Scientific method key to content marketing party

I was watching a hilarious bit of content from dollarshaveclub.com the other day. Not only did it make me laugh out loud several times (i.e., not only did I laugh out loud several times during one viewing, but I kept laughing out loud several times over subsequent viewings) but it also made me think about one of the vital factors required for long-term content marketing success. (BTW, for you grammar geeks, you’ll notice that I’ve written “long term” and “short term” in different ways, sometimes with a hyphen and sometimes without. There’s method to the madness that you can learn about from Grammar Girl)

You see, content marketing is not a short-term thing. Unlike holding a sale or distributing discount coupons, you’re probably not going to see immediate results. It’s something that often takes a longer time to set up and generate results, which is why creating a content development program geared to the long term is vital. And that means being consistent with the scientific method by defining a strategy and action plan (including editorial calendar, repurposing options, and distribution channels) on paper that anyone can follow.

How does the scientific method and effective content marketing relate? Well it’s only by defining and writing down a strategy and action plan that anyone could follow that enables your program to be reproduce-able, one of the key tenets of the scientific method. Being reproduce-able means that almost anyone could read your strategy and action plan and reproduce the activities defined within to achieve the same (or very similar) results you did when you ran the program.

And how did dollarshaveclub.com’s content help me realize this key to long term success? Because it seems that they don’t follow the scientific method. After doing some reading on it, I learned that the main guy featured – Mike – is the President of the company and actually has an improve/comedy/film background – he’s uniquely qualified to develop and execute this kind of content strategy. But if he were hit by a bus, or god forbid lost his sense of humour in a tragic shaving accident, the content marketing program could die from a thousand cuts because it’s based on such a unique (and hilarious) talent and approach that would probably be very difficult for someone else to reproduce if Mike wasn’t involved.

So make sure your content strategy is consistent with the scientific method. Over the long term, that’ll mean your content marketing party…is on.

Free gift: a content marketing strategy for Steamwhistle Brewery

First thing’s first: I have no affiliation with Steamwhistle Brewery whatsoever. I dont’ even drink the beer. Full stop.

That said, I did recently have, what I think, is a good idea about how they could use content marketing to grow their business. So instead of keeping it to myself, I figured I’d share it with the world (or at least with my wife, who is probably the one person who reads this).

But, before I dive in,  let’s review the framework I use to develop content strategy. It basically comes down to answering three big questions that, ultimately, lead to your content driving profitable growth:

1. What is your competitive advantage?( I.e., what does your brand represent?)
2. What are the higher order needs of your market? (This must go beyond the base needs your product or service are intended to address)
3. What are the themes/topics you can credibly publish about that address those higher order needs AND align to/support your competitive advantage?

(You can switch up the order of these questions depending on the situation but generally competitive advantage should go first.)

With that in mind, here’s a set of answers Steamwhistle could have for the above questions that could help them use content marketing to grow their business:

1. What is your competitive advantage?( I.e., what’s at the core of your brand)
Using their motto as one indicator of their competitive advantage, you could say that “doing one thing really, really well,” is one differentiator. In this case that specifically applies to manufacturing a premium pilsner, but could also (from what I’ve read) apply to their culture and running of their business.

2. What are the higher order needs of your market?
Again, based on the concept that higher order needs go beyond the base need addressed by the product/service (in this case, the base need is a beer to drink), you could say that every person has a higher order need to be great at something, anything. Whether it’s your job, being a parent, a hobby you pursue – whatever – everyone wants to be great at something.

3. What are the themes/topics you can credibly publish about that address those higher order needs AND align to/support your competitive advantage?
Given the above answers, it’s not a long jump for Steamwhistle to adopt a content marketing theme focused on “being great”. They could publish regularly on how anyone can be great at a variety of activities, preferably fun activities to remain consistent with their brand personality. Things like “how to throw a frisbee”, “how to shave with a straight razor” or “how to impress your girlfriend’s parents” would all fit within the theme. They could also answer questions from people about how to be great at their “something” and turn that into great content, which also increases engagement with their market.

You may ask yourself, “how does this help the company grow? It’s not even about how great their beer is?” While that’s true it has little to do with the beer, this type of an approach, which may occur in parallel with othermore product focused marketing activities, helps a company grow in several ways:
- it keeps them top of mind, which is half the battle in the buying process
- it creates a halo around their brand, based in part on their values, that positively predisposes prospects to buy their beer – i.e., it makes people feel good about the brand because it (the brand) is seen as helping people
- it’s another way to differentiate themselves from their larger competitors who still mostly depend on jocks and women to market themselves, and that differentiation goes a long way to keeping them top of mind.

