Creating a Digital Media Strategy (Ben Grynol & Mike Haney)
The Levels blog is not the average company blog. It’s where we post reported and researched articles with the purpose of educating people about metabolic health with no sales pitch attached. So how does that fit into marketing and growth? In this episode, Levels Head of Growth Ben Grynol and Editorial Director Mike Haney talk through digital media strategy for 2022 and how to marry the company’s values with its content.
12:45 – Content for education, not sales
Ben said that Levels blog posts won’t ever have CTAs at the bottom. The goal is education.
We’ll never ever put at the bottom of a blog post like, “By the way, you can get a CGM through Levels.” And I think that’s where there might be some gray area of what it seems like, “What’s the intent of content like this word of content long term?” We won’t do that. We’re not ever going to take the blog posts and repurpose them through a different channel and be like, “By the way… ” Because that doesn’t fall in line with our goal of education. What we would do, like if you talk about marketing as a lens, if we choose to go down the path of paid performance, there are things that we can do. We’re already doing paid placements through podcasts, it’s just they’re still not salesy, they’re just more endorsement driven. We’re paying for endorsements, but it’s not the typical like, “Here’s your big CTA now.” If we go down the path of, there all these things that you can do with paid acquisition, and some of the levers are like, give people referral credits for like in-product promoting user referrals. Those are marketing tactics, it’s just goals should never be like, “Let’s use content to trick people into getting shit they don’t need because that’s just far outside of our values.”
15:54 – Two arms of content
Mike said that there could be a future where there is a second arm of content that is more intentional toward getting people into the Levels ecosystem.
I guess what I imagine more of our future being is, not that we would do that with the blog post, but that there may be another arm of content. Just as there’s an arm of content now, or arm of editorial that writes everyone on content pieces, there can be an arm of editorial that writes pieces that are still reported, still intellectually honest, still based in science, but are much more about like, “Why the average person should wear a CGM, or why it’s really good to get a blood panel today. Why you might want to do that more regularly,” that are just a little bit more geared toward bringing people into our ecosystem, getting them to sign up for our product. Not tricking them, but making a legitimate case for why you might use it. That would be like just a 10-degree shift off of what we do in editorial that’s a little bit more explicitly marketing-ish.
20:04 – Let the content do the talking
Ben said that the Ultimate Guides are very powerful tools of conversion without any marketing tactics added on.
Let’s just use Ultimate Guide. Well, there’s a million Ultimate Guides, The Ultimate Guide to Metabolic Health, because we that’s the piece we’re like, “You’ve got to start here.” And we put money behind that as a campaign to just be like, “Read this article.” The call to action is, “Read this article.” And then the article doesn’t have anything about buying CGMs, it’s just the article. That has merit in itself, because out of every 10 people that visit it, maybe one or two sign up for the email newsletter. Eventually, they convert and they buy their own stuff. It’s they did their homework and they converted themselves. So the approach that we can take is very interesting where we don’t have to go down these typical paths of incentivizing people to do things. We can just create really cool content and let it do the talking.
23:44 – Focus on retainment
Ben said that it makes the most sense to keep generating content and work to retain the engaged customers they have now than to try to acquire a bunch of new ones.
We’ve got a very different operation, you’re just pumping out stuff every single day. Every day, there’s more and more and more being done. It’s like we don’t have an end site, the blog’s never done. It’s kind of like WebMD is never done. We’ll just keep making stuff, because why wouldn’t you? Because it’s good. It’s necessary. That’s a way that I look at it, I just think that we’re just in a very different position where we shouldn’t ever feel the need to go down these paths of marketing stuff to people. I just think we’re doing it wrong if we get into this idea of, and people ask all the time, why aren’t we doing paid acquisitions? A, we’re not in growth mode. B, we have this massive list of people, we’re just going to pay to acquire people when we haven’t even figured out how to retain them? What’s the point of that? Let’s focus on retention. I’d rather keep 100 customers than bring in 1,000 new ones then they all just go away. Or 10,000 you acquire that churn after a month versus 100 or 200 that you can keep long term, way more valuable.
32:31 – Content marketing channel that focuses on the company
Mike said that a separate content marketing channel could include Levels member and team stories.
The best analog we have is the five questions member stories we do today. Those are all stories about people using Levels as a product. We almost never use the word Levels, we don’t ever say like, “And that’s why Levels is great.” People say it and we literally scrub that language out of it. When I started, I was producing pieces that had that and Sam would sent me notes to be like, “Let’s take that out. It feels so salesy,” but things along that vein. You could imagine right now that’s just one little article that we do that gets sprinkled in. I always imagine a future for even the blog where those will fall under some separate channel that’s like Levels content. So they’ll be like, “All the other stuff that we do.” And then there’ll be a channel that’s Levels content. You go there and it might be, not just five question stories, but 10 other kinds of formats that or like Levels Diary is another one we do. The member stories about people using it, that’s one way to go, but it could be stories about, to your point, like JM creating the metabolic health panel or Josh talking about the future of what new things we might come up with, things that are about Levels as opposed to metabolic health? And that’s a content marketing channel in a way.
37:01 – Focus on distribution and engagement
Ben said that other than increasing content production, the areas that have a lot of opportunities for growth are distribution and engagement.
How do I take two blog posts a week and make it five about metabolic health? How do I take one EOC piece every two weeks and make it two per week? How do I do product marketing one per week to start? And then we’re worrying about all the other craps that is off your plate, doing the videos, doing the photos, doing the audio stuff. And then it just becomes this machine in the end. If that makes sense. Right now, we’re just talking about creation. We’ve got so much opportunities in distribution, so doubling down on distribution, how to create derivative assets around those and then get them on the right platforms with the right cuts, the right message. Then there’s the engagement side, which is a huge gap for us. The fact that we operate at the scale we do from an audience standpoint and we individually manage DMs is the most mind-blowing thing, because most companies will do it from an ops perspective because there’s just too much volume.
40:01 – Expand storytelling with video
Mike said that in the near future every blog piece should have a video component.
eventually, there should be recipe videos with every one of our food pieces. Pretty much every piece that we write should probably have a video component. And I don’t mean from a distribution standpoint, I mean just from purely the goal of education. I can increase the effectiveness of the education of that effort, the reporting and everything that went into creating that piece if I have another format to get at some of that storytelling that’s not just the 3,000 words. At least that’s the way I’m thinking about video. So from that perspective, now I could also imagine the videos that get created there, the Austin video is probably a great example, that’s a super useful editorial tool for me. Put on the top of a blog post to give people a short-form education before they dive into the longer thing that’s there.
49:56 – Stick to areas of genius
Ben said that the Levels team will do best if they each stick to their area of genius instead of everyone overlapping on tasks.
Area of genius, just own it, own it. And so because of function, if we were like, “Man brand’s really a marketing thing,” I think we’d just be worse as the company. It’s not existential, obviously, it’s not, but brand is an important part of what we do. For me, I think that’s why people trust us is we have a strong brand, but it’s just in such good hands with Allan. So it’s one of those things where it’s like, “Let’s just keep it there in perpetuity until there’s some reason we can’t keep it there, but please Allan, keep doing that,” because he kills it. And I think that’s where we’re going to get a lot of mileage is figuring out the best way of… Right now we’ve got a strong creation mechanism from a written standpoint and where we’re underserved is the distribution side of things.
1:03:58 – Figure out your best use of resources
Ben said that they should be building a team that becomes a self-sufficient machine and tasks are clearly separated.
It’s not like tomorrow Mercy is distributing things and you’re no longer needing to write captions. That should be our end goal so we can spin that thing up. Now, eventually we build it up to a team, assume there’s like 20 people just doing that thing. That can essentially live under a function of editorial. It doesn’t matter where it lives as much as getting it going so that it’s a self-sufficient machine that you’re like, “Yeah. That thing’s just working. I just have to know that somebody’s overseeing it.” That’s where we need to get to. And I think that’s where the best time of resources will be. One thing about channels, I think when we talk about digital and that’s why wrote digital versus social, because I think we anchor so much on Instagram, we’re talking a lot about Instagram. And what we’re failing to realize as a team is that Instagram is a digital channel and it’s actually a content channel for us. And maybe this is getting a bit semantic, but LinkedIn is a distribution channel for us, Instagram’s a content channel, if that makes sense.
1:15:36 – Bring more eyeballs to editorial
Mike said that he wants to get to the point where 90% of the editorial audience are people who have never heard of Levels and found the blog through search or social.
And I want 90% of editorials audience to be people who have never heard of Levels, who didn’t come in that route. They came in because they were looking for information around how to eat better or be healthier, or somebody forwarded them the thing or they saw a thing on social or whatever it was, referral engines through the newsletter. Because ultimately the goal is more eyeballs, more education, more people will learn things. And so that’s a big part of what I want to focus on in 2022 is like, “All right, we built the machine. We can make stuff, now, how do we get more eyeballs on it?”
Mike Haney (00:00:06):
I think a year ago when I came in and so surprised and delighted by this very unique approach that this company was taking, where they actually wanted to do journalism that wasn’t designed to sell things, which is so rare in this space. I think what I’ve come to understand in the year that I’ve been here, it’s helped me think about more, “All right, we have an editorial machine that is good at making articles that are reported, that are science based, that are fact checked, that are high quality.” Right now, we are choosing to use that entirely for education, focused on this one distribution channel, which is the blog.
