Chris Brennan on Content Strategy

This is part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Chris Brennan, the Content Marketing Manager at Phorest, about the content marketing strategy.

Welcome Chris! Let’s start by having you tell about Phorest and a little bit about your role.

Cool. First off, thank you for having me on the blog.

So, Phorest Salon Software is a SaaS company that specializes in providing scheduling and marketing software to salon and spa owners so that they can drive their client back through their doors again and again. It really is an all-in-one tool that takes some of the most cumbersome (yet completely vital) aspects of running a salon and automates it so that salon owners can focus on what really matters: Making people look great and feel fantastic.

My role is the Content Manager. Basically, I oversee our content marketing & lead generation strategies, ensuring that we are sending the right message with the right voice each time we communicate with prospects.

Great, and how about your experience specifically? What’s your journey looked like since you joined the Phorest team?

I started out as the Social Media and Content Marketing Executive — such a mouthful — and that was mainly handling social media and blog writing. After a couple of years, I moved up in the company and hired someone (Zoé Bélisle-Springer) to fill the role so I could move onto a role focused on lead generation, content campaigns, and marketing strategy.

Some of my main responsibilities include overseeing Phorest content, social media & email campaigns (Zoé is in charge of the actual writing of articles and the social posting). I’m also behind the workflows we have that are designed to get people to attend our webinars, read the blog, and eventually look at new features we release. A big focus of my role is pushing our audience from an educational area to a buying area.

That leads well into our next question, which is to talk about the genius content strategy you’ve helped create at Phorest. What impresses me most is that it seems to do a great job at qualifying prospects as well as driving them further down the funnel. How did this content strategy come to be?

Well, thank you very much, I appreciate it.

My background isn’t actually in Marketing, it’s in filmmaker/screenwriter. There is some common themes in those two, primarily content, storytelling, and connecting with people.

When I started at Phorest, I knew I wanted to use the blog as a mechanism to give our audience valuable content. Instead of having an article explaining why Facebook is important, I'm going to give seven Christmas salon graphics you can put on your Facebook page. Instead of talking about the importance of music, I’ll create some playlists on Spotify for your salon.

With that strategy, our blog has been very successful. We receive a lot of interest from both clients and non-clients. When I moved up to my current position and started looking at our marketing processes at a higher level, I realized nobody was looking after the funnel. So, we invented it from the ground up.

You see, when we first started out, we’d send out an email to download one of our content assets, and then sales would call those who downloaded it. To me, that wasn’t going to be effective because in my mind those people aren’t qualified… all they did was download an ebook. I know I’ve never read an ebook from start-to-finish, have you?

[laughter] Can’t say that I have.  

Generally, people cherry-pick sections of it, but that’s no way to qualify prospects.

We eventually got sophisticated enough to implement Hubspot Automation to house all of our contacts. With lead scoring, we had sales call certain contacts based on being a subscriber, attending webinars, etc. The problem in the past was that if they weren’t interested then and there, we’d never go back to them, which seemed like a waste to me.

It felt like we were just throwing our leads into the air like Skittles and letting them fall where ever they please when we needed separate bowls to catch and color code them (I think that analogy makes sense).

So that’s where you must’ve got into developing lifecycle stages… what do those look like for you today?

I did a ton of research about inbound methodology and realized that a lot of it matched up with what we do already.

Our lifecycle stages go as follows:


  • Someone who is subscribed to the blog


  • They want extra content beyond the blog. So they’ve downloaded one of our marketing toolkits, an e-book, or fills out a form once.


  • Downloaded multiple pieces of additional content

  • Attended a webinar

Your customer — salon owners — are much different from most companies. How does that impact how you market to them?

Yeah, for sure. Our prospects are so good at what they do, but they don’t usually come from a business background. Generally, they started working at a salon, they build-up a client list,  and decide to go off on their own. After they open their business, they stand there going, "Oh shoot, what do I do now?"

That’s whom we write our blog for. I get people contacting me on a regular basis, thanking me for Spotify playlists for Christmas, and stuff like that because it’s one less thing they have to do or worry about.  

"A lot of content today is about WHY to do something... but now HOW, and for me that's where the value is."

That’s awesome. So much content out there today, regardless of industry, is so focused on the importance of doing this and that, whereas you take that a step further by saying “You should do this, and here is the template.”

Absolutely. I found that when I would go to different conferences, talks, and content in general, there is a lot of talk about WHY you should do something… But not HOW. And for me, I find more value in the HOW.

