Optimize Episode 019: Ronnie Higgins on Building Cross-Functional Content Teams, The Art Of Storytelling, and AI’s Role In Content Strategy

Join Nate Matherson as he sits down with Ronnie Higgins for the nineteenth episode of the Optimize podcast. Ronnie Higgins is the Director of Content at OpenPhone and has worked for brands like Eventbrite, Udemy, Hopin, and more. Ronnie uses his film and broadcast television background to craft multimedia content strategies that build strong brand affinity and fuel sustainable revenue growth for the companies he works for and advises. In this episode, Ronnie and Nate discuss the advantages of cross-functional content teams, the intricacies of setting KPIs for content channels and team members, and Ronnie’s unique approach to crafting the ‘perfect’ content that captivates audiences. Ronnie also shares his perspectives on the collaborative synergy between in-house teams and agencies and AI-generated’s role in shaping innovative content marketing and SEO strategies. Closing out the episode is our popular lightning round of questions! For more information, please visit www.positional.com or email us at podcast@positional.com.

Oct 11, 2023

Learn More About Ronnie Higgins

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronniehiggins/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ronniehiggins 

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/@NeutralGroundNetwork 

What to Listen For:

03:36 Ronnie’s background and journey to OpenPhone

09:10 What does a content team look like and how does it work?

13:20 How do we set KPIs for a content team and a content channel?

17:36 Is a content team cross-functional and what are the benefits?

19:35 What’s the best way to get started building a content channel?

23:45 Ronnie’s thoughts on in-house teams working with agencies

27:19 Ronnie’s process for crafting the “perfect” content

30:17 AI generated content as part of a content marketing and SEO strategy

32:07 Lightning question round

Episode Transcript

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

00:00

When you go from, say, an individual making a purchase decision to a company or a group of individuals, that journey takes a lot more validation because no one wants to be the person who chose a product that everyone hates. So there's a little bit more nuance and carefulness in understanding. So I look at those engagement metrics, which are everything from average session duration to time on page and session journeys — like, looking at that data. We look at heat maps to understand how they're consuming content. And then further up the funnel is like, “All right, where are they coming from?” And that helps me identify where we need to be promoting content, helps me understand where we need to be listening and doing a lot of social listening to make sure that we're not just tackling topics that are showing up in SEO tools, but we're tackling topics that might be interesting to our audience — that'll help get their attention and keep their attention.

Nate Matherson (Speaking) 

00:57

Hi and welcome to the Optimize podcast. My name is Nate Matherson, and I am your host. On this weekly podcast, we sit down with some of the smartest minds in content marketing and SEO. Our goal is to give you perspective and insights on what's moving the needle in organic search. Today, I'm thrilled to sit down with Ronnie Higgins. Ronnie is currently the director of content at OpenPhone. And throughout his career, he's worked with a number of incredible brands, like Eventbrite, Udemy, and Hopin. Ronnie has a unique background in film and broadcast television, and he uses that background to craft multimedia content strategies that build strong brand affinity and fuel sustainable revenue growth. In our episode today, I'm excited to learn more about the work he and his team are doing at OpenPhone, his experience competing in competitive categories, building brand through content, and more. 

Ad Spot

And this episode of the Optimize podcast is brought to you by Positional. If you don't know by now, my name's Nate, and I'm one of the cofounders of Positional. And I'm really excited to announce that we just launched our Content Analytics toolset. This has very quickly become my favorite feature. It's one that I've wanted for the last 10 years, and it's really effective in identifying which pages on your site users might be having a low-quality experience on. What we do is we track metrics like scroll depth, bounce rate and time on page to score your pages and then allow you to go deeper to see where within a piece of content — for example, which paragraph — is causing people to leave or where, for example, you might want to add a call to action within that page. This toolset is called Content Analytics. It's our newest feature. I'm stoked about it and you should be too.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

02:37

Thank you, Ronnie. 

