Ross has declared it: Bob Ross is the OG of content marketing.
Though he hasn’t been creating content since 1995, his content is still very much alive (just check out his YouTube videos that each have millions of views).
In this throwback episode we go back in time and breakdown the biggest components that made Bob Ross a success (and still does) and how we can all recreate this kind of long-lasting content ourselves.
Ross: The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross is one of the most underrated marketing stories in history. Wait, what? Yes, I kid you not. Bob Ross is the guy with the curly fro and amazing painting skills, and he is truly American through and through. And most people don’t even realize it. You see, like from 1983 to 1994, Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting was a smash hit. The show was famous for Bob’s smoothing voice, open neck shirts, his distinct fro, and those beautiful wet-on-wet oil paintings.
And if you had a TV between 1983 and 1994, and some of you probably weren’t even alive back then, but trust me, if you were, you would have loved and consumed some of Bob Ross’ episodes, and you would have been able to learn how to paint detailed landscapes for free. Just take a listen to this clip to get a sense of what Bob was all about.
Talia: This guy is amazing. I mean, just incredible. I have to say I was like nine when his show went off air, so I haven’t seen any of his stuff. But just watching like one minute of this is just incredible. Wow.
Ross: It is. It’s awesome. And now, funny enough, of course, he hasn’t been publicly broadcasting for years, but all of this content is now available on YouTube and even on Netflix, right? I love the fact that it is still readily available. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that even today he is very much an internet sensation. People love Bob Ross. And while it’s sad he died back in 1995, the Bob Ross YouTube Channel has more than four million subscribers. The average video has more than 125,000 views. One even has 29 million views. And it’s actively being managed to kind of continue telling the story around Bob Ross and the power of wet-on-wet painting and things of that nature.
It’s fascinating to see the longevity that this kind of show that was created in the early ’80s and carried on into the early ’90s was able to have on society as a whole. While it’s reported at least 90% of viewers didn’t paint along with Bob during the ’80s and ’90s and it’s safe to say I’ve watched many Bob Ross videos and I’ve never painted with him as well, there’s no question that people just consume this content because it’s good content. In one of the recent videos, I saw some amazing comments that people were leaving just to like say what they felt around this thing. So one of the comments was, “The only thing that amazes me more than Bob’s amazing paintings is the way he holds a huge palette up against him with a ruining his shirt.”
Talia: Oh my god. It’s been driving me nuts. I was watching this for like two, three minutes. I was like, how is he doing that?
Ross: He never gets dirty. He’s always able to kind of maintain the perfect hold on that palette of his, and it never messes up. It’s pretty crazy to watch, but yeah, you’re so right. And then there was another comment that kind of just like shows the connection that people feel like they have with Bob Ross where this person is just saying, “I love how Bob Ross makes it not complicated. Besides the techniques, Bob Ross teaches me how to relax and not worry while painting.” So this is somebody who’s probably painting with him, but then there’s other people commenting who say things like, “I fell asleep seven minutes into this video due to his soothing voice.”
Some people are saying things like, “I like to imagine that Bob Ross is now painting in the heavens. I swear that Bob Ross paint is my therapy. Bob Ross is getting me through the quarantine.” People love Bob Ross, and it’s because of these videos that he’s still kind of able to have an active role in culture today. It’s been interesting to stumble across this is guy and the impact that they’ve had. People without any interest in painting, right, watch him paint and become fully obsessed with his style, his mannerisms, his delivery. And over the years, this has allowed Bob to gain authority and build connection with viewers that kind of transcends generations.
And what I talked about earlier around the idea that Bob Ross is actually a marketer, I want to take you back into a time to really understand that he is the OG content marketer because of a simple reason. He was doing all of these videos with the goal of generating income, and he had been running an art supplies business before he had the hit TV series and was actually selling the materials that he then uses in these videos and hosting painting classes in person for some time before the show actually starting. The idea of wet-on-wet technique, which Bob kind of made famous, is something that he learned and he fell in love with. He ran painting classes to kind of promote the supplies that his supply company was actually promoting and selling.