Now when I start my Facebook webinar, I’ll go through things we aren’t going to cover, and I’ll kind of slam all those conventional conferences. I’ll let the audience know we’re not going over facts and figures, or case studies about Nike and Coca-Cola because it’s irrelevant to our audience. I'd rather be real and give actual practical content that they can run off with.

You write on niche topics, like the Christmas Spotify playlists piece you mentioned, that are geared toward solving a specific business problem for your audience instead of talking about your product. What's the reasoning behind taking that approach?

My philosophy is you shouldn't lead with you, you should lead with highlighting an issue that the audience has, and then solve it. Not saying that your company can solve the issue because then it turns into a sales pitch and people today are too savvy for that.

I just don't like the idea of having to hard-sell. I like the flirtatious nature of being the nice guy and being helpful. And I can see the return when I get personal emails back from people genuinely thanking me for helping them. In the end, they actually do start valuing your company as much as they value the content.

How do you come up with those different topics (e.g. Spotify playlists) for content?

Well, we put out three blog posts per week. I wrote it for about a year and a half, and now Zoé has been running it for a year or so. Honestly, I’m amazed that we’re still able to release original content, I thought we tapped out of new ideas by now.

It's just a mix of thinking about what I would be interested in if I was a salon owner. Almost every month has a holiday so that’s something easy to play off of. Then there’s cool news in the industry that you can spitball ideas off of to put out something valuable.

I found early on that an interesting thing to do is to get away from the internet and technology side of things completely and start putting together salon design ideas. Like here's a collection of reception desk ideas. With pieces like that, we're not even close to talking about software, but that will come, eventually. We're just not trying to rush to that conversation.

Most of this all goes back to that point I made earlier about having a content strategy that is flirtatious, rather than hard sell after hard sell.

"Prospects aren't going to follow a linear line down the funnel, but we navigate it the best we can."

Earlier I mentioned that you're content actually does a great job at qualifying prospects. Is that something that you keep in mind during the creation process?

It’s something that we’re continuing to work on. We started by putting out content that is substantial and valuable, and thinking that the more content our audience gets, the closer they will be to buying into our product.

Only recently have we been developing more sophisticated campaigns that will track what webinars you’re attending and what pieces of content you’re downloading. With that information, we can use lead scoring to decide if it’s worth doing a customized report for you or reach out to see if there is interest for a one-on-one consultation.

We know that prospects in our funnel aren’t going to follow a perfect linear track but we can try to navigate them as best we can.

"I've heard complaints about pop-ups, but you can't argue with the numbers."

Now a similar question here, but this time it’s how you drive your audience down the funnel with content. Is that something that's thought about while writing or does that come into play afterward when you're deciding on the different graphics to use and call to actions to use?

We test out the call to actions, but probably not as much as other companies may. A common theme in our strategy, as you may have picked up on by now, is going off of instinct.

One thing that shot our subscribers through the roof was implementing an exit intent pop-up. I’ve heard people say that they’re not a fan of them because they interfere with the reader’s experience, but you can’t argue with the numbers.

Then we have workflows set up that if you become a subscriber, you’ll be invited to our next webinar. If you attend that webinar, another workflow will be kicked off, and so on.

It's been a strategic process. The big focus is getting those initial subscribers so we can kick-off certain workflows to get them to download another piece of content or attend the next webinar. Then from there, it’s getting that consultation booked.

At the end of these interviews, I always like to get some recommended resources.

A must follow on social media.

Especially for this audience, I'd say Gary Vaynerchuk.

His pages do tend to get a little over populated, but from the stuff I do watch, it's quite inspirational in an aggressive manner (which I like.) It's that whole, "Shut up and hustle” attitude of looking at things.

A favorite blog/podcast?

When I was starting out in marketing, the Social Media Examiner was really a great resource.

It’s funny, I would listen to it on the way to an interview and then I would say what I heard on the podcast in the interview.

Last resource: what is your favorite book?

The one I'm reading at the moment is great, it's Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath.

It's about what makes an idea sticky. The difference between a really good idea and one that just doesn't work. I can barely get through the book, and that’s a good sign because you put it down and get straight to work. It's taken me ages to read because I read two pages and I'm like, "Yep, yep, yep," and I just go off for a while.

I’m sure I'll finish it eventually.

Now for the final and most difficult question, what is your favorite 90's dance song?

That's a good question. I was a 90's rap fan growing up, so I wouldn't be too savvy on 90’s Dance... I would have to go with What is Love by Haddaway. That Will Ferrell/SNL song. Yeah, I’ll go with that one because it’s the only one I can think of right now.

Sounds good. It’s a classic for sure.

Yeah, exactly.

Thanks again for the time today Chris, this was great.

Thanks for having me.