Kane Jamison founded a content agency in 2012 and is now pivoting to software. His new tool Content Harmony helps content teams streamline briefs and grade articles. Kane gave us demos of both features:
Content Harmony has a deal for Superpath readers: get your first 10 briefs for $10.
Content Harmony is our first official partner. To learn more about becoming a partner, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s changed most about running a content agency since 2012? Also, are you still doing client work or shifting all of your attention to the product side?
Kane: In 2012, 'content marketing' was its own discipline, and people were still figuring it out, the same as most other digital efforts. Fast forward nearly 10 years and I think content marketing has a much clearer set of specialties and focus areas that have emerged - primarily around audience or the end goals for the program.
So the biggest change in running an agency, and one thing I wish I had done sooner, is that specializing within content marketing is critical. This has been true for agencies forever, but people were much more interested in a 'content marketing agency' in 2012, and now are much more interested in a 'content marketing agency that specializes in dev ops thought leadership'.
Re: your second question - we spun off our agency team under another brand name alongside a bunch of websites we own. I am removed from the day to day work there, Content Harmony is my main focus.
I'm super curious what you've learned about how different orgs use content briefs. In the past I've trained writers to do almost all of their own research (with stages of review), which helped speed. Right now we're using briefs. What do you see in most orgs?
Kane: The biggest difference is that a lot of in-house teams prefer to train writers to be full stack, and a lot of agencies have to use multiple writer scenarios depending on their client resources, so those two workflows tend to be where I see the most differences.
Taking writers and teaching them to understand the search results and what type of content Google expects to see is a hard training process since you're asking them to become 3-4 types of specialists in order to do it.
But there's a small number of teams that appear to do it well, and those folks who can understand what Google wants and also don't have any trouble being prolific are incredibly powerful additions to a team.
But, it's hard to find those people, consistently train them, etc., and perhaps more importantly, it usually doesn't scale beyond a couple individuals. I think most teams are fine having a few specialists involved in the process who have a good working arrangement between them and use documents like briefs to keep everything from going off the rails.
Would love to hear how you came on content briefs as a problem that software could/should solve.
Kane: We were 100% solving our own problem. In 2018 our agency team saw some churn from trying to do too many things, and we regrouped and decided to move in a productized service approach where we really did the same rinse and repeat processes in a high quality way.
Content briefs were the one thing that sucked the most on every single content asset we would build. It was a 2 page checklist of SEO things to look at before you even started writing the brief, and it was all automatable stuff. None of the brief/report solutions on the market came close to doing what I wanted them to, so we decided to build it for ourselves. When we did that I considered low code options like Bubble and then decided to 'do it right' and build something that would be a stable SaaS-ready product. It took a bit longer for MVP but was definitely worth it - we can handle quite a bit of volume now.
I’d love to hear about the steps you took to test the water before pivoting from service to SaaS. Did you have your internal processes so tight that you were able to automate them, or did you have to explore how others create content before building a tool?
Kane: I did tons and tons of product write ups and google docs to hand off to our first devs. I built entire grading and scoring models inside of Docs before they ever got committed to code. I had a full page wireframe with sample data as well.
So I had a very good visual of what I wanted.
Ironically when you actually start building, half of that gets thrown out the door and you realize which elements will work and which have to change, especially when you're building the digital workflow.
In regards to testing the water on the marketplace though, we didn't do much. I knew that if we never sold a single subscription, we would still be able to do awesome briefs for our own agency team (who has now spun off under a different name).
There was only one product on the market that had briefs at that point and I demoed it, but, it had pricing that was more expensive than having VAs do the work, and it didn't include half of the stuff we wanted, so we decided we would build our own.
How do you think about content quality/“shareability” playing a role in its own distribution? Put another way, if you build something remarkable, is it easier to market? How so?
Kane: So many thoughts.
- Most content will not promote itself unless you've built sufficient audience for it to do so.
- Most content will not be very promotable unless you build it with the end goal in mind. If you want to build links, you need to figure out why somebody would want to link to that content. Then you can go do that style of promotion. Same with other channels eg paid social or whatever it might be.
- Outside of content promotion and looking at broader product vs marketing - I think great products will overcome mediocre products regardless of marketing strategy - but there still has to be a go to market strategy that builds awareness and adoption even if it's not a 'classic marketing department'.
Have you thought about spinning a productized content brief service into its own brand, a la Joel Klettke’s Case Study Buddy and Sam Shepler’s Testimonial Hero?
Kane: We sort of do - we have a manual briefs-as-a-service option but we haven't put the pedal to the metal on promoting it yet: https://www.contentharmony.com/services/managed-briefs/
I still want to teach teams to fish before I offer to fish for them.
Is your API call limit customizable? Say, if we wanted to run bulk reports on topics and pipe data into a Google Data Studio tool on our end?
