The Content Pool

Create exeptional customer experiences by leveraging your largest hidden asset – Your Content

The Content Pool

A World Record Weekend for Brand Marketing – Almost.

Over the weekend my wife and I drove the nine hours from Central Illinois up to the top of Lake Michigan to help try and break a world record. The event was labelled as “MINI on the Mack” and the aim was to get a record number of cars of a single make across the spectacular suspension bridge that links Mackinaw City with St. Ignace, MI.

We love our MINIs and over the years have owned a variety of different model types and configurations. The Roadster and the sporty Cooper S that currently reside in our garage are our ninth and tenth MINIs. Although we’ve owned many other makes and models of cars over the years, we always seem to come back to MINI. I guess you could say we are brand loyal.

mini1319At the event this weekend someone said that what makes the MINI so much fun is that it’s the only car that comes with friends as standard. Well we met up with over 1,300 such friends (as you can see above), and had a great time.

But of course I had to also take a look at the event with my marketing glasses on. The official corporate MINI involvement was low-key. Of course there was MINI branding visible, and MINI goodies for sale, but this wasn’t an overt sales pitch, it was about the MINI owners – usually referred to as either “MINIacs” or “motorers.”  This was brand activism at its most visible.

The convoy of MINIs was impressive providing an almost two-hour long rolling billboard for the brand highlighting the different models and the fact that thanks to the multiple creative options available no two MINIs are alike. Every car is a reflection of its owner’s personality.

MINIviewThe town’s people got behind the event lining the roads and waving to participants; other motorists got into the spirit too with waves, horns, and even a few pulling over to take photos and video. After the event when we were walking around town still wearing the MINI on the Mack t-shirts we were constantly thanked for being there and asked about the event. And about the cars.

All weekend the MINI spirit was pervasive, associating the brand with fun, and friendly people.

But did it help MINI with driving revenue? If my experience is anything to go by, it certainly did. After seeing photos and notes of the event on my personal FaceBook page I had two friends message me asking advice about purchasing MINIs. – If even a fraction of our fellow 1,300 MINIacs had the same experience I’d say the event definitely helped move the needle for a few MINI dealerships around the country.

So did we get the World Record? – Unfortunately no. We needed 1,452 cars present to snatch that title, but the 1,319 who turned up was enough to set the American record for the largest collection of MINIs assembled. – There is already talk of trying again in 2017.

Be Arnold – Not Mary-Kate

“Why be Mary-Kate and Ashley when we can be the Arnold to the rest of the industry’s Danny DeVito?”

It may sound like a strange conversation, but it’s one I’ve had several times at different points in my career; usually when I’ve been at a small to medium sized, or spin-off start-up, software company. The underlying conundrum behind the question was “How do we differentiate ourselves?”

Nearly every business, to a greater or lesser extent, is akin to a commodity driven business these days. There are very few disruptive companies whose success is solely due to the fact that they are the only one doing something. Everybody has a competitor, or two, or lots; all doing essentially the same thing you are, especially when you are playing in a global marketplace.

If someone tells you what line of business they are in, and you answer “Me too,” then you are now a commodity. If you don’t differentiate yourself trough the unique value you bring to you customers you become an Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen. A product that can be swapped out with one that does basically the same thing and no-one really notices the difference.


So how do you differentiate your value?


Content can make you stand out like Arnold Schwarzenegger towering over Danny DeVito in the movie Twins.

Look at what makes your company and products special, how do you solve your customers problems in the way that provides them the most value? Find the perspective that only you can provide; look to your company’s own experts, and your customers too. If you can find a niche where you can provide the most informative, engaging, and useful information, then plan to become the industry’s leading expert in that space.

With the right content and the right approach you can position yourself to tower over others who may think they are just like you. Remember – Be Arnold, not Mary-Kate.


The Name is Bond, … Want to talk?

This is my 007th blog post of this year (according to the naming convention I use for these posts on my laptop), which seems appropriate as this week also marked the first release of any official photos and behind the scenes footage for the next James Bond movie, SPECTRE.


I’ve been fascinated by the world of 007 for almost fifty years now, I’ve written one book about Bond and have a second one that will be published later this year. It’s not just the character himself that fascinates me, it’s the way that the franchise has developed over the years, constantly changing to meet new challenges, changing tastes, changing political landscapes, and reach new audiences across the globe. A core part of that has been studying the way that EON Productions and MGM have handled marketing the movies. The release of the photographs and video footage this week was part of EON’s long established practice of building interest in their movies over a period of several months; in this case about ten months, as SPECTRE isn’t scheduled to open till November. Bond movie production has always been a series of milestones: announcing the cast, the name of the movie, the start of filming, a look at the impressive sets, the song, the trailer; they are all marketing events.