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

02:28

It's good to be here. And you know, it's funny: you talk about bringing smart people here.
I'm not smart. Maybe we should stop now. I'm only as smart as the people around me and the people who've taught me all of this, like, great stuff. I just happen to pay attention and do the smart things that get sent to me. So anyways, a little self-deprecation there for us to start off.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

03:08

Well, you guys have built an incredible content channel at OpenPhone, and it looks like you've got an incredible team, too. I know I've met at least a couple of folks on the OpenPhone team. But my first question that I have for you and I have for all of our guests is how did you get into the world of content and SEO, and what brought you ultimately to your role at OpenPhone?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

03:26

All right, so let's see. How to make this a long story short. I was, like you said, working in film and broadcasting, and around 2008, economy crashed. I was brand-new to the industry, so I wasn't in a union or anything, and all of a sudden, jobs dried up for me because I was, you know, fresh bait. I took an entry-level position; while I was working, like, an admin desk job, I rose my hand saying, like, “Hey, y'all have this new program, can I make a video?” They said, “Sure, just as long as you get your other work done.” So I made, like, a video that got the attention of the CEO and the CMO, and they were like, “Can you keep doing this?” And I was like, “I would love to.” So I became a video marketer, and that was, like, my entryway into marketing, and very quickly learned that I actually knew a lot about marketing from a long time ago when I used to throw raves and DJ back in the early aughts before EDM blew up. Basically, everything I did to get people into a nightclub was everything you do to sell a SaaS product. The video work was fun, but I was trying to figure out where I went from there, and I stumbled upon Joe Pulizzi's “Get Content, Get Customers.” So this is around 2009, 2010. Here I am reading this book about content marketing, going like, “Oh my God.” I took the book — it was a physical book — and I brought it to the CMO and said, “I want to do this.” It didn't exactly happen overnight, but eventually what happened is she had read the book, ended up buying me a new one because she ended up taking too many notes in the actual book I gave her and said, “Look, I don't know exactly the timeline, but we're going to make it happen.” Long story short, I became a content marketing manager. What was interesting is, like, I had learned all of these things, but I couldn't do them all because the company wasn't set up in a way that I could do all of those best practices that I was learning. And so I started looking for content marketing jobs elsewhere and ended up at Eventbrite, where I worked under Margaret Jones, who was the author of those e-books at Marketo that I was learning from. So here I was learning from someone who, or working for someone who I had, like, literally learned everything from. At the time, Eventbrite was seen as, like, Evite alternative, not a bona fide ticketing and registration platform for, like, events. And so we had this vision that we could use content to change the narrative, and it was all about, like, how we wrote about topics, how we positioned the material, and who our audience was. We, like, created content for an enterprise or mid-market customers about all of the problems, understanding what they needed and interviewing all the experts that they wanted to be connected with, and created, like, a sense of community amongst them of sharing best practices. And we did it. And when Eventbrite went public in 2018, when you looked at the investor documentation, it actually mentioned our content, like, six times as, like, the reason to invest because we had built such a loyal audience and people who were constantly just always in our orbit. We had, like — it was almost like sponsorship, right? Like, with sponsorship you say, “Oh, I have this large of a email list. I have this many people coming to my event. I have this many people following all of my social accounts. This is my value of all these people who are engaged and listening.” Like, that type of stuff was in the investor documentation, saying like, “That is how we have such a low cost of acquisition.” And so that's how I kind of got into content: threw a book on my CMO's desk; said, “I want to do this”; then learned how to do it from the person who I'd eventually work for and cut my teeth on, like, literally in the SaaS world. And then that led to everything. I eventually ended up taking Margaret's job after she left to go to Envoy and oversaw the scaling of our content engine from a bunch of regional hubs to a full-fledged global content operation. And then when COVID hit at the beginning of 2020, I got laid off with practically half of the company and thought, “That's it, wonder what's going to happen next.” And very quickly found out that content had become a thing. It seemed like it was gaining recognition and notoriety and, like, becoming more of a serious thing; while I was at Eventbrite, because I had like my blinders on, I was just focused on my job and hadn't noticed, like, how the industry had been evolving, and after Eventbrite laid me off, noticed that I was one of a few people who had been in it as long as I had. And so that led me to advising a bunch of startups and then landed me at Udemy. And then after Udemy, went to Hopin where I worked for Anthony Kennada, who I had met at Eventbrite. And we all had this dream of building a media company and were gonna do it there. Got laid off there, unfortunately. I had actually known the founders of OpenPhone for about a year at that point. I had been advising them, helping them try to fill the role that I now have filled. So when I got laid off, it was this question of “Well, do you want to try for the job?” And I did. And here I am. It was not a long story short, sorry.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

