Community building is an important part of the social mission at Hirsch Media. We share a common purpose with everyone who works in content marketing. Especially at renewable energy companies, water conservation companies—any other part of the sustainable business ecosystem. To develop the community of cleantech marketers, we set aside part of the work week for activities like a Q&A series with innovative leaders and thinkers. This is the first post in the series.
Today’s guest is Gwendolyn Brown, Content Marketing Analyst at Aurora Solar. We first got in touch to talk about content marketing after the Intersolar North America conference last summer. Then we reconnected at the Priceonomics Content Marketing Conference in October.
In this post, Gwen talks about a post from the Aurora Solar blog that has performed well as a content marketing asset. We also talk about our favorite highlights from the Priceonomics conference. Plus, the #1 takeaway that can make us all better content marketers.
The interview took place January 4 on Slack.
Content marketing at Aurora Solar
Thanks again for doing this. Let’s start with a little about yourself. You work as a content marketing analyst at Aurora Solar. What does a content marketing analyst do?
Well, as I see it, content marketing is all about creating useful information that adds value to peoples’ lives. Over time, offering solutions and quality information in that way establishes your organization as a credible source. It’s a long-term marketing strategy that helps companies connect with an audience that can benefit from their products and expertise.
For me, I work for Aurora Solar, a solar software company that provides a tool for solar contractors to design and sell solar installations in a more efficient way. I primarily focus on managing an educational blog for solar installers, but we also produce webinars and white papers.
That’s a nice, accessible definition of content marketing. Did you have a content marketing background before you arrived at Aurora Solar?
No, I actually came to this role after previously working for an environmental policy nonprofit in Washington, DC for a number of years. First, I worked in a research and program management role, helping to run diverse environmental law research projects and conferences. And later I helped lead the organization’s fundraising with foundations.
I didn’t necessarily expect to work in marketing. But my current role requires a lot of the same skills that I used in my previous positions, including strong research and writing skills and, from my fundraising work, the ability to articulate the value of a particular type of work.
I love that in this role I can constantly be learning about new things that are going on in the solar industry and share that information with the audience of our blog.
Writing, and communications—broadly speaking—are such essential skills in business. And in life! I’m amazed that you have the title of content marketer, because I just don’t see many companies in cleantech who have carved out such a role. That’s a credit to Aurora Solar. But having said that, many organizations have writers and communicators wearing lots of different job descriptions.
Agreed! I feel very lucky that Aurora’s leadership team sees the value of content marketing as a way to engage with the industry and prospective customers in a way that gives back.
Defining content goals
One last question about content marketing before we get into the Priceonomics Conference. Content marketing is different from other kinds of content in that it usually has associated measurable goals. How do you define goals for content marketing at Aurora Solar?
Well, I have to say that figuring out the best metrics to look at is something that I’m learning as I go. And it can be challenging sometimes to know the best way to measure progress. For us, particularly since Aurora’s blog is relatively young, we’ve focused a lot on measuring progress in terms of how our audience, and views of our content, is growing over time. That includes setting goals for how many page views we want our content to get each month, and how much we want our blog subscriber list to grow.
Another important goal for us is, of course, to ultimately gain customers from the blog. To that end, we are working to understand what content is most valuable to our readers and to consistently produce top-notch articles in order to connect with qualified leads (people we know our product is relevant to that our sales team can reach out to).
You said earlier that content marketing is a long-term strategy. It sort of reminds me of snorkeling. You take a deep breath and try and hold it as long as you can while searching for extraordinary things beneath the surface.
Does that analogy make any sense whatsoever? I’m experimenting here.
Haha, that’s a great analogy!
It makes a lot of sense. Something I’ve learned since coming to this role is that a lot of times most of your leads come from a few gems … a few pieces of really valuable content that people keep coming back to.
And you can’t always know what that will be before the piece is done, so it takes a lot of consistent work to find what will best meet your audience’s needs.
Would you be able to give us a link to one of the gems that has worked well at Aurora Solar?
Sure. One article that performs phenomenally because it solves a big need for people in the solar industry is this post on the impact of shade on solar energy production:
Shadows cast on solar panels are a bigger deal that one might think. Here’s how you can boost the efficiency of your solar panels by controlling shading.
