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Today we’re joined by Mallory Russell, the Head of Content Marketing at Square. Mallory believes great content doesn’t just generate brand awareness but services the entire marketing funnel. Learn how her content strategy services a wide variety of Square buyers.

Square seeks to answer consumer questions before they even have them, while simultaneously showcasing how their solutions can help support small businesses. Furthermore, Square aims to tell authentic stories that resonate with consumers on a personal level. This powerful combination has helped propel their business to new heights.

Here’s an abridged segment from our conversation with Mallory Russell. Mallory discusses making a necessary creative pivot and how Mallory and her team focused on serving customers enduring difficult situations. We hope you enjoy!

Andrew Bolton: Hi, welcome back to the Pros & Content Podcast. Today we're lucky to have Mallory Russell, who is the head of content marketing at Square. Mallory, thanks so much for joining us.

Mallory Russell: Thank you for having me.

AB: Very excited to have you on board. Talk to us a little bit about Square's kind of journey from point of sale, to all the different things that you're doing to help businesses these days.

MR: We're way more than just that little white reader. That is where we started, and that was in the last recession. Now we have all of these tools that allow you to run your business holistically. And we integrate with a lot of partners. So there's the point of sale and the payments piece, we have marketing tools, payroll tools. Anything you need to do as a business, we provide the tools.

Which for a content marketer is a really exciting place to work. Because it means we just get to talk about business. We have our hands in so many places that there's nothing that doesn't feel out of bounds when it comes to starting, or running, or growing a business. That's made it a really interesting place for me to work over four years because there are so many stories to tell and so many things to teach that we're never running out of ideas.

AB: Tell us a little bit about the journey that you've had at Square.

MR: I was hired almost four years ago on something that had all the pieces to be a content marketing team. That's not what we called it, but it's definitely what we were doing. We were all functioning as standalone units until a little over a year ago. I was running a bigger editorial team that we decided to move the lead generation team in with mine. So then we had lead generation and editorial. Since then we've really built out the entire team.

Over time, we've also shifted the way we think about goal setting. Acquisition is always important, but content marketing is really like a full-funnel discipline. It works at the top. It works at the bottom. You have to think about the entire journey. 

And so we're looking at a lot of different metrics that determine how we're successful. We're thinking about metrics that are based around brand perceptions and how people view Square in something a bit more performance-focused. So it's changed a ton since I started.

AB: It's interesting that you have a lead-gen team kind of within the content team. It's a very progressive way of thinking about it. All too often, content teams get pigeonholed into that last one in the bottom and the importance of the middle and the upper gets lost a bit.

MR: If you don't have buy-in for your marketing team to do brand and awareness tactics, it's going to be really hard to get the buy-in on the content side as well. So those things have to go hand in hand and we, fortunately, do have that. 

You get actually much more efficient if you're building the top of the funnel and you're creating a pipeline of people to drive into that. Content does that incredibly well.

AB: Tell us a little bit about your first brand campaign, because that's an interesting milestone.

MR: Super proud of the work done across the marketing team, so it's led by our brand team, but it really started with a campaign and project being done on our social media channels. So we'd always planned to do a brand campaign this year, but obviously when COVID happened in March, we had to pivot and that doesn't mean necessarily that everything we'd planned went away. It just means we had to think about everything really differently. 

So we did put a brand campaign on hold while we were kind of addressing the real need of the moment, which is like, “How do we make sure we help the smallest and sustaining businesses and give them the solutions they need?”

During that time, our social media teams started doing a lot of informational posts. They came to interview small business owners over audio with these short clips letting them talk about their experiences.

They didn't have to do anything with the product. Just, “Are you having a hard time?  We want to hear about that. Have you shifted your entire business and you're actually doing better than before?” Which we did hear sometimes.

It felt just a lighter lift to do audio with these people who were incredibly busy. We ended up with these minute, minute, and a half clips that we got a great response from. It felt so authentic to our brand and to the moment that was really in service to our customers.

My initial instinct was, "Oh, this is a podcast." We've been trying to do a podcast for about four years at Square and never found the right concepts.

MR: So the brand campaign developed and the social project was an inspiration for it. We found all of these small business owners across the country. We went and we did short interviews with them and produced TV spots and radio spots. Even the TV spots though are not filmed. It's audio with visuals.

What we felt was coming out in the audio was raw and real in a way that I don't know that we've had before. That started up in August and has had a really, really great response to it.

Then we launched our podcast in July and it's a take on it. It's not exactly the same. We don't just have people come in and tell their stories, but we bring in groups of business owners to talk to each other about what they're experiencing in any given topic. So it's not just about COVID,  it's about whatever is in their lives at the moment.

I think what we found through all this is it's a real way to show, to highlight our customers, to build community within that customer group, and to at least show that we understand, and empathize with what they're going through. 

We want to make sure that they can do their jobs, that they can grow the way they want to, that they have people to turn to when they are having a hard time and don’t know what to do next. We want to be those people for them.

AB: And that's a fantastic representation of what we were just talking about of that upper funnel,  building those relationships and emotional connections with people that are existing clients that hopefully increase that bond. Then also attracting new clients and new prospects into that feeling is really important. 

MR: Yeah, absolutely. So that kind of next piece down, we like to talk about solutions. We have so many products that, for us, it's about taking a very customer-first mindset. It's about what they need and what they want. And we will figure out how our message fits into it. It's not the other way around. 

That's how we approach everything. 

AB: You sound like you have a pretty decent team installed inside Square already - take us back to that.

MR: I often get asked, “How do we increase the speed and velocity of content?” 

It's my least favorite question. I don't believe that you should. I think there's too much content in the world. The goal of my team is not to add to the noise, it's to produce the things that are really necessary, and will move the business metrics, but are also the things that our customers actually want to hear from us.

We’re really specific about what we send out, and how, much because we don’t want to overload people. 

AB: When you're thinking about the needs of your customers, what sensing mechanisms or research mechanisms do you have to get that data?

MR: It's so much. And it depends what we're pulling in, say it's four, but for instance, we redid our editorial strategy and our personas in the past few months. And for that, we looked at our own first-party insights. So we have a brand insights team who's constantly talking with customers. We pull from that. We pull from SEO. And we measure with Knotch. Like we pull insights from that and pull it in.

We look at other third-party research happening. And we take all of that and funnel it into whatever we're doing, which has proved really effective and I think it allows us to see the white space that exists for us in a particularly competitive content market. Having all of those insights come in has been incredibly helpful.

AB: So at the end of the day, make less more impactful content, listen to what your customers really want and you'll be all good. That boiled it down?

MR: Pretty much.