Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with Samara Johansson, an accomplished marketer who recently founded the content marketing agency Samara Global.

Carlota Pico 0:12
Hi everyone, and welcome back to The Content Mix. I’m Carlota Pico, your host for today’s show. And I’m excited to introduce Samara Johansson, who is founder of a content marketing agency called Samara Global. Welcome, Samara. And thank you so much for joining us today on The Content Mix.

Samara Johansson 0:30
Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.

Carlota Pico 0:33
The pleasure is ours. Okay, Samara. So tell me a little bit about your background experience. How did you get to where you are today?

Samara Johansson 0:40
I’m American, as you can hear. I’ve been in Sweden, in Stockholm for eight years now. And so coming to this country has just been a continuation of my experiences and my career. But coming over to Stockholm has been interesting because I landed in tech, and so I’ve been working in B2B tech for the past five years for various companies, and most recently, because of COVID layoffs, I decided to use this time to launch something of my own, as I grow that, and as I continue looking for my next big opportunity. But yeah, I started my career in marketing research after getting my MBA in Boston, and then switching over to marketing communications. And then now in Stockholm, it’s been it’s been quite a journey, having to start over again, learn the language, reinvent myself, really think hard about my brand, my own USP and what I can contribute, and then working my way up within a brand new industry, in different technology companies, which is not what I was doing back in New York where I was working before.

Carlota Pico 1:51
Okay, so what were you doing back in New York?

Samara Johansson 1:53
I was working in financial services, which is what a lot of people line up doing in New York, and I was in marketing research. And then I moved over to marketing communications. So everything from running focus groups and developing the questionnaires and doing one-on-one interviews, competitive analysis, to then figuring out how to use the data to make strategic marketing decisions to launch products and to just promote different insurances and financial service products.

Carlota Pico 2:26
What skills did you learn during that time that have transferred over nicely to a technology atmosphere?

Samara Johansson 2:33
Yeah, I mean, I would say that, you know, being data driven, understanding that good communications and great content really comes from understanding the audience and understanding where their head is at. And that’s based on research. Both what they say they need and what they don’t say they need. So you have to really wrap your head around the target audience. And you also have to understand the landscape that you’re playing in, regardless of the industry, to know what the competitors are doing, what they’re saying what their products look like, and how they stack against yours. So it’s a lot of data driven, you know, strategic insight and outlook and analysis. So I learned all of that in my life in New York and a little stint in Washington, DC. And then it’s transferable, obviously.

Carlota Pico 3:33
Okay, so I want to zoom in to a topic that you just mentioned about knowing what your audience wants when they don’t tell you what they want. How do you do that? How do you know what your audience wants when you don’t have any type of feedback on that?

Samara Johansson 3:46
Yeah, I mean, I think that when you think about marketing strategy, and specifically content marketing, which really is the heart of marketing strategy, you really have to put your feet, you put yourself in the shoes of your audience, and your audience is on a learning journey. So they’re trying to understand the world around them, from the products that they’re using to the services they might need or they’re using at work. So both personally and professionally, they’re on a learning journey, we all are, especially nowadays when we’re flooded with information and we’re constantly you know, bombarded with news and with stories and with videos that we click on, we’re always being exposed to information. So if you then zero in your particular industry, I think the key is to know how people think. So it’s putting yourself in their shoes, and starting to go to the sources that they would be visiting. For example, when I was working in HR tech, I didn’t know much about human resources except being an employee and working in companies with human resource departments. So I started of putting myself in the shoes of “Well, what does a human resources director, like, what is their life all about? What sources do they go to, to learn about what technology is out there and the latest in employee management?” And so you start clicking around and you start reading, and you start educating yourself. So I would say that would be step one, educating yourself as your target would be. And then, you know, going further and starting to read blogs and starting to read who the influencers are, and what are the conversations going on at the moment. And then you start seeing themes and you’ll start seeing the buzzwords and you start seeing what those needs are. As far as, I guess, implicit needs. You know, that’s something that you start learning when you start talking to people, when you go to events and you get a little bit deeper into your role and in the industry.

Okay, very interesting.

So it all starts with curiosity and being humble, to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and going on the journey with them.

Carlota Pico 6:08
Very interesting. And by audience, and by they, I’m assuming that you’re meaning personas. So you’re creating personas that later on you target through different content marketing activities.

