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! ;)

How to Set Up a Content Marketing Practice with a “Lean Enterprise” Mindset

Last night I spoke at a great event put on by Lean Enterprise T.O., a Toronto-based meet-up focused on applying “lean enterprise” approaches to business (or as the related website describes it, “bringing a start-up mindset to larger organizations”). My talk was focused on how to create a “start-up” content marketing practice within a larger organization using a “lean” approach, i.e. without significant budget, resources, buy-in, etc.

Below are my speaking notes outlining my experience in, and advice on, starting up a thought leadership capability within a large financial services enterprise – enjoy!

“So I’ve got 10 minutes to tell you everything I know about being a content marketing “start-up” within one of Canada’s largest asset management organizations  – so we should have five or six minutes left over once I’m done so hopefully there will be some questions. [Note: this was intended to be a joke, i.e. every single thing I know about his topic can be summed up in only 4 minutes - it went over like a lead balloon!]

And as it happens, though, I’m well suited to this topic because since 2010 I’ve been using content marketing to help organizations of all sizes grow, first at a 15 person boutique brand strategy firm, then as a brand and content marketing consultant myself to other organizations, as now as the first VP of Thought Leadership at one of Canada’s largest asset managers, with a total team count of one – me

Before I jump into my experience, I quickly want to review the structure of today’s marketplace that makes content marketing so effective, and it can be boiled down into three characteristics:

  1.  Buyers are so overwhelmed by “interruption marketing” (aka advertising and corporate messaging) that they don’t pay attention to it as much as they used to – i.e. it’s not as effective as it used to be
  2. Buyers want  a solution to their higher order problem, they don’t want your product or service – that just happens to be a by product; the ole quote from Theodore Levitt ‘people don’t buy a quarter inch drill, they buy a quarter inch hole’ definitely applies
  3. Buyers themselves, especially B2B buyers, are doing between 57-90% of their investigation into solutions they need online via Google, before they ever contact an organization

So that’s the way the market is shaping up these days and indicates why content marketing can be so effective.

In terms of my experience at one of Canada’s largest asset managers, and any advice I have for others trying to start-up a content marketing practice in a larger organization to meet the needs of that new market structure, there are three key steps I’m going to highlight.

The three steps are: developing the strategy, developing the content itself, and developing and implementing a distribution and promotion plan for the content.

Within the context of being a start-up, my approach to developing the strategy is pretty straight forward because it has to be – as a team of one, I’ve got very limited resources so I have to nail the fundamentals first

For me, the strategic fundamentals required for success start with defining the organizational goals, and then move on to finding the sweet spot where the answers to three questions intersect:

  • What is the competitive advantage of your organization?
  • What are the key, higher order, problems or needs of your market?
  • What are the topics that address those problems and reinforce your competitive advantage?

As a start-up, you’ll probably be working without much of a budget, which means the initial data gathering that’s needed for any good strategy will be driven by lots of conversations with internal stakeholders – for me, I spoke with over 55 internal people

I also think it’s important to speak with your clients to validate the internal perspective and get directional guidance. This last part is critical because many internal stakeholders don’t really know what their clients are thinking because they’ve never asked. Unfortunately, many internal stakeholders are also worried about sending someone in to ask their clients questions because they think it may send the wrong message. I couldn’t disagree more but happy to talk more about that later.

Before you can even think about setting up interviews with your clients though, you first need to define who your clients are (which may be a new process for some organizations) and choose one client segment – or one set of needs – to focus on.  As I’ve often said to my colleagues, I don’t have a quiver full of arrows to use, I have a quiver full of arrow, and it needs to be aimed squarely at one set of needs

Identifying your competitive advantage and target market will then lead you to a variety of themes and topics that could be developed into thought leadership, and the selection of a topic is where you want to involve your editorial board.  For me, my editorial board is made up of the key decision makers within my organization who see the big picture and have insight into our clients so they can guide my efforts to ensure I’m pointed in the right direction.

The final part of the strategy process is to identify the metrics that define success.  For us, our primary goal is to grow brand awareness outside of Canada so our metrics of success will be compared with benchmarks regarding media mentions via PR, web traffic, email open rates, time on page, downloads, and other digital metrics. Deciding on the right digital metrics is a much more nuanced process than I had realized and requires an expertise all its own since any given metric may seem to measure what’s important, but in reality doesn’t.

With your strategy completed, the next step is to develop the actual content, and again, as a start-up, you probably won’t have the budget to bring on freelance writers so you’d better be able to write competently yourself

As well, you may not be an expert in the theme and topics that are eventually chosen, so you’ll depend on subject matter experts within your company to provide the clay which you can shape into a variety of types of content, including white papers, videos, inforgraphics, slideshares, whatever – my approach is to create content in whatever format the market wants, not in the format we want

What I’ve found is that certain subject matter experts are already pretty busy [Note: being facetious here - they're swamped!], and they may see your efforts as a make-work project, not the beginnings of an organization-wide transformation that you and I know it is [Note: another failed attempt at humour].  In these cases, it’s vital that you develop strong and personal relationships with them to enhance your “soft power” while at the same time having buy-in from their bosses who can, if needed, “encourage” them make the time

An important part of the content development process is creating a workback plan to ensure deadlines are met. In an ideal world where you’re rockin’ on multiple content initiatives at the same time , an editorial calendar should also be developed to track everything and ensure all the content is aligned.  But again, as a start-up, your mandate may be more like dipping your toe in the water with a few executions vs. jumping right in with a full-blown program, so that calendar may not be needed at the start.

Shortly after the strategy is set, and in parallel with developing content, you have to address the third step which is developing and implementing a distribution and promotion plan.

Luckily, since you work within a large organization, you probably have access to fully outfitted creative, PR, and digital departments who you can work closely with to distribute and promote your content.  Since you’ll have very little, if any, budget, your challenge in working with these established departments is to encourage them to make time, and apply their budget and resources, to your endeavours. You’ll probably have support in this from your sponsor, who has encouraged you to become this start-up in the first place, but in addition, once again, it’s vital to develop those relationships that will help this process along.

And that, in a 10 minute nutshell, is how you can develop a start-up content marketing program in a lean enterprise environment.

Any questions?

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


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.