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Content Marketing Example: The Patagonia Catalog

“We have three general guidelines for all promotional efforts by Patagonia, both within and beyond the pages of the catalog:

  1. Our charter is to inspire and educate rather than promote.
  2. We would rather earn credibility than buy it. The best resources for us are the word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend or favorable comments in the press.
  3. We advertise only as a last resort.”

Written by Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard and quoted from page 155 of Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, these words set up a strong content marketing approach.

Part book review and part illustration of content marketing, this post breaks down the why and what of a beautiful, 68-page print catalog recently delivered to our home by the United States Postal Service.
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1-3-9-12: My Authority Rainmaker Conference Review

Bastardizing Dan Pink’s elegant 1-3-5 opening keynote structure at Authority Rainmaker 2015 … my 1-3-9-12 review of the online marketing conference.

Pink: 1 insight, 3 principles, 5 takeaways

Me: 1 recommendation, 3 reasons, 9 themes, 12 quotes
(yes, I’m willing to break the triad)


Subtitled “Integrated Content, Search, and Social Media Marketing (Plus Invaluable Networking),” Authority Rainmaker is Copyblogger‘s (now annual!?) online marketing conference.

I enjoyed the privilege of attending thanks to BombBomb | Relationships Through Video.

To organize my own thoughts (initially captured in 20+ pages of handwritten notes) and to provide a necessarily pale representation of a truly wonderful event (like trying to capture a spectacular sunrise on a spectacular landscape with a photo), my 1-3-9-12 review …

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Content Lobbying: Facebook’s Fresh Form of Content Marketing

In Our Nation’s Capitol 

I spent last week in Washington DC for the National Association of Realtors Midyear Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo, as BombBomb video email marketing software is a great fit for real estate associations, brokers, and agents.  Our nation’s capitol is a fitting place to have learned about a fresh form of content marketing – content lobbying!

US Capitol, capitol building, capital, Washington DC, Lego, Legoland

Not exactly a simulation of Facebook lobbying efforts at the United States Capitol.

Facebook and Content Lobbying

As a breakout on the Facebook IPO, the Wall Street Journal published a one-column story Continue reading

Inbound Marketing: Put an Unemployed Journalist to Work

Operations like Associated Content, Examiner and Demand Media source news and information from the crowd, rather than from the “professional” journalist.  Add to that the increased sharing of resources between news organizations and disruption of business models around news gathering and the result is more formal, traditional reporters on the sidelines now and in the years to come.

If one of those sidelined journalists was ready, willing, and able to do all that’s described here, he or she would not likely be unemployed.  So, an unemployed journalist might not actually fit the bill.

This post is quite simple and isn’t wholly novel.  I’m writing it to establish basic thoughts toward organizing and designing a program that could be implemented internally by medium-sized businesses or provided externally as a service to small businesses.  Most large businesses – as well as medium and small businesses already operating online with even a slight degree of sophistication – should have this all in play already.

Point of reference: I’ve heard that our local newspaper in Colorado Springs is selling the set up and running of Facebook pages for local advertisers.  If true, it borders on criminal and points to a gaping market opportunity to help small businesses online.

Follow-up posts on this topic could include:

  • profiles of companies killing it with content
  • profiles of companies surprising me with content
  • suggestions of companies for whom this system is feasible and ideal
  • elements, specs and prices of a content creation kit
  • designing a space to shoot photos and video
  • designing a content strategy and plan

Anyway, here’s the deal …

Inbound Marketing

This term is used in contrast to traditional, outbound or interruption marketing.  Inbound marketing tactics attract people actively seeking out your expertise, product or service.  It’s a pull to traditional’s push.

Traditional includes television and radio commercials, newspaper and magazine ads and all those unsolicited pieces of mail you receive; marketers blast out unsolicited messages to anonymous masses.  To be fair, many traditional approaches can be reasonably well targeted, so that the recipient of the message takes it as useful information rather than an annoyance.  For example, we use those 20% off coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond; we receive them because we’re customers and have historically redeemed them.