Mike Haney (00:00:44):
Then we started experimenting with like, “Well, what if we take that same tool set and we use it to tell stories about how we run this company and the people who are here?” And we put those out through a different channel, which is Medium. And we promote it in different places. The goal there isn’t metabolic health education, it’s that Levels is a super interesting company, doing interesting things, full of interesting people.
Ben Grynol (00:01:03):
I’m Ben Grynol, part of the early startup team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health, and this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is A Whole New Level.
Ben Grynol (00:01:37):
If you’ve listened to the podcast before, you probably know that there are these intros we do, this one might be a longer one, so grab a coffee and buckle up. If you don’t want to listen to it, skip ahead. With these intros, there’s not really an agenda. There aren’t bullet points, there isn’t really a format. It’s more a matter of hitting the button and pressing record. It’s a stream of consciousness, and that’s somewhat the point of these things that really gives a look behind what we do, the way we talk, the way that we interact as a team. And this intro wasn’t really planned.
Ben Grynol (00:02:12):
We had this meeting, this decision meeting, Mike Haney, head of content, and myself. The two of us sat down and we talked through this digital media strategy. Is the thing that we’re undertaking in 2022, putting more diligence behind the way that we execute digital, that’s also referred to as social media, but digital platforms, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, you name it, TikTok, the list goes on, even Pinterest is in there. Well, we have this digital media strategy that was put forth. How do we ramp up distribution across platforms?
Ben Grynol (00:02:47):
And we had the Zoom call, it ended up being two hours, longest meeting I’ve had personally to date with Levels. And the point of it was to work through some of the differences in outlook or maybe areas where we had a different lens on the way that we should execute digital moving forward. It was a bit of a gray area in 2021 where we didn’t really have a DRI, a directly responsible individual, overseeing the full digital stack. We got things done as a team, but cross-functionally, we ended all pitching in, moving things forward across the entire stack, the creation, the engagement, the measurement, the distribution, and even the reporting side of things.
Ben Grynol (00:03:29):
It’s one of those things that when you have teams that everyone pitches in, it starts to become less efficient at one time, because rather than leaning into skill sets, everyone starts being distracted by different parts of work. And the goal is to minimize distraction and to maximize output, let everyone lean into their areas of genius, at least that’s what it’s called in this book that we read for book club, the 15 Principles of Conscious Leadership, zone of genius. I’m not suggesting the in of us have a zone of genius when it comes to digital, what I am suggesting is that there’s a different approach that we can take if we start to put a line in the sand, as far as division of labor and say, “Cool, Haney, you’re responsible for all editorial content, that’s anything written that comes out of the company. You are the foundation of the media that we put out. You create the voice you create the stories.”
Ben Grynol (00:04:22):
And Tony, well Tony’s in charge of multimedia that’s any video, audio, or photo related assets on the creation part of the stack. What does it look like when Stacie Flinner has the lens on creative direction? She sits in between this idea of distribution and creation. Mercy Clemente, well, she can focus on distribution. Matt Flanagan, he’s overseeing everything related to engagement and how we scale that. And Chris Jones, down to measurement, what we can do from an analytics perspective. That’s our outlook moving forward.
Ben Grynol (00:04:51):
Well, it takes a long time to really wrap our head around this idea of, “What does content marketing mean? What does editorial mean? Where’s the overlap and where my there’d be different areas? What’s our lens on it? And why do we not necessarily want to take educational based content and put a CTA, a call to action, at the bottom that says, ‘Get your CGM here’?” It’s not really our vibe. Well, after the conversation was posted in threads for the rest of our team to see, which was totally fine, there was a suggestion. I think it probably came from Sam, Sam Corcos, co-founder and CEO of Levels, that we should distribute this through the podcast feed.
Ben Grynol (00:05:27):
I didn’t have any hesitation to do so, but after listening back, I did have some insecurities personally and subjectively about the way some of the things that were said came across. Things that might seem maybe from a personal that, “Hey, that’s not really the way we want to think, or the way we want to communicate to other people about what we’re doing.” But some of those fell flat. The rest of the team felt that there wasn’t really a need to mask these things. And I’m on the same page that the way we sound internally, the way we talk, the way we communicate, shouldn’t be any different than the way we communicate externally.
Ben Grynol (00:06:04):
And after Josh Clemente had to listen to everything, I was the lone ranger and it was overruled on all these insecurities. And so here we are. This is our outlook on digital media strategy for 2022. It’s Mike Haney and me sitting down and jamming through it. Hope you enjoy it.
Ben Grynol (00:06:29):
It would be good to walk through the digital strategy, talk through next steps, talk through if there are any point where we need clarification or alignment on anything, then we can walk through that. This can be somewhat of a decision meeting to figure out like, “Okay, what do the next steps look like?” Because it’s not like, snap our fingers tomorrow where all of a sudden… If everybody is aligned at, we should start ramping up digital, it’s like the macro this thing, what are the next steps that we have to do to work towards that? And then what are the goals of doing it? So that’s why I was like, “Man, we just got to chat about this thing.”
Mike Haney (00:07:08):
Yeah. And that’s probably a good place to start, is maybe a little bit of the context of it. My impression of this is, and I mentioned this even in my performance review summary I was just doing, that this is an area that I’ve touched and worked on, and I feel like it’s an area that a whole bunch of people have worked on and everybody has little bits that they’re contributing to it. This feels to me like the impetus of this memo and what we’re looking at in 2022 is you essentially taking a little bit more ownership of this overarching space that we call digital media that you’ve outlined here. Is that the fair assessment so that at least the whole space has an owner?
Ben Grynol (00:07:45):
100%. So, as we start to scale, a failure mode is leaving areas gray. So let’s use like an analog, people ops is a good analog. We’re just going to make this up on the spot. Josh does a little bit of people ops and Sam does a little bit of people ops and Miz does a little bit and I do a little bit and you do a little bit and like everyone’s doing a little bit, but then ultimately, no one is a DRI for driving it forward to be like, “Hey, here are the gaps.” We all like fill these mini gaps, but the more the team grows or the more the company grows, the wider the gaps get because we’re not putting proper diligence behind them.
Ben Grynol (00:08:29):
And by failure mode, I mean it’s not anything in particular like, “Oh, we’re all doing it, but we’re not focusing on that.” So the idea with having somebody who is appointed so that it no longer becomes this gray area of like, “Haney does Instagram, and Ben does YouTube, and Tony does LinkedIn,” and we’d go in all these paths and we’re like, “What’s happening? We’re getting so wide.” So by doing that, the idea is to build this out and spin up the wheel, the way that you would describe it, spin up the wheel, build it out as a function, build it out as a competency within a function where it lives long term is less of the concern.
Ben Grynol (00:09:14):
It’s more just like, “Let’s get this thing going so that it’s fully functioning with some diligence, and then we can make it live,” if that makes sense. So I think that’s the context or the goal for this, is to say, “What can we do to make sure that we’re putting fuel on the fire in the right places?” Because it’s so apparent that the more we do it, the more it works it’s. We’re very lucky that it’s a growth lever for us, it’s an organic growth lever for us, all these digital channels. So we’re not having to spend money to push like blog posts out, as an example. We’re not having to promote those, we can find ways to spin them up.
Ben Grynol (00:09:54):
So that’s, I guess, context for why we should focus on this. And then, what do we have to do to actually make that happen? Is the goal, paired with, what are the goals of it?
Mike Haney (00:10:07):
Right. That makes sense. May I ask one other really big picture question that occurred to me? And I went back and reread part of the growth memo, because I think the answer’s in there, but it might just be worth touching on this. I realized that in my notes in here, when I’m talking a lot about this distinction between editorial and marketing, I realized that embedded in that was some assumptions about what marketing looks like and what marketing means, which I think is probably more rooted in my traditional experience of marketing either when I’ve done it in content marketing or just as parts of companies, than what we call growth and what you have outlined in the growth memo about what “marketing” might look for us.
Mike Haney (00:10:50):
So how do you think about this moment post-launch when we have revenue goals? When unlike today, we want to sell stuff or sign members, which will be our revenue generator, or increase revenue per member, if that’s a thing that we ultimately want to do. Do you see traditional marketing tactics in that, or do you see the growth, the drivers of those things being as, and I think this is how I interpreted the growth memo when I went back and looked at it is, it is much less about traditional marketing, ie, sending emails to people asking them to buy stuff or running paid campaigns or that kind of thing, running advertisements in the way that you would, and much more about the organic growth of that, grow the community, grow engagement, grow all the things organically that we’re already doing, but now there’s a buy button when people land here. That makes sense?
Ben Grynol (00:11:43):
Exactly. The goal is, if we step back to say what is our goal of the company that we all agree on? It’s tell people, in your words, Metabolic health is a thing, it matters and you should do something about it.
Mike Haney (00:12:00):
So glad to hear that repeated. I’m glad the mantra is living on.
Ben Grynol (00:12:03):
Oh, I think about it all the time, but our goal is education. And the tone of it can change over time where it’s like, “Yeah, maybe we should have a little bit of a POV on the blog post,” which you’re doing more now where it’s like, don’t Gladwellian it so much. It’s like, “Here’s the two sides make your own decision.” It’s like you’re leaning into like eggs aren’t that bad. Here’s the science, but our POV, and it’s not a heavy persuasion POV, it’s like, eggs aren’t that bad. We’re still taking a bit of the POV, which is still editorial, but it’s not the journalistic editorial that’s like, “I am only going to present two sides of facts and nothing else. I’m going to leave this neutral.”