But they are all still essentially broadcast events, they help build awareness of the brand, but they are definitely one way communication. It’s a “look at us and this cool thing we are doing” message. If Bond marketing falls down in one area when compared to other franchises, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, the Marvel movies etc., it’s engaging with their core customers, the fans.

Luckily many of the Bond writers, scholars, collectors, and fans makes up for that with a very lively, welcoming, inclusive, and fun informal community with an active collection of websites, social media feeds, blogs, podcasts, publications etc.

Among these one of the recent stand outs has been the emergence of the James Bond Radio podcast, and they did it by marketing through conversation.


Launched only a year ago it is already the “must listen” podcast for Bond aficionados for its insightful reviews, news, interviews, and more. This isn’t just two guys telling us how much they enjoy Bond, although that is a recurrent theme, it’s an inclusive experience with fellow fans providing input for trivia quizzes, or even providing jingles. The associated Facebook page is a lively community with the hosts engaging in dialog with the listeners. To celebrate their successful first year they didn’t do a self-congratulatory show, instead they invited six of their listeners to be on the show and asked them the same Bond related questions they ask when introducing the various Bond related professional guests that have appeared to date, instantly placing the fans on the same level of conversation as anyone else. Whether they know it or not, the James Bond Radio guys are a great case study in Content Marketing and using the content they produce to engage with their audience to build not just brand awareness, but loyalty, and retention. How did I first find out about James Bond Radio? By recommendation from a friend in the Bond community – and personal recommendation is the strongest marketing tool there is.

Start a conversation with your customers and they can become your greatest advocates.

No Pain, No Gain.

I hate the gym. I’m happy to admit that. I’ve never consider myself to be any sort of athlete; and I find working out just for the sake of exercise boring in the extreme.


As for pain, I’m a total wuss – I don’t like any sort of pain, so the tried and trusted mantra of

“No Pain, No Gain,”

has always been something of an anathema to me. – With one exception; Content Marketing.

We need to feel pain in business. Not physical pain, but the pains of delivering what we are in business to do. While overcoming our own business pains can indeed help us grow, that’s not the most important pain to consider.

The pain we should be considering, especially when it comes to Content Marketing, is our customer’s pain.

Every company, no matter what its size, exists to solve problems, be it with a product or a service. We are in business to fulfill a need, and that need is our customer’s need. We drive our revenue by making sure that we meet that need by solving the problems and pain points that stop our customers from being successful in their business and meeting their own customers needs.

Often as companies grow they lose sight of the customer and become more internally focused, especially in areas that don’t have direct contact with customers. As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, when that happens traditional marketing starts to be more about messaging how great we are and not what we can do to help.

Content Marketing changes that.

Content Marketing is about providing value to our customers to help them succeed; and to do that we need to know their pain points and focus on delivering the information, knowledge, and inspiration to remove that pain.

If you want to make business gains, then you need to start feeling some pain – just make sure that the pain you know most about is your customer’s pain – Then become the trusted source to ease that pain.

This Song ISN’T About You

“Marketing is about TELLING the world you are a rock star; Content Marketing is about SHOWING the world you are.”

The above is a quote from my friend Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute and it’s easily the most repeated phrase I use when introducing the concepts of Content Marketing – In fact I like that quote so much that I had a slide made up and with it on and have it hanging in my office.


It appeals to me on several levels, not least of which is that I’m a rock music fan and occasional historian with a particular interest in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.

Robert’s right in that traditional advertising and marketing has been about putting on a glitzy show, in the hope that our potential customers will notice us. We have built a whole industry and profession around shouting “Look at me!” – We’ve been singing songs that have been about us.

When everyone is singing the same song to different tunes it becomes a cacophony, and the louder they sing it becomes a raucous din in which everyone’s message is lost.

The only way for you as marketers to cut through that noise is to stop singing about yourselves. It’s time to start singing about the things that help our customers achieve their dreams.

I developed a Mission Statement for how we want to deliver marketing content at Caterpillar that hangs on my office wall right next to Robert’s quote, it reads:

We will provide ENGAGING, RELEVANT, ACTIONABLE content that provides VALUE to our customers, enabling them to be successful in reaching their business goals.

Our aim is to make sure that the song we are singing shows our customers that we understand their business goals and needs.

A Gift of Ten Content Tips from Anon.

When I returned to my office after the holiday break I was surprised to discover one of those inter-office routing envelopes sitting waiting for me on my desk. You know, the type that used to be for delivering paper memos and documents (remember those) but whose primary use these days seems to be for the circulation of various greetings cards and office collections.


I didn’t know of any impending birthdays births, or retirements so was a little confused as to why it would be there. There was no note clipped to the front, and not signature on the envelope to indicate where it had come from.

Intrigued I opened the seal and tipped the envelope up and a single piece of white card fluttered slowly down to rest on my desk. The card had a note attached which simply read “For Alan.” – No signature.