Inbound includes blogs, search engine optimization and social media, among other tools and tactics.  The basic concept: create and optimize online content to help people find you when they’re seeking the thing you do so expertly – the products you make or the services you provide.  Generalizing: inbound is more measurable and cost-effective than traditional.  It’s also got roots in permission – I’ve actively sought your information, message or offer – so conversion rates and word of mouth should be better.

MIT guys and HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah wrote the book on inbound marketing … literally.  It’s called Inbound Marketing.  Both the book and their online software product provide a smart and systematic approach.  The book’s a solid and reasonable read; it’s highly recommended.

It starts with identifying keywords related to your business or expertise.  They must represent real estate that’s both valuable and available.  That’s to say: people must be searching those terms, but they can’t already be “owned” by others.  You should have this focus prior to creating, publishing and optimizing content.

You should also have the whole system organized around customer conversion – that action you want the inbound leads and prospects to take, whether it’s a purchase, a form fill, a phone call or any other behavior.  Conversion is the entire point of the effort.

The Journalist

The content that serves as the foundation for inbound marketing is simply storytelling with words, photos, audio and video.  That’s it.

Gathering facts.  Asking questions.  Telling stories.  This is a journalist’s function.  A print journalist should be more proficient with words and in depth.  A broadcast journalist should be more proficient with video and with brevity.

journalism journalist war outfit wartime embed embedded action figurine

This journalist's ready for anything; he's even got a back-up pair of hands. (Image from:

Your employees, customers, partners and suppliers all have stories to tell about what you do and how and why you do it.  You need someone to identify, develop and publish these stories.  These stories – in words, photos and video – are the magnet for people seeking your expertise.

Success stories.  Employee profiles.  New product development.  Industry news.  Around the office.  Behind the scenes.  Company events.  Industry trade shows.  Who you are.  What you’re about.  How you work.  What’s unique and differentiating.  How customers are successfully using your product or service.

Send me an email or leave a comment on this post briefly describing your business and I’ll send you back three categories of content suitable to you.  The opportunities are not endless, but there’s plenty of ripe, low-hanging fruit.

You just need someone to organize, manage and execute the storytelling system.  Chief Journalist.  Chief of Content.  Content Creator.  Resident Reporter.

The Distribution

You need not buy or earn media to get attention, though both routes may be important parts of an integrated marketing plan.  Increasingly, advertisers are becoming their own media companies, creating content that people are seeking, finding, consuming and sharing.  I wrote a month ago about two major advertisers, Best Buy and Johnson & Johnson, producing, publishing and selling advertising around their own content; they used to rely strictly on others publishing content and packaging audiences (TV, radio, print, etc).

Without turning your retail space into a television network, as Best Buy is doing, you can use basic tools – most of them free – to publish, tag and optimize your content.

A blog is an obvious start.  In addition to being included in your blog posts, any photos you create can be put into Flickr, tagged extensively to help people find them, then linked back to your website, blog or any other context-appropriate place you’d like to direct motivated traffic.  YouTube can be used identically for any video you create.  iTunes or iTunes U are among several places to publish searchable audio (and video).  Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are each highly populated places to consume, share and discuss content.  A more sophisticated approach might include landing pages dedicated to particular products, services, concepts, topics or keywords.  You may also want to organize your content into webinars, whitepapers or other formats.

The Bottom Line

A thoughtful, focused content creation strategy can complement beautifully more straightforward PR and marketing functions.  It tells the story of you, your employees, your approach, your customers, your suppliers, your market, your industry and your expertise.  It attracts and informs people.  It initiates conversation and interaction.

Even if you have multiple contributors to the effort, one person should own it overall.  A storyteller at heart, this person should be comfortable working with words, photos and video – writing, producing, shooting and editing.   This person just might be an unemployed journalist … or a resourceful go-getter straight out of school with a journalism, communication or marketing bent.

Upside Down: Traditional Advertising Relationships

This is how many of my posts get started: I recognize a pattern, see the same thing in two different contexts, feel something developing or seek to answer my own question.  In this case, I started with a pretty big idea that connects two books I just read with one of Terry Heaton‘s mantras (clearly expressed here as “the second ‘bigger boat'”).