Ben Grynol (00:12:45):
We’ll never ever put at the bottom of a blog post like, “By the way, you can get a CGM through Levels.” And I think that’s where there might be some gray area of what it seems like, “What’s the intent of content like this word of content long term?” We won’t do that. We’re not ever going to take the blog posts and repurpose them through a different channel and be like, “By the way… ” Because that doesn’t fall in line with our goal of education. What we would do, like if you talk about marketing as a lens, if we choose to go down the path of paid performance, there are things that we can do.
Ben Grynol (00:13:18):
We’re already doing paid placements through podcasts, it’s just they’re still not salesy, they’re just more endorsement driven. We’re paying for endorsements, but it’s not the typical like, “Here’s your big CTA now.” If we go down the path of, there all these things that you can do with acquisition, paid acquisition, and some of the levers are like, give people referral credits for like in-product promoting user referrals. Those are marketing tactics, it’s just goals should never be like, “Let’s use content to trick people into getting shit they don’t need because that’s just far outside of our values.”
Mike Haney (00:13:57):
Yeah. I feel like that’s maybe the one end of the spectrum that’s almost the straw man against it. But as for instance in me, the agency I was at before I came here, we were doing work for a bunch of companies, and we did a bunch of stuff for Ford. And we would write full on journalistic reported pieces, usually about… we did a ton of different topics, but I’d do a piece about mountain biking, and I’d go interview mountain biking teachers or coaches and write a piece that was like four great tips that you need to get started mountain biking, you’ve got to know these things.
Mike Haney (00:14:34):
And the entire piece was, it could have been in bicycling magazine. It was a full on reported, completely independent piece, but it was published on Ford’s website and it was published in the Ranger section of Ford’s website because we were trying to sell Ford Rangers. And at the bottom of the post would be a separate, clearly stylized differently piece that just says like, “Ford Rangers, great for all your outdoor needs. Click here to learn more.” That’s obviously much more salesy than what we’re doing now. We don’t have that component at the bottom of the blog post, but I can imagine a world in which at some point there is a button somewhere on the blog post that goes like, “Click here to learn about Levels membership” Do you know what I mean?
Mike Haney (00:15:20):
I feel there’s a space where the editorial starts to get used. And I’m saying this, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as opposed to the really crappy salesy stuff like, “Do you imagine a word world in which…. ” Either the editorial that we’re creating as part of the editorial department that now lives on the blog lives more adjacent to calls to action back to the product or the membership of Levels as opposed to living in an entirely different media system in which the average user wouldn’t even necessarily know that these two companies are connected, which is the direction it’s headed or one direction it could go, or separately.
Mike Haney (00:15:54):
I guess what I imagine more of our future being is, not that we would do that with the blog post, but that there may be another arm of content, just there’s an arm of content now, or arm of editorial that writes everyone on content pieces, there can be an arm of editorial that writes pieces that are still reported, still intellectually honest, still based in science, but are much more about like, “Why the average person should wear a CGM, or why it’s really good to get a blood panel today. Why you might want to do that more regularly,” that are just a little bit more geared toward bringing people into our ecosystem, getting them to sign up for our product.
Mike Haney (00:16:30):
Not tricking them, but making a legitimate case for why you might use it. That would be like just a 10-degree shift off of what we do in editorial that’s a little bit more explicitly marketing-ish. Does that make sense as a distinction?
Ben Grynol (00:16:44):
Yeah. There are interesting examples and there are all these nuances to it, that’s the thing about marketing. I think you wrote in your comments are like, “What is marketing?” We can go into this philosophical thing. There’s not really a right answer because it depends on the business, the business model, the intent, competition in a marketplace, millions of things we could go into. Masterclass does this where they’ve got pieces of content. Sam had discovered one the other day that was like…He was looking for something about cooking, they had these cooking tips that were written in a blog post. And they’re like, “By the way, we have a course on this exact thing.”
Ben Grynol (00:17:26):
Maybe that’s getting a little bit blog content marketing territory, sure. But the one thing that we have that’s really neat is, we have this suite of creators across multiple stacks, YouTube, podcasters, TikTok influencers, name all these categories, we can go on and on and on. They can’t really do much if we don’t give them the tools. We’re going to just generalize for a section like a second. Austin can do a whole bunch of cool crap, but he can’t really talk about blood panels if there’s not a foundational piece for him to learn about blood panels. So then we create this independent thing, he goes off and he makes some video, and extrapolate him times like N is infinity, content creators across all these channels.
Ben Grynol (00:18:15):
And because we’ve given them the tool, all these people this tool, they’re kind of the marketing and we’re paying them to do these things. So it’s we’re indirectly paying for people to do these things that they put up these links, or like, “By the way, you can go to Levels.” And it’s very arms length as far as this process. So we don’t really need to get into this territory of… And again, it gets back to, because we’re lucky right now that we’ve got a pull product, and by luck, I mean it’s been a lot of hard work to build out editorial so people are like, “And this is a real deal, they’re not trying to trick me.”
Ben Grynol (00:18:50):
Which is luck. We’ve created these conditions that have given us opportunities to work with content creators that are willing to make cool content that do the sales work for us. And so that’s where these marketing dollars go so that we’re not having to do the… There’s not a newsletter that you’re putting in, like some CTA at the bottom you’re like, “BOGO, buy one, get one free.” You don’t do it. So I think it’s back to the conversational marketing. That’s the advantage that we have, is that we can divorce our brains from that being a concept altogether.
Ben Grynol (00:19:24):
We don’t need to even bring it on to the table. It’s never like, “Man, should we do it?” And to the question you asked about, “What do we do when we have revenue goals?” Well, there are so many growth levers we can push on that that’s not. And serendipitously, Tom and JM and I are having a conversation around launch tomorrow like, what are some growth levers we can push on? There’s a long list. That’s not even something that comes up, using content to like trick people. Now, one interesting thing you brought up in the comments, well, what if we wanted to do performance marketing for audience growth? Meaning, we’re not trying to trick anyone around.
Ben Grynol (00:20:04):
Let’s just use Ultimate Guide. Well, there’s a million Ultimate Guides, The Ultimate Guide to Metabolic Health, because we that’s the piece we’re like, “You’ve got to start here.” And we put money behind that as a campaign to just be like, “Read this article.” The call to action is, “Read this article.” And then the article doesn’t have anything about buying CGMs, it’s just the article. That has merit in itself, because out of every 10 people that visit it, maybe one or two sign up for the email newsletter. Eventually, they convert and they buy their own stuff. It’s they did their homework and they converted themselves. So the approach that we can take is very interesting where we don’t have to go down these typical paths of incentivizing people to do things. We can just create really cool content and let it do the talking.
Mike Haney (00:20:58):
Right. Yeah. The Masterclass example’s a good one. I met with the agency pretty early on when I started here in and Sam had connected me to various SEO agencies. And I met with the person who ran the content slash SEO agency that was doing them. And he had these incredible graphs to show For what he’d done for them on the traffic. But that was very much the strategy. It was like, “All right, what are you trying to push? What are you trying to sell? We will work backwards from that, from an SEO lens, to tell you that 42 articles that you need to write, exactly what they need to say, and how long they need to be. We will create those articles for you and we will put them up. And then we will run that through the analytics filter of seeing which ones convert best.”
Mike Haney (00:21:38):
It’s a machine, it’s a content marketing machine. You don’t necessarily see a future in which… Even if we said the blog will always live independent and we will science articles that don’t mention Levels, you don’t see us ever or in the foreseeable future going that path where there’s even parallel content operation that’s churning out content designed to suck in SEO, designed to convert to member buying.
Ben Grynol (00:22:04):
No, because then you start to get on a slippery slope. Now, is there a world where at the bottom of a, let’s just use a blood panel article, let’s use a different example, and it’s not necessarily a strong channel yet, but that’s neither here nor there because we can build anything. You end up doing an EOC piece on like GM launching blood work, somehow. And that becomes the piece. And it’s not like, “And get blood work here.” It’s very literal that people are like, “Oh, I get it, Levels has blood work.” That’s the channel to do stuff like that. Because when you get into the territory of Ultimate Guide to Cholesterol, and it’s great. And then at the bottom of it, the CTA comes through, it’s it still doesn’t have that same lens of independence.
Ben Grynol (00:22:53):
Whereas doing an EOC piece on the steps that JM had to take to launch blood is a very interesting piece of content. And you don’t have to punch people, give them the upper cut to be like, “Here’s the CTA.” People are like, “Yeah, I get it. You have blood work, very clearly. I can see these were the steps you took.” So it’s another avenue to do that. I think the reason Masterclass and some of these companies do this form of persuasion marketing, advertorial, I think is what some people call it, it’s advertising editorial, is because they do it as a place in time hack, not an ongoing initiative. Meaning like, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea, what if we create 100,” I’m making up a number, “100 blog posts, and they’re all going to have this SEO driven initiative, they’re all going to have some CTA at the bottom.”
