really an elegant solution and you can have contacts associated with each of your item. You can have next actions and you have projects, you can have areas of focus, you can have someday, maybes. For somebody who’s a geek in the area of GTD, they would love this. You use tags to sign contacts @home, or @office, or @email, or @phone, or @errand and then you can quickly see it or show me out of the 5000 next to actions that I have, show me the 30 that are errands across all your areas of focus, across all your projects. Then you’re not overwhelmed with 5000 things to look at, you’re only looking at the 30 that are relevant to you right there while you’re in your car driving to the hardware store and you could also stop and pick up the groceries as well.

Todoist does that also. There are folders and tags, it does make it more manageable for sure.

You use Todoist, is that for your personal as well as professional life?

I think it may eventually become largely professional as well, so both. It’s probably the one that I feel strongest about, is a paper tool called The Emergent Task Planner. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Dave Seah who makes a whole bunch of print to productivity tools. It’s actually a pad of paper that I buy from Amazon. Every single morning, when I sit down on my desk before I look at anything, I take out the pad and it forces you to think about, realistically, what you can you get done today. To me it’s such an important moment of clarity. To your point, your list is endless and you lose focus on what your priorities are and what you can do realistically. That piece of paper is my daily guide and I check in at the end of the day and see how well I did. It does focus my energies for the day.

That’s the main paper based system that you use then? There are two journals that John Lee Dumas had created. He’s the host of Entrepreneurs on Fire podcast. He’s actually been on my podcast as well, on the show. He has two journals, one is called The Freedom Journal and the other is called The Mastery Journal. I have not yet switched to using them, I bought them, I have them here but they’re not in use yet because I’m so digitally focused. It’s really hard to transition to a paper planner of any sort.

I agree. I don’t use paper planners otherwise. It’s almost like a daily exercise to focus. It doesn’t, in any way, replace my Todoist or any of the other project management tools that I have online.

One thing that I do that Mike Vardy taught me, the productivityist. I’ll include links to all these things in our show notes, by the way listeners. In the episode on my other show, on Get Yourself Optimized, that’s definitely something you’re gonna wanna listen to, the Mike Vardy episode. He talks about the three absolutes that you should do everyday. Maybe sometimes you don’t get those done but most of the time you get all three done and they should not be onerous or impossible to complete in one day. At least one should be super easy like make that phone call you’ve been procrastinating but it’s a five minute call, you can totally fit it in, it’s just that you’ve been procrastinating it. The three absolutes to something that I’ve been incorporating into my morning routine and it’s very powerful.

What are the other two?

It’s just whatever you come up with but don’t make them onerous and huge. I got this two hour thing I gotta do and I got this three hour thing I gotta do and I got this one hour thing I gotta do, no, like a phone call or something short but informal.

On Todoist, I tag things as littles. It’s the five minute thing that you have to get some of those littles done everyday otherwise the list just gets out of control.

Personally, the way I record my three absolutes is I use an online journal/diary called Day One. That also syncs in the Cloud so I can have that available to me on my devices, my iPhone and all that as well as my Mac. That’s where I put my three absolutes. When I was in the habit of also recapping my day doing an evening journaling, I would also put that in the Day One. Do you use that at all?

I don’t, no. It’s funny because as we’re speaking, there’s always that risk of the moment at which your productivity tools becomes so unproductive. There’s this tipping point where it’s like, “Am I making another list simply to avoid getting through things on my list?” I’ve had to put the halt after I published this blog post recently that did get a lot of traffic about the 16 productivity tools. I had so many people reaching out to me, “Try this tool, try that tool.” My message back to them is, “I’m taking a big fat pause from trying anything out because I’ve gotta get work done.” Optimizing productivity is starting to get in the way of my productivity.

Ironic but true. I’ll include a link to that excellent article that you posted to the CMI’s blog and the productivity tools. Let’s move from productivity now to market research tools. What are you using for market research other than Google?

The new company that I’ve launched with Michele Linn who used to be the head of content for CMI is about helping marketers produce original research whether that’d be survey based research or even using public data, owned data to extract insights of some sort to publish to their audiences. The survey tool that we use is SurveyGizmo which is a really great, really robust tool for hosting surveys. We also have an enterprise account with SurveyMonkey but I don’t find myself using that all that much anymore. The tool that I’m trying to teach myself now, that is so unbelievably exciting and yet learning curve is gonna take me a long time is Tableau. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tableau.

I haven’t used it, I’ve heard of it. Tell me more about it.

It’s basically a way to take data and to help you visualize it, it’s just beautiful. Once you load the data and you do it properly, cleaning the data to make it ready for Tableau is time consuming, that’s what I struggle with most. Once you do so, you can just toggle between different ways in visualizing your data and pulling in what are the dimensions that you wanna look at, what you want to compare. It’s a beautiful platform to both visualize but also to publish interactive data visualization so that people can hover over different parts of the graphic and see what is the data that composes it as well as resort what you’ve presented so that they can look at it in their own way. It’s amazing and unbelievably powerful. I’m just still scratching the surface on it.

I’ll include a link to that as well as SurveyGizmo. Do you use Bucket.io at all?

