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.


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! ;)

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.

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?