That was the core idea. And then one of the people who attended his workshops actually said, “You should be on TV,” and that’s when everything changed. The formula was very simple. He would come on TV with his soft spoken voice, his trusty perm, that amazing palette, and he would show people how to bring to life these beautiful creations. Very similar to the way a lot of marketing is done today where people take you behind their keyboard and show you how to write code. People take you into their homes and show you how to do yoga. All of these things that are essentially considered new age content marketing, Bob was doing way back in the eighties through a TV deal that he struck with PBS.
And PBS didn’t actually pay him for any of his shows. They were all done for free with the intent on his end to sell his art supplies and to sell more classes. He was actually able to generate 15 million was accounted for at some of the data that we were able to pull out around how much revenue he was able to do with this business, which is nearly 30 million today, all on the back of this show. And folks, at the end of the day, you have to recognize, again, this is content marketing 101. You add a bunch of value in the form of education. You inject your personality into it. You tell your story, and then you be paid as a result by essentially attracting eyeballs and then upselling them on the product or the solution that you really want to talk about.
So he’s giving away a ton and ton of valuable information for free. And as a result of that, there’s a whole bunch of benefits. So what I want to talk about now for our listeners is so let’s dive into what the benefit is of giving away things for free. Because oftentimes I’ll talk to people and they’ll say, “Ross, I can’t believe you give away all of your techniques about content marketing with content distribution,” and I’m sure you’ve encountered the same thing with a lot of the cheat sheets, with a lot of the conversion rate optimization stuff you put out there, the testing, et cetera, like all of that information that you folks put out there. People must ask, “Why do you give it away for free?”
So let’s talk to the listeners today around the benefits of giving away information for free and what comes with it as a result. So if I was to ask you, why do you give away so much free information, Talia, what would be your response?
Talia: First of all, you are a 100% correct. This is one of the biggest questions that I keep getting and also when I’m teaching courses and I’m doing trainings, people always reach out and say, “I don’t feel comfortable giving away free stuff, whatever. People are going to copy my stuff.” And for me, what I found is that one of the biggest advantages of giving away content for free, which I have to say I don’t really see it as for free, I just see it as building a brand and building trust.
The biggest benefit of it is that when I’m sending out and providing valuable content, something that really provides value for my audience, later on when I reach out with a paid product, people are far more inclined to read about it, take interest in it, and purchase it.
I love that. Gathering trust and sustaining that kind of relationship with people is key when you give away content for free. I think that’s oftentimes underestimated by a lot of folks. One of the thing that is also beneficial is when you create that one asset, you’re building a connection with the people on the other end of the keyboard that is very difficult to replace, right? The fact that you have helped them accomplish something through content that you’ve created on the internet builds a real meaningful relationship. And that’s powerful. That’s a connection that can last a long, long time.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I also think that another benefit is being able to scale and grow your list. So we’ve talked about email marketing many times now. At the end of the day, email marketing is the strongest channel that you can use to drive traffic to a website, to increase your conversions, to grow sales. And when you are providing free content, which, again, we’re talking about valuable content here, you’re growing your list that you can lay to reach out to and connect with. And I think we spoke about this in one of our previous episodes where we were able to increase our list by 4,000 people with one piece of free content, with a cheat sheet that we gave people, because it was very valuable and because people needed it.
Ross: Yeah, and that content is so scalable because, again, you create it once and it can last for a very, very long time. Sure. Some of the techniques, some of the ideas may eventually no longer be relevant, but that’s when you go in and you update them, right? So you have the ability once you press publish on a piece of content itself once, to have that content scale and to continue to work for you over a long period of time. It’s a bit of a mental switch that we have to play because in the past, we kind of viewed it from a traditional advertising method. And what I mean by that is like we, as marketers, have forever ran like TV spots or radio ads.
