The first workshop within the management focus group „Content Marketing and Brand Management“ took place at Schloss Marbach close to Lake Constance on June 2-3, 2016, and intensively discussed the question whether content marketing is rather „old wine in new bottles“ or a real game changer in marketing practice. Prof. Peter Fischer from the University of St. Gallen provided valuable scientific input on several aspects, including definitions, requirements and so-called truths of content marketing. This input has been supplemented by very inspiring guest lectures from business practice: We heard from Steven Roller and Stefan Mügge (both John Deere), Michael Gyssler (Mammut Sports), Wilfried Eberhardt (KUKA AG), Jan Gladziejewski (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) as well as Andreas Tschurtschenthaler (IDM Südtirol). The subsequent theses represent the key insights we gained throughout the 2-day seminar.
1. Content Marketing is not new, but more relevant than ever!
As Prof. Fischer and several guest speakers emphasized, the principles under which content marketing is being hyped at the moment are not new at all. Already in 1895, John Deere launched its „The Furrow“ magazine in the US in order to help farmers, especially those in the mid-west, to become more productive and increase their harvests. Nowadays, John Deere publishes regional editions of „The Furrow“ magazine in 27 countries worldwide with a circulation of more than 1.5 million copies. This machinery induces lots of costs, effort, coordination with external journalists, and severe deadline constraints, among others. John Deere is increasingly willing to transform its printed content marketing into the digital world in which the concept has bubbled up in the past years.
Nevertheless, the idea of providing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to a clearly defined target group has not been invented recently. It just becomes more and more relevant, since today’s customers expect more than classical advertisement with its typical hard sells: Customers prefer credible information on problems they have with clear advice on how to solve them! Content marketing has never been as powerful, effective, and necessary as it is today because of: 1. Ad Fatigue 2. Changes in Consumer Behavior 3. Empowered Customers 4. Powerful and Rich Channels
Different Regional Editions of „The Furrow“-Magazine worldwide (Roller & Mügge, 2016)
2. Mind the 4 key truth of conveying content through stories!
(1) Truth to the Teller: „I want you to feel what I feel“ (Ron Bass)
(2) Truth to the Audience: „Make the ‘I’ in your story become ‘we’…“ (Tery Schwartz)
(3) Truth to the Moment: „A great storyteller never tells a story the same way twice.“ (Peter Guber)
(4) Truth to the Mission: „Even in today’s cynical, self-centered age, people are desperated to believe in something bigger than themselves.“ (Peter Guber)
In order to successfully utilize content marketing the integration of these four truths between the (sometimes) conflicting priorities of strategic and tactical content marketing is crucial. Although only 28 percent of B2B companies and 39 percent of B2C companies have a documented editorial content marketing mission statement (Content Marketing Institute, 2016), it is highly important for steering tactical activities such as telling stories in a different way.
Conveying Content Effectively Through Stories (Fischer, 2016)
3. Content Marketing is NOT a marketing communication tool alone!
As opposed to the frequently arising erroneous belief that content marketing is one of many marketing communication instruments, it overarches several channels and rather represents a specific understanding of what marketing is supposed to be. In order to push marketing in the direction of creating engaging, entertaining, and informing content storytelling can function as the perfect transmission belt: People naturally think narratively rather than argumentatively or paradigmatically (Weick, 1995; Wells, 1989). Furthermore, effective narrative processing helps consumers create meaning of the information through transportation, a process that refers to the extent to which consumers „transport“ or immerse themselves into the world described by the narrative (Woodside, Sood, & Miller, 2008). Or, as Philip Pullmann puts it: „After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world“.
Storytelling as Transmission Belt for Content Marketing (Fischer, 2016)
Jan Gladziejewski from Hewlett Packard Enterprise presented an entire content marketing portfolio that consisted of several marketing communication instruments. Consistent storytelling across channels only is possible, if content marketing is considered to be a special approach to interact with customers whose power lies in its integration potential.
