A Christmas content gift for Frank’s Red Hot

I’m a big fan of Frank’s Red Hot – I put that sh*t on everything. Not only do I enjoy the sauce, but I’ve really enjoyed their past commercials as well. The brand’s got a great personality that seems consistent with the product and it all works in complete alignment as far as I can tell.

So, being in the holiday spirit, here’s a small content gift to Frank’s. It’s not what most would consider content – a blog post, whitepaper, video, etc. – it’s an entirely different type of content. The content is the contents of every Frank’s Red Hot bottle applied.

Imagine a pop-up restaurant (naturally called Frank’s) where every single item on the menu is made with Frank’s Red Hot – even the drinks – and each patron gets to take home a small cook booklet (or maybe it’s the menu itself) detailing how each item was prepared, not to mention the opportunity to buy the sauce itself! For those already big fans of the sauce, it would create immediate buzz and business by giving those fans new ideas, not to mention the specific instructions, on how to use it. For those not yet familiar with the sauce, it would create awareness for the different ways Frank’s can be used in the kitchen (and bar). If you could find a brand name chef who’s a fan, it would drive awareness in both segments even more. It’s a win win for everyone.

So Merry Christmas Frank’s! I’m already looking forward to my Christmas dinner, where I’ll be putting that sh*t on everything.

The new habits you need to succeed

Starbucks. Michael Phelps. Martin Luther King. The guy down the street who lost a ton of weight. These success stories all have one thing in common, and it’s something any business leader can apply to themselves or their company.

Is it a focus on achieving peak performance? A process to uncover unique insights into your business situation? Adopting the latest and greatest technology?

According to Charles Duhigg, the key to success is having the right habits, and he explains why in his book, The Power of Habit.

You can read my full review of the book at PROFIT magazine.

Enjoy!

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.

Know your market well enough to give them the bottle, not the money

I was in an elevator recently, listening to two others talk (there was only three of us there so I couldn’t really help it).

The woman said to the man, referring to her feelings about receiving different birthday gifts, “Don’t give me $25 – give me a $25 bottle of wine. If you give me $25 dollars, I’ll be like ‘what the hell? That’s all I’m worth?’ But if you give me a $25 bottle of wine, I’ll be like ‘wow – a $25 bottle of wine – cool!’”

Relatedly, best-in-class content marketing is about providing valuable content (regardless of the type) to your clients and prospects. To be more specific, it’s about providing valuable content as judged by the audience to be valuable, not as judged by the organization providing the content. From the conversation above, we know that the woman (i.e. the audience) attaches a lot more value to a $25 bottle of wine than she does to the money itself, even though each is monetarily worth the same. To her, there’s added value in the bottle.

For content marketers, the only way to figure out this distinction is to know your audience so well that you can clearly distinguish what they value. That will, in part, be determined by knowing what problems they have and how important they are – the more important the problem, the more valuable the solution will be. For the above-mentioned gift recipient, she may have had the problem of either really liking wine but not knowing what’s good OR not being able to justify buying a good bottle for herself. Either way, and whether the gift giver knew it or not, he was solving an important problem for her with the bottle and thus giving her added value.

As a content marketer, it’s your job to figure out the problems your audience has and provide them content that helps solve those problems. If you’re able to really understand those problems and the value to your audience of solving them, you’ll always be able to give them the bottle, and not just the money.

Clear as mud: content marketing in a nutshell…for my sister

“Hey, I read your blog today,” my sister said to me one day.

Stunned silence. I’ve got to admit, I was a little confused. I didn’t think anyone read my blog. I needed to clarify.

“What do you mean?” I finally asked, my in-depth investigative reporting techniques coming to the fore.

“I mean I read your blog today,” she said.

That definitely clarified things.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“It was good,” she said, as a sort-of cloudy look came across her face – the look that I took to mean, “I don’t get it – this whole content marketing thing. It’s about as clear as mud.”

And I realized that I hadn’t made the case, so to speak, for what content marketing is and why it’s a valuable marketing approach. So here, for my sister, and anyone else reading that’s still unclear about what content marketing is and why it’s valuable, is content marketing in a nutshell.

Let’s start with the environment in which we all live (and buy) in, and consider these facts:

  • some claim that the average person is exposed to more than 5,000 brand messages a day, either through print, digital, audio, or video. At this point, we’ve all become masters of filtering out ads – most of us don’t even see them anymore
  • Google search is quickly becoming the number one tool people use to solve their problems, whether the problem is finding a great restaurant, figuring out how to waste five spare minutes in an entertaining way, or learning about the different options you can have in a new car
  • “consumers” have so many products to choose from, and there’s so much messaging around them by sellers, that they’re getting burned out hearing about your product – they don’t care. What they care about is solving the problem they currently have, whether it’s an eating problem, a boredom problem, or a transportation problem

So, what these stats point to is a consumer tired of “interruption advertising” and being sold to AND who increasingly is using online means to solve their problems. How is a selling organization supposed to behave in order to align with cultural norms yet still sell stuff?

