To make better organizational decisions, define your brand

In my last post I talked at a high level about how your brand can be used as a management tool (not just a marketing tool) to create a more effective and successful organization. But that may leave both of my avid readers asking, “how exactly can you do that?”

One of the best ways is by using your brand strategy as a framework for decision making. When defined properly, your brand strategy identifies (among other things) what business you’re in, the needs you’re addressing, and the characteristics and behaviours that make you different and better. Specific elements like your value proposition and positioning statement should already contain the information you need to ensure that everyone’s making decisions that are aligned with each other and have the same shared intent.

For example, let’s say your brand is defined by innovation and the development of leading, next generation products. Operationally, this may translate into a culture that takes calculated risks and follows a “fail fast, fail often” approach in order to find its next winner. It only makes sense, then, that when an employee is considering starting a test project with risk attached, that they use this brand characteristic to guide their decision about whether to proceed with the project or not. In this case, if the project allows for a “fail fast” result in a worst case scenario, then it would make sense to move forward. For another company with a more conservative brand and a longer-cycle/risk averse approach to product development, this decision would not align with the brand, so the employee should not start the project.

Or consider the company defined by its world-class customer service. For an HR department responsible for hiring front-line staff, whether it’s for a call centre or in-person customer contact, it only makes sense to hire people with experience or capabilities that will result in that customer experience. That may seem obvious but one of the less obvious implications is that it could mean hiring people with no experience whatsoever in your industry or functional area but who have that desired world-class customer experience mentality. Without the brand to guide these decisions, potential employees without industry experience but who have the desired customer service experience or capabilities may be passed over in favour of those with advanced industry knowledge but less experience delivering world-class customer experiences.

Since an organization is just a collection of people ultimately working toward the same goal, it’s just good business to make sure that the decisions being made throughout the organization are based on the same criteria or characteristics. To help everyone in your company make better decisions, then, make sure that the brand has been effectively defined and everyone truly understands that definition.

Brand is a Management Tool, Not Just a Marketing Tool

In the past I’ve described the Three Simple Circles approach to content strategy that includes asking and answering the following questions:

  1. What is/are the competitive advantage(s) of my organization?
  2. What are the higher-order needs of my clients and market?
  3. What are the themes/topics that address those higher-order needs that also reinforce the competitive advantage?

The first question about competitive advantage could easily be re-phrased to ask, “what’s my brand?”, and knowing the answer to this question will not just help you develop an effective content strategy but it could also lead to a more effectively run company.

The reason is that once you’ve identified those key characteristics that define your brand/competitive advantage, you have also implicitly defined the guard rails within which your organization should be managed. In other words, you’ve created a plan that you can use to align your entire company, based on those key characteristics. Your brand has become a management tool, not just a marketing tool, which is how most view it.

For example, if your brand stands for premiere customer service, then you know that every aspect of your organization should be focused on creating that experience – you need that alignment throughout the company to be successful. That knowledge has tremendous impact on how every aspect of your organization is led and managed:

  • For HR, it means you need to hire people with core competencies and skills that will result in excellent client service; it also means your rewards and incentives need to be aligned to motivate behaviour leading to that experience
  • For Marketing, Sales, and Client Service it means that every message sent and platform used needs to focus on and reinforce a value proposition and positioning of excellent client service. One specific application could relate to Twitter – if you’re on it, you better have someone closely monitoring it because clients are using it to voice issues that need to be resolved quickly and efficiently in order to be considered a premiere client service brand
  • For IT, it may mean using a top notch CRM system so you can track and anticipate the needs of your best clients
  • For Product Development, it means that any new products developed need to further the experience of premiere client service

The list could go on but I think you get the idea.

By using your brand as a management tool, you’ll be better able to ensure alignment throughout your organization around a shared idea or goal, resulting in a more effective and profitable company.

And you thought brand was just for marketingl…

Not satisfied with your content strategy? Manage the change to the ADKAR approach

Recently I attended a one-day training program, hosted by a company called Prosci, that teaches a change management methodology that “has become one of the most widely used approaches to managing the people side of change in business and government.”

Prosci used its considerable creativity in naming this methodology with the acronym ADKAR, which stands for:

  • Awareness: is there awareness that change is needed?
  • Desire: do the key stakeholders impacted by change have a desire to change?
  • Knowledge: do the key stakeholders impacted have the knowledge required to undertake change?
  • Ability: do the key stakeholders impacted have the literal ability to change?
  • Reinforcement: do factors exist that will reinforce the change with the stakeholders impacted over time?

When each aspect is rated on a scale of 1-5, it becomes evident which steps of the process are the strongest and weakest, and therefore which aspects need to be addressed for change to be successful. As a newbie to organizational change management, I found it a practical and effective approach.

I also find ADKAR interesting because it can be applied to developing and executing an effective content marketing strategy – it asks the right primary and secondary questions that all must be addressed for your content marketing to be successful:

  • Awareness: Is your audience aware of your organization and its key strengths/value proposition?  Can you define your target audience(s)? Is awareness the right part of the purchase funnel to target or do you need to move further down the funnel and focus on consideration or decision? This will inform your decisions on what type of content is required based on the audience profile.
  • Desire: What content does your audience desire? I.e., what are the knowledge gaps or key challenges they face that they’d like to address? This will inform what themes or topics your content should focus on.
  • Knowledge: Does your target audience know what your your organization’s key strengths are? Has your organization clearly identified what its competitive advantage is (which infers that you’ve conducted a competitive assessment)? This narrows down the themes and topics to be focused on and ensures they reinforce your brand/competitive advantage
  • Ability: Does your content give your audience the ability to close their knowledge gaps or address their key challenges? This guides the content development to ensure it’s focused on the audience’s needs and not promoting the organization
  • Reinforcement: Does all the content you develop and distribute reinforce your organization’s competitive advantage? Do you have an editorial calendar in place that details what content will be produced over time to create consistency in messaging? Do the specific themes/topics clearly ladder up to your organization’s value proposition?