Samara Johansson 6:19
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Carlota Pico 6:21
Okay. Very interesting Samara. So I want to take a walk down memory lane, what have been some of the experiences that have shaped you as a marketing professional?

Samara Johansson 6:32
It’s a good question. I think my, my perspective is a bit unique because I’m an American, who’s now living in Europe and living in Stockholm, Sweden. And I came here eight years ago with my husband and our kids to just start a new adventure. And so it’s been a journey of starting over and reinventing myself and at the same time, constantly learning about the changing field of marketing. So as I’ve been reinventing myself and learning, it’s also been, you know, a journey of rediscovering you know, what it means to be a marketer? And what are the latest trends and the models, etc, etc. So for me, the biggest realization is that it’s not one language. It’s not a huge market. It’s lots of countries, lots of languages, lots of different cultures, and then all the subsets within that. So it’s extremely challenging to market here in Europe. I think a lot of people when they think of international marketing, they think of America as the target market. And, you know, that’s pretty much a destination where everybody wants to sell their goods and services. But I would say that there’s a lot of potential outside of the US and that Europe Middle East Africa, which is where I’ve been working, there’s… The population is even greater than continental US. But the only challenge is, again, being humble enough to understand that it’s a conglomerate of many countries, many languages. And that the key to content marketing is not just translation, but really localization. Because the same product could be sold differently from one country to the next, because people want to learn about it in different ways.

Carlota Pico 8:28
Definitely, The Content Mix is actually powered by VeraContent, which is a content marketing agency as well. And we work a lot with international brands, and need to localize their content, and sometimes what they want to promote in Spain, they want to promote in the same way in Latin America. And although we speak the same language, it’s not the same audience. And so we’re constantly having to advise them on how to tweak their messaging so that it relates better with different audiences that speak the same language.

Samara Johansson 8:53
Exactly, exactly.

Carlota Pico 8:56
What has your journey in Sweden been like so far? So as an expat, what’s it like to work in Sweden?

Samara Johansson 9:03
I think if you would have asked me eight years ago, I would have said that it was incredibly challenging to make yourself relevant in a market where you’re the foreigner. I come from New York City, so I’ve never had a problem with finding a job or, you know, an ethnic last name, so to speak. Coming to Sweden has been a practice in understanding different work cultures and how they communicate at the workplace. It’s been learning the language, I spent some time studying. I took a diploma class for 18 months just so I can qualify for an internship because that was another way to make contacts and to get your foot in some place. So really was you know, rebooting so to speak, rebooting in a country with a completely different language. And I’ve studied languages before. I’ve studied Spanish, I studied Arabic, but nobody comes to Sweden knowing Swedish, it’s not a very widespread known popular language that they might offer in, in high school or in college. So yeah, and I think it’s been very interesting and very humbling to have to explain, well, what does an MBA mean? And what does marketing strategy mean? What does it mean to work in New York? What does this degree mean? So you’re always trying to translate. You’re trying to translate your own experiences so that they know what you bring to the table. So that’s been another thing. And then just discovering what your USP is, I mean, as a marketer, USP is something that we know, what is your unique selling point? Well, you have to discover that about yourself. What is it that you can offer that makes you different and special compared to the folks that are already here, that are from here, that know the language and know the market, the consumer products, etc.? And so I would advise anybody moving to Sweden or to any country, if they’re not from there already, to really come in with a humble attitude, and be prepared to make yourself relevant, explain what you can give to the market. And then just, you know, figure out what makes you different in terms of what the locals are already offering. And in my case, it’s international marketing. And it’s, you know, amazing copywriting skills in English and a strategic mindset and all that kind of good stuff.

Carlota Pico 11:37
And culturally speaking, what’s it like to live in Stockholm?

Samara Johansson 11:41
It’s a beautiful city, it really is, it’s very manageable, work life balance is amazing here. There’s the attitude of working smart, not working hard. And there’s this non-hierarchical culture at the workplace, with open doors, and you can approach anybody with questions. You’re not afraid to talk to the CEO, the CEO is always just walking down the hall and talking to you. So it’s a very, people are very approachable. And that means a lot of different learning opportunities too, you’re never stuck in your bubble or in your silo. And I think as a foreigner, you can really take advantage of that because people are curious about you. And they’re curious about your opinion on things. So really, if you have your eyes and ears open, it’s just a fantastic opportunity to live somewhere else and to work somewhere else than where you’re from.