And those pieces of content, TV ads or radio ads, whatever it may be, kind of have a life cycle that ends when the ad ends. But with content, a checklist, a blog post, a white paper, an eBook, whatever that may be, you can repurpose and reuse that content for a very long time and it’s also able to reach more people because of the internet, right? You don’t run into the same issues with, if you didn’t happen to be sitting in front of your TV on June 1st, 2020, you wouldn’t have caught that certain ad. But because of the internet, if you press publish on a piece of content, somebody can Google that today, someone can Google that tomorrow, and it can give you a lot of dividends long-term. That’s one of the other benefits that comes from it.
Do you have any assets that you’ve created a long time ago that continue to pay dividends? Give me an example of one that you’ve seen that has worked for a long period of time that may have been published a year ago, two years ago, or if you want to go way back, like maybe you’ve created a piece five years, ago. Do you have any examples of assets that continue to work for you?
Talia: Oh yeah. So I think I created it back in 2016, so that’s four years ago now, and we have a ton of free resources on our website. But without a doubt, this one is the one that people continuously come back to cause we’re constantly updating it. So it’s a complete list of cognitive biases, so psychological triggers that affect us. And what we do is in this cheat sheet, we explain how this bias affects our purchasing decisions, how it affects the way we think, and then how you can use it or avoid it or utilize it in different ways in your marketing. And we go back every few months and we add more, and we update it, and we add more case studies and more examples of different brands using it.
And without a doubt, that is our biggest, most valuable piece that keeps on driving more and more people to download it and use it. And one of the things that you mentioned, which I think is so important, is that repurposing the content. Because at the end of the day, you can take that piece of content, which you may have created a cheat sheet for it, or maybe it’s a blog post, or maybe it’s a guide, and then be able to create a podcast episode on it, or you could then create a YouTube video for it. So being able to take that content and repurpose it and distribute it all over the web is a wonderful way and that’s also why this piece of content that we created way back ago, I mean four years ago, now in these terms it’s like a decade ago, right?
Talia: That’s why it works because we’ve been using it all across our different assets on our site, on other people’s sites, and it keeps delivering. What about you? Do you have a piece of content like that?
Ross: Yeah. We have a handful. I have one piece of content that I probably wrote when I was fresh out of university, and it was just like a list of quotes. And still today it generates a handful of visits through the rosssimmonds.com website. And what I did was I started to inject my own quotes in it and every now and again, I’ll see people share these quotes with my name associated with them. And these are quotes that I created for myself way back in 2016-2017, and people share them because this post ranks very highly for some quote related content. And it’s, again, because of the fact that we created that piece of content, gave away information for free, and it still continues to work. And the same thing works with Bob Ross, right?
Like Bob Ross is no longer creating content. He is no longer the person who is creating content for this brand. He passed away back in 1995, but the content allows him to live beyond his own life, right? The YouTube channel numbers speaks volumes. It goes beyond even that. He has kind of become a part of internet culture and is very much very accessible today. BuzzFeed, for example, like a few years back, they published 20 essential life lessons from Bob Ross. Google, they used their Google Doodle for his 70th birthday in 2012 to kind of pay tribute to Bob Ross. In 2015, Twitch kind of created this entire series where they streamed every episode of The Joy of Painting in its entirety and then 5.6 million people watch it at one point.
The content has lived to see a life long after Bob has gone, and this is because that content that he developed is what we would consider like evergreen. And there’s a lot of people who have different variations and understandings of what evergreen content is, but you really don’t know what evergreen content is until you see it. And you can see it when it’s actually working long-term. A lot of people think they have evergreen content just because they wrote a very long blog post or a very long white paper or something like that. That’s not really evergreen. Evergreen is when that piece of content connects with people long-term over time, and you can really only see evergreen content when you start to kind of move into the future.