Ben Grynol (00:23:44):
And then they hire an agency, they pay 500 grand, they get it done. And then it’s never again for another year or two years because they put a bow on it. We’ve got a very different operation, you’re just pumping out stuff every single day. Every day, there’s more and more and more being done. It’s like we don’t have an end site, the blog’s never done. It’s kind of like WebMD is never done. We’ll just keep making stuff, because why wouldn’t you? Because it’s good. It’s necessary. That’s a way that I look at it, I just think that we’re just in a very different position where we shouldn’t ever feel the need to go down these paths of marketing stuff to people.
Ben Grynol (00:24:26):
I just think we’re doing it wrong. If we get into this idea of… And people ask all the time, why aren’t we doing paid acquisitions? A, we’re not in growth mode. B, we have this massive list of people, we’re just going to pay to acquire people when we haven’t even figured out how to retain them? What’s the point of that? Lett’s focus on retention. I’d rather keep 100 customers than bring in 1,000 new ones then they all just go away. Or 10,000. 10,000, you acquire that churn after a month versus 100 or 200 that you can keep long term, way more valuable.
Mike Haney (00:25:02):
Yeah. Well, it’s definitely a helpful perspective, and it’s an interesting question and the thing I’ve been trying to think about. I’m glad that I actually got delayed from writing my content strategy 2.0 memo, which has been in my head for a couple of months until you work through this and we’ve had this conversation, because one of the things that I wanted to work through in that is to start to think about content channels in the future, like, what are the different kinds of content that we make here? What are some of the parameters around them? What is the difference of intent? What does the different intent mean for how we create it, who owns it, all that kind of stuff?
Mike Haney (00:25:37):
Now, you’ve done a lot of that thinking here in this piece, and through this conversation, I think, where I could imagine building out more of a, just for simplicity, say called a marketing focused content arm that would still adhere to Levels’ principles and everything and not be scammy and trickery, but I don’t think that’s necessary even to focus on or to necessarily outline because it sounds that’s not really a path that we want to go down anyway.
Ben Grynol (00:26:05):
Let’s riff on that though. Hypothetically, I don’t think it’s a decision because it’s already made, we all agree on it, but let’s just reiterate that the blog should only ever be this editorial, independent-focused thing, entity.
Mike Haney (00:26:20):
Super little force field around that. That’s going to live over here.
Ben Grynol (00:26:24):
No one could touch that, ever. That’s the way that is. There’s not up for debate. But you had this thought, you’re like, “Man, I was thinking… ” Which user written. You’re like, “I see this value in doing this thing called like everyone on content, and we’re going to tell stories about team members.” We’re like, “Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s spin it up.” And then you have this other lens that like, “I have this lens that I think we can take some of the written stuff from the blog, these concepts, and put a little more of a sales focus on it. Here’s how we get it out.” Because it doesn’t have to do with the force field thing, it’s not everyone on content. It’s just like, “I see there’s need for it, I know Masterclass did it. How do we do it so it doesn’t sound slimy?” And we riff on that.
Ben Grynol (00:27:06):
Maybe there is a world of that. The way that I see digital and I guess the intent of digital is, why not use on-demand food delivery. You’re a cloud kitchen right now, and you’re like, “Yo man, I can make Chinese, I make fried chicken, I make subs.” You just keep saying all these things. I’m like, “Great, keep serving them up. I’m going to build the cars. I’m going to build the delivery drivers. I’m getting the shit out to as many people.” And you’re like, “Okay, do you want more different cuisine types? Do you want more dishes?” I’m like, “Dude, whatever you give me, give it to me. I’m going to get those orders out. I’m getting those orders out the door.”
Ben Grynol (00:27:40):
That way, I see digital where it’s like, you are serving up the food, now I’ve just got to distribute it. I’ve got to just get it out there. I think that’s where, if we separate out strengths and background of experience, no one can do editorial, even remotely close to what you do based on experience, based on relationships, based on all these things. Same thing with press, no one can do it better than you. It’s so deep in your wheelhouse it’s like, “Why would that be up for debate?” And I think that’s where getting into digital, the lens on it is just like… It’s just math in my head, I’m like, “We got to do that, da, da, da. This is how it works. Done.”
Ben Grynol (00:28:20):
And it’s like, I see that as if you’re serving stuff up, we can deliver it out very easily. I think that’s the goal with doing this and then say, “How do we still do it where we’re not trying to ever sell people stuff.” If that makes sense.
Mike Haney (00:28:35):
Yeah. I really that analogy, actually, because I think a year ago, definitely when I wrote that first content memo and I came in and so surprised and delighted by this very unique approach that this company was taking where they actually wanted to do journalism that wasn’t designed to sell things, which is just so rare in this space. That I was much more conscious of throwing up these very hard walls that said, “Okay, that’s great. I run that department.” Some day you’re going to hire ahead of marketing, he can go spin up a content marketing operation, hire some agency, do the Masterclass thing. I don’t care, not my department. I’m happy to weigh in.
Mike Haney (00:29:12):
But that’ll live over here. I’m going to go do this other thing and run my happy little publication. I think what I’ve come to understand in the year that I’ve been here and seeing… because you weren’t even on board then, so when you came on board, then seeing how you think about growth and all the things you were just talking about, how we’re going to do things a little bit differently here, the way this company operates, the experiment frankly, of everyone on content, which has been a super interesting parallel content channel. Again, not anywhere in the initial job description, this was something Sam threw out a couple months in of like, “Hey, we should do a thing.” And it lingered forever. And then finally, it got some legs under it.
Mike Haney (00:29:46):
It’s helped me think about more, exactly what you just described of like, “All right we have an editorial machine that can write articles and that is good at making articles that are reported, that are science based, that at are fact checked, that are high quality. What we can do is generate a high quality… of written content for now.” Let’s leave out the other channels for a minute. That’s the superpower we have. Right now, we are choosing to use that entirely for education focused on this one distribution channel, which is the blog. Then we started experimenting with, “Well, what if we take that same tool set and we use it to tell stories about how we run this company and the people who are here?”
Mike Haney (00:30:25):
And we put those out through a different channel, which is media. And we promote them in different places. And the goal there isn’t metabolic health education, isn’t that metabolic health is a thing, it’s that Levels is a super interesting company doing interesting things full of interesting people. That’s the takeaway from those kinds of pieces, in the same way that metabolic health education ultimately benefits a company selling metabolic health gear or memberships. Companies about how Levels do cool things benefits Levels the company, I think primarily in recruiting or maybe brand or whatever else, but I think probably primarily recruiting, is help me see that.
Mike Haney (00:30:59):
I think there is a world in which we can have other cuisines, if we want to call it that, where we do the same level of high quality production, but to be pushed out in a unique channel or unique corner of a channel with a slightly different intent. It’s still going to be education, might be very close secondary, but the primary is, it’s not just metabolic health education, it’s about a member experience in getting the blood panel. That’s not a piece about why cholesterol matters, that’s a piece about Levels’ product. That can still be done well, it could still be done, to your point, without the really obvious blinking CTA at the bottom. But that’s much more a piece designed to educate people that Levels sells metabolic health panels.
Mike Haney (00:31:44):
And then that can be pushed out, to your point, you figure out what car that goes in to get to whatever destination that most appropriately goes. But we can make that. And so I guess that’s when I say I’ve been thinking about what these different channels might be in. Funnily enough, I actually gave one of the candidates who I just sent an edit test, a technical challenge to this task as one of the components, I have a strategy component. And I said to her, I could see her bridging this gap a little bit and helping us look at… The task I gave her was, “Look at everything that’s out on the blog that we’ve done already and the kinds of stuff that we write, think about how we might, and give 10 story ideas for things we might do that a little bit tilted just 10 degrees towards promoting “Levels” or promoting our product.”
Mike Haney (00:32:31):
And the best analog we have is the five questions member stories we do today. Those are all stories about people using Levels as a product. We almost never use the word Levels, we don’t ever say like, “And that’s why Levels is great.” People say it and we literally scrub that language out of it. When I started, I was producing pieces that had that and Sam would sent me notes to be like, “Let’s take that out. It feels so salesy,” but things along that vein. You could imagine right now that’s just one little article that we do that gets sprinkled in. I always imagine to a future for even the blog where those will fall under some separate channel that’s like Levels content.
Mike Haney (00:33:04):
So they’ll be like, “All the other stuff that we do.” And then there’ll be a channel that’s Levels content. You go there and it might be, not just five question stories, but 10 other kinds of formats that or like Levels diary is another one we do. The member stories about people using it, that’s one way to go, but it could be stories about, to your point, like JM creating the metabolic health panel or Josh talking about the future of what new things we might come up with, things that are about Levels as opposed to metabolic health? And that that’s a content marketing channel in a way. Does that make sense as a-
Ben Grynol (00:33:36):
100%. I think there are a couple of things touch on. One of them that’s interesting is this idea of product marketing, which is talking very literally about the product. And as you said, hey, maybe that lives in some channel someday where we start to stack this stuff up. When I think about this idea of, let’s keep calling it editorial as a category, as a function, Haney’s area. So everything pertaining to writing around that, doing product marketing, typical product marketing, you would say, we’re trying to bring awareness to the product or features and there are a million ways you can create media around that, maybe it’s videos, maybe it’s podcasts, maybe it’s email marketing. There’s all these things.