Carlota Pico 12:36
Sounds fantastic. I’m sold. Although I’m very happy in Madrid, of course, as well.

Samara Johansson 12:41
The weather’s better there. It’s quite cold here sometimes.

Carlota Pico 12:44
That is a very valid point. Samara, tell me a little bit about what it’s been like for you during COVID-19. So what major questions have you asked yourself during these very troubling times? About marketing, of course.

Samara Johansson 12:58
Yeah. I mean, when COVID hit, I was working for an internet security company within IT. And, of course, everybody dropped events and they went online. So that was a knee jerk reaction. And so people stopped meeting in person. Making sales became harder as well because salespeople couldn’t go out and meet their targets face to face. So we really had to think about not just how to communicate and get the leads digitally, it was more than just let’s focus more operationally on digital versus in-person events. It was more about how are our messages authentic? And what are people really worrying about right now? You know, in our instance, it was about data security and with people being online more, data security and the importance of that became much more important. So we really had to understand people’s current mindsets and their worries with this pandemic and how it related to the products we were selling. And, you know, this is a learning across industries, I could have been at a different company and it would have been the same thing. It’s not about the products or services; it’s about, where are people? Where are they at right now? What are they thinking about? What are they worrying about? And then how can you become relevant and how can you add value?

Carlota Pico 14:23
I want to talk a little bit about your MBA. So I’m actually thinking about doing an MBA myself, although I’m not quite decided on if I should do it, or if I shouldn’t do it, because MBAs are really, really expensive. So from your experience as a marketing and communication professional, is it worth getting an MBA? What value has it added to your life?

Samara Johansson 14:44
It depends on what your interests are. I think marketing now is very interesting because it’s very segmented, you can become a specialist in digital marketing, you can focus on copywriting, you can focus on email marketing. I mean, there’s so many things that make up marketing. But when you go for an MBA, it’s how does it all pull together strategically? I always say that, yes, digital marketing is it right now, you need to understand digital marketing, and you need to know how to be data driven and to analyze numbers and to make good decisions. But it all comes down to strategy, and not just marketing strategy. But how does this fit into the business? How does this drive value? How does this increase employer branding? How does this improve sales opportunities? How does this differentiate against competitors? This broader thinking makes marketing part of, you know, the business driver of a company, not just a department, not just a group of people that, you know, one person focuses on copywriting, one person focuses on email marketing, one person is the Google Analytics guru. It’s it’s a business driver. And you learn that when you go to business school because you understand that, okay, you might have a problem with finance or you might have a problem with your customer service department. But there’s always something related to marketing. There’s always something related to loyalty, with acquisition. So you become more relevant to leadership in the company, but you also understand how marketing drives a business. So I would recommend it. But it also depends on if you’re looking for a more generalist background with an interest in strategy versus you love digital, you want to get really great at Google Analytics, you want to go for, you know, the specialty route because you can do that without an MBA.

Carlota Pico 16:47
Okay excellent, well I’ll have to take a closer look at the different programs that are offered internationally as well. Now I want to talk a little bit about your proudest moments. Could you zoom in to some of the campaigns or projects that you’ve led that have really just shined throughout your career?

Samara Johansson 17:06
Yeah, I mean, I’m going to say that my proudest moment is getting laid off. My proudest moment is getting laid off from the internet security company that I was at, there was a COVID downsizing, because at that moment, with the whole world being unemployed, basically, I started really thinking about marketing and really started thinking about, you know, what am I good at? And what is the most important thing about marketing? And I decided to develop this side business of mine called Samara Global, based on brand and content. Because I decided and I concluded that that is the most important thing. It’s the feeling that you create, you know, the feeling and then the functionality. In business school, if you decide to go, it’s all about the four P’s. And you’ll learn about Kotler and his model from 1971 about product and price and place and promotion. And then they’ll catch you up to modern times. And they’ll tell you about the sales funnel and about AIDA, about attention, interest, desire, action, all this kind of stuff. But when it comes down to it, it’s about creating feeling. So when I developed my website, and I thought about what services I can give, and what I’m good at, it all comes down to strategic thinking about the message, about the brand identity, about how you communicate what you do best. Driven by data analytics, of course. But yeah, so I think that was my proudest moment, coming to that conclusion. You know, and my career has spanned 15 years at this point, starting in marketing research. So I’ve done it all, basically, from leading focus groups to standing at a booth at an event to managing a $1.5 million budget and figuring out how can we, you know, figure out a marketing mix for the entire continent. But it really comes down to content being the driver of smart marketing.

