Distilling Tactical Content from Interviews with Vicky Phan

Jason Saltzman
Head of Growth

All good content stems from good conversation. At Verbatim, we’ve seen this ethos proven true time and time again — across editorial pieces, blog posts, social strategies, and more. 

To dive into this idea, we sat down with Vicky Phan, our own Head of Content, who takes us through the end-to-end workflow of translating interviews into top-tier pillar content. She covers: 

  1. Three key questions to ask before putting pen to paper
  2. Why casual conversations make for the best content
  3. A tactical how-to for turning dialogue into editorial

Why Casual Convos Lead to the Best Content

As mentioned, all great content has to start with great conversation, meaning your interview flows — the source of all of your material — need to be locked in. 

Even before then, start by considering the actual participants in your interview. 

  • The interviewer — Your interviewer should be experienced (or open to a lot of practice) in asking the right follow-ups while naturally, casually guiding the conversation. 
  • The interviewee — “Good material” can be defined as the info your users need to know. Interview the experts (i.e., operators, founders, investors) who can speak to these topics. 

When an adept interviewer meets a knowledgeable interviewee, you’ll see a more comfortable and candid back-and-forth, which then leads to more honest, unique, and valuable content. 

Leveraging the Social Proof of Interviewees

When your interview subjects are established and well-versed in their categories, you don’t just gain expert insights for your content. You’ll also find the essential element of social proof. 

Let’s say a company selling customer support software publishes an article about the value of excellent customer support. Then, they plug their product in the last line. (A classic.) 

Even if the piece is earnestly written and chock full of industry insights, all users see is another seller spinning their product as important. There’s no value-add or credibility to this content. 

Enter stage left: social proof value. 

This time, let’s say you’re a finance tool for brands, and you decide to interview a well-known fintech investor from your network as a feature in your content. A few things will happen: 

  1. You attract your ICP — Brands are drawn to the piece (and thus your site) because they want to hear about industry projections and investment criteria from cool VCs. 
  2. The content gains trust — Since the info is coming directly from experts in the space (not someone trying to sell you on something), it feels like a truly neutral third party. 
  3. Support for your product feels honest — It’s the same reason why testimonials, case studies, celebrity and influencer endorsements, etc. dominate the conversation. 

Of course, it goes without saying that interviewees should never be positioned as a mouthpiece for your marketing scripts. Rather, you’re amplifying their relevant, original thoughts and takes. 

You’ll soon find readers are drawn to that transparency and credible insight.

Turn Conversations into Marketing Assets

Interview-based content is at its strongest when it maintains its human touch. In other words: It thrives when grounded in the familiarity of a simple conversation between two people. 

This directly contrasts how, despite its best efforts, most marketing is plagued by impersonality. 

That said, it’s still called content marketing for a reason. With every piece, your company’s marketing value and hard-fought branding and positioning need to shine through. 

In the actual writing, it can be tricky to balance the personality of an interview with the strategy of a marketing asset. To start, Vicky drives home one basic but misunderstood principle: 

When it comes to high-performing content, knowing your audience is everything. 

Tactical Content Marketing = Knowing Your Audience

Whether through Copywriting 101 or your English class in high school, you’ve likely heard the direction: “Know your audience.” Yet, most of us were left without tactical steps to do so. 

For Vicky, this looks like defining your reader (AKA your target audience or ICP), understanding their pain points and aspirations, and materializing all of this into the actual piece. 

For instance, when Verbatim writes for an eCom infrastructure company, we make sure we’re crystal clear that the readership will likely be early-stage brands. 

At a tactical level, that looks like writing and revising headlines until each one speaks directly to early-stage founders and the specific goals they want to meet. 

Whether your audience craves more conversions, less resource drain, faster sales ops, or something else, you’re essentially crafting your content to speak to your ICP’s psychology. 

Great content is an end-to-end process of knowing what the reader needs and will benefit from: 

  • From how you plan your interview questions to elicit relevant insights from your guests
  • To how you distill and package tactical advice as an article, social graphic, etc. 
Maintain the Uniqueness of Each Conversation

Circling back, Vicky reiterates that the strongest interview-based content can both: 

  1. Function effectively as a targeted marketing asset
  2. Capture the “humanness” of a conversation between two people

These conversations are so valuable because every operator, founder, and investor (no matter how similar their roles or industries are) brings something entirely unique to the table. 