Ben Grynol (00:34:26):
We don’t need to do all of those things. But what we have the advantage of is you being able to spin up writing operations as this feeder system. And then we can decide if we want to do anything else with that feeder content. So creating a system, if you want to call it that, where it’s like, Haney’s going to categorically… And again, think about it as you’re thinking through content strategy 2.0 where you start to create pillars within the vertical of written with the goal of serving it up. And the serving it up, we can choose, that’s what that table does, is a very high level thing. I think we still should eventually do per platform deeper strategies of things at work, and you’re always iterating on them.
Ben Grynol (00:35:14):
There’s tactics, but like Instagram, hypothetically, you do polls or no polls. We wouldn’t do that on Instagram right now, but you’re feeding it up, and then we can do what we need with those things. So it’s the question of, should we do more videos around Ultimate Guides? Well, that becomes a strategy of editorial cross into multimedia where it’s like, “Hey, multimedia.” And that doesn’t become this departmental division where it’s like, “Well, that’s their thing. They create the… ” It’s just like, “Hey, I was thinking, it’d be pretty beneficial if you guys… I think we should create videos around the Ultimate Guide.”
Ben Grynol (00:35:48):
And then it’s like, “Great. Leave it with us. We’ll go bang some things out.” And then we’re still feeding them back to you, we’re like, “Man, is this telling the story of the ultimate panel?” Because that’s where, from a production standpoint, we can figure out all the nuances. How do we cut the content that’s needed? But from a diligence standpoint, you can be like, “Seeing them sucks. You guys didn’t do right. It’s wrong. Objectively, it’s wrong. It doesn’t meet the mark.” I think that’s the best working… The way of working is if we have multimedia where….
Ben Grynol (00:36:19):
Content is such a loose term, and I think that’s where we’re getting into this gray area of creating a system where it’s like, Haney is creating pillars of writing, pillars of these core foundations for us as a company, EOC, metabolic health vertical, call it product marketing or sort of persuasion marketing, if you want to call it that. And then Tony, ultimately, and we can build out that function alone just from a creation standpoint, can be like, “Sweet, I’m doing photo shoots where advisors are doing photo shoots with members.” He can worry about all the bullshit that’s just like… You can be like, “Man, I need more food photos. You don’t have to worry about that stuff because you’re just figuring out how to go.”
Ben Grynol (00:37:01):
How do I take two blog posts a week and make it five metabolic health? How do I take one EOC piece every two weeks and make it two per week? How do I do product marketing one per week to start? And then we’re worrying about all the other craps that is off your plate, doing the videos, doing the photos, doing the audio stuff. And then it just becomes this machine in the end. If that makes sense. Right now, we’re just talking about creation. We’ve got so much opportunities in distribution, so doubling down on distribution, how to create derivative assets around those and then get them on the right platforms with the right cuts, the right message.
Ben Grynol (00:37:42):
Then there’s the engagement side, which is a huge gap for us. The fact that we operate at the scale we do from an audience standpoint and we individually manage DMs is the most mind blowing thing, because most companies will do it from an ops perspective because there’s just too much volume. And the measurement side of things, it’s just like, we can’t… When I left, we had grown to 68 people in our marketing team from zero. Our digital team alone was 12, and that was around distribution only, only distribution. Campaigns was like six, design was maybe 12, production was 10 or 12, meaning like cinematographers, photographers. You just become like an agency. It’s wild.
Ben Grynol (00:38:33):
You see where it goes and you’re like, “Oh I get it.” That’s how you get to… we grew to 100 million impressions pretty quickly just from putting out so much stuff. It’s wild.
Mike Haney (00:38:45):
Yeah. Well, I think that’s, A, this is really helpful just, I think, conceiving that big picture. I’m getting a little bit better mental model of where, call it editorial, whatever it is I do-
Ben Grynol (00:38:59):
I think we should call it editorial as a function, functionally.
Mike Haney (00:39:02):
Yeah. That probably makes sense. Where things still get, I was going to just to finish that thought. I’m getting a little bit better mental model of where that sits, I think, in relationship to, say, growth, whatever we want to call, whatever you do. So let’s it editorial growth.
Ben Grynol (00:39:16):
Mike Haney (00:39:19):
It’s almost stacked in my brain right now in a way. Again, I like your analogy and I will steal this in my memo of I like make cuisines and then you build cars and get it out. I think those questions around where format is or is not a useful distinction. So I think like long-form written articles, we can just all agree I own. That makes sense, that’s my core competency. But then we get to things on my roadmap to do list just in the sense of the blog as an independent product is at the very least video. So what Austin’s doing now, what Matt Lay’s been doing with his five minute, five question videos, talking about studies, eventually, there should be recipe videos with every one of our food pieces.
Mike Haney (00:40:08):
Pretty much every piece that we write should probably have a video component. And I don’t mean from a distribution standpoint, I mean just from purely the goal of education. I can increase the effectiveness of the education of that effort, the reporting and everything that went into creating that piece if I have another format to get at some of that storytelling that’s not just the 3,000 words, at least that’s the way I’m thinking about video. So from that perspective, now I could also imagine the videos that get created there, the Austin video is probably a great example, that’s a super useful editorial tool for me. Put on the top of a blog post to give people a short form education before they dive into the longer thing that’s there.
Mike Haney (00:40:53):
It’s great for me if that gets pushed out on social, it increases my mission of education or my North Star metric within this department of education. That can go out on any number of growth channels, so could match videos. Any of these videos I’m talking about, recipe content we create could go in the app, it’d be good for members, it could go out on other growth channels. So in this symbiotic world in which is not like there’s a marking department and editorial department, we’re all moving toward the same thing, do you see that as ultimately like a Tony and Tony’s department thing where I go to Tony and go like, ” Tony, we’ve got all this food content, let’s figure out a way in the second half of 2022 to start to do an MVP project around making recipe content for it.” And then Tony the DRI for executing that with me, giving input from an editorial quality bar, whatever standpoint, is that the way you imagine like that effort playing out?
Ben Grynol (00:41:46):
Totally. What it does is it allows us to build a deeper muscle, it allows us to build better volume and velocity. So the goal becomes, we do all these different types of videos, so we’re starting to control that and we can spin them up really quickly, we can think through consistency. And it’s just you’re feeding us a foundation to build upon, if that makes sense. Where it gets inefficient is like, let’s use this as an analogy. Aside from it taking time, let’s assume that time is incremental, because it still is a little bit, but the audio reads of the blog are incremental time. They do take time, but it’s incremental because it’s transactional. So you don’t have to really make…
Ben Grynol (00:42:37):
There’s not any discretion, may be a little subjective of two different people read it and subjectively you’re like, “Ah, I think that voice sounds a little better for that article,” but in general, we’ll just make the assumption. There’s not a lot of discretion that’s involved. Imagine though, here’s where the inefficiency comes in. Imagine you had to record a podcast, not the article, you had to record a podcast about the exact topic, you and a guest. So you had to sit down, create another form of content, you had to book it, you had to think through it and you had to do this on top of this thing. It would just be like, “Well, that’s now an inefficient process. Should I do that?”
Ben Grynol (00:43:18):
Because every minute that I have to do this, then it’s less time I can spend building out the pillars, all these other pillars, because what you’re doing is you’re actually forming a new piece of content around it. Sure, it’s topically the same, and sure, it integrates and it aligns and it gives you more richer content, but it’s actually just a new form of content altogether. So it’s not incremental time. And I think that’s what happens with the idea of video, if somebody else can just take that, it’s very much like, Allan does designs and engineering goes and builds designs. And everyone does work together, but you have to have these buckets because if product like built wireframes and then actually did the design work and did the engineering work, it becomes inefficient at some point where you’re like, “This is getting to be a little Homer Simpson car. We’re all doing different things. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive thing.”
Ben Grynol (00:44:13):
So I think the most efficient thing is to have it so you can keep spinning out more and more and more of this editorial, this written world, and then we can figure out collectively, “Hey, what should we double down on as far as assets go?” Because some of them are going to have like podcasts recorded, not the audio reads of the articles, we’re going to record a podcast about something, let’s riff on this one, the ultimate guide to cholesterol has an article, it has a read of that article, it has a separate podcast about that topic and it actually has video. It’s not a produced video, so it doesn’t really count, but like, “Well, I guess Austin produced a video.” So that’s actually four very separate pieces of content that are all on the same thing.
Ben Grynol (00:45:03):
Imagine if you had to do that over and over. And over again and you are responsible for doing that, that would be less efficient and then just be like, “Hey, I was thinking we should create, we got these ultimate guides. Tony, I’m tapping you, can you go figure out how to make all these 40 videos come together?” And it was like, that was the end of it in the sense of you didn’t have to worry about being a DRI for it, you would just give feedback on them when thinking through. And you’re like, “Yeah man, that one’s good. No changes needed to that one. What he said is right.” And then you can integrate them back into the blogs and we can push them out on different digital platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever platform, a certain video falls within or a piece of audio media.
Ben Grynol (00:45:52):
But I think that’s where we’re going to get the most mileage out of doing this, if that makes sense.
Mike Haney (00:45:58):
No, it does. And it also feels very Levels, to use the terminology of our leadership book, lean into your areas of genius.