Carlota Pico 19:21
Okay, considering all the ups and downs from moving from New York City now to Stockholm to working in different types of companies, within different sectors… if you had to do it all over again, would you still choose marketing?

Samara Johansson 19:36
Yes, absolutely. I went to business school not interested in marketing. Prior to business school, I was working in account management. I was working for various health care companies and I went to Boston University to focus on healthcare marketing, because I was really interested in the sector and in doing something that affected people positively. And when I was in my business school program, I was sitting in an advertising class, a course on advertising. And one of the agencies came and spoke to us about—and I will not name the car company because they’ve been under some fire for some ads lately—but they talked to us about their recent clients, this car company, and the messaging and how they came across the need for that kind of messaging, and the research it was based upon, etc. And I just found it fascinating. The idea of communication. And the idea that it’s not communication as in fluff, because I think most people think of marketing as “Oh, those marketing people, they’re the loud people in the corner that are always talking and they don’t get much done and they’re always about the bright colors…” and marketing is a science. It really is. And it really opened my eyes understanding the complexity of what goes behind an ad campaign. And how you create those messages based on research. So, yeah, that’s my very long answer to your question. But yeah, and ever since then it’s just been a journey of learning different aspects of marketing and I love it. I absolutely love it. So, I will be doing this until the day I stop.

Carlota Pico 21:21
Okay, beautiful. Well on that note, let’s move into our next section. It’s going to be our section of rapid-fire questions. So basically, your recommendation, your advice of resources to follow, influencers that have impacted you. To get this section started off, I’d like to ask you about an influencer. So who do you admire? And what makes you, what makes them stand out amongst the sea of influencers out there?

Samara Johansson 21:47
Yeah, I mean, you’re going to hear this a lot when you speak to marketers, but most of us follow Neil Patel. His site is amazing. It’s adding value to the readers. Whether you subscribe to his services or not. And I think that’s something that we should aspire to wherever we’re working: to add value. Add value to the teams we work on as well as add value when we communicate to the target audiences and to educate. So I love reading his blog.

Carlota Pico 22:17
I do as well. I’m a big fan as well. So we’re all on the same page there. Okay, what about a book, a publication, a community, a group, an event that you’d like to recommend to our audience?

Samara Johansson 22:28
I would say that networking is very important, and especially when I came to Stockholm, and I realized that most jobs are found out about and received through networking. I became a convert, so anything that I can do to network. I was recently tipped on an app called HON, Her Online Network, and it’s for women. So it’s an online community and women of all walks that are professional and that are looking to learn from each other. It’s a great meeting place. So I would recommend that for the women out there.

Carlota Pico 23:07
Okay, excellent. Well, you already answered my last question, but I’m hoping you’ll have another favorite app as well. What’s your favorite app at the moment during COVID-19 times?

Samara Johansson 23:16
I love DailyArt. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it. But each day, the author, she presents a piece of art, and then the art history behind it. And it’s two, three paragraphs long and it’s fascinating. So I love it. I think if I weren’t in marketing, I would be in art history. It was my second love.

Carlota Pico 23:37
Okay. Well, you can always do that as a side business as well.

Samara Johansson 23:43
In my spare time.

Carlota Pico 23:44
Yeah, in your spare time, which I don’t think you have very much right now. Right?

Samara Johansson 23:48
No, not at the moment.

Carlota Pico 23:48
You’re already wearing many hats. Okay, Samara. Well, thank you so much for joining us on The Content Mix. It was a pleasure to meet you and to talk about so many different subjects.

Samara Johansson 23:58
Thank you for having me. Have a great day.

Carlota Pico 24:00
You too! And to everybody listening in today, thank you for joining us on The Content Mix. For more perspectives on the content marketing industry in Europe, check out The Content Mix. We’ll be releasing interviews just like this one every day. So keep on tuning in. Thanks again, have a fantastic day, and see you next time. Bye!

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