Content Marketing is an Endurance Sport

Posted 6/19/2015 8:29 PM by Jeff Julian

In past articles, I have discussed why it is important to find a sustainable pace and why it is one of the key tenants to Content Marketing.  This requirement of long haul efforts is one of the reasons Content Marketing pairs so nicely with Agile.  Your team must become a group of endurance marketers who can handle the stress that comes with the approach.  Content that is valuable to the audience is not something you can just rush out the door.  It takes empathy, research, and hard work. 

CMI recently reported on their This Old Marketing podcast that Honda is pulling their Content Marketing efforts in under a year of their launch.  If you are new to Content Marketing, you might think this is ample time to decide if the strategy will be successful.  Unfortunately, it is not. 

For those of us who have seen the level of desired success by using a Content Marketing approach, we can attest that it takes a far greater love for the audience and long-term commitment to make an impact.  As Joe always says, if you are in this for less than a year, buy advertising!

Why did Honda stop so early?

So, why did Honda stop so soon?  We may never know the answer to this, but let’s dig into Honda’s decision a little further. 

Honda’s attempt was not the typical Content Marketing effort.  The Honda Stage would probably be a media effort you would see from an IHeartRadio, Beats, or Spotify rather than a car manufacturer.  I can see the potential for a tie-in with your vehicle as you probably listen to more music in your car than in other locations.  But I do not believe there was an attempt to integrate the media into the vehicle where it could have extended the focus to existing audience members and not just the assumed millennial target they were aiming at.  

In this scenario, it seems like they were just sponsoring a bunch of concerts and the entertainment factor is what would draw you to the brand. This has been successful for others, but typically of a company where you consume their products and then have to become a return customer.  In Honda’s case, you get into their product on a near daily basis and the content could have made a more meaningful experience.

I don’t think it would be wise for Honda to focus on How-to content about their vehicles and service offerings, but I do believe there is incredible opportunity to reach a wider audience than their own car owners. 

What could endurance add to Honda Stage?

Honda produces vehicles, their audience are people who drive those vehicles and will at some point make a vehicle purchase.  The best place to get people thinking about their investment is in their vehicle.  Honda Stage was a Youtube channel and their measurements were based on views of their videos.  Even though we are in 2015 and should be getting our hoverboards any day now, we still are not comfortable streaming Youtube videos in our cars. 

Along with the content, Honda was developing they could have made it easy to get the recorded audio from their events with another portion of their site called The Bootleg.  This content could have been delivered through a responsive site, mobile app, Spotify channel, iTunes playlist, and many other options that people are using.  Then while sitting in my car, I could have streamed or listened to the downloaded version of the audio and heard simple and entertaining announcements about this bootleg was brought to you by the team at Honda. 

This approach opens the doors to partner with more concert promoters to get the events on The Bootleg and not Honda is having content brought to them (for an assumed fee, nothing is free).  Over time and with a steady stream of new music Honda would start to build an audience.  And the beautiful thing is this audience would be getting into their GM, Chevy, Ford or Mini Cooper and opening their Honda Stage app to listen to their favorite bands.  A perfect Trojan horse.

Then the Honda Stage could expand into other forms of content.  TED-like events, large conference, and other educational venues could be sponsored and put on the Honda Stage.  Not only would you be able to listen to great music, but you could learn something from so many authors who need the stage.  They would be building their audience and helping the content producers build theirs as well.  This is asset sharing taken to a whole new level by a car manufacturer. 

The list goes on and on, but unless they have a change of heart, we will not see this from Honda.

In a recent survey of a handful of marketers…

By no means is this an exhaustive study and I am sure there are plenty of folks on the opposing side of Content Marketing that believe this was a good idea, but let look at some numbers. I recently polled an audience of marketers in a workshop and asked them if any of them has made a car purchase in the last year.  No one had and even though we only had 13 folks in the room, I think this shows an underlying trend. 

If the average vehicle purchase cycle is 4 to 6 years, Honda has plenty of time to engage with us by building trust and authority.  If you wanted to build a brand’s audience in a considerable amount of time, go with a model that allows for frequent deliveries over an extended period of time.  The alternative is hoping to reach them at the right time with a standard advertising campaign attached to cashback incentives. 