08:42

That's amazing. Ronnie, and you've had an incredible career across a large number of amazing companies, and you've served in different seats as part of a content team throughout your career. And a question that I'm always asked by our customers, especially those customers that are starting to scale is “What does a content team look like?” Like, what are those different seats you need to fill? Who does what on a content team? It'd be great to learn more about, like, what makes a perfect content team and kind of how you're thinking about building your team at OpenPhone?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

09:10

The best way to think about this — and I would advise your companies to think of content not … like, forget about the marketing word, forget about, like, marketing. Yes, there — it is about marketing but if you focus on content, content is a product, just the way, you know, if you're a SaaS company, your product is your product. The reason I say this is because building a content engine is like building a product, and when I think about how to build a content team, I think about it the same way a product leader would think about building out their product and engineering teams. For me, there's, like, such an analogy between two teams. At OpenPhone, in-house, I have an SEO lead and one content marketing manager. And the way this works is I have a — I’ve augmented the team with contractors, and instead of it being just me … so SEO lead focuses on technical stuff and a lot of reporting. So when it comes to the editorial and the production, it's only me and my content marketing manager. One way I could have done it is, I am the person who basically does all the editing and strategy and operations and managing editor, so making sure everything goes smoothly. And my content marketing manager is a strategist-slash-producer, who then assigns briefs and everything to a writer. The thing is, is we needed to increase our volume, not just a larger volume, but also a mix of different content types. And so to do that at scale, I augmented the team with three full-time contract producers. So technically this, in the past, has been called a strategist, but they fill the role of “here is the topic, let me go and research all of the other content that exists” — because you're competing against it. And this is where that product mindset comes in. And if people are looking for this content, what is it that they're not finding in the other content, and finding out what's the right angle, what's the information that's missing from that content, how can we make a better content product. And then they take all of their research, all of their findings, turn that into a brief and outline, and assign it to one of our contract writers, which is a large pool that's flexible. Sometimes some of them drop out, or we have one that's about to go on maternity leave. That's a flexible number of contractors so that we always have writers to write the stuff. And then we have a contract editor who helps my content marketing manager handle the editing. And so my content marketing manager is, like, a VoIP expert. Dude literally just, like, off the top of his head knows all the facts about all of our competitors. And so the stream of work is that I focus on top of, like, editing and being the managing editor for top-of-the-funnel content, while he is the managing editor for all of the stuff that's the product awareness conversion content. And so that's how I set up the team at OpenPhone. It could change depending on what we need, if we all of a sudden realize — like, we've maxed out on all the content we could do at the bottom of the funnel. Like, I could then rearrange that and reconfigure everything to be focusing on top of the funnel, but making sure that that top-of-the-funnel work feeds into and keeps the bottom of the funnel content fresh would be how I'd be thinking about it. But that's completely different from how I structured the team at Hopin, Udemy, and completely different from how I had to structure it at Eventbrite, because that just had to do with, like, a huge company that had grown large and I had to, like, make it work with what I had.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

12:52

So the next question I'm gonna ask you is around KPIs. Like, another common question I get asked by our early-stage customers and then even, like, the later-stage teams is “How do we set, like, KPIs for a content team or a content channel? It'd be great to, like, learn more about how, like, you're doing it at OpenPhone: like, what are some of those indicators you track, whether it's traffic or user performance metrics or even conversions or revenue? Like, how are you thinking about, like the KPIs as we're, like, just starting the third quarter right now?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