Content Marketing: Overarching Concept instead of Single Mix Instrument (Gladziejewski, 2016)
4. Find the balance between entertaining, engaging, and informing!
(1) Entertaining: Example Mammut Sports
As Michael Gyssler vividly presented, entertaining target groups is especially relevant if a relatively small player such as Mammut Sports is facing severe budget constraints. Therefore, Mammut pursues a very offensive and maverick way of applying content marketing. Every year new content marketing material is gathered with preselected participants in a mountain location like below. The motto may vary, but the respective implementation is outstanding and differentiating throughout.
Content Marketing in the Mountains: World Map with Mammut Brand Fans on a Glacier (Gyssler, 2016)
(2) Engaging: Example Südtirol Tourism
Andreas Tschurtschenthaler, the responsible manager for Südtirol tourism’s content marketing hub „Was uns bewegt“, revealed success factors of the integration between online and offline content marketing activities. The online hub enables prospects of Südtirol as a travel destination to get to know local people with a special bonding to the region who offer interesting experiences on site. Nevertheless, tourists can directly contact those persons in order to prolong the respective content into the real world. Especially in the tourism industry this combination of online content and their counterpart in the offline world provides the basis for engaging prospects.
Content Marketing in „Was uns bewegt“: Real stories and real people (Tschurtschenthaler, 2016)
(3) Informing: Example KUKA
An excellent business example of how to inform internally and externally what your brand identity and story is has been provided by Wilfried Eberhardt from KUKA. Based on the recent brand integration (following the formula Robots + Systems + Industries = Orange Intelligence), KUKA has understood that making its employees part of the new brand story is a necessity for its „truth to the mission“. In the context of the brand launch several brand booths have been set up at various company locations worldwide. Apart from entertaining photobooths and informing brand walls, a value chart has been built at which employees could fasten a thread alongside KUKA’s new brand values: They were encouraged to faithfully assess what KUKA’s current position regarding these brand values is and where they still see potential left in order to live up to them.
Internal Communication: Making Employees part of the Brand Story (Eberhardt, 2016)
5. Don’t underestimate the passion and effort involved!
Several inputs from business practice unified the level of passion and effort involved in order to keep their successful content marketing activities alive. John Deere invests lots of money and editorial effort in „feeding“ customers with valuable content for enhancing their harvests. Farmers worlwide are reported to be particularly fastidious if content is not adapted to their regional environment: The title page in all European editions of „The Furrow“-Magazine was showing a Spanish farmer wearing sandals while standing on his land some time ago. An outcry by famers from Central Europe arised, since they would never wear sandals at work and felt slighted due to the missing reference to their regional farming environment. True content marketing requests high levels of passion and effort in order to provide target groups with the valuable, relevant, and consistent content they want to hear from you as a company.
Regional Adaptation Efforts at John Deere’s „The Furrow“-Magazine (Roller & Mügge, 2016)
6. Incorporate trial and error!
Although Südtirol Tourism has been awarded with the Content Marketing Award in the category „Content Marketing Strategy“ in 2015, Andreas Tschurtschenthaler frankly outlined the trial and error method they continuously apply. Of course, strategic prerequisites such as a meaningful editorial statement are crucial for guiding tactical actions. Still, certain degress of freedom should also be incorporated, since deterministic predicitions of what customers might perceive as valuable might be difficult in advance. Südtirol Tourism plays with this freedom exemplary. They launch stories, observe their acceptance by prospects, and derive implications such as declaring a story as a topstory or removing it in case it does not provide the desired response.
Encouraged to make mistakes: Editorial Guideline at Südtirol Tourism (Tschurtschenthaler, 2016)
7. Measure content marketing effectiveness and efficiency!
Jan Gladziejewski demonstrated HPE’s approach to deploy structured content marketing planning and management control. The more operationalized goals are defined beforehand, the better their success is measurable afterwards. HPE’s business value exchange portal represents a data-rich and customer-specific content marketing platform. It encourages propspects to register in order to access HPE’s valuable content. This lays the foundation for customization of content and, hence, enhanced opportunities to measure content marketing effectiveness and efficiency real-time. Depending on where individual platform users click and dive deeper in the content they are interested in, HPE is able to define and continuously improve decision trees online.