So let’s talk a little bit about what goes into evergreen content and the first steps that you need to take to create it and ensure that you are developing it. The first thing that I always tell folks to do, and this is kind of a stolen concept right out of your playbook, but you have to start by understanding your audience and the people you’re trying to connect with, right? You need to start by understanding what type of content or information do these people want and then how can you best attribute and create that content for them. That’s essentially my initial starting point. It’s like let’s figure out what people want. What are your thoughts on that?
Talia: 100%. I think that at the end of the day, when people think about content… And this is a constant conversation that I have with people. Yes, you can create a white paper. You could create a case study. You could create a video explaining how to use your product, but that’s not the kind of content that we’re talking about here. When we’re talking about evergreen content, we’re talking about meaningful content that really helps people get something done. For example, in one of our previous episodes, we spoke about how to set goals you can actually follow and achieve. That is helping you being able to set goals for yourself and really feel good about something that you are able to create for yourself.
And at the end of the day, in order to create content that people really love, people use, and people recommend become ambassadors of, you need to know what people need. So it’s not about giving away your entire business or giving away your entire strategy or business plan. It’s more about understanding a specific pain that people are going through, a specific thing that’s keeping them up at night, something that would really benefit them if they knew how to solve it.
It doesn’t have to be your entire guide to grow an entire vegetable garden, but it could be about how to tend to the tomatoes that something’s wrong with them and how to actually fix that and make sure that they grow correctly and how to make sure they get the right amount of sun and earth and everything. So it’s just about finding one specific issue and understanding how you can help them solve it easily and simple in a very kind of quick and accessible way, if that makes sense.
100%. That does make sense. I think there’s a lot of value in trying to deliver pieces of content that are bite size and don’t try to solve the full suite of an issue. But the only way that you can get to that insight is to really understand and talk to or research and kind of truly get to know who it is you’re trying to create content for. You have to do research, whether it’s quantitative or whether it’s qualitative. But once you do that, you can start to figure out, okay, this is what people want. This is what they’re interested in. Let’s give that to them. There’s two real elements of it that you can also take, right? I think a lot of times in the marketing world we talk about educational content and educational content being the key to everything.
But you can also inject a little bit of entertainment into it as well. Sure, Bob Ross’ content is educational first and foremost. He is educating you on how to essentially do wet-on-wet paintings. But at the core of it, there’s also a little bit of entertainment in there. His mannerisms, his witty lines that he uses throughout everything, his calmness, the fact that he has a perm, his jokes, all of those things provide you with a little bit of entertainment as well. I don’t think a lot of credit is given to this whole concept of like edutainment where your content is educational, but it’s also entertaining at the same time. I think there’s a lot of value in that.
Again, now I’m dating myself a little bit, but if I go back into time to like Mr. Rogers and some of the shows that I watched as a kid like Mr. Dressup, some of you are listening to this know what I’m talking about, those shows were educational, but they were also very entertaining, right? Like Finnegan… Again, I’m going down a rabbit hole here talking about Mr. Rogers, but like all of those old school educational shows, and I’m sure I’m going to be learning about a whole bunch of new ones in the coming months with my children, but I don’t know any of the modern educational shows at this point.
But I think all of those things are an example of evergreen content where the story provide you with morals, it provides you with lessons, et cetera, but it’s still a whole bunch of fun wrapped around it. Sesame Street is another example of that, right? They’re very educational, but they are fun. You’re not just counting, you’re counting cookies, right? It’s a fun element to it as well. I think a lot of times we get away from that whole fun part of business, but it can be key.
Talia: I think it also leads into another greater point, which is people connect with people. We connect with people like ourselves. We want to relate to people. So the entertainment is part, I believe, of being able to see someone who is like you on screen or being able to connect with someone while reading their blogs or while reading their emails. Most of my emails that I sent to my list or personal. I tell them about questions that Rio, my three year old, asks me, or I tell them about a client case that didn’t go really well for me or something that did go really well. So I share a lot of things with people and some of it’s entertaining, some of it’s funny things that happened to me and mishaps.