13:20

Obviously, I always stay close to revenue. So start from there. I got to justify budget, got to justify paychecks, all of that. And so making sure that our content is not just converting customers, but is converting the right customers. And what that means is not $100 deals, but thousands of dollars versus — you know, so we're not going after, like, solopreneurs or anything. Like, we're trying to, like, go after teams and larger, like, actual businesses that need to have that collaboration. We have metrics that are set up for our website conversion, but then we look and segment that conversion based on things from Clearbit and other information that we're getting when it goes into the sales funnel, if it goes through sales versus self-sign-on, and making sure that that quality of the customers coming through the content that we’re target …  like, that helps us understand, like, that's the right topic, the right angle on the topic to know that we're doing right. Before that, it's about what do people do when they are on the site? So I care a lot about not just return visitors, but engaged visits, engaged sessions. I wanna make sure that our customers are not just coming to the site, checking out something, and then leaving. I need to make sure that they are — like, our content is set up where there's metadata on the backend where … you know, the product awareness stages of unaware, problem aware, solution aware, product aware, most aware. And what we want is we want to see people going from unaware in their sessions, start getting closer and closer to most aware. And so they start to go from reading a blog post to reading another blog post, to then eventually reading some landing pages and visiting the website, and then converting. So because when you go from, say, an individual making a purchase decision to a company or a group of individuals, that journey takes a lot more validation because no one wants to be the person who chose a product that everyone hates. So there's a little bit more nuance and carefulness in understanding. So I look at those engagement metrics, which are everything from average session duration to time on page and session journeys — like, looking at that data. We look at heatmaps to understand how they're consuming content. And then further up the funnel is like, “All right, where are they coming from?” And that helps me identify where we need to be promoting content, helps me understand where we need to be listening and doing a lot of social listening to make sure that we're not just tackling topics that are showing up in SEO tools, but we're tackling topics that might be interesting to our audience, that'll help get their attention and keep their attention. With a lot of SaaS products, the buyer doesn't change products every year. There are some of them that might change every year, but it's even harder for a phone. No one changes their business phone solution every year. Some of them barely do it every few years. So we need to make sure that OpenPhone is top of mind and engaging those customers until it's time to choose, or they decide they need a better solution. And so when I look at all of the, like, traffic sources and see where people are coming from, it helps me understand, like, how to accomplish that and make sure that we're continuing to build the brand. I look at everything from, like, brand searches, to understand if that's happening, all the way to, like, share a voice, but I would call it more share of traffic — like, using, like, Ahrefs to see, like, comparing organic traffic to all of our competitors and making sure that ours is growing at a faster rate. So it's not just about, like, “Oh, do we rank?” It's “All right, we rank. Cool. But I'd rather be at, like, position number five and getting more traffic and conversions than to be at one and not getting those traffic, the traffic and conversions.” Because at the end of the day, what matters is the revenue, which is why I start there.

Nate Matherson (Speaking) 

17:16

I know at a lot of companies, like, content can cross multiple teams and multiple different channels and can serve, like, multiple business use cases. At OpenPhone, do you find yourself, like, working with the paid marketing team or the product team? Do you find that, like, content is very cross-functional at OpenPhone?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

17:36

Oh, 100%. I tell a lot of people that content marketing is the best position if you want to, like, move up and around marketing because it touches practically everything. And so when you work in content marketing — like, at Eventbrite, I worked with R&D. I was, like, the person who helped them, the R&D engineers, figure out what does the customer want? How are we going to position this if we do go to market there? I had that experience of working with that team because I worked on content. I worked with M&A on help — and I learned how companies figure out how to have mergers and acquisitions by helping them figure out how to make content a part of those deals. Allowed me to work with companies like Facebook and everything, to be able to understand how we can, like, create partnership deals, and there's just so much — like, it's so … not just, like, all the different types of teams, cross-functional, but, like, all of the different fast — it's not just about writing blogs and publishing, it's, when you do it at an advanced level like we do, there's so many things that you get exposed to that can be valuable to start your own company, that can be valuable to, like, move out of marketing and go into strategy. I mean there was a point in my career where I thought about giving up content and going into product because it was — there was so much one-to-one, like, skill sets that I could like, do a lateral move and it would feel natural. You're right. Like, it definitely has its fingers in a lot of places. It's very interconnected.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