What had anonymous sent to me? I flipped it over and read the following:

Top 10 Tips For Creating Compelling Content

  1. Less about you
  2. Be authentic
  3. Focus on pain points
  4. Participate in conversations
  5. Bring best of your brand to the table with a differentiated POV
  6. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
  7. Think “human-to-human” (not B2B or B2C)
  8. Match content to the channel
  9. Go out on a limb
  10. Loosen the grip

I’ve read a lot of these sort of Top 10 lists over the years, even created a few similar ones myself, but there was something about this one that resonated with me. I’ve kept this card sitting on my desk at the side of my laptop in the intervening three weeks since its arrival, and found myself referencing it several times in conversations, and not always in relation to content creation. – I believe there as some very valid ideas that relate to the way we do business in the digital age in that list.

So over the next few weeks I’m planning on taking a deeper look at these Top Ten items and examine what they mean to me.

Tracy Island Blindfold – Finding Your Place on the Content Marketing Maturity Model.

I never played Pin The Tail On The Donkey at birthday parties when I was a kid. But there’s no need to feel sorry for me, because we played a much better version of the game – we played Tracy Island.  TracyIsland

Tracy Island, of course, being the secret island headquarters of International Rescue, the team at the center of the classic Thunderbirds TV show. It was Thunderbirds, and its companion shows, that sparked my interest in machines – in fact seeing some of the amazing machines we produce at Caterpillar makes me sometimes feel like I’m walking into the Thunderbirds set. So back to Tracy Island and boyhood birthday parties; instead of the paper drawing of a donkey we would paste up a map of Tracy Island and the goal for the blindfolded child was to see if they could find the secret launch pad of one of the International Rescue vehicles. This meant that instead of one place to aim for there were three.

The more I thought about how would you position yourself on the Content Marketing Maturity Map I presented in my last post, the more I realized that there was no single point on the map that would adequately convey a company’s place on the Content Marketing journey.

The truth is that you probably span a range of points across the model. If you take the manufacturing industry as a whole, which is where I spend my time these days, it is an industry that is traditionally focused on the features and functions of a product – and I’m sure every company would think of themselves as a thought leader, yet most of the product content online is SEO driven rather than value message driven. What value messaging there is tends to be at the Brand level rather than at the customer evangelist.

So the map for a traditional manufacturing company may look something like this:


On the other hand, the software industry, where I spent half my career to date, is less about the brand (Apple being the obvious exception) and more about the value of the solution to the customer than the product features. Therefore the map for a software company may look something like this:


There is no one size fits all methodology for finding your place on your journey, you have to take an honest look at different aspects of your business and how you use content in the related marketing efforts.

But even if you find yourself all over the island, then like the craft of International Rescue on their way to an incident, you should all be pointed in the same direction and getting there as fast as you can.

“Are We There Yet?” – Developing a Content Marketing Maturity Model

“It’s just around the corner.” – When I was a youngster travelling the highways and byways of the British road system in the back of my parents’ car that was my father’s stock answer to the toddler’s favorite lament of “Are we there yet?” – The thing was he never specified exactly which corner he was talking about. It kept me quiet for a while until I realized that we had been around several more corners since I last asked and we still hadn’t arrived at our destination. It didn’t take me long to learn that as much as I loved travelling as a kid, and still do, that not having context for where we were on those journeys drove me crazy. I still eschew the inflight movie choices on the seat back screens when flying long distances in favor of the moving map display. I like to know where I am.

The same could be said of developing a Content Marketing Strategy, I like to know where I am on the journey.

The obvious answer for knowing where you are is to have a map; something that helps you connect the start and end points.

When you are working on the tactical implementations of content creation, management, and distribution those maps are your editorial calendars, and project plans – But what about at a higher level? How do you know where you are in the development and execution of your overall strategy? Do you have something that will guide you and your team to stay on the right path?

The best answer is to measure yourself against your goals and the steps it takes to get there. Just how mature is your current process when measured against your overall vision? For this you need to develop a maturity model.

The best way to start is to seek out some existing maturity models and see if they align with your journey. A quick Google search brings back over a million hits on the term “content marketing maturity model,” that’s a lot to choose from.

One of my personal models is the one developed by Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute and referenced in Joe Pulizzi’s excellent book “Epic Content Marketing.” It’s an excellent starting point, but I found it missing something when aligning it to business goals.

On the other hand the model developed by Top Rank OnLine Marketing , which I also like, is maybe a bit too linear and business focused to the detriment of the broader vision.

So in the best traditions of hip-hop artists everywhere (of which I am most certainly not one), I created a mash-up of the two models; making a few changes here and there, putting a slightly different spin on some items.

Below is my version of a Content Marketing Maturity Model that I believe covers most needs and will help you map out your content marketing journey.

Content Marketing Maturity Model

In the next post I’ll dig deeper into how you decide where you are on that journey, and figure out where to place the “You Are Here” pin on the model.