Ben Grynol (00:46:07):
Totally. I was thinking-
Mike Haney (00:46:09):
That’s one of my notes from it, it was like, “What are my areas of genius?” And I wrote this my performance review synthesis, which I wrote yesterday, I was like, “I’m going to use this as a moment to just write,” because I’ve been thinking about it like, “What are the three or four things that I actually like doing and want to do and what don’t I want to do?” And the thing I wrote, which back to the beginning of this call, informed, I think, some of my feedback around this is, I said in this, “My fear is that you guys are going to turn me into a marketing executive and I really don’t want to be a marketing executive and then I’m going to have to quit and I don’t want to have to quit.”
Mike Haney (00:46:38):
That is the deep seated fear in me that drives some of my reactivity when these topics come up because of how most places operate. And it was like, just being clear about that and then saying, “And you know what, these are the three or four things I want to do.” Combing YouTube for video creators, I actually don’t even mind doing that. Me taking an hour to go look around YouTube and find people who I think might be aligned with us, which is totally fine. But to your point, then being the DRI who figures out how to interact with those people, give them direction, scope out the video, run the project of working with them to create the videos. It’s like, “I can do that, but hey, we’ve got this guy, Tony. That’s what he does. He’s great at it. He should do that.”
Ben Grynol (00:47:17):
Totally. And then take it a step further. Where it gets even better is Tony and I don’t even need to worry about finding creators because Jackie and Tom they have a cloud kitchen that they’re serving up creators and we’re just the vehicle to deliver that. So you are like, “You guys, 40 ultimate guy videos, let’s do it.” And then we just cap, Jackie and Tom are like, “Hey, what are the top 10 creators to work with? The only criteria it has to be video platform agnostic. So it could be anywhere, we don’t care. They just need to be under two minutes, give us your top 10 graders who you think are going to fit ultimate guides.”
Ben Grynol (00:47:57):
And they give it to us, and then Tony and I spin it up, By Tony I mean basically Tony, I’m trying to build it up so that we can get the machine going. Tony can build up people within a team so that we can just get all these wheels going. I think that’s where we’re just going to get so efficient with distribution because it becomes very clear. And that’s what we need to clean up is the gray areas of just clarity, who’s worked at what time and how do we make it better? And then there isn’t any ambiguity around, is it really good in a month if we produce one podcast or is it bad?
Ben Grynol (00:48:37):
Well, I would call that bad right now because right now I’m responsible for the podcast, but if there was a bunch of us responsible, assume there was like, you, me, Josh, Casey, Sam, we’re all responsible, it’s like, “Well, why didn’t we produce more?” It’s like, “Well, I don’t know. We were all doing it. And we all got busy.” It’s just so much easier to be like, “Hey, let’s push out more educational information.” That’s the way of thinking through it. There’s one thing I was going to say about oh, areas of genius. It’s an interesting part.
Ben Grynol (00:49:13):
Almost finished the book and that’s the part I landed on this morning. I’ve been thinking about this a lot is, typically in the world, the idea of marketing, brand eight times out of 10 falls under marketing. In our case, it’s been leaning more into design in the best possible way. Allan is unbelievable with brand stuff. He’s just so good at it. And I can be happier that he’s taking it on because it’s just in such good hands doing it that way. It’d be in worse hands, even though done lots of rebrands and been through them, get it, just I’m not in even close as good as he is. So it’s way better that he’s doing. Area of genius, just own it, own it.
Ben Grynol (00:50:00):
And so because of function, if we were like, “Man brand’s really a marketing thing,” I think we’d just be worse as the company. It’s not existential, obviously, it’s not, but brand is an important part of what we do for me. I think that’s why people trust us is we have a strong brand, but it’s just in such good hands with Allan. So it’s one of those things where it’s like, “Let’s just keep it there in perpetuity until there’s some reason we can’t keep it there, but please Allan, keep doing that,” because he kills it. And I think that’s where we’re going to get a lot of mileages, figuring out the best way of… Right now we’ve got a strong creation mechanism from a written standpoint and where we’re underserved is the distribution side of things.
Ben Grynol (00:50:48):
I think that’s where it’s essential, we’re just like, we can get so much deeper if we just put fuel on the fire, I really feel.
Mike Haney (00:50:56):
I feel like that was probably my other primary tactical question here, and maybe you had things you wanted to work on as well, was around just to dive into the specific tactical stuff was increasing the cadence of social posts. So if we just look at the process as it happens today, which is essentially every time I write a piece, trying to move this up in the process, but the way it happens today is I write a piece, I go through my publishing process, I click the publish button, it’s on the blog. Then I go back into the Google doc, I write my social post, I write an Instagram thing including the slide copy and caption. I write a Twitter post, I tag Stacy in a comment, caption’s ready for this, and then I don’t touch it again, whatever she does with it, she does with it.
Mike Haney (00:51:40):
So how do you see the actual, when we talk about upping the cadence, A, does that process make sense moving forward? And the way I think about eventually dealing with that process because it’s a time suck for me and I would like it to scale in a way that I don’t think is efficient for me to scale, having it be a component of the editor that I hire or something where it’s just you own the creation of social material from editorial.
Ben Grynol (00:52:07):
Yeah. This is I think where we can gain a ton of scale and momentum. I actually do. And I think this is either completely accurate or totally naïve. There’s only two polars on this one. So I don’t think there’s a middle ground. I think we’re making it harder than it actually is to distill down information from blog posts. Here’s my reason. If the blog posts are written well, which they are, our goal is for an average reader to glean some insight and takeaways. Your goal in putting out editorial content is to not have key values. You’re not going so deep in regressions that somebody’s like “This is, I might as well be reading PubMed right now.”
Ben Grynol (00:53:03):
That’s the academic paper. It’s like you’re trying to make this information accessible so an average reader is like, “Oh, I get it, I don’t sleep a lot, that affects my metabolic health, my glucose levels. Crap, that’s going to affect… ” That’s what you want people to do. So distilling down the information shouldn’t be a regurgitation. The takeaway should be relatively clear. I think we’re making it more difficult because we’re trying to present things with the scientific lens instead of just doing the top takeaways, they are on the blog post, takeaway one, two, three, four. Essentially, Instagram is a single channel.
Ben Grynol (00:53:41):
Those can be the takeaways, they can be, instead of trying to rewrite the information, you pull quotes from the thing, just take the exact quote and there’s no interpretation as far as the accuracy of what’s written. It’s like, “Nope, that’s exactly what was in there.” If we don’t think it should be that, then it shouldn’t be in the editorial post altogether. So I think we were making it more difficult than it needs to be. And a good copywriter, under this idea of multimedia, multimedia would be made up of all the functions, is back to this New York Times analogy. I wrote a mini addendum, a memo in that section about content and editorial or multimedia and editorial, and it’s called Content Marketing Versus Editorial Media.
Ben Grynol (00:54:27):
And there’s a Venn diagram of the overlap, but it says, “As an example, New York Times journalists are incentivized to write great stories. And when they finish the story,” I just made this thing out, “But it holds true,” says the person who’s never worked at The New York Times. So we’ll ask Allan. But when their story is done, when Kara’s story is done, she’s onto her next story. She’s not like, “Okay, what’s Instagram going to look like, I got to write the captions for Twitter.” She’s just like, “Digital team, get this shit out there. I’m making you the meals, serve it up.” She’s not vetting the captions and doing things because her skill set is to tell the whole story. And then the copywriter story is to take the bites and serve them up in these little tidbits to be like, boom, put it out there.
Ben Grynol (00:55:16):
A great copywriter, like the Skip, we had English copywriters alone, four maybe, French two, Italian one. Because we were operating globally, we had copywriters that would just write the captions. It was like a machine of design would create multimedia, call the production content, would create the photo, video, audio assets. We would work with design where if we needed bumpers or needed any after effects over laser independent illustration infographics, they’d create that element. The copywriters would create the copy, campaign would design a campaign that it all came out. Digital would distribute it. It’s like all these ants, these little worker ants working around.
Ben Grynol (00:56:02):
No one was siloed. They were all just working by themselves being like, “I don’t know, I’ll just do what I feel like.” It was everyone knew what part of the process they’re working on. And I think this long winded rant is, I think that we’re making it more difficult than it is. Now, the polar opposite is maybe I’m saying it and I’m totally naïve because I haven’t gone into distill down a blog post, but a great copywriter, I’ve seen it firsthand where they’re so good at it that it becomes a non-issue. I think maybe the issue is I was creating more work in the process.
Mike Haney (00:56:36):
There are other point of input here, I think, I will not be surprised if a random social copy editor or copywriter looks at the 4,000 word ultimate guide to cancer and goes like, “I don’t know, dude, there’s 4,000… ” There’s going to be a spectrum, of course. Like I said, a lot of the stuff we’re doing, I think will be much easier to pull out. I think some of the other stuff or that other task of going through things that are less defined like go out to our advisors books or blog posts or whatever, or look at this new study that came out that we haven’t written an article about yet, but we should do a post on because it’s super interesting, read that study and write a social post based on it.
Mike Haney (00:57:16):
And maybe what we end up in is a world where things that are more complex in that way just do continue to come out of editorial in some function, that the associate editor, maybe that’s just a skillset that the associate editor I bring on has, where that’s the thing she does where I send her and go, “Hey, this study’s really cool, design a piece about it, but let’s not wait for the piece to come out. Why don’t you also bang out an Instagram caption around this and shoot it off to digital so they can post about it because it’s cool.” And she’ll be able to distill that down.