19:07

And I know, like, outside of OpenPhone, like, you are an advisor to, like, a handful of startups on, like, the content marketing and go-to-market side of things. And we work with a lot of startups at our company, and they always ask me, like, “What's the best way to get started?” And so for those, like, startups that you advise, like, what are one or two of those, like, kind of, you know — I don't want to say standard, but kind of boilerplate kind of pieces of feedback you give to them as, like, they're first starting to think about building this channel at their companies.

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

19:35

I simplify it into three things: How do you get your customers attention? How do you increase their awareness of your product or service? And then how do you convince them that your product or service is the best solution out of all alternatives? Those are, like, the way I think about content from a demand gen. Unless, like, you're building a media company that's going to sell advertising, you have to have that revenue engine in place: like, the content that's, like, helping people understand what your product does and understands that they can trust you to do it. So problem-solution content, product content, and then the awareness stuff: like, how do you get their attention is, like, where do you go to, like, you know — maybe it's not SEO. A good example here is Dovetail, I advised in 2020. And when I met with them after a few phone calls, started to realize, I was like “All right, so your customers have PhDs in what they do. If you try to go after, like, keywords like ‘what is’ and ‘how,’ to they're gonna freaking, like — that's, like, gonna lose all credibility. You're not gonna know any better than they do how to do their job.” So what I had advised them to do was they needed to be, like, metaphorical, like, campfire watercooler for researchers, sharing their war stories, sharing their best practices. So I said, “You just need to do, you know, have a beat — like, think of your customer segmentations, what are the customers, the ICPs you want to go after, tell their stories, share them with their network, get them to share it with their networks, and so forth. So that was, like, both how do you get them to — it answered all three of the questions. Because at that point, it also — that included not just people who weren't customers, but customers who also got to share their examples. So they were able to have, like, one interview with people, or with customers, and ask them about, like, their best practices and their philosophy and approach to research. But they were also able to, like, then tack on the case study. So then you could see this breadcrumb trail from the customer sharing their story, like, their hero journey, on social media because someone wrote about them, which no one does. And then that led people to Dovetail's site. That then led to, you know, I have little interstitial ads pointing to the case studies. And so that helped them build brand recognition. You can look at any of your SEO tools, and you'll notice, like, their organic traffic going up, but their keyword saturation stayed flat, but their brand keyword searches went up. And it was all because, like, they took that strategy that way. Trying to think if there's any other way, because I don't want to, like, dog, like, SEO or say SEO is, like, wrong. Sometimes it's exactly what you need. In fact, what's funny is Dovetail eventually did start to do SEO because they … there were people who were coming into the research field that weren't PhDs. Instead of doing, like, basic “what is” by copying all the content that already ranks, they were able to take their library of expert interviews and expert profiles and extract all the knowledge from that to create their SEO articles. I guess back to answer your question: like, what's the fundamental things to get started? Just get started. I mean, do a blog. I think it's actually easy to teach the marketing stuff. So, like, getting someone who has empathy and cares about, you know, the product and the audience, and from there you can teach them all the other — like, MQL, SQL, conversions, all that stuff. Like, what really matters is getting someone who is eager to create something of value for someone else, and that someone else being your audience. And if you can get that, you can tackle those three questions of, How do I get their attention? How do I increase their awareness of my product? And how do I convince them that my product or service is the best?