Kane: You're getting right into the hard stuff :smiley:
Right now API is internal only, haven't opened it up to users. When we do, you'll usually be creating a report or a bulk set of reports and then waiting for them to complete, similar to sending out a request to scrape a SERP, because we're fetching live data.
Once the report is complete, though, you should be able to pipe that data wherever you like - it'll all be a fairly standard JSON object to deal with.
I have a question about your content brief software: In my experience, content brief software of systems (as I've tried to loosely create them) are very much like project management software — they're only really effective if adoption is high. Does your software offer support by way of team adoption if an org is just getting started using content briefs?
And do you have any advice for people whose teams are slow to adopt these new processes and tech related to content (classic question haha)?
Kane: Yes, so, I 100% see our software as workflow software. The brief starts with a keyword and can go through a few different workflows, but there's always 1 or more people going through those steps.
Because of that - our onboarding approach is to help every step of the way. We will help you migrate your existing briefs, we will train your team how to build briefs our way which you can then customize, we will record custom training sessions for you to store internally -- all of that.
When it comes to full team adoption - there are really two parties who have to be invested in using the briefs - the strategist or person creating the brief, and the writer that is working off of it.
If those two people are onboard I think everyone else is a bystander (eg legal/editorial teams that are involved in process but never driving it forward).
NLP and NLG are a hot topic in Content Marketing, and there’s more and more tools coming to market which help content marketers work more efficient and get better results. How does Content Harmony measure up to MarketMuse, Clearscope, and Frase?
Kane: Lots of stuff to unpack in there when you get really deep into the process behind generating topic models, etc.
Every tool out there has something they excel at - what Content Harmony excels at is giving teams and strategists a chance to build a great brief that goes above and beyond the report itself. With that in mind, we're very focused on solving a workflow problem to help you build those insights, as opposed to generating recommendations that we think your team needs to follow.
With that said, the workflow won't work if the data is garbage, so we're fairly picky about data sources, what we show users, how we process the data, etc.
In regards to the literal topic model, we analyze the top 30-40 competitors in the SERP for your target keyword (we actually combine results from a couple of SERP variations so the number of results varies). Once we have that list, we process them through IBM's NLP API, do a bunch of post-processing and de-duplication, and then we prioritize our topic model based upon the number of competitors using each set of terms.
From the competitors you listed, that process is closest to Clearscope, since Frase & MarketMuse use their own internal topic/keyword models and extraction process.
I think our content grader stands up well against comparisons to those and other competitors, but there are lots of mini features and product decisions that will appeal to different teams that each competitor has, so while 'grading' has become commoditized IMO, there's still plenty of ways to stand out.
We're not looking at tackling long-form NLG problems right now - eg we don't want to generate your article or copy for you. I think it's a useful and interesting problem to solve but it will take a long time before most teams adopt it as a core part of their process.
Is your content grader competitive with Clearscope, Rankscience etc? would love to hear how you break down the market here.
Kane: Generally yes. When you get into the details we're pretty different and solve different Jobs To Be Done, but, we're all going to fall into a similar category. The content grading feature is what connects the category together, however, it's not our core focus.
We set out to build a workflow for building content briefs - to me that involves a detailed-but-broad report about a topic that helps a strategist produce a brief for clients or writers. Most other tools in the space give you a detailed or simple report that you can export - but the concept of having a strategist's recommendations in there isn't part of their approach.
There are other ways to break down the market - eg whether the app is using a home grown topic model, generating one using IBM/Google NLP (that's where we fall in), or using more simplistic approaches like TF-IDF. However this address the topic model and the content grader, not the rest of the workflow that we focus on.
We're generally one of the only apps that has detailed search intent data, visual content recommendations, and is focused on the brief as a human-driven deliverable, not a report you can export.
I have a bunch more thoughts here but overall, it's been interesting to see it emerge as a category. When we started building in 2018, I had only seen one other competitor and they barely overlapped with what we were building. Fast forward two years and I'm aware of at least 20 different content graders, but there's still a lot of differences across all of the options.
Fair to say you're differentiated because you're really honed in on content workflow?
That's the #1 way, yes. Definitely some big philosophy differences between all of us as well in regards to each of our roadmaps. For instance, there's a few companies that are pushing in new feature directions (Questions, NLG, sitewide content auditing), a few companies that are mixing the tool in with large SEO toolsets, and I see Content Harmony being the main tool that is pushing forward on building a workflow and process as our primary focus.
There's also a few tools that have no desire to become anything other than a content grader, and that's cool, too, but I think that position will be eroded as teams realize they can get same grading experience alongside other features they need for their team.
I have one more very important question. why are so many entrepreneurs into woodworking, remodeling, home improvement, etc? That can’t be a coincidence.
Ha - for me it's the exact same reason I started blogging - I get personal joy/validation/satisfaction from creating new things in the world.
Building software is my recent addition to "things i like to build".