This edition of People You Should Know features content marketing guru Russell Sparkman. I first came across Russell’s work when I was heavily involved in the world of organ donation for a past client. While doing some research, I discovered an excellent interactive educational site called The Gift of a Lifetime and learned that Russell, with his business partner/brother Kevin Sparkman, was behind the work. I’ve followed Russell closely since as we share a mutual passion for storytelling and content marketing. Russell always manages to have his hands in a number of great projects. Be sure to check out his portfolio and some excellent insights below.

Russell Sparkman - in action.

1. The phrase ” content marketing” often gets thrown around with different meanings but it often boils down to building brand loyalty. Distill down your brief definition of the phrase.

Individuals who I admire for their success often are people who strengthen their relationship bonds by freely sharing their knowledge and showing compassion for those in their (often extensive) networks.

Content marketing is how this same behavior is scaled to the enterprise, non-profit and even governmental agency size. By this, I mean investing in and sharing content as the basis of relationship building and engagement.

But content marketing isn’t just about building human relationships.

In addition to strengthening bonds – i.e. building brand loyalty – with prospects, customers and stakeholders through relevant, compelling, fun and educational content, skillfully produced content marketing fulfills strategic imperatives related to social media and SEO tactics.

2. One could argue that not having a thorough grasp of effective content marketing puts a business or organization of any size at a severe disadvantage when it comes to online engagement. What are three key learning resources you point others to that are just starting to wrap their heads around content marketing?

The most important red flag I raise regarding not thoroughly grasping content marketing is the competitive imperative, the point being that if you’re not leading engagement with prospects and clients through content marketing, more than likely, your competitor is.

Three of the most important resources that I regularly point people to are:

Love is the Killer App, by Tim Sanders
This may sound like an odd choice, but my earlier premise of giving of your knowledge and showing compassion as a recipe for success stems from this book. It’s a philosophy. A mindset. And it matters. Read this book!

Content is King … NOT! Why Content is Gold
It might seem silly to point to just one blog post out there, but I think it’s one of the most important because it makes the crucial case for why budgets need to be allocated to content creation (disclaimer: it is one of my blog posts).

Fundamentally, content is king is a poor analogy that doesn’t truly convey the value proposition of content as a marketing imperative. Off with the head of the analogy, and let’s get more people talking in terms of “content is gold.”

Content Marketing Institute
My preference for content marketing is grounded in a belief that it’s a “bigger tent” than focusing only on social media, or only on inbound marketing, and so on. The Content Marketing Institute provides a vast amount of useful content about content marketing, and is connected to Content Marketing World.

3. Which companies or organizations stand out in your mind that ” get” content marketing and why?

Ironically, a great case study for content marketing success is actually the Content Marketing World event, which premiered in September.

Throughout the event, in the hallways and at the cocktail parties, I overhead many discussions and comments about how amazing it was to get such a turnout of speakers and attendees at a premier event. In Cleveland, no less.

But if you break down the content strategy and output of Joe Pulizzi and his crew, it really provides great insight into what it takes.

In a nutshell: Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett published a book called in Get Content, Get Customers in 2007. This was the starting gun.

Joe began consistently writing blog posts. Since 2007, he’s written over 500 blog posts. How many times has he missed his weekly deadline? Zero.

Since 2007, Joe presented at 200 conferences, and participated in 100 webinars.

Joe supplemented his content creation with content curation when he created the Content Marketing Institute in 2009.

There’s over 90 expert bloggers contributing to the institute’s blog, and there are more than 400 blog posts, to date.

Joe and team has produced six ebooks, four case studies and published more than 100 presentations to Slideshare. Creativity has mattered, and from great design, to “branding” content marketing the color orange, they’ve created a unified experience with their brand.

All of this was done as a “ground game” lead up to the Content Marketing World event. The following they’d built as a result became eager attendees, once promotions for the event began.

4. What’s one big change or paradigm shift that you anticipate happening in the world of content marketing in 2012?

First, there is a shift happening where brands are no longer looking at people as “customers” but truly as “audiences,” much like broadcasters, movie studios and publishers view people as audiences. And audiences want content in the form of resources, and stories, and games, etc.

Therefore, we’re on the cusp of a shift from the kind of “we have to do social media” mentality of the past several years to a “we have to have a content strategy” mindset.

I think that this means more communications strategies will become “social media agnostic,” and content strategy will take on a more central role. Through content strategy work, brands will develop their story first, and then map their content assets to specific channels — social media, mobile, print — in the ways the best serve to tell the brand story.

As this happens, Content Marketing will continue to gain recognition and traction as the approach that best aligns with thinking of people first as “audiences” before, and after, they become customers.

5. You’re the Founder/Executive Director for the Langley Center for New Media which serves as the educational and training arm of your main company, Fusionspark Media Inc. What are you looking forward to most about the Center’s Upcoming 2nd Annual Content Marketing Retreat on Jan. 26-27?

I’m really proud of the Day 1 Speaker Narrative for the 2nd Content Marketing Retreat.

We’ve developed a formula for our Retreats in which Day 1 is treated like a book on the Retreat’s subject matter, in this case the “how to” of content marketing.

From the opening keynote to the last speaker, each speaker represents a “chapter” on the subject in short (15 min.) presentations that are dynamic and to the point. When combined with the wine tasting event that evening in which, due to the fairly small and intimate size of our gatherings, everybody gets to meet everybody, it’s going to be an unprecedented day of learning and networking.

So, I’m personally looking forward to the collective wisdom that’s going to be shared by the smart and talented presenters who come to this having solved or addressed many of content marketing’s challenges.

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

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  3. Scott…great interview. Russell, thanks so much for the kudos. You are really leading the way in this industry and I can’t thank you enough for your support!

  4. You bet Joe, cheers, thanks for stopping by.


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