It’s all a mix. But at the end of the day, it’s people sharing with people. And a lot of people hit me back with emails and telling me how the email affected them or how they felt about it. And for me, it’s connecting with the person behind the screen. And I do feel that that entertainment, that education, it all stems from the same place of connecting and creating a relationship. What’d you think?
Ross: I’m with you. I think the key piece there is finding ways to connect and be more human is the best way to do business with humans. And for some reason again, we overlook the fact that the person on the other side of the keyboard isn’t just a bunch of pixels. You’re talking to a human and at its core is emotions. It’s the same types of things that have motivated people and inspired people for decades. You just need to tap into them. Bob Ross did this so well, right? There’s a reason why people comment on his videos talking about how he’s gotten them through the quarantine, how he’s gotten them through dark times in their lives. It’s because people connect with people and he acts as a human and he embraces that.
I think he’s definitely someone out of all of the OG kind of content marketers that I’ve come across that really owns that idea of being human and allowing that human side to kind of show. I think there is something to be said for this whole concept of personal branding even being a part of this. If you look at our industry and marketers, especially people who are doing public speaking and things like that, personal branding and building up a reputation is a real thing. And the fact that you can lean into your personality and be comfortable with that is an advantage if you can do it well. I’d say that’s something that I’ve noticed that people who truly are the same person online as they are in person have an advantage, right?
Like a lot of times you can come across folks on Twitter who found one way online and then you meet them in the person, they’re complete opposite of that. And you’re like, what’s going on? I think you have to stay true to yourself. You have to not put on a new face. Try to embrace who you are and that can also help you go far. When you are creating content online, do you oftentimes think about how you’re injecting your personality into your content. And similarly on Twitter, do you think about that often, or is it just like more natural this point?
Talia: At this point, I have to tone myself down.
Ross: I love it!
Talia: I’m just one of these people that shares a ton and sometimes maybe too much. I am who I am online and offline. I don’t know. We’ve met several times now, and I think…
Ross: Oh, I think you live that 100%, and I think it’s key to kind of embrace the idea of being who you are online and in person. There used to be a time when I think folks used to think, “Oh, you can be one person in real life and you can be one person online,” but the lines have blurred and it’s no longer really feasible to be separate. Be who you are, own who you are, and kind of take a page out of Bob Ross’ book as you start to build your brand around your personality. If you’re doing something that you don’t like or doing something online that’s not really fitting you, you might have to actually be stuck with it a little bit.
What’s interesting is like before Bob became an art sensation, folks don’t really realize this, but he was a drill sergeant. And in his book, Happy Little Accidents, it talks about how Bob hated being mean to soldiers. And he decided once he got out of the military, he was going to completely shift his personality, and he was going to embrace soft mannerisms. He was going to be calm and relaxed when he was talking to folks and that kind of translated into his show. And we can see that in his work and in the content and the videos.
And that is an element of it that Bob loved, but there was also a part of his personal kind of brand that he didn’t like, and it was the fact that he got a perm, hence the fro that he has in all of the videos, because he didn’t want to pay for regular trips to the barber. Now, at one point, he did state he hated the fact that he had a fro. He hated the fact that he had this perm. But because people loved it so much and because it was such a signature element of his brand, he had to keep it. So he didn’t really want it, but because the market attributed that fro to him, he was like, “I can’t shave it anymore.” So he’s had to kind of keep it. So you have to be careful in some ways as well.
Make sure that if you are embracing something or you’re doing something, you have to really own that and be okay with people having the expectation. That’s something that I’ve run into with the suspenders. I have gone to event after event and if I show up and I don’t wear suspenders, people are asking me, “Ross, where are your suspenders? What are you doing?”
Talia: Oh my gosh, I did that to you.
Ross: Very common. People ask me where are my suspenders? And it’s like, I’m in San Diego and it is very hot. You think I’m going to wear suspenders and a full dress shirt right now? But it’s an expectation, so I’m leaning into it. When I do speak at events, I do typically bring a pair of suspenders with me because I know it is a part of my brand. So I do make it happen.
