The Big Green Content Marketing Machine

Content marketing has grown into the leading method for promoting brand identity and cultivating an audience. In fact, according to Technavio, the worldwide content marketing industry will expand to over $400 billion by 2021, more than double its 2016 valuation.

Why is content marketing dominating all other types of marketing today?

Content marketing, contrary to popular belief, is not a flash in the pan. In fact, like prospecting for gold, the blueprint for today’s practices harks back to the 19th century, where innovative companies like Sears, Roebuck and John Deere communicated directly with their customers using then-new media like magazines and catalogs. These organizations went beyond simply advertising products, to promoting a very specific lifestyle to their target audience.

In fact, John Deere’s The Furrow magazine, which launched in 1897 and is still published today, was a progenitor of modern B2B content marketing. Check out this short video clip produced by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) to learn about Deere’s groundbreaking and successful approach to brand development.

The key to The Furrow’s success was and still is its non-salesy, journalistic tone and style. Recognizing that its customers (hard-working farmers) didn’t have the time or inclination to sift through transparent sales pitches, Deere has always strived to present unbiased, relevant articles and information. As one loyal reader states in the video, “I think the articles in The Furrow are very neutral, to the point where I always wondered – ‘Is this a John Deere magazine, or not?’” (However, it’s worth noting he is proudly wearing a classic green John Deere cap!)

Whereas a century ago, print media like newspapers, posters, and catalogs ruled the roost, the advent of the Internet has provided marketers with a bounty of new channels for promoting their brands. In addition, new technology is allowing today’s marketers to slice and dice their audience into micro-segments based on demographics, psychographics, and location. In fact, using cognitive technologies like AI, machine learning, and robotics, organizations can customize their messages to an audience of one.

Despite these new methods of distribution, the core principles of content marketing remain the same. To be successful, today’s marketers must transcend product-focused “push” advertising, to “pull” in their audience by offering meaningful value in a compelling and useful way.

Since 1837, John Deere has been a leading manufacturer of agricultural machinery and equipment, including its instantly recognizable green tractor. The company operates its business based on four core values: integrity, quality, commitment, and innovation. For nearly 125 years, The Furrow has embodied those values and has introduced generations of farmers to this iconic American brand.

Is your marketing strategy delivering the same level of consistent, timeless success?

Content in Context

ID 665990 © Jorge M Vargas Jr | Dreamstime.com

Only in Vegas …

I recently spent a long weekend in Las Vegas with my wife and youngest son. Although this was my fourth visit to Sin City, this time seemed very different.

We were in town to cheer on my nine-year-old as he competed in the Kids Fitness category of the Natural Olympia bodybuilding event. This was his third competition since embarking on his bodybuilding journey about a year ago. By far the youngest competitor, my son posed like a pro and had a blast meeting his fellow athletes and sharing tips on nutrition and exercise. He even got to enjoy dinner with his West Coast grandparents – a rare treat. He was floating on air the entire weekend.

The event was held at the Rio Hotel and Conference Center, a well-appointed property off the Strip. It has some excellent restaurants, and our room was clean and comfortable. However, as we trekked from our room to the adjoining conference site each morning, we had no choice but to navigate the hotel’s crowded, noisy casino. My wife and I kept our son close as we hurried him past the habitual gamblers at the roulette tables and retirees pulling the one-armed bandits. A few seemed to have been there all night. My son held his nose, complaining the air reeked of smoke.

On our last day, we spent a few hours walking the Strip. We gazed up at the faux-Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel. We marveled at the Bellagio’s synchronized fountain show. We stopped in the souvenir shops and ate massive pancakes (my boy’s post-competition “cheat meal”) at the Hash House a Go-Go. But the sidewalks were more crowded than I remembered, stifling and sweaty with the press of humanity. I gripped my son’s hand tightly as we traversed the filthy, trash-strewn staircases and walkways.

My prior visits to Vegas consisted of work conferences and getaways with college buddies. Under those circumstances, the city sparkled with the promise of excitement and adventure. I visited the clubs, ate at the steakhouses, played some golf, and yes, hit the blackjack tables (up to a predetermined, modest limit of cash on hand). This time, with my wife (a Vegas newbie) and son along for the ride, the City of Second Chances seemed decrepit, slightly menacing, and above all, depressing.

