A conversation with B2B content marketing extraordinaire, Ann Handley

Televerde is a global sales & marketing solutions company. So, it’s natural that we have our fingers in sales and marketing programs every single day for our B2B clients, helping them acquire new business and accelerate revenue.

While we’re experts in our own right in terms of helping clients with everything from marketing technology to demand generation and integrated teleservices, we like to get a gut check every once in a while from other industry experts. That’s why we have started our blog series, The Human Touch Spotlight.

I’m Ray Kemper, Televerde’s chief marketing officer, and I am really excited to launch this series as a way to hear more from experts on the front lines of how to market and what increases sales in today’s B2B marketplace.

I can’t think of a better way to kick off The Human Touch Spotlight than with an interview with Ann Handley. As a B2B marketer, I know I’ve learned at the hand of Ann. And you probably have, too, either through ClickZ, one of the first sources of digital marketing news and commentary, her excellent MarketingProfs site, a Master’s Class in B2B marketing, or you’ve read her Wall Street Journal best-seller, Everybody Writes.

The first person in the world to have the title Chief Content Officer, Ann’s made a name for herself as a digital marketing and content expert. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ann to hear her thoughts on content marketing, people-power in marketing and even how she manages everything and remains so efficient and productive. Enjoy!


Hi, Ann. Thanks for joining us for the first installation of The Human Touch Spotlight. You’re at the epicenter of content marketing. What’s happening in the content marketing world today that really excites you? What could you do without?

Hmmmm this is a big question. But here goes…

Things I’m excited about:

♦  That quality has finally trumped quantity (we don’t need MORE content, we need BETTER content).

♦   That content marketing is increasingly just… well, marketing.

♦  That the number and capabilities of tools for creating content continue to grow and expand.

♦  That our story is always (and forever will be) at the heart of marketing. Even in our technology-driven, AI, VR, social media world!

Things I could do without:

♦  Claims that that artificial intelligence (AI) will kill all the marketing jobs. AI will change the nature of some marketing jobs, but writers, creatives, artists, storytellers will always have a role to play in marketing. And they are needed now more than ever.

♦  Any headline that purports that “_____ Is Dead.” So I guess you could say the headline “____ Is Dead” is, in fact, dead. 😀


What are your tips for ensuring content is personalized or impactful enough to the end targets?

My first tip is to never think about your prospects or customers as “targets.”The Human Touch Spotlight with Ann Handley - B2B Content Marketing in the Digital Age

I’m teasing you a little bit… but at the same time, too many marketers do think of the audience they are trying to reach as merely “targets.” Words have power. Describing your audience as“targets” is the wrong mindset.

Instead, think of the prospects you are trying to reach as like-minded people you are trying to help. Give them a reason to care. Put your product or service in the context of their lives, not the other way around.

My teenage daughter describes her friend group as her “squad.” Brands should similarly consider their prospects and customers as a kind of squad they can lead.


My first tip is to never think about your prospects or customers as 'targets.' - Ann Handley @marketingprofs Click To Tweet


How do you see the Human Touch element of marketing taking place when digital marketing plays such a large role?

The smartest businesses use data and technology to augment what actual humans are doing: What story they are telling where, how they communicate, and when. Digital tools are great for creating and optimizing, but there’s always a human at the center of the relationship.

So I believe there should always be someone asking: Does this [program, tool, technology] sustain us as a company? Does it sustain our relationships with our customers? Or does it get in the way?

Marketing sits at the intersection of the organization and its customers. So, we need to play that role. Or, rather, our companies need us to.

I don’t think humanity vs. technology is a zero-sum game


You posted something on LinkedIn recently that talked about the value of rewarding productivity, not business. How do you structure your day to be most productive instead of just checking boxes on your to-do list? We’ve seen you talk about the daily do-able list. How do you fit everything you need to get done into those three items?

I do reward my own productivity. And this is going to sound completely, ridiculously simplistic… but I’ll say it anyway: I make a list. In a notebook. With a pen.

Then I get enormous satisfaction when I cross each off. I high-five myself. Not literally. But mentally.

Everything I need to get done doesn’t fit neatly into three items every day. So I don’t try. I determine the three most important things I need to do (or three components of those things), and I do those.

I brainstorm them the night before so my day has some immediate structure. This is an important step because I’m allergic to mornings (and vice-versa), so without that preset structure my day gets completely hijacked by Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or whatever other distraction my morning can conjure up. (See? Mornings hate me right back.)

So I attend to those three things. If I get to No. 4 or 5 on the list… I’m having a productive day. Or the stars are aligning. Or the extra cup of coffee is really paying off. If I don’t… I don’t sweat it. I just move No. 4 to the top spot the next day. (Or sometimes I don’t, because I decide I can let it go.)

As a marketing leader, how do you keep your team focused, and how do you keep yourself from having to review/manage every project? 

I hire good people who don’t need to be checked and cross-checked at every moment. The MarketingProfs staff is truly Marketing’s version of a Navy Seal Team.

I travel a lot, as you know. So I literally cannot be reviewing/managing everything without seriously gumming things up. But when it’s important—when I do need to review or weigh in—I make sure I am available, and our staff knows to hound me when it’s necessary.

Last week in Finland I was answering an important internal email at 1 AM local time. I’m telling you that not so you can admire my dedication, but to underscore the point that “available” for modern leaders often means you’re weighing in in the middle of the night, Helsinki-time.

How do you manage marketing processes without an over-investment in software? What does that tightrope balance look like to you? keep your team focused, and how do you keep yourself from having to review/manage every project? 

If I had a great answer for this, I’d box it up and drive across the country, selling the secret out of the trunk of my car.

My philosophy toward marketing technology is pretty much identical to my philosophy toward my own personal tech use. I tend to hesitate before making an investment—to see how the market shakes out. In other words, I’m not an early-early adopter: I suppose I’m what you’d call a late-season early adopter! (LOL)


Come back for more interviews on The Human Touch Spotlight. Also, we’d love to hear who you’d like us to interview next. Email me with your suggestions!

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