In her words: “You can interview two VCs with super comparable resumés and years spent investing in eCom and get two very different or even contrasting takes on the space.” 

Overall, each interviewee brings their one-of-a-kind personal background and path through the industry — creating a new conversational dynamic to influence that piece of content. 

That in itself is inherently human, the kind of factor that can’t be replaced by simply researching and synthesizing existing knowledge on the Internet. 

To honor that, Vicky suggests doing “perhaps too much research” on your guest before writing a piece, since, by distilling their ideas and advice, you’re almost writing on their behalf. 

To best contextualize their opinions, keep their deeper background and unique path to investing or entrepreneurship (especially if they started out in a very unrelated career) in mind. 

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3 Questions to Ask to Set Up Your Piece

Before you can write strategically and coherently, Vicky emphasizes asking: 

  1. Who you’re writing to (your target audience, ICP, etc.)
  2. Who you’re writing for or on behalf of (your interviewee)
  3. Who or where you’re writing from (either your company or your client)

That last factor is one we haven’t touched on yet. To fully understand (in our case) a client who’s entrusted you with their company voice, she recommends: 

  • Research, research, research — Click through your client’s website till you can summarize most of their talking points, both in their words and your own. 
  • Adapt yourself — At the same time, you are, of course, being hired to take on their brand identity. Note the specific marketing language they use that crops up over and over. It’ll clue you in heavily on what you should be weaving into their content. 

It feels a lot like writing a letter, with a clear “To” and “From.” Verbatim, as the content team in between, almost functions as the envelope packaging the message. 

To continue the analogy, your distribution strategy and channels are then the postal workers, ensuring messages are delivered to the right people at the right time (or step of the funnel). 

By staying aware of all of these components of your piece, you can distill interview content in a way that best serves the company, its identity, and its larger marketing campaigns. 

Vicky emphasizes that the more you can bridge the gaps between the strategist, the interviewer, and the writer, who’s actually materializing the piece, the better. 

Those connections are critical to ensuring every word of content serves the overall vision. 

From Dialogue to Prose

Once she’s received an interview transcript, Vicky kicks off the editorial process. 

If she’s already written for a client, she’ll have a stronger grasp on their ICP, general branding, marketing language, etc. If she hasn’t, she’ll research till she gets there. 

The next best steps for editorializing an interview into a shippable piece include: 

  1. Get to know the guest — Quite simply: LinkedIn stalking is the name of the game. 
  2. Review client-specific needs — She reminds herself who she’s writing to, for, and from. This sets a framework for actually filtering through the interview, generating prose, etc. 
  3. Focus on themes to hit — Including themes the client wants to focus on, themes from the narrative flow of the interview, or themes that naturally came up in conversation. 

All of this info is, in her words, swirling around mentally when she first reads through the interview in a broad sweep. Afterward, she’ll start dissecting in Google Docs, which includes: 

  • “Marking things up aggressively”
  • Highlighting potential social or pull quotes
  • Organizing the convo in chunks, based on major themes

After that initial organization, she’ll dive back into: 

  1. Outline sections and subsections
  2. Reorder the transcript for the most logical, reader-friendly narrative
  3. Finalize smaller details, including short, snappy pull quotes or potential headlines

Crucially, she’ll also reevaluate what info is just not helpful or relevant enough to the client or reader’s needs, and then cut respectively. 

Writing, Editing, and Final Touches

The act of the writing itself — turning a transcript into prose on a page — is the hardest thing to break down as a step-by-step guide. 

Here, you’ll just want to trust that your content team knows how to turn a phrase while writing with the client’s brand identity plus the reader’s wants and needs in mind. 

Finally, Vicky conducts a full read-through, a run through Grammarly, and a double check that, again, your headline, section headers, and pull quotes speak directly to the target audience. 

These assets are quite literally the largest parts of the page that’ll jump out to attract readers, so make them as short, punchy, and appealing as possible.

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