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

23:23

Do the companies you work with as an adviser ever ask you, like, “Should we hire an agency?” Or like, “Should we hire an agency to, like, support the work we're doing internally?” This is a question I often get asked and I'd be curious to get your thoughts on, like, in-house teams working with agencies, or if a startup should just agency it out in full, or not use an agency altogether? Like, what's your perspective there?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

23:45

It depends on what the agency does. Unfortunately, there are a lot of SEO agencies who, at any time I've come into contact with them, whether I inherited, you know, them as a partner, or tried to work with them, thinking maybe I needed it in my career — there's a type of SEO agency who basically does what anybody with an SEO tool can do, is, “Hey, we looked at your competitor's site, and here's all the keywords we should go after, the high-volume ones, and we're going to write this stuff.” And they send you a spreadsheet, and then they charge you a lot of money to write mediocre content. I have always advised people to steer clear of those companies because they're just, like, I don't know, maybe at one point they meant well or they really do think that they're trying to help, but they're not. I could teach someone how to use Ahrefs or Semrush and do that exact same thing with contract writers — like, whether you're a founder or not, it's not rocket science to, like, use any of those tools. And also, too, everybody has those tools, so you can imagine your competitors are going to notice when you start trying to rank for some of their key terms. And they'll have a moat that you just can't beat. Now that's getting a little disrupted now because of all the stuff that's happening with AI, but it's still — they have a moat. I mean, I would advise against that. Now, who to work with when it comes to agencies? So I know you had interviewed John-Henry at Growth Plays. He doesn't have, like, a service market fit for him. So like, not everybody should work with John-Henry and Growth Plays, but I highly recommend him because the work that they do is … like, not just a cut above, but a thousand cuts above that type of SEO agency I say to avoid. Now, they're not going to write the content for you, but they provide playbooks that will help you figure out how to not waste time with search engine optimization. I have worked with a agency called Message Lab that helped me prove out the strategy that I told you about at Dovetail, but I had actually worked with them at Eventbrite, and we were actually building a media company there, but COVID cut all of that short before we could publish at all. But the theories and best practices that I've gained from working with them is what I do now for a lot of companies, where you just focus on the people and the experts and allow, like … trust the customer to be able to, like, extract the lessons versus needing to spell out everything. And also being comfortable with not having the answer, but providing your audience and your customers with options or different perspectives to allow them to figure out what to do, versus telling them this is the definitive way to do X, Y, Z. So I've worked with good agencies like them, like so Message Lab and Growth Plays. And then there's a lot of other agencies that I haven't worked with, but I really respect the people behind it, and I know they give a shit about their customers. Like, you know, you have Foundation Inc, you have Omniscient Digital. Trying to think of some others right now, but those are first two top-of-mind that I think are stellar agencies.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

26:56

When I talk to our customers who are just getting started, I always tell them to focus on creating fantastic content, even if it means, like, creating less content. And they often ask me, like, “What is fantastic content? And it's often hard to define what a piece of fantastic content is for them. And so I'm going to ask you the question: from your view and with all your experience, like, what makes a fantastic piece of content?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

27:19

It's so subjective. If it's a help center article, a fantastic piece of content in that context is, like, a CPR video that straight up tells you, here's how to save the person in front of you who's dying. Like, it just gets to the point, it tells you exactly what to do step by step, and helps you solve that problem right away. It's like an analogy my friend Kaleigh had written in a recent piece of content for us. It's like your customer’s in a desert, and they need a glass of water. They don't want to hear your life story; they just want a freaking glass of water. So, like, the perfect piece of content is, like, it serves the need, the job to be done. I would say the other thing that's, like, hard to describe, but your content should be continually adding value. So let's imagine someone searched for a term, and they stumbled upon your content, and you're like, “Oh, well, if I'm supposed to answer their question immediately, then, like, I'm only going to have a 200-word article.” No. What's the next question that they're going to have? Can you actually anticipate their needs? And that's the rest of the article. So maybe it's like, you know, “What is AI?” All right, cool. What is AI? Next question they're going to have is “How can I use it?” And you answer that in that article, and you've then anticipated their needs, got them to nod along. And then the other thing is, like, not taking yourself too, too seriously all the time. Treat the other person who's reading your content like the way we're talking in an interview. Like, it's just like a conversation at a party or at a networking event. Don't talk down to your audience. They're not stupid. Treat them like the smart people they are, and be helpful. Be like Keanu Reeves, like, to them. Be like Carl Sagan was in science, like, or if you ever watch, like, “Good Eats,” like Alton Brown: like, he just broke down the science of cooking without making you feel like you were stupid — like, he was, like, had this sense of curiosity about him that, like, excited you. Or like the wildlife guy, Steve Irwin. Take that approach because there's so many people in expert-ville, and especially on social media, who freaking say, “I read 200 books in the last month, so you don't have to,” and it's, like, you didn't read 200 books that fast you got ChatGPT to summarize them, and you just quickly spit out this … be authentic, be human, and that's gonna pay dividends over the long run, and that's how I would think about valuable content or exceptional content.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