Ben Grynol (00:57:49):
Yeah. I think this is where I think I see it differently is, I think that’s where we’re going to get messy is if there’s, one, I don’t think we should try to create additional content. We already have so much of it. So I don’t think we need to go to metabolical, and there might be edge cases. So let’s assume there are always edge cases, but I don’t think we need to start reading through advisor’s books. We don’t need a content strategy, meaning we’re not reaching for information. We’ve got a surplus of great information that we can repurpose over and over. We could take blog posts from a year ago and put it out again and it’s so fresh. We can do that many, many times. We can take different insights from it. There’s so many things we can do.
Ben Grynol (00:58:38):
I don’t think we need to feel the need just because Ben Bikman is an advisor, and maybe there are great takeaways in why we get sick. But a better thing to do is to have a podcast of Ben Bikman and then create a blog post around that. It’s just a way stronger thing than trying to be like, “And here are great takeaways from metabolical or why we get sick,” Or the podcast that’s going to come out on that when it gets recorded, and the blog post, and there’ll be a video, that’s content it in itself. So it’s like, “We’ll do that.” I think what we want to do is think about just creating the information to begin with, not worrying so much.
Ben Grynol (00:59:18):
There was something I was going to say on Mark. I think the reason they’re telling you like, “Oh, it took a year for this person to train up,” they’re looking at it in a silo manner, meaning, they’re looking at it from their experience. So like, what is Mark Kamen? What is the 90, 10 of Mark Kamen and Drew? Well, a blog post is contained, you take so much time to make something that is three to 4,000 tight words and clear sections and clear takeaways. We don’t talk like that as humans. So the key takeaways might have been at minute five, minute 34, and minute 58, like, “Oh, those are the key takeaways?”
Ben Grynol (00:59:58):
A blog post is not like that. You’re not putting key takeaways in all these different parts you’re going, “I’m chunking this information out so as you read it, your brain can decipher and know what to focus on.” We don’t talk like that. So somebody is sitting there subjectively having to go like, “Oh, is that thing Mark said about blueberries for 17 seconds, is that actually the thing?” Because then he went on and talked about free reign cows and they’re very disconnected. So it’s somebody’s always trying to subjectively figure out what these nuggets are and turn it into content.
Ben Grynol (01:00:29):
All we’re doing is we need to take the content that exists, you’ve already turned it into a thing and we need to just grab nuggets from it and then distribute it, if that makes sense. I think it’s very difficult to do what they’re doing because they’re taking free reform spoken word and they’re trying to turn it into tightly distilled takeaways with illustrations behind it. It’s just not that easy.
Mike Haney (01:00:53):
Lets assume, I would like me to be right, so let’s assume that you’re right about this because it makes everybody’s life easier. What do you see as the future of, call it social post content creation, just to dig into that as a very specific thing, and particularly this ramping up of going from whatever eight to 16, how do you see that happening and who owns it?
Ben Grynol (01:01:17):
I think having the DRIB, I’ll be the DRA to start. Mercy will focus on distribution, Tony will focus on multimedia. And again, that’s not to flip the switch tomorrow, all of a sudden we’re responsible for copywriting, but if we’re like, “How do we free up your time?” Let’s assume that you’re the only one who’s writing captions right now, Casey’s not reviewing, how do we free up your time? Okay, let’s find a copywriter. They can live under this idea of multimedia so that a great copywriter, and again, that’s not like snap your fingers, tomorrow, Haney doesn’t have to write captions. It’s very much going to be a symbiotic process of you giving it the verified check mark two, not from a review standpoint like, “Man, now I got to review this thing.”
Ben Grynol (01:02:00):
It’s like, “I’m trying very hard to hand off the podcast right now to Tony and giving him very micro feedback on all these things because we’re getting tighter and tighter,” but I want to be like, “I never want to see this again.” When was the last time Sam reviewed a blog post? Probably never. He just reads them now. The only thing he does is he’ll give you an audio message in thread saying, “We should have an ultimate guide to bananas.” And you’re like, “Done.” But initially, he probably read a lot of the blog post, or Josh. Josh probably read a lot of the blog posts. Josh and Casey, and then when you came on board, and so Josh doesn’t review it anymore.
Ben Grynol (01:02:36):
We have to get to the point where your time isn’t taken up looking at 140 character tweets. The one thing we also I think need to decipher is, and that’s why I’m saying we should draw a line in sand to just say everything related to digital distribution, like Haney focuses on this idea, we’re calling it Functional Editorial, but building pillars of written content like building up EOC, like, what does content strategy 2.0 look like? Instead of being focused on how to get the information out, you go, “Right now, we’re creating two blog posts a week, I want to do five.” That becomes your goal.
Ben Grynol (01:03:19):
So then you go, “Okay, what topics do we need to write about? How many writers do we need?” The strategy becomes different and then increase the cadence of everyone on content to whatever. And then you’re like, “I want to explore, I want to experiment with this, like the product marketing thing, if that holds true. I want to experiment with it, we’re just going to test it. We’ll figure out where it lives.” That becomes a very interesting strategy where you don’t think about this idea of Instagram being a gray area or distribution being gray. The division of labor becomes like Ben and Tony. And again, I’m being rigid about it in that sense, but it’s still we have to work towards it.
Ben Grynol (01:03:58):
It’s not tomorrow Mercy is distributing things and you’re no longer needing to write captions. That should be our end goal so we can spin that thing up. Now, eventually we build it up to a team, assume there’s like 20 people just doing that thing. That can essentially live under a function of editorial. It doesn’t matter where it lives as much as getting it going so that it’s a self-sufficient machine that you’re like, “Yeah. That thing’s just working. I just have to know that somebody’s overseeing it.” That’s where we need to get to. And I think that’s where the best time of resources will be. One thing about channels, I think when we talk about digital and that’s why wrote digital versus social, because I think we anchor so much on Instagram, we’re talking a lot about Instagram.
Ben Grynol (01:04:50):
And what we’re failing to realize as a team is that Instagram is a digital channel and it’s actually a content channel for us. And maybe this is getting a bit semantic, but LinkedIn is a distribution channel for us, Instagram’s a content channel, if that makes sense. So what that means is it’s actually not that hard to write a caption for LinkedIn. There are these one sentence things that if we’re overthinking it that much, we really shouldn’t overthink it that much. But what the problem with Instagram or this is I think where we’re seeing this, I think where there’s probably some resistance because Casey had expressed this in the memo too, is like, “Oh, here’s the reasons why it’s hard.”
Ben Grynol (01:05:29):
It’s like, well, we’re not looking at it as a channel, we’re looking at it as, we’re creating new form of content. That is not the blog, that is a summary of blog posts. It’s new content, it’s against different visuals, it’s meant to be consumed independently of the blog. It’s not like, “Click on this link and then you get the real thing.” That’s why it feels hard is because it’s no different than creating a video around things where it requires a lot of thought. But this is where we’re failing to be wider in scope as a team, is there are a ton of digital channels and if we only focus on Instagram as the main distribution channel for content, then we’re under serving so many other channels, if that makes sense.
Ben Grynol (01:06:15):
We didn’t even post on LinkedIn until January when I started, I’m like, “Man, we got to use this. This is a channel. Let’s just start putting the blog out.” And we had 100 people, now we’ve got four and a half thousand.” Same thing with YouTube, we had 32 and now we’ve got 1,000 and we still haven’t even ramped it up because we’re not pushing out that content through other channels, people are finding it there. So I think we can build audiences, we can start to build audiences that go to those channels just for those things. Instagram should only ever be, and that’s what’s addressed in the memo, Instagram should only ever be a channel for, we’ll call editorial book, but metabolic health information from the blog, full stop. That’s it.
Ben Grynol (01:07:04):
We shouldn’t put out anything else. Maybe there’s the edge case of Betsy McLaughlin’s Friday forum share gets cut into a 916 asset that gets shared through stories because it’s her journey. But in general, the feeding ground should be the blog. That’s what the audience goes there for.
Mike Haney (01:07:24):
So you see fewer brand posts and that kind of stuff out there?
Ben Grynol (01:07:29):
What do you mean?
Mike Haney (01:07:30):
Well, Instagram, when I came on was almost entirely brand post. It was pictures of people using Levels. And I think the way Stacy was consumed at the time, if I understand correctly, it was establishing the brand and the aesthetic of the brand with some education stuff mixed in. And then as we just started creating more content, it became the content, the blog post, the editorial became much more of a feeder into Instagram, where now if you look at our grid, it’s probably 70% editorial articles distilled into these unique Instagram posts. And then 30% of the stuff is still things about the product specifically or about the company specifically or things that are like, I don’t know what I would still click all brand posts.
Mike Haney (01:08:19):
Do you see that mix of content continue to live on or do you think it becomes essentially metabolic insights if we want to call the blog or the editorial operation like that name?
Ben Grynol (01:08:28):
Yeah. I think it’s basically metabolic insights. Call like 9010. It’s just the photos that we use in it show people wearing Levels, but we’re not saying try Levels, it’s talking about… And this is the other thing, we can’t lose sight of where we are now, but we also have to look at where we’re going. So there will be a day where we put out posts that have to do with, and this is not bridging product marketing, but blog posts that talk about monitoring other analytes, assume we can do that. And I guess it would still show somebody using Levels, but maybe taking blood, we’re not going to show the product, the results of the product. Coke challenge, that’s a good example of one that’s different visual, but that’s interesting data to have in there from an infographic standpoint is still related to the blog article.