So there you go Steamwhistle – Christmas come early from someone who could really use some advice on how to be great at the humble brag – I just work so hard I never have time to get it right! ;)

To find the right content, flip your company on its head

As I talk with people about creating content that can help solve their clients’ problems or bridge knowledge gaps, I’m often met with the silence/blank stares that result from speaking a foreign language. It’s almost like I want to ask again, just more slowly and loudly:”WHAT…ARE…THE…PROBLEMS…OUR…CLIENTS…HAVE…THAT…WE…CAN… HELP…SOLVE…THROUGH…GREAT…INFORMATION?”

Even then, I’m often met with the lazy man’s suggestion of “let’s just talk about what we’re doing or how great our products are”, as if this was the 90′s and we were selling slap chop.

Now if, like me, you believe that best in class content NEVER explicitly promotes your organization or its solutions – it’s not a tool designed for a product push – then this suggestion can be somewhat frustrating, especially after repeatedly describing the purpose of content marketing (see above in CAPS).

But there is a solution and it has to do with flipping inward facing information on its head to create external facing wisdom that addresses the market’s needs.

Let’s say you’re a consultant whose competitive advantage is based on a unique and rigorous discovery process – you ask and answer questions that no one else does, which provides insights that no one else can offer. Instead of developing a piece of advertising about why your consulting service is so great (which everyone will ignore), you can flip it on its head and into an effective piece of content by re-framing it as advice for a client to follow when they want to solve a similar problem. In this case, that could mean converting your “discovery process” into a series of questions clients can ask and answer to solve said problem. In doing so, you’ve clearly demonstrated that you’re leading edge and credible without tooting your own horn AND have provided the client with something of great value because this content can truly help them.

One of the pushbacks I often get when describing this approach is centred on the downsides of “giving away” your intellectual property. While it is true that you are providing some IP, the reality is that IP alone is not what will win you clients but rather how you put the IP to work based on the other characteristics of your firm. As well, if you choose discrete enough chunks of IP that focus on very narrow problems, you’ll never provide enough detail that a lay business person could use to solve the big problems your company is designed for, since it only applies to one small piece of the puzzle. Finally, the reality is that your prospects are busy enough as it is with their day jobs and finding the time and resources to spend on creating a from-scratch solution based on your advice is never going to happen, so really there’s nothing a risk here except a lost opportunity.

DO… YOU… UNDERSTAND… WHAT… I’M… SAYING?

 

Planning to Use Content to Grow Your Business with The Three Simple Circles

Stains

If you’re a small business that wants to use content marketing to grow your business but don’t know where to start, I’m here to help. And as usual, I start by developing a plan.

There are a lot of people that dive into great detail about creating and executing content strategy/planning, and that stuff is all great – if you have the time to read it, I recommend you do so. But, if you’re time-crunched – and who isn’t these days – here’s a quick and dirty plan you can use to get started with content marketing.  As with any good plan, this one is made up of questions that should be asked and answered in order to guide your actions.

That said, here are three key questions you need to ask and answer in order to use content marketing to grow your business. If you picture each question representing a circle that overlaps the others like a venn diagram, then the common area of this Three Simple Circles approach is where you want to be:

  1. What’s my competitive advantage or my “BIG Diff“? Why would someone choose to buy from me vs. anyone else? What are the things about my company/product/ service that would influence someone to choose them? For example, I LOVE The Keg, and the thing about The Keg for me is that it’s great value for the money, it’s a good atmosphere with good service, and it’s very consistent experience – those things are very rare (no pun intended), if not unique, for steak houses.
  2. What are the key challenges or higher-order needs of the people/organizations I want to sell to? The answer doesn’t have to be limited to the problems your product/service solves – it could (and arguably should) be anything related to it. For example, if I run a dry cleaner, my clients have a variety of problems they need solved that go beyond having their clothes cleaned. They may need to find time to drop their clothes off, or may be having trouble keeping up with the latest fashion trends given the wardrobe they’ve got. Neither problem is directly related to having their clothes cleaned, but nonetheless, they’re still problems those clients face.
  3. Given your competitive advantage, and the problems that your clients have, what are the topics you can comment on that address your clients’ problems AND that reinforce your competitive advantage, without discussing your products or services directly?

To tie this all together, let’s go back to the dry cleaning example, and assume that you’re known for getting stains out that others can’t – that’s your competitive advantage.  Further, let’s also say that you recognize that your clients (like most people) have problems with stains on a variety of surfaces, not just clothes, including table tops, cutlery, and carpets. Putting these two pieces of insight together could lead you to develop content (e.g., advice, perspective, news) focused on anything having to do with stain removal.  Not only does it reinforce your brand/competitive advantage and speak to problems your clients have, but in this case, it also opens up a whole new world of topics you could educate your clients about that go beyond clothing stains, keeping you more top of mind than if you were just focused on clothing.

For a quick and dirty (this time, pun intended) plan to get you up and running using content marketing to grow your business, asking and answering these three questions in the Three Simple Circles approach is a great place to start.