29:59

And I
wasn't gonna bring it up but you did, and that's why I have to ask you, like, should we be using, like, AI-generated content as part of our content marketing and SEO strategy? Like, what do you make of it? Like where do you see us going from here in terms of, you know, ChatGPT or, like, Jasper being part of our content creation process?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

30:17

I mean, I've been using AI, generative AI, for three years now — more. I started with Copy.ai, then Jasper, and then of course now I have ChatGPT Plus, which I'm loving, and I still use Jasper, too. You gotta have an AI policy. You gotta understand, like, what you will or won't do with it. You have to understand the product if you're gonna use it. You have to understand what its limitations are. Same with SEO tools, right? Like, you have to understand that SEO tools are based on clickstream data. And you gotta understand right now, clickstream data is becoming very sparse because of all the, like, GDPR and do not track from Apple. Like, so the sample size of a lot of those tools, like, are dwindling. So you have to recognize, like — you have to understand how the tools work, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and make sure that you use them correctly. So at OpenPhone, we have a, at least for my team, a AI policy where we say, when it comes to images, we do not use any AI images. And that's our design team’s stance, and we respect it. And then when it comes to written word, like, we allow people to — the general rule of thumb is we will never publish anything generated by AI without a human involved. So you cannot just get ChatGPT to write a blog post and hit publish. You need to vet it, go through it. You can use it to help you brainstorm ideas, help you do all the things that, you know, you need to do your job better. Because I feel like, just like with SEO tools, like, everybody's got them. I mean, I would say you should, but I'm not going to say … I hate saying that definitively because maybe some people don't want to, but your competitors are gonna use them, and that's gonna be a competitive advantage if they're using them correctly.

Lightning question round:

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

32:07

Yeah, and if it's okay with you, we could now transition into, like, a quick rapid fire round. I think this has been a great episode, and I've got, like, five or six kind of questions to wrap things up. Does that sound good?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

32:18

Yep, hit me with them. I love this.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

32:20

So Ronnie, I've seen lately on Twitter, you've been posting about a new show called “Off the Clock.” What is “Off the Clock,” and what's your role as part of it?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

32:29

All right, so “Off the Clock” is a show for marketers, by marketers that has nothing to do with marketing, which when I first conceived the idea about a year and a half ago, people looked at me strange, like why? The reason being is anecdotally at the time I had noticed, anytime I hung out with my marketing colleagues in real life, like, we might have talked about marketing a little bit, but other times — like, most of the time — we didn't. I was huge on, like, Twitter — not me being huge, but, like, big into Twitter at the time and marketing Twitter. And I noticed, like, less than half the time, marketers were talking about marketing. And so I figured that in order to create a piece of content that would target marketers, but not be an expert-ville talking about jobs, best practices, campaigns, you would have to create a show that talked about the things that people talk about online and those topics. And so I started to do the research. It was actually an idea I had for Hopin, which was targeting marketers. For a while, I was thinking about that idea and a bunch of other ideas based on developing content that way, which is essentially, like you said at the top of this, using television and broadcasting strategies, such as, like, the TV development process or broadcast programming strategies, which, you know, say, “I need to sell soap.” This is, like, back in the day and why it's called a soap opera, but “I need to sell soap. I need to create a drama during the day that women can watch while they're washing clothes or washing dishes and cleaning the house.” And so taking that approach of “how does a media company, a consumer media company, target its audience and how do I develop content and media around, like, using those philosophies and strategies.” And so “Off the Clock” is the beginning of what I'm calling the Neutral Ground Network, which will be a … like, the home for a bunch of shows or different types of programs and media that use that approach. And so “Off the Clock” features Allie Decker; Krista Doyle from Jasper, an AI tool; and Kaleigh Moore, they're the co-hosts, because I wanted to target a younger generation of marketers, and I'm in my mid-40s, old white dude. And so I had started to work with them on developing the idea, and we recently launched it. We're two episodes in as of this recording, and we're already starting to gain traction. We have a sponsor, Superpath, which is really amazing for them to believe in this wild, wild idea, and I think it's a really amazing show that gives people, like, that break. If you notice the logo, it's a logo of a clock, and the time is just a little past five because in our vision doc, I talk about the show is not a piece of content for someone to consume. The show is a place for people to go. It is the, like, I'm off the clock, I'm done with work, I do not want to think about marketing, I want to just, like, shoot the shit with my friends. And so we've gotten a really amazing response to the show so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes, because our entire strategy is only just beginning. There's, like, layers of this onion we're gonna be peeling back over the next few months.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