Ben Grynol (01:09:28):
It talks about things that are results based from using insight, it’s member stories. So I just don’t see us ever using those channels to put out information that’s any different than the blog or sorry, that channel. Twitter’s a good example. We’ve got a lot of wiggle room, a ton. The tech nerds are there to see the silly productivity videos of using shortcuts and superhuman, they just like that and it’s not for everyone, but a lot of people like that. We’re underutilizing certain channels like LinkedIn, we can do a lot more bridging between. It’s a great place for everyone on content. It’s a great place for a lot of team member like house road trip.
Ben Grynol (01:10:11):
These have nothing to do with Levels and sometimes I sit there and I’m like, “Are we pushing it too far?” But then I realize, I’m like, “No, no, this is what makes want to work there because they realize that the story is about he him having the ability to take off four weeks in a row and no one gave a shit.” Because he gets his work done. It’s not about the road trip. That’s what the story’s about, but if you actually think through it, it’s telling a very different story. So we’re never going to put in our feed, not necessarily stories, but we’re never going to put in the feed like, “Check out [Howard’s 01:10:47] episode of the road trip.” The audience, it’s not going to land.
Ben Grynol (01:10:51):
If we’ve got a good podcast, a whole new Level podcast, which we’re already doing now, but it’s just basically, how do you listen to, I think there’s opportunity to take stories and cut, especially… Assume there wasn’t a video from the podcast that Rob and Casey did and we had some audiogram, something from the story, some story like even poll quotes. We can use that as content too as still derivative content that has to do with metabolicals. So it’s just focusing only on the education of metabolicals through Instagram as a channel. Starting to ramp up other channels like Pinterest. We can use that to only ever distribute recipes, we can double down on that.
Ben Grynol (01:11:32):
Be like, find somebody to take all these metabolically health recipes and create illustration that’s on brand that is based on the TWA guidelines. There’s so much cool stuff we can do that we’re just not doing right now, but we still have to nail the channels that we’re on first. Does that makes sense?
Mike Haney (01:11:53):
Yeah. That does, that’ll make sense. So I think what I’m hearing in terms of practical implications of this is we’re going to move toward a future in which thing is taking that pillar content from the blog post and moving into the micro content of various channels will fall under… Digital media will fall under sort of growth. And like the example we just talked about with Tony, there’ll be a dotted line there where we’re weighing in, we’re making sure that it adheres to a right level, whatever, but we’re not responsible for cranking that out.
Ben Grynol (01:12:30):
Totally. I know we’ll get efficiencies out of doing that in the same way that it’s analogous too, when we doubled down on the podcast in the fall and we all started booking episodes and everyone was getting really excited and everyone was cross hosting and we’re doing all this and I was like, “Whoa, whoa, we have to step back because we’ve lost efficiency. It’s becoming a distraction now where we’re becoming reactive. So what’s book to win?” In the edit queue, it was very hard to keep track of it. And it’s just so much more efficient to be right now, and this is again why I’m trying to push Tony to the direction of fully owning the podcast.
Ben Grynol (01:13:09):
And he’s working at outsourcing every part of it so that he doesn’t even need to do the edit, he’s basically like the puppeteer of it. So I’m I like, “I just want to be removed from it. I’ll do the work that needs to be done, but you own that down to the scheduling so you’re not even asking me, should we book this episode or that.” I’m just like, “Man, you’re the DRI, you make that decision. It’s so much more efficient. And it doesn’t mean if you’re like, “Man, we should to do an episode with Matt Lay, what do you guys think?” I’d be like, “Great, set it up.”
Ben Grynol (01:13:40):
Of course, everyone can give input in the same way, they could be like, “Hey Amy, do we have a thing on,” I don’t know. I’m sure I’ve said some blog posts recently, nuts, I don’t know, some ultimate guide to something. You’re like, “Yeah, I’ll explore it.” Or, “No, we looked at it as silly.” But it’s not like I’m going and sourcing somebody to write a blog post on nuts or just starting to do this work because I would be like, “That’s so inefficient, what are you doing, Mike?” It’s not about short toes you’re feeling, it’s like, why are we wasting time doing that? We will get way more efficient by having a clear division of labor so that everybody can build the different parts of the house. If that makes sense.
Ben Grynol (01:14:20):
We’re all trying to do electrical and do framing and do roofing. We’re not going to build something quickly and strong, it’s just everyone does a part of the process. That’s the thing, one day you’re doing electrical and the next day I’m doing it or plumbing, it’s like we’re all trained, we’re all able to do it, but we just agree, like, “Hey, Haney’s on plumbing, I’m on electrical.” Just way more efficient for putting together the house and then moving on to the next house. And the next thing you know, we have a whole neighborhood and the next thing you know, we’ve got a city.
Mike Haney (01:14:53):
It’s good, we’ve gone from building cars to building houses, we’re moving up in the world.
Ben Grynol (01:14:58):
You got it.
Mike Haney (01:15:00):
Yeah. I’m comfortable with that division of labor, delineation of ownership. I think the place where audience growth around editorial. There’s a world in which all of the things that we’re talking about doing on the growth side will absolutely feed back into editorial, but also separate from that, if I think about editorial as a unique product, the heuristic I always say is, right now, we’re probably 80 to 90% of editorial audiences, people who have heard of Levels through some other means. And then maybe 70% some come to us through SEO, whatever. And then they find the editorial.
Mike Haney (01:15:36):
And I want 90% of editorials audience to be people who have never heard of Levels, who didn’t come in that route. They came in because they were looking for information around how to eat better or be healthier, or somebody forwarded them the thing or they saw a thing on social or whatever it was, referral engines through the newsletter, because ultimately the goal is more eyeballs, more education, more people will learn things. And so that’s a big part of what I want to focus on in 2022 is like, “All right, we built the machine. We can make stuff, now, how do we get more eyeballs on it?”
Mike Haney (01:16:07):
And as I think I mentioned here, there’s a world in which I can just go and hire an audience growth consultant, like I’ve worked with these folks in every editorial place I’ve been, and there’s a whole bunch of tactics we can do and a whole bunch of different things we can play with, and that’s just a machine you can run, but it also feels that’s probably not, I don’t know, it doesn’t quite feel like the right thing. It feels like, again, pursuant to this whole conversation, I don’t know, there’s probably just more of a symbiotic relationship between all of the things that you’re talking about doing within growth, because they’re not just designed to grow the number of people that are clicking a buy button.
Mike Haney (01:16:42):
They’re growing the overall community of people in our world, feeds into editorial growth. But maybe there’s also efforts that can happen that grow the editorial audience, that grow the newsletter list from 175,000 people who signed up for the wait list, that machine’s going to turn off pretty soon. When we’re more generally available, how do I get that list to a million? And again, just a million tactics, I know I can go do that, but doing that in a way that is symbiotic with everything else we’re doing, that’s where I think there’s still probably just conversation strategy for us to think about together.
Ben Grynol (01:17:17):
Yeah. I think that there are a few answers to the question. So one is, the more distribution for the information that exists, the more awareness. YouTube is a search engine, it’s the third largest search engine in the world. And it’s like, well, if we start using that as a channel, that in itself allows people to learn about Levels, getting more information out there. It becomes very much just flywheel because we’ve got roots in all these different places. There’s also another side of it, which is, we can undertake certain paid initiatives strictly for audience growth, meaning, search engine marketing like SCM, as far as we paid to put the ultimate guide to fiber as the top search result.
Ben Grynol (01:18:03):
That’s a tactic, we can do that. And it’s not trying to sell anyone anything, it’s just putting eyeballs on content. We can create campaigns where it’s just serving up the ultimate guide to eggs to the CrossFit crew on Reddit. You can do all of this, very targeted things where we’re not selling anything, we’re just trying to put educational information in front of people. They learn about like, “Oh, this is by this company called Levels. I’ll check them out.” And then that helps to grow the audience. So I think we don’t necessarily need to worry as much about the audience growth yet because we still need to get further along in the idea of editorial, multimedia, ramping up all platforms, take it really far.
Ben Grynol (01:18:47):
And that becomes this flywheel so that we’re not focused on, we have this editorial operation and The New York Times only has that to try to grow, they’re trying to grow this thing. It’s like we have all these other things. Their product is editorial. We have so many other channels and we’ve got so much wiggle room right now that we can use these other channels to build this sense of trust. We don’t have to tell people, trust us, it’s just they do because they see our personal shares on Friday forum, they’re like, “I trust those guys. I’m going to use their product because I know they’re real people.”
Ben Grynol (01:19:23):
It’s the weirdest marketing tactic, but it’s just working because it’s not meant to be one. I think that’s why it’s working because we’re not manufacturing it, we’re not like, “Hey, let’s pretend to be this way on Friday forum so everyone buys our CGMs.” I think everyone knows it’s very genuine, they can hear us on forum, they can hear us on podcasts. They read the blogs, they’re like, “They’re not trying to sell me anything, I trust these guys.” We hear it in feedback all the time. Remember feedback, all the time. I think that’s the goal is we shouldn’t need to feel that we have to try to arbitrarily grow the audience because it is going to grow if we keep doing the right things.
Mike Haney (01:20:04):