The books are “The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era” by Teressa Iezzi and “The On-Demand Brand: 10 Rules for Digital Marketing Success in an Anytime, Everywhere World” by Rick Mathieson; they’re remarkably similar and overlapping.  Terry‘s a thinker, writer and consultant at the intersection of media, culture and postmodernism.

The moment I knew I had to organize my thoughts on this post’s topic occurred immediately upon picking up the latest Advertising Age, which opens with this headline: “ABC, Syfy and Best Buy? Retailer launches network.”  The sub-head: “Electronics expert turns publisher with multichannel net packed with original content – and it’s seeking ads.”  Per the story, written by Natalie Zmuda, Best Buy’s content will be distributed as an “‘online magazine’ and a huge in-store component with its content and ad messaging ‘broadcast’ on screens across the store.”

So what?  Well, one of Terry’s favorite phrases is “the people formerly known as the advertisers.”  And that’s exactly what we have here.  Advertising relationships are turning upside down.

Best Buy, a significant newspaper advertiser (think: Sunday inserts) and national advertiser across various other media, is now producing and distributing its own content at least in part to sell advertising to other brands and marketers.  Rather than interrupting people gathered around someone else’s content (think: national television commercial in the middle of 30 Rock), they’re creating their own content, distributing it online and in-store and selling impressions to other advertisers.

house, upside down, design

Advertising relationships are turning upside down, much like this house designed by Klaudiusz Golos and Sebastian Mikiciuk.

Another example of a major national advertiser getting into the advertising game – as a seller rather than a buyer – comes from one of the two books involved here.  Mathieson’s “The On-Demand Brand” is built on dozens of examples, as well as on interviews with top-notch agency, creative and marketing types.  In the third chapter, Mathieson describes Johnson & Johnson‘s social networking site, BabyCenter, which reaches “78% of all online women who are pregnant or are mothers of children under twenty four months old in the US” (p 66).

J&J designs, manufactures, distributes and markets loads of products for this demo.  Since they’re successfully enabling and encouraging more than three quarters of all new mothers and mothers-to-be in America to produce and share content within a J&J social networking site, why would they spend a dime on national television or a national magazine?  They needn’t.  Instead, all J&J product promotion within the site is “handled as any ad buy from any advertiser would be – and the site even accepts advertising from other marketers” (p 67).  Upside down.

The third reference point, Iezzi’s book, is a broad overview of the state of affairs as concerns advertising agencies.  It, too, includes many examples – many of which are also used by Mathieson, often to illustrate the same points.  Because her book is more agency- and writer-oriented, though, her allusions to this trend focus more on the threat to agencies seeking to sell creative services than to publishers and broadcasters seeking to sell advertising space.

In her own words: “There’s a lot of content being made, and brands are going to be responsible for making a bigger and bigger share of it” (p 11).  In the words of Spencer Baim, co-founder of Virtue, a new form of agency:  “We believe that every brand must think and act like a media company … You want people to tune into your brand, not to push a message out” (p 114).  In both cases: advertisers are becoming content creators and publishers.  In the latter case: content is an inbound marketing play that trumps commercial interruption.

The Bottom Line

Increasingly, the advertiser need not interrupt an audience assembled by a traditional media company.  Instead, they’re producing, publishing and selling advertising around content of their own; they’re becoming media companies themselves.  I’d also speculate that their content is better optimized for customer conversion – and it’s closer to the point of purchase.

That’s to say someone “tuning in” to Best Buy’s online magazine or in-store video channel is more likely to convert from prospect to purchaser for a Best Buy advertiser like Toshiba than someone tuning in to 30 Rock on NBC.  That’s also to say someone reading a new mom’s blog post at BabyCenter is more likely to convert from prospect to purchaser for a BabyCenter advertiser like than someone watching Dancing with the Stars on ABC.

As you can imagine, this is yet another threat to publishers, broadcasters, cable companies and various other outfits whose entire business model depends on revenue generated from traditional ad sales.