It’s a complicated topic because a small amount of shade can reduce the energy output of a solar installation disproportionately. And this article from our Solar PV Education 101 series helps solar designers understand why this is and how they can minimize those negative impacts of shade.
Thanks Gwen! Suddenly I’m inspired to reach out to my cleantech marketing contacts and round up shining examples of content marketing that the industry (or industries) collectively produced in 2017.
That’s a great idea. I’d love to see more of what’s working well for others in the industry.
And that was actually one of my motivations for attending the Priceonomics Content Marketing conference.
Priceonomics Content Marketing Conference
Ah, what a natural segue to talking about the Priceonomics conference. (High five!) After all, that’s where we ran into each other and resolved to do this Q&A!
There are a gazillion conferences and events. What made you want to take a full day to attend this one? And what convinced Aurora Solar that it was worthwhile for you to go?
Well, like I mentioned, we’ve focused our content marketing on our blog. But we know that content marketing can take many, many forms. I was excited to have the opportunity to hear directly from other organizations that are leaders in content marketing, and to hear about the variety of different tactics companies use, in the hopes of identifying some lessons I could apply to be more successful in my work.
Something I love about Aurora is that we have a culture that supports continuous learning. I think that was influential in Aurora’s support of my participation in the conference.
Does that mean Aurora Solar is going to launch an awesome daily news email à la The Hustle?
Haha, well that’s not on our radar at the moment. But I was inspired hearing about all of the little details that The Hustle puts into their emails and other messaging, like clever subject lines, constant experimentation with the popups on their website, and a great welcome email!
I’m definitely interested in applying some of those approaches, in terms of having a high level of attention to detail across all of the different facets of our communications.
I still feel like a Neanderthal for not knowing about The Hustle before they’d signed up hundreds of thousands of subscribers and raised $11 million. There’s a lot to learn from them. And a lot of reasons to subscribe to their newsletter.
Agreed. Although I’m right there with you in terms of having not known much about them until recently. It was interesting to hear about their meteoric rise!
Best Priceonomics conference presenters
From my perspective, the conference had an all-star cast of presenters. Rand Fishkin at Moz, Maggie Leung at NerdWallet, and Rohin Dhar at Priceonomics, among others. Did you have a favorite presenter?
It’s almost hard to pick because, like you said, it was a great lineup of presenters with a really wide variety of perspectives. A couple of my favorite presentations were Maggie Leung, and Courtland Allen of IndieHackers.
Maggie talked about strategies for growing a strong content team. And I thought that she offered a lot of really interesting ideas in terms of taking a long-term view of your content marketing.
Yeah, Courtland Allen was one of my favorites. And Sam Parr. And Ricky Yean. I was blown away more because of what they’re doing than anything they said (though many of them are outstanding presenters in their own right).
Yes, agreed! In addition to the specific strategies people offered, I particularly loved hearing a bit about each person’s vision and personal story and how that influenced their work/approach.
#1 conference takeaway
Ok, time for a tough question. Is there one lesson from the conference that you’ll apply in the next year. Or one that you’d like to apply if you can just scratch out a little free time to do it?
I actually have a number of takeaways I’m hoping to apply in the coming year. But I think the big one for me is to be more conscious of the SEO best practices that Rand Fishkin from Moz highlighted.
I was really struck by his presentation and the fact that content of equal quality—content that is equally well researched and written and solves real problems for readers—can perform very well or very poorly depending on whether it is optimized for people to find it on Google.
It makes a lot of sense. When we’re searching for an answer, most of us turn to Google and we often don’t look past the first few results. So taking the time to consider what keywords people are searching for, to strategically integrate those keywords, and structure the content in ways that makes it more accessible for Google can have a huge impact on how many people actually read your work.
Yes! Rand Fishkin preaches the gospel of content marketing. His Whiteboard Fridays are truly amazing, by the way.
Well, that was unfair. I saved the big question for the last four minutes of our time together. Thank you so much for sharing some time with me, Gwen. I hope to see you again soon, and not to mention at the next Priceonomics Conference!
No worries! Glad to have the opportunity to chat. Talk to you soon.