I do not.

Are you familiar with that?

I’m not.

That’s from Ryan Levesque and his Ask Method. That’s something to maybe look into, he’s got a great book on the Ask Method. He’s a very successful internet marketer whose big thing is to ask the right kinds of questions through surveys to bucket people to segment them and send them different messaging, don’t just send the same email newsletter to everybody, for example.

It’s interesting, one of the challenges that we’re having as we launch this business is that we actually don’t do market research even though that’s a place where people’s heads automatically go to but rather helping marketers publish research to get attention. It is just this tremendous opportunity that I do see more companies gravitating to it but it’s still underused by many companies in terms of just getting original insights out there to get attention for their companies.

I think it’s a great opportunity. Are you using a special tool for writing, something like Wrike or Scrivener or you’re just using Microsoft Word or Google Docs?

For now we’re using Google Docs. I use BuzzSumo a lot to do research on analytics and to understand different terms and how people are using them. I don’t use any of the writing assist tools. I’ve never gotten into the habit of it, I have wondered about it but it’s not something that I do currently.

That would include something like Grammarly, I’m sure your grammar is impeccable.

The important thing is that even people who write for a living, it’s really, really important to have an editor. I believe that strongly. I sometimes see bloggers who are tremendous writers but again, it’s always really important to have another set of eyes on your writing.

I sometimes see bloggers who are tremendous writers but again, it’s always really important to have another set of eyes on your writing.

Any other tools that you wanna mention that are important for managing your email list or your LinkedIn connections or anything like that?

I could go on and on. I would say that as far as productivity goes, this isn’t really the answer that you’re expecting but the tool that I find tremendous in terms of my personal productivity is Insight Timer which is a meditation app that I use every morning. Honestly, I think that that makes up a huge amount of my productivity improvements. It’s just getting into the habit of calming the mind before you start working everyday.

While you’re working, do you do something to keep in a focus state? I know that you’re a fan of Focus@Will.

I do use Focus@Will and I really enjoy it. I try to exercise everyday, that’s another big one on my list when I track my productivity. RescueTime is a good tool, you track how you’re doing with productivity and it shows you how you’re using your time on your computer. I find that the big ones for me in terms of focus and productivity are meditation, exercise, and caffeine.

For those listeners who are not familiar with Focus@Will, do you wanna give a super quick explanation of what that is?

Focus@Will, it’s an app where it will play music that is kind of designed to help you get into the zone. You can choose from a lot of different soundtracks. Some of them are more techno type music, others are more nature sounds but I do find that it helps me a lot to put on my headphones and to turn Focus@Will when I really need to crank out something that requires a long amount of concentration.

You can double your pomodoro, go from 25 minutes to an hour and still stay in a focused state as long as you’re listening to the right kind of music, a music that doesn’t knock you out of state but keeps you in state, in a flow state.

I tend to operate on the extremes where sometimes I’m very distracted and other times I can enter that state for hours. I have forgotten to pick up my children from school before because I am so in that zone that I’m lost to the world. It does help me get into that zone, perhaps too well sometimes.

For listeners, if Focus@Will is of interest to you, definitely check out the episode where I interviewed the founder, Will Henshall, on Get Yourself Optimized podcast. If you’re into productivity, you’re gonna love that episode. We’re out of time. Thank you so much, Clare. Can you send our listeners to a website where they can learn more about you and working with you and working with your new company.

Our website is mantisresearch.com. We are still in the launch phase. It will be up, I hope, next week. For now there’s a landing page there but soon to have a full website.

It’ll be up by the time this airs. Definitely, listeners, check that out, mantisresearch.com. Also, of course, check out the show notes, and the checklist of actions to take, and the transcript for this episode all at marketingspeak.com. This is Stephan Spencer, your host, signing off. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. In the meantime, have an awesome week.

Important Links:

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Provide quality content that can bring joy, valuable information and help to my audience.  

☑ Publish articles that are relevant and trending by subscribing to Buzzsumo, a content resource site that identifies articles with the most number of shares online.  

☑ Get myself out there and build connections with other communities. The more I’m exposed to different kinds of events, the more I can share in my content.

☑ Reach out to others through cold calls and emails. Collaborating with and interviewing others brings more depth to my content.

☑ Share useful information and educate others. People will share my content if they can connect with it.

☑ Don’t get overwhelmed with content planning. Plan ahead by creating a content calendar.

☑ Use public opinion and statistics to create in-depth content. Use survey sites like SurveyMonkey to collect this information.

☑ Sign up for a project management app like Airtable, Asana or Trello to stay on top of my tasks and deadlines.

☑ Don’t forget to share my content on my social profiles. Add share buttons on my site to encourage others to promote my content

☑ Make time to meditate and clear my mind to stay inspired. Insight Timer is a good tool for this.

About Clare Mcdermott

Clare is the co-founder of Mantis Research, and former chief editor of Chief Content Officer magazine. At Mantis, Clare helps marketers publish original research (the most under-appreciated content type available to marketers). When not working, she’s likely to be in the woods, clearing her mind with a long hike. Follow Clare @clare_mcd.


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