Related Ideas

>A separate post could be written about the people formerly known as the audience – based in the thoughts and writings of Clay Shirkey and echoed in The Idea Writers, The On-Demand Brand and Terry Heaton’s blog.  Note: these people are the ones filling J&J’s BabyCenter with relevant content.

>A separate post could be written about “advertising” – its former constraints (church and state separation of editorial and advertising) and its current and varied forms.  Former constraints: I did touch lightly on the “news” side a few months ago right here.  Current and varied forms: both books are stuffed with great examples.

>A separate post could be written about content and inbound marketing strategies mastered and taught by HubSpot.

>You can see more images and read more about the upside down house here at Xenophilia, a blog dedicated to “True Strange Stuff.”

>I absolutely love 30 Rock.  I completely abhor Dancing with the Stars.

BCS Football on ESPN: Another Blow to Broadcast TV

Right on schedule, the garbage bowl games keep rolling out across ESPN, ESPN2 and  Fine, some of them are “intriguing match-ups” – I’m still not paying any attention to them.

The Bowl Championship Series games, though, are definitely worth sampling … with the obvious exception of Oklahoma versus Connecticut in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (automatic BCS berths are a true shame – Michigan State or Boise State should be in that game instead of UConn).  TCU versus Wisconsin and Auburn versus Oregon are both insanely promising on paper.

Sadly, though, I won’t be seeing a single down of a single BCS game this year.  I won’t see any next year, in 2013 or in 2014, either.  Why not?  Because they’re locked behind the paywall of a cable or satellite subscription.  I found no reference to online viewing through Google, Bing or ESPN site searching, so I presume that they’re either unavailable online or that there will be a subscription structure similar to Time Warner Cable’s deal with ESPN to deliver Monday Night Football online.  Regardless, there’s a cost barrier.

BCS logo, Bowl Championship Series logo, college football, national championship

BCS Football on ESPN: Another Blow to Broadcast Television

In November 2008, FOX and ESPN were battling for four years of BCS rights (2011-2014).  FOX’s offer peaked at around $100M/year.  ESPN won with a bid closer to $125M/year, for which they’re granted TV, radio, digital, international and marketing rights.  They’re even running the BCS website.  Here’s a little background about the battle and the conquest:

I missed this story in 2008.  It only came to my attention as New Year’s Day 2011 nears and I began assessing my college football viewing options.

My reaction to the BCS move to pay television passed from mild anger and disappointment through nostalgia to acceptance – this process took about 10 minutes.  The initial reaction was based on the fact that I only watch free, over-the-air broadcast television in beautiful high definition – the cleanest signal one can watch.  Our only content subscriptions are for a handful of magazines and for Netflix.

  • Note: I watch very little college football during the regular season, but I do like these end-of-season, cross-conference games between our nation’s best teams.
  • Also note: I grew up watching Big Ten football, am a University of Michigan alumnus and have seen many Rose Bowls (most of them ugly).
  • Final note: the Rose Bowl, “Granddaddy” of them all, has been broadcast free, over the air to the entire nation through broadcast networks since 1952; this run is now over.  Though ABC committed $300M over 8 years for the Rose Bowl through 2014, a clause in the ESPN deal allowed those games to be locked behind the paywall, too (ABC is the parent company of ESPN).

Some consequences for ABC/broadcast networks:

They maintain schedule continuity.  Football games interrupt normal schedules, are live and therefore unpredictable, often run long and require contingency planning.  I’m not sure that this is a positive or negative consequence; have you seen the broadcast network lineups?

They lose live, mass-audience events.  As internet delivery, advertising alternatives and reduced ad budgets continually encroach on broadcast, cable and satellite revenue potential, live event programming continues to be a strong point for broadcast TV.  The Super Bowl keeps setting viewership records.  The Oscar, Emmy and Grammy Awards broadcasts have all enjoyed very good rating results in recent years.  Mass is not just the strength of a broadcast network, it’s also its entire purpose.  This is a negative consequence.

