Today I interview David Meerman Scott, who gives us insight on why we all have to be content creators and actually listen to our audience before we take action. I hope you have enjoyed this interview series and feel free to leave a comment or email me if you are interested in a particular personal brand that you want me to interview.

David Meerman Scott is an award-winning online thought leadership strategist. He is the best seller author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR and has just released another book called Tuned In. He is the king of publishing content, with hundreds of articles, videos and training seminars behind him. He is one of the top marketing bloggers and a Twitter user. The marketing programs he has developed are responsible for selling over one billion dollars in products and services worldwide. He has presented at industry conferences and events in more than twenty countries on four continents.

David, you give away a lot of free “goodies” on your website, such as eBooks, blog entries and case studies. What is the purpose of this? How does “free” translate into new business opportunities?

It comes down to goals. The goal with giving things away is to spread ideas as far and wide as possible. All my online content is totally free with no registration. And yes, I recommend to people in my speeches and seminars that everyone consider making their content totally free with no registration required.

The other way to offer content is to make people pay or make people fill out a form. The goals here are different – to earn revenue or to build a list.

However, the number of people who download free content is many times more than people who will fill out a form. My evidence is 50 to 1 ratio. A company I know called MailerMailer says its 20 to 1.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that bloggers are MUCH more likely to blog about a free ebook or other free content than something that requires a registration.

Once people consume some valuable free content, they know what to do. You don’t have to coerce them to contact you. If they like what the see, they will reach out and WANT to do business with you and your organization.

I just read Debbie Weil’s interview with you about your career and enjoyed it. Can you tell my readers how you progressed from your early days as a writer, to a best-selling author and now the co-author of “Tuned In”?

I didn’t plan on becoming an online thought leadership and viral marketing strategist on purpose. I came upon it accidentally.

At the height of the dot-com boom, I was vice president of marketing at NewsEdge Corporation, a NASDAQ-traded online news distributor with $70 million in revenue. My multi-million dollar marketing budget included tens of thousands of dollars a month for a public relations agency, hundreds of thousands a year for print advertising and glossy collateral materials, and expensive participation at a dozen trade shows a year. My team put these things on our marketing to-do list, worked like hell to execute, and paid the big bucks because, well, that’s what one did as marketing and PR people. These efforts made us feel good because we were doing something but the programs were not producing significant, measurable results.


At the same time, drawing on publishing experience I had gained in my prior position as Asia marketing director for the online division of Knight-Ridder, at the time one of the largest newspaper companies in the world, I quietly created content-based, “thought leadership” marketing and PR programs on the Web.

Against the advice of the PR agency professionals we had on retainer (who insisted that news releases were only for journalists), we wrote and sent dozens of releases ourselves. Each time we sent a release, it appeared on dozens of online services such as Yahoo!, resulting in hundreds of sales leads.

Even though our advertising agency told us not to put the valuable information “somewhere where competitors could steal it,” we created a monthly thought leadership newsletter, with articles about the exploding world of digital news. We made it freely available on the home page of our Web site because it generated interest from qualified buyers.

Way back in the 1990s when Web marketing and PR was in its infancy, I ignored the old rules, drawing instead on my experience working at publishing companies, and created thought leadership strategies to reach buyers directly on the Web.

Guess what? The homegrown, do-it-yourself programs we created at virtually no cost consistently generated more interest from qualified buyers than the big bucks programs that the “professionals” were running for us—and resulted in millions of dollars in sales. People we never heard of were finding us through search engines.

Wow. I had stumbled on a better way to reach buyers.

In 2001, NewsEdge was told to information giant Thomson Corporation and in 2002 I was given my walking papers. Instead of taking another corporate gig, I started writing books, giving speeches, running seminars, and giving away content on my new blog.

What have you learned from speaking to various audiences about social media and marketing? What challenges are they facing and how can they capitalize by using your strategies?

I deliver about 50 keynotes a year and run about 20 full day seminars a year. The most common questionh (and sometimes argument) I get is about the value of online marketing and especially the “Return on Investment” (ROI) of social media marketing.

Many people cite a bunch of polls and research reports that ask people questions such as “Do you read blogs?” or “Do you use social media?” or “Do you go to video sharing sites?” Often the resulting data show rather small use compared to those who, say, use search engines or email.

From the perspective of the value of social media in an organization’s overall marketing and PR efforts, this data is misleading and dangerous. Why? Because the data is used by social-media-resistant executives to justify sticking exclusively to the methods that worked decades ago like image advertising, direct mail, and the yellow pages. I frequently hear CEOs, CFOs, and VPs of marketing say things like: “See, social media is not important, so we won’t do it here. It is a waste of time.” Other people say: “I don’t read blogs, so how important are they?”

This data misses two tremendously important points for marketing and PR people to understand:

1) When asked “do you read blogs?” or “do you use social media?” many people answer “no”. However, practically everyone uses Google and other search engines regularly and the search results frequently include blog posts or YouTube videos or other social media content high in the search results. So even though people may report “no” when asked if they use social media, nearly everyone has been to a blog or other social media content through search.

IMPORTANT: Many people who reach blogs via search don’t even know they are on a blog!

2) When people who are not regular users of social media ask their network for advice, they often do it via email. Frequently the answer that comes back includes URLs to companies and products. And those links from friends, colleagues of family members often include blog posts. Frequently people ask their friends questions like: “What’s the best baby stroller to buy?” The answer may include a link to a blog post or a site with an embedded video. Again, the person asking for advice probably didn’t even know they were on a blog or used a video-sharing site.

Use social media data with caution. Don’t let your bosses diminish the hidden value of social media as search engine fodder and as a valuable type of information that people share with their network.

In “Tuned In” what are some methods to find out about your audience, what’s important to them and how to build a business to become the solution? What has been your main personal branding strategy from day 1? What does your future hold?

Simple. To find out about your potential customers, you must listen to them. Don’t just make stuff up. Don’t focus on your own egocentric view of the world. Don’t speak to people in your own gobbledygook, or your own jargon, or your view of your company through inane “mission statements.” Instead speak to your buyers using their language.

I use the strategies we outline in Tuned In. My audience tells me what direction to take my writing and speaking. Now I am working on a new book about viral marketing which is a terribly misunderstood topic. My new book, coming in March 2009 will be called World Wide Rave: Creating triggers that get millions of people to spread your ideas and share your stories.

In “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” what are the top 3 strategies a business or personal should use to get started today? How has the landscape changed from 10 years ago? What is the significance in speaking with your customers directly?

A) All marketers need to realize that nobody cares about you, your company, or your products and services. Instead marketers need to know that people care about themselves and their own problems. You need to focus on your buyers, not your own ego.

B) You need to forget everything you know about marketing in an offline world. Marketing on the web is not about you and your products.

We’ve been liberated!

Before the Web came along, there were only two ways to get noticed: buy expensive advertising or beg the mainstream media to tell your story for you. Now we have a better option: publishing interesting content on the Web that your buyers want to consume. The tools of the marketing and PR trade have changed.

C) The skills that worked offline to help you buy or beg your way in are the skills of interruption and coercion. Success online comes from thinking like a journalist and a thought leader.