35:37

Heck yeah. And I have to ask, because you mentioned your experience in the nightclub industry, what was, like, your biggest learning from being in the nightclub business, and how do you take that learning to all the work that you're doing on the content team at OpenPhone?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

35:52

It's all a story. The word story, storytelling, it's like, it's a platitude or, like, a jargon these days, but I mean, really, everything's a story. My friends and I were … Ground Zero was our production company, so it'd be, like, the rave or the nightclub event, and it would be produced by Ground Zero. We had a friend that lived in Florida who was going to be coming to town. and we said, “Why don't we make him the headliner?” And no one knows who this person is, way before, like, you know, Google and the internet, like, was able to, like, understand, and we told this story of like, here's this hot DJ from Florida, and he's going to be headlining. He was actually a nobody, barely had anybody, like, go to shows in Florida, but we sold out a show because we hyped them up when we told a story. And back to how I said … like, things that I knew then ended up, I realized we're marketing things that I would apply later. I remember reading about, I think it was Wild World of Sports and ABC, when college football in the United States used to be just regional. You didn't care about LSU if you didn't live in, like, Louisiana or the South. And what they did at ABC is they figured out to tell the stories of the rivalries and tell the stories of, like, these colleges and show images of the colleges; they were able to sell the games, and so how I apply that now is I tell the stories that help people shape the perception of a company, shape the perception of a brand, and help them eventually see themselves as part of that story. And it makes it so much easier to build relationships and so forth. So it's all story.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

37:35

And I always ask our guests what's their favorite tool or the tool that they find themselves using most often as part of their job?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

37:42

Honestly, like, I would have said Google Analytics before because it actually worked or was okay. Like, I love analytics and data. I love SparkToro, but I know that they're about to be changing their tool because all the API restrictions on all these networks that are also — a lot of people don't talk about, like, the charging astronomical costs for API access now is because of AI. Those platforms’ value, like, just deprecates when an AI tool can just, like, scrape all that content. So I'm going to go with ChatGPT Plus is probably my favorite tool right now. I get stuck in my head a lot. I have ADHD, so, like, I'll get stuck in logical loops. And I am also very passive in that I don't like to bother people, and so knowing that I can just spin up ChatGPT Plus and bother it, and help — use it to help me get unstuck has been just valuable to me. It's worth the $20 a month.

Nate Matherson (Speaking)

38:41

All right, well thank you, Ronnie.
I think this has been a great episode. We really appreciate you coming on the podcast, and you'll definitely get a backlink from us, so we'll give you a backlink back to the OpenPhone site in the show notes and also provide a link over to your new show “Off the Clock,” as well as to your Twitter and your LinkedIn. And so I just want to say thank you for coming on this episode. I think it was a special one. Is there anything else you'd like to say to our audience?

Ronnie Higgins (Speaking)

39:05

Just keep at it. Lots changing right now, but if you stick to your guns, you may end up on top.

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39:19

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