A Lesson in Content Strategy From Sesame Street

I came across a blog post the other day that sounded promising: ”Top 15 Most Effective Content Marketing Strategies for Businesses” it read.

I bit.

Unfortunately, the hook was the the furthest thing from guidance on developing content marketing strategy.  Here is, in part, what was written:

“According to the report, here are the top 15 most effective content marketing strategies and trends that businesses are implementing for growth and to increase brand awareness (GT’s note: I’m not including the link because a) I don’t want to criticize/embarrass this specific site – I’m sure they’re doing their best, and b) I don’t want to drive traffic there because the information is inaccurate):

  1. Social Media (marketing content via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter)
  2. Articles (posted on your business website)
  3. eNewsletters
  4. Blogs
  5. In person events and meet-ups
  6. Case Studies
  7. Videos
  8. Articles on other websites
  9. Whitepapers
  10. Online Presentations
  11. Webinars
  12. Infographics
  13. Reports (educational guides)
  14. Microsites
  15. Branded Content Tools

You know that Sesame Street song where it say, “one of these things just doesn’t belong…” Well, these 15 things just don’t belong with the strategy headline because THEY’RE NOT STRATEGIES! These are a list of tools you may include in a tactical plan based on a strategy, but they’re not strategies themselves.

So what is a strategy, you may ask.  A good definition I’ve found comes from an article from Strategy + Business that describes strategy as defining, “where to play and how to win, to maximize long-term value.” In developing a strategy, you’re basically answering the following questions for your business:

  1. Who is my target market and what needs to do they have that I can address?
  2. What are the dominant forces/factors influencing their behaviour?
  3. Who are my competitors, what are their respective competitive advantages, and how do they position themselves in the market/how do they address the market’s needs?
  4. What is are my company’s key strengths and competitive advantage (i.e. our BIG Diffs)?
  5. How can my company create value for its target market and itself?

The answers to these questions are your strategy and in aggregate they act as a map or compass to provide you guidance on how to “…choose a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value”, as Harvard’s strategy guru Michael Porter puts it. Or put another way by Joan Magretta, “strategy explains how an organization, faced with competition, will achieve superior performance.”

To develop a content strategy, almost the exact same questions should be asked and answered but with a focus on content, not the entire business. (For an even simpler but arguably no less effective approach to developing a content strategy, check out my earlier post).

With that definition, hopefully you can see why the above list is the furthest thing from a content strategy. Not to say that they don’t have value in providing options/tools for bringing your strategy to life through an action plan (another topic all together), but there’s no strategy there.

And if you make the massive mistake of thinking they are strategies, the “one of these things just doesn’t belong” song will be about your business not making any money.


Natrel’s Ad Campaign: Now That Deserves…A Red Team

The milk brand Natrel has recently launched a new advertising campaign highlighting its new packaging and different types of milk (1%, 2%, chocolate, etc.) and intrducing a “now that deserves a…” tagline. The campaign basically suggests that Natrel tastes so good that it deserves a little extra…something. Here’s an example from one of their billboards.


It’s a good idea – in this example, Natrel’s Maple Milk is so good that it deserves a whopping TWO straws so you can drink it faster.  Me likey.

But there’s one billboard execution of this ad that drives me crazy – I can literally feel the craziness build in my brain every time I pass it, which I happen to do a few times a week (I fear for my colleagues). It’s gotten to the point where I actively don’t look at the ads – and yet still feel my blood pressure rise – because of this one execution.  Here it is:


In case you can’t read it, the tagline says, “…now that deserves…” (wait for it) “…a glass.”

A glass?

This milk is so good that it deserves…a glass?  Versus what for normal milk – a dog bowl?

This one ad is soooo weak it brings down the whole campaign.  In fact, it would have been strengthened if it had said, “now that deserves no glass” or “now that deserves the carton” with a picture of someone drinking right from the carton.  At least that would suggest Natrel is so good that you can’t even wait to pour it into the glass.

So what’s the lesson?  Always get a second set of eyes on everything you’re going to make public, preferably from someone not involved in the work thus far.  For any Newsroom junkies out there (of which I am one), that would be the equivalent of a “red team”. That’s a term I learned about in one of the episodes of this brilliant show when the Executive Producer (in the show) puts together a “red team” whose sole purpose is to punch holes in a controversial story that’s being developed by another team.  It’s a way to ensure that the story’s air tight and that the producing news team can address any criticisms that may arise.

That’s what Natrel needed for this campaign, because any semi-smart person (of which I am one), let alone a team of devil’s advocates, would immediately see that this one execution deserved a new tag line.

And that’s what you should use before releasing into the wild any piece of marketing, advertising or messaging – a red team that will ensure that your customers will get the message that your product/service really deserves (at least) two straws, and not just a table-stakes glass.


Exis-business-tential Angst: Different or Interesting?









As a strategist and content marketeer (yes, that spelling is intentional), I’ve always searched for the B.I.G. Diff in the brands I’ve been involved with – the one (or more) thing(s) that differentiate one brand from the next and leads to competitive advantage.

Yet this article, and the book How Brands Grow referenced therein, challenges the validity of a differentiation approach to business/marketing, suggesting that being interesting may be the better way to go. You could, of course, argue that being interesting is, in itself, a form of differentiation. But at a strategic level this “interesting” approach accepts that fundamental organizational differentiation is a) extremely difficult to do at best, and b) at worst has little effect when achieved at all.  This leaves the ability to differentiate-by-being-interesting as an executional challenge for “marketers”, not a strategic one for “business people” (both are in quotes because clearly they’re not exclusive, although many tend to think they are).

I’m still not completely convinced.  Harvard’s Youngme Moon has published the book Different that supports the idea of differentiation and I’ve clung to the mantra of strategic differentiation for too long and with too tight a grip – but it’s an interesting proposition and one that small business (or any business for that matter) should consider.

At least until their source of differentiation is uncovered and my resolve returns.