They lose strong promotional platforms to support or launch the comedies, dramas and reality shows of which their prime time lineups are built.  Reaching young men through mass media has been difficult for more than a decade; college football gathers a mass audience with a strong concentration of this elusive target.  Given, most of them will ignore the network promos in commercial breaks.  Those pop-up animations under which the football announcers must uncomfortably read promo copy?  Can’t miss those, even if we ignore their calls to action.  This is a negative consequence.

Some consequences for ESPN:

They reaffirm their unbreakable lock on the image of “sports.”  They alone own it.  They own it outright.  ESPN is synonymous with and inseparable from sports.  They are access, analysis and all other things “sports.”  This was never really in question (a quick nod to, then chuckle at FOX Sports Network), but this contract is another pioneering achievement that fits perfectly with their entire reason for existence.  Specific to this situation and contract, ESPN completely owns every aspect of the Bowl Championship Series right now.  All consequences for ESPN are completely positive.

Some consequences for the BCS:

College football may lose a bit of cultural currency.  New Year’s Day belonged to college football; it took over all the broadcast networks all day.  Even as bowl games proliferated and bowl eligibility and invites became far easier for a team to come by over the past decade, all the best games remained on broadcast.  This is over.  Though power comes through focus, targeted delivery makes your offering easy to miss for peripheral fans and viewers.

To illustrate, here’s a snapshot of ratings results for NFL football relative to the Monday Night Football move from ABC to ESPN.  The single highest cable rating ever (15.3) was achieved with the Vikings-Packers Monday night game on ESPN in October 2009.  The best season of MNF on ESPN ever averaged a strong 10.4 rating (2009).  For reference, though, the lowest rating ever achieved when MNF was broadcast on ABC was a not-too-shabby 7.7 (Rams@Bucs, October 2004).  I could not find the lowest rated MNF game on ESPN.

The broadcast void from this MNF move from ABC to ESPN was filled with the inception of Sunday Night Football on NBC.  Obviously, the NFL recognizes the need – or at least benefit – of a prime time network showing.  SNF did not disappoint; it consistently delivers double-digit ratings, typically wins the weekly TV ratings race overall and has beat that highest cable rating ever (15.3) a half dozen times.  Per Ad Age’s “Annual 2011” issue, the average cost of a :30 commercial in SNF ($415,000) is $150,000 higher than an ad Glee and $210,000 higher than one in Dancing with the Stars.  By this measure, it’s the most valuable show on television behind American Idol.

Same product, similar packaging, different delivery – NFL football reaches more people on NBC than on ESPN, despite the fact that a Sunday night game concludes a long day of football while Monday night is a stand alone event.  A paywall blocks out casual fans.

All that said, this is only a slightly negative consequence that washes out when you consider the incredible strength and focus that ESPN provides.  The entire delivery and marketing of the Series falls under one roof – and that roof belongs to the world’s premiere sports brand.

The Bottom Line:

There’s no other way this could have gone.  It was a two-way race and the winner, ESPN, provides more money and more momentum for the BCS (through a focused brand and a comprehensive delivery and management offer).

The BCS on ESPN, though, is another blow to broadcast television.  Without live event programming, networks are playing to lose.  The broadcast revenue model depends on mass.

Had the contract instead been awarded to FOX – even at its lower price – the BCS would certainly have been a loss leader for FOX financially, just as Sunday Night Football is for NBC.  Still, these are the events that keep broadcast networks relevant as bolder concepts and smarter niche plays move to cable and satellite networks.

Related: the March Madness contract now spreads college basketball games across three cable networks in addition to CBS so that all the simultaneously played, early round games can be viewed live.  CBS, however, remains the sole spot for the final two weeks of play, including the entire Final Four.

Last Request:

I’ve not seen SportsCenter in a few years, but I can’t imagine why this offensive practice would have ceased.  ESPN: if you’re still running Dancing with the Stars highlights in SportsCenter, please stop.  It’s a ridiculous, shameful and transparent pitch to your parent, ABC.  The only time I want to hear about a former NFL player like Emmitt Smith is when he’s welcomed to Canton or, perhaps, in a highlight-for-highlight comparison showing how he was almost as good as Barry Sanders.

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