That’s where content marketing comes in to play. Content marketing is a very customer-centric approach to marketing where the customers/prospects and their problems are the centre of everything – not the organization’s products or services – and solving those problems becomes the raison d’etre of the selling organization. As a result, the selling organization doesn’t promote itself or its products, it stays focused on trying to help customers/prospects fix their problems. If done well, this will create a positive feeling in the customer’s/prospect’s mind towards the brand offering the valuable information. As well, by offering this valuable problem-solving information on a regular basis, it also keeps the brand top of mind so that when the customer/prospect is ready to buy a solution to their problem, the positively-associated, top of mind brand is automatically included in the consideration set.

As an example, think about one of the most successful brands using content marketing – Red Bull. Red Bull, for those living in a cave for the past 10 years, is an energy drink and focuses much of its marketing efforts on developing and distributing awesome videos (as in, videos that create a feeling of awe) about extreme sports. None of them mention the drink or the benefits of the drink – the leave that to other forms of marketing (like advertising). Red Bull’s content (in this case videos) is intended to create a strong and positive association between extreme athletics, a feeling of awe, and its brand so that when someone is considering buying an energy drink, they remember Red Bull’s videos and the feelings they inspired, and are inspired themselves to buy the drink over the competitors.

Or consider a small consulting business that’s trying to grow. Using the principles of content marketing, they identify a common problem in their target market that that have the capability to solve, and invite some of their clients, prospects, and subject matter experts to discuss the issue at no cost to the participants – they don’t present their products or services but only act as a normal participant. The group has a productive and engaging half day, during which someone from the consulting firm has been taking notes about what was said. The note taker later reviews the notes and packages up the most valuable points into a whitepaper that is given to the participants for free, as well as to other clients and prospects. In this way, the consulting firm has gathered valuable information that addresses a commonly shared problem and provides it to their target market at no cost. The recipients, having gained valuable knowledge, start to develop a positive association with the consulting firm, and if this process is regularly repeated, the consulting firm stays top of mind as a potential solution for the discussed problem as well as other related problems. When a prospect or existing client organization has a problem that the consulting firm has positioned itself as being able to help fix, the consulting firm gets included in the consideration set for purchase, which represents potential business that may never have presented itself without content marketing.

This same approach can be used by any company regardless of size or market to sell any product or service, regardless of B2B or B2C. There are, of course, nuances to it that vary by all these factors, but as an approach, it works equally well for all organizations.

And that, in a nutshell, is what content marketing is all about and why it’s a valuable approach.

Clear as mud, sis?

How to become a thought leader without writing one original word

When business people think about thought leadership, many picture the classic whitepaper, dense with insights and commentary, culled from the leading experts within the organization. They believe the goal of a thought leadership program is to demonstrate or develop the organization’s credibility and leadership in a specific subject matter area. What’s often missing, though, is the recognition that for a thought leadership program to be effective, it must not only demonstrate the organization’s brilliance, but it also must offer content that its market deems valuable. Content that makes the organization look brilliant but doesn’t fix any client/prospect problems or fill key knowledge gaps for them is a poor program. And in this misunderstanding lies an opportunity.

You see, these same business people also often reject the idea of content curation as an important part of an effective thought leadership program. They believe that, by definition, thought leadership must originate within the organization in order to demonstrate its thought leadership/credibility/expertise. But as mentioned above, this narrow view neglects the need to also offer value to the market, and that is where content curation can come into play.

Content curation is, at its simplest, the choiceful selection and/or aggregation of theme or topic-focused third-party content. It doesn’t include original content from the curating organization, which is why it’s often passed over as part of a thought leadership program. And while this is true – curation doesn’t demonstrate the expertise of the curating organization – it still offers value to the market because it helps the market more easily find the information they want. The service of curating valuable information on behalf of clients is itself valuable, and so demonstrates the organization’s leadership, not just in their chosen subject area, but also in helping clients and prospects solve their problems. And ultimately, that should be the goal of any thought leadership program – to help clients and prospects solve their problems or fill their knowledge gaps. If that can be done, whether through curation or original content, then being recognized as a thought leader will be a natural outcome.

 

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?

 

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.