If Honda were to continue to produce content on a regular interval and build this audience, the small impact they are making now would continue to grow as a snowball rolling down a hill.  By the time all 13 of us go to make a purchase decision for a car, Honda could have interacted with us via social media, interactions with friends and family, or via web searches. 

I don’t know about you, but I go straight to the web or trusted friends and family when looking for a new vehicle and my purchase decisions are not uneducated.  If I go to a dealership, I am not there to browse. Instead, I want to test drive and make the purchase.  If we are compelled by the Content Marketing efforts to check out Honda, game-set-match, we have moved a customer forward in their sales funnel. 

What does this mean for your marketing efforts?

With just a few videos and a campaign masquerading as Content Marketing, the campaign will just get stale and become that “thing we tried once.”  It never had a chance because the leaders didn’t prepare for a marathon, they in a sense had a 9-month campaign.  Attempting to be like Red Bull without the commitment to the content like Red Bull, you never had a chance to finish.  

Your team is probably not the size of Honda and taking on as large of a media experience like the Honda Stage would blow your entire company budget, not just the marketing one.  But there are lessons to be learned from what the big dogs are doing.  Whether it is your blog with twenty readers or a massive worldwide magazine, you need to be prepared for the long haul. 

How can Agile Marketing help?

I am a firm believer that Agile Marketing is a critical approach to ensure your team has a chance to find this endurance.  In the approach you have elements like these that can set you up for the marathon rather than the short foot race:

  • Personas – Knowing your target audience is the biggest way you can ensure you are focused on the customer and not yourself. 
  • Content Mission Statement – Our audience members want a lot of information because they wear many hats throughout their day.  Throughout my day, I put on my writer hat, business-owner hat, marketing hat, and developer hat.  I end my day with a primary focus on the parent and husband hat.  Any company could reach me when I wear these hats, but if it does not directly draw me to what they sell by building trust, it will be very hard to win.  Having a Content Mission Statement that is the template for your Content Backlog will ensure you are producing the correct content as you move through the long haul. 
  • Sprints – Being able to work as a team with a dedicated interval of time to build momentum will help you develop a cadence that is sustainable and enjoyable.  Your brain will turn up the rhetoric and cause you to doubt yourself when you are knee deep in an endurance race.  This same principal applies to Content Marketing.  Your whole team needs the encouragement and backing of the other members of the team to set them up for success. 
  • Estimates – One of the biggest mistakes I see is the marketing team being more focused on external data than they are on internal data.  Having estimates on your work will let you know how much steam can be produced in your engine.  Burn your fire too hot and you are bound to get permanent damage to your team and end the race early.  Not letting it get hot enough and you will never get to where you want to go.
  • Content Backlog – When you have a well-developed Content Backlog, you can make decisions about the priority of your work to ensure you are reaching your audience at the right time.  You also will give the team some insight into the goals you are attempting to achieve and how best to provide the value you want to deliver in your content.
  • Retrospectives – Everyone needs to have a check-in during an endurance race.  Most people do this at the water stands where they grab a drink, look at their heart rate and time to see if they are hitting their expected markers.  Your team needs to do this as well when they complete an iteration of work.  Getting the group together to measure the pulse of the team will help you find when you should make a change.  By allowing the team to openly discuss ideas and problems, you will be able to make small changes that will help you go the distance.
  • Daily Standups – Pace is important in an endurance race.  Even though it is easy to turn on the auto-pilot when you have been running for a while. However, sometimes there are changes in the course that cause you to go slower or faster than expected.  Being able to check your gauges to determine you are hitting the correct pace can be done in a very short time.  Endurance athletes use wearables and audible indicators to quickly glance at their pace and make those micro changes required to keep the sustainable pace.  On an Agile Marketing team, we use our Daily Standup meeting to get a quick glance at progress and update our Sprint Backlog.  These meetings help the team hold each other accountable while giving the ScrumMaster the information they need to see bigger issues that may arise and help the developers stay focused.
I hope you see working toward the goal of building an audience and producing quality assets that they will enjoy over time is worth pursuing.  To get there know what you are capable, be prepared to train and get better, and go out prepared for the long haul.