Although different on the surface from the strategic approach I’ve written about before, underneath, the creatively named ADKAR does ask the same key questions that need to be answered to create an effective strategy. If you’re not happy with the approach you’re currently using, it may be worth managing a change.

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! ;)

Thought leadership vs. content marketing – a difference of value(s)

Many people believe the terms “thought leadership” and “content marketing” are the same, so let me put that misunderstanding to rest right here: they’re not and it’s valuable for you to know why it’s valuable for you to know.

First, some broad definitions. Contenting marketing is a more generalized term that includes within its toolkit content approaches that not only inform, educate, and/or solve problems, but those that entertain or generally engage. Almost any form of content (as long as it’s not self-promotional or focused on the company or its products) fits this definition and it offers a flexibility in authorship that opens the door to curation and aggregation – think Red Bull and its extreme videos that engage/entertain or Amex’s Open Forum  that aggregates content to inform and educate.

Thought leadership, on the other hand, if taken literally, suggests content designed to demonstrate the leading edge thinking, capabilities, or expertise of the publisher. Red Bull’s stunning videos don’t fit that definition since they don’t create a clear connection for the audience about the benefits of buying Red Bull.  Even Amex’s Open Forum may not fit, since the content does not demonstrate Amex’s capabilities but rather the capabilities of its third-party authors. That’s not to say there’s not a positive halo-effect Amex may get from associating itself with these authors, but Amex technically can’t claim expertise in the area of helping businesses grow because the content doesn’t originate with them.

Now here’s why it’s important for you to understand this distinction. As you’re developing your content strategy, you need to think about what your goals are and what type of value you’re trying to create for your market. The answers to those questions will inform the guardrails of your strategy and help define, and manage internal expectations around, what you can and cannot do from a content perspective. A content marketing approach gives you full flexibility to pretty much publish whatever content you want (see proviso above) – it doesn’t have to be educational or solve an explicit problem, it can be purely entertaining. If that’s a better fit for your brand, as it is for Red Bull, then great. At the same time, even if you want to solve an explicit problem, the content you publish doesn’t have to originate within your organization (as with Amex) – at an almost philosophical level, providing value to your audience is the end goal, regardless of who it originates with, and this allows for the additional tools of curation and aggregation to be used.

A pure thought leadership approach, on the other hand, suggests that the content you produce must, in some way shape or form, infer an expertise or capability of your company that is deemed valuable by your audience. HSBC’s Global Connections site is a good example because the nature of its content infers the expertise HSBC has at doing business globally. As such, the content (arguably) must also originate within your company in order for it to reap the full benefits of the content’s value to the audience (this has implications for publishing survey results – without value-added commentary demonstrating your company’s expertise, the resutls wouldn’t technically be considered thought leadership since they don’t originate within your company). Third-party curated or aggregated content doesn’t generally meet that objective either, nor would purely entertaining or engaging content that doesn’t have a clear tie back to the organization’s capabilities.

Ultimately, the difference between content marketing and thought leadership comes down to your choices about how you want to provide value to your audience and about managing internal expectations about your organization’s goals (education, engagement, etc.), and the tools it can use to achieve those goals.

Focusing Your Content Marketing on Your Competitive Advantage

I’ve talked a lot in past posts about understanding and using your competitive advantage to develop content that helps grow your business.

But, the question that both of my readers are probably asking themselves is: how do you identify what your competitive advantage is? What process can you go through to figure that out?

One of the ways is by answering another related question, which is: what business are you in? To many, it may sound simplistic – “we’re in the accounting business” or “we’re in the restaurant business”. But those answers, more often than not, are not the best ones and they don’t help identify your competitive advantage.

To get a sense of what a strong answer could be, think about Grocery Gateway. They deliver groceries to your home and if the average person was asked what business they’re in, that’s probably the answer they’d give – grocery home delivery.

But if you caught the billboard ads they’ve used in the past, you’d get a glimpse into what business Grocery Gateway thinks they’re in. One ad carries the tagline, “we deliver more ‘do not disturb’ time” with an image suggesting a woman relaxing in a bath (very non-sexual). The business they’re in, then, is the time-saving business, not the grocery delivery business, and this has big implications for the direction their content marketing efforts could take.

As a grocery delivery business, the range of themes and topics they could develop is relatively limited to – you guessed it – groceries and food, speaking to an audience passionate about those topics. Now there’s a lot of topics that could be addressed in that area but far fewer that would help differentiate Grocery Gateway in the minds of consumers from other grocery delivery services that exist.

However, as a business focused on saving consumers time (or enabling them to spend more time on the things they love to do vs. the things they need to do), this opens up a whole range of content topics related to time-saving tricks and hacks for a busy life, or on topics related to living a more passionate life. Either of these ideas has a much broader audience because, arguably, more people are interested in productivity, lifehacking, or “do what you love” content, for example, then food-related content; Grocery Gateway could become a daily read for a market not enamoured with groceries or cooking but with living a more enjoyable life, yet who still need grocery delivery, vastly expanding their reach. Or, at the least, it’s a topics that clearly differentiates them from the competition.

So to develop content that will focus your business on your competitive advantage, take a dip in Grocery Gateway’s tub and ask the simple question of, “what business are you in?”

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.

 

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.

 

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.