Talia: That’s so funny.
Ross: Yeah. I’ve even gone to an event overseas and forgot my suspenders and then went out and found suspenders in a foreign country so I could rock the brand on stage.
Talia: Oh my gosh.
Ross: Yeah. You have to.
Talia: You know what? That actually reminds me that a couple of times when I’ve gone overseas or I’ve met people in person, they would say to me, “Oh, where’s the pink?”
Ross: Oh! Right.
Talia: “Where’s the pink in your hair?”
Talia: That’s just part of my brand and people are used to it. But at some point I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore.
Ross: See, Bob Ross would have leaned into it. You have to get the pink streak back or purple or something.
Talia: It is actually. It is back.
Ross: It is back? That’s amazing. That’s awesome. I will also say, I am not wearing suspenders right now.
Talia: I do want to build on that though, because I think that the more we progress and the more we grow, I think there is a space not just in brand because I know we’re talking about personal one, but there is a space to make mistakes.
Talia: That you say something wrong, you do something, you maybe even recommend a certain way to go about things and it’s a mistake or it didn’t work for you. And I think that for me, and this is actually one of the emails that I recently sent and I’m not going to get into it now because I want to talk about it in a different episode, was about owning those mistakes. Because for me without a doubt, starting out this business, I always tried to avoid failure, and I try to avoid mistakes. And when I made them, I felt like I had to hide them. And I couldn’t tell anyone that I made a mistake or that something didn’t go well.
But these days I feel like because I’m more transparent and because I say, “Hey, shit hit the fan. Something doesn’t work,” people connect better and people believe in the authenticity. I don’t know. It’s just more authentic in my opinion. So I know that people, especially B to B brands, are really worried about this personal branding, about this being more approachable, being more entertaining, being more wearing their heart on their sleeve more, if that’s the right way to say it then. But I really believe that these mistakes are part of what build your brand and what make you accessible and what help your evergreen content and the content that you’re creating even more powerful.
Ross: I think you’re right. There’s a lot of value in creating content that it kind of highlights what you’ve learned from the past. And in the past, if you’re not making a lot of mistakes, if you’re not experimenting, if you’re not failing at things, then it’s very possible that you’re playing it too safe. And I think that there is a lot of value that your audience can get just from seeing you try in public, learn something, and share your lessons in public. And that gives you all of those things that we talked about before, authority, it gives you trust, it gives you that connection. And the fact that it’s content gives you the ability to kind of have your content scale.
Ross: So when you look at all the different check boxes in terms of what goes into great content marketing, being transparent about your failures is definitely something that can work well. And again, you may not necessarily lean into that style of content right away. You might try something different. You might try to stick with the educational content. You might try to stick with the entertaining content. But even in doing that, you’re taking that first step into creating content and that on its own is something to be proud of and something that you should lean into and try to do with your brand. At the end of the day though, even with that, it’s very possible that you’ll make mistakes. It’s possible that some of the posts that you put out there will be flops.
It’s possible that some of the posts that you put out there will not resonate with anyone, that it will get very few eyeballs and won’t generate traffic and won’t generate shares, and nobody will actually care about some of the content you put out there. That is a very real possibility. And I think the one thing to keep in mind is what Bob’s favorite saying was which is “there are no mistakes, just only happy accidents.” And if you make a happy accident, it’s okay. Be happy that you can learn from it and be happy that you can move onward from it with the insight around how not to make it in the future. So I think that’ll wrap up the Bob Ross episode. Tell folks where they can learn more and where they can connect with us.
Talia: So don’t forget to give us a five star review and join us on our Facebook group. We’re already having some super interesting conversations in there. People are asking us questions. They are giving us ideas for episodes, and you can do the same. So jump into the Facebook group, which is facebook.com/groups/actiondrivenpodcast, and we’d be happy to see you there. Bye.