What factors account for this stark difference in perception? Context and point of view.

Vegas hadn’t changed. But my perspective clearly had. Seeing the city through the eyes of my companions, who had no interest in all the “mature” entertainment the city has on offer, I was able to see right through Vegas’ veneer of glitz to its decaying core.

Context is Everything

Context and point of view are crucial elements in content marketing. When you’re marketing to your prospects, you must grasp their mindset – at a specific moment in time. What stage of the buying cycle are they in? Are they early in the process, just beginning to analyze their needs? Are they considering expanding their product offerings? Deciding between offering a solution in-house or outsourcing to a third-party vendor?

Or is your prospect further down the sales funnel – fully sold on the need, and beginning to explore specific solutions? Have they narrowed their search down to a shortlist of providers, vetting references, and comparing features and pricing?

Just as critically, what is your prospect’s role in the buying process? Is she the decision-maker, or an information-gatherer?

What baggage does your prospect bring to the table? Have they already tried different approaches to solving this problem, with little success? Did they try a competitors’ solution, and been burned? Perhaps they used your solution in the past. How did that go?

Before you communicate with the buyer, you must understand where they are coming from. You need to consider their unique perspective, past experiences, and biases. You must understand their goals, pain points, and needs. Only then can you help guide them to the next stage, and ultimately toward a buying decision.

Without an understanding of context, it is nearly impossible to develop a compelling and impactful marketing message. Without considering where your prospects are today – at this moment— you’re simply blowing smoke in their faces.

Even in Vegas, that’s never acceptable.

The One Where He Talks About Style Guides


Spring is in the air. Time to clean out our closets, open the windows wide, sweep away the winter dust, and refresh our personal style.

Now, when it comes to personal style, mine admittedly leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, just the other evening my wife and I were binging on some old episodes of Friends. Yes, the classic 90s sitcom that basically held a mirror up to my life for the better part of that decade.

Anyway, we were watching one episode where Ross walked into Central Perk to meet up with the gang, and I remarked (aloud, I think)— “Hey, Ross is wearing my shirt!”

Not, “I used to have a shirt like that,” or “That looks like something I would have worn way back then.” No— “I have that same shirt NOW, that Ross was wearing THEN.”

As Chandler Bing might say, “Could I BE more out of fashion?”

Fortunately for a sad sartorial specimen like me, spring is also a great time to refresh your business’ style. By that, I’m referring to dusting off your organization’s communication strategy and taking a hard look at how you represent your brand to your audience.

Yes, friends – I’m talking about your marketing style guide.

OK, first things first. Perhaps you don’t have a style guide. That makes sense. Why do you even need one? Well, here’s why:

  1. Consistency – Your brand is your most valuable asset. To protect, preserve, and promote your brand, it’s essential to maintain consistency in messaging across all mediums and modes of communication.
  2. Clarity – A style guide helps clarify your brand message, and how that message is communicated. It helps reduce or eliminate any confusion among people in various roles across the enterprise and ensure that everyone always stays on message.
  3. Simplicity – Without a style guide, it’s all too easy for people to dilute the message. A style guide simplifies the process of writing any type of document and reduces the risk of confusion.
  4. Speed – With a well-conceived style guide, there is no doubt how to write a document. For your content creators, this speeds up the writing process, improves quality, and reduces the amount of editing and proofreading required.

Now that you understand why you need a style guide, let’s discuss how to develop one that’s effective and useful:

  1. Don’t recreate the wheel. To make your job easier, reference an industry standard like the Chicago Manual of Style or AP Stylebook as your default for grammar, punctuation, and word usage. These guides address common areas of contention like whether to use the Oxford comma, and how to write numerical and financial terms.
  2. Note unique differences. Make sure to specify any differences in writing style among documents you write for various purposes and audiences, such as internal communication, technical documentation, client reports, social media, and marketing materials.
  3. Watch your lingo. It’s a good idea to call out any specific jargon, industry terms, or acronyms you allow in your writing. In general, it is best to avoid jargon and technical terms whenever possible, but if there are unique terms that your clients and audience understand, identify those in the guide.
  4. Keep it short. A writing style guide should run only a couple of pages in length. Many organizations produce a comprehensive branding style guide that includes both written and visual guidelines, to ensure branding consistency across all media. If your style guide includes visual guidelines, its fine to stretch it out to four or five pages, including illustrations and examples.
  5. Address your brand voice. Is your organization’s preferred style conversational, or formal? Do you get technical, or go for a layman’s tone? Your style guide should spell out your company’s unique voice, level of formality, and word usage, and whether it differs among various types of content and media. For example, you may choose to allow an informal, conversational tone in blog posts and web content, but never in white papers, client reports, and email. Content Marketing Institute offers up some great examples of corporate style guides that effectively address voice here.
  6. Avoid international incidents. If your brand has a global footprint, customize the style guide to the unique cultural differences of the regions you serve. History is filled with examples of U.S. brand messaging getting lost in translation overseas. One notorious marketing snafu was the Chinese debut of Pepsi’s slogan, “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life.” Unfortunately, someone translated this phrase as “Pepsi Brings You Back from the Grave.” Pepsi was D.O.A. in China, for a while. (For a fascinating look at Pepsi’s history, including its most notorious marketing fails, check out this video.)

Take advantage of this season of renewal to develop or refresh your marketing style guide. Once created, it’ll always be there for you.

Does Your Content Marketing Lack Focus? Talk to Your Customers!

The difference between a successful content marketing strategy, and one that is just… meh often comes down to how well you know your audience.

The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) is an invaluable resource for B2B marketers. The B2B Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report from CMI and MarketingProfs is chock full of great data (shout out to my talented colleague Carolyn Marsh—check out her latest blog post on this and other great resources for financial services content marketers). Several data points from this year’s survey present the importance of taking an audience-first approach in stark relief.

First the good news: according to the study, 90 percent of the most successful B2B content marketers focus on their target audience’s informational needs rather than pitching product.

Furthermore, the top three techniques these successful B2B content marketers use to research their audience’s needs include: sales team intelligence, website analytics, and keyword research. These are all proven, viable approaches, and it is particularly heartening to see that successful marketers value open communication with their sales colleagues.

Now for the not-so-good news: Fewer than half of the content marketers surveyed talk directly with their customers. In fact, just 42 percent say they engage their customers as part of their audience research.

That’s shocking! There is no better way to understand your audience and their informational needs than by talking to the people who already use your products. Your client base is a built-in focus group that should align closely with your target market. And since they already know you, they will generally be responsive and open to discussing their needs, wants, and pain points.

I suspect there are two primary reasons many content marketers are reluctant to approach their company’s customers for input: 1) they don’t want to jeopardize the client relationship, and 2) they don’t want to step on their sales team’s toes.

These are valid concerns. However, here are a few ways to navigate these potential minefields:

  1. Leverage your sales team: Since the vast majority of successful B2B marketers already rely on their sales reps for market intelligence, it is one small step to ask them to introduce you directly to your company’s clients. The key is to explain to your sales team how getting direct customer feedback will help the marketing team produce better, more focused content that will generate a higher volume of qualified sales leads. A win-win!
  2. Establish expectations early: It is tough to get busy clients to give freely of their time, especially after they’ve implemented your product. It is much easier to get their buy-in early in the relationship, preferably as contracts are being signed. At that point, you can request certain deliverables, like a certain number of client referral calls, case study interviews or videos, and “research” or “focus group” sessions, perhaps in exchange for a discounted rate or other benefits (such as free attendance at your next annual conference or educational webinar). Check out this post for more ideas for getting client buy-in.
  3. Bundle the ask with a case study project: Speaking of getting buy-in, the best time to pick your client’s brain is during the case study interview. If you have a customer success story or case study interview session already scheduled, sprinkle in a few questions about their vendor research process, what types of content they read, view, or download, and the industry topics that most interest them. This information will be very helpful in setting your content marketing strategy going forward.

Need help in identifying your target audience and choosing the right mix of content to reach them most effectively? Let’s talk! Contact me at ted at tedgoldwyn dot com or 914-715-2248.

Write well, and be well!