Content Marketing: Beyond the blog

Statistics on content marketing 2016

I think we can all agree at this point that for almost every brand, company, product or service, content marketing makes sense. It particularly makes sense for B2B and SMB companies, who are often working with limited budgets, highly specific target markets, and a need to educate their targets on their services or the specific problems they solve.

But then the big question becomes: Exactly what kind of content marketing should you focus on?

The subhead on this infographic says “Marketers aren’t creating the content their audience actually wants.” Since when have any consumers anywhere actually said, “Oh yes, that content created by Acme Inc was exactly what I was looking for! It was just perfect.”? They never say that. No one wants to admit they actually liked anything with the word ‘marketing’ in the title.  So let’s just approach every data point (or ‘datum’ for purists) with a healthy dose of scepticism, and dig a little deeper into what this infographic is telling us.

People are more likely to read long-form content more thoroughly than blogs?

Well, sure. Sometimes blogs are just some random infographic with an introductory paragraph, or a link to a corporate video, or a picture of someone’s breakfast table. You can’t consume a picture of a breakfast table ‘thoroughly’. Long-form articles are, by definition, the kind of thing you either commit to reading or just skip over entirely.

Does this mean that you should start getting your office intern to write 2500-word articles on your corporate philosophy and post them on your blog? No. A ‘skimmed’ blog can be just as effective as a ‘thoroughly-read’ one, depending on the context.

45% of people want to see more ‘social posts’?

I’m not even sure what this means. If your target audience is teenagers and your product is makeup, then yes, more social posts are a great idea – nothing keeps your brand top-of-mind better than an endless stream of attractive Instagram and Snapchat posts. If, on the other hand, you’re selling waste-to-energy technology to foreign governments, then I’m 100% certain that adding more posts to your Facebook page isn’t going to move the needle.

43% want more video content?

Of course they do. Because, when you ask people a direct question, they assume that it’s going to be more fun to watch catvertising than to read your blog. But that doesn’t mean they want to watch a series of 7-minute videos in which your CEO discusses your corporate philosophy and Commitment to Customer Service. You’ll get more hits if he blogs pictures of his breakfast table every day.

They’re right about diversifying your content channels

It’s the same old story: For marketing to be successful, it has to reach the right people at the right time in the right place. And these days, people aren’t all in one place all the time. They’re consuming content on phones, iPads, laptops, desktops – and they’re still consuming content via traditional channels like tv, radio and print, even though everyone keeps forgetting that. A content marketing strategy that relies entirely on blog posts on your corporate website just isn’t going to give you the reach you need.

Anyway, as usual I’m in danger of veering off-topic (into a discussion of how getting the channel mix just right can mean that every marketing dollar works like $5) here, so I’ll simply encourage you to take a look at the infographic below and give some thought to how your content marketing strategy will look in 2017.



Statistics on content marketing 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole: The podcast

Down the Rabbit Hole podcast

Down the Rabbit Hole podcast

I was going to preface this by saying that my obsession with podcasts started when we got a dog and I needed something to keep my mind busy on long walks, and then really kicked into high gear when my daughter was born and I needed something to keep my mind busy through long nights of nursing a fractious infant.

But then I realized that it started long before that – like in the late 70s, when I was given a Holly Hobbie radio for Christmas. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep, even as a young child, and while my parents were pretty permissive about letting me read in bed long after my ‘official’ bedtime, they didn’t want to see their 9-year-old with her light on all night. So I’d tune the radio to CKOC, turn the volume down really low, and drift off to Trooper songs and the DJ’s patter and the news. Even now, hearing ‘The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car’ on my headphones late at night can give me a safe, secret cozy feeling.

These days, I still fall asleep (and walk the dog, and clean the kitchen, and do the laundry) listening to the radio – but now it’s podcasts rather than AM Top 40, and it’s less about the hit parade than it is about interesting voices and stories in my ear.

Which brings me to Down the Rabbit Hole, a podcast that Alanis Walker and I have started.

I’ve known Alanis for almost 20 years now: We worked together at Anderson DDB back in the day, and she taught me more about PowerPoint than I have ever learned before or since (there was a time when knowing how to ensure a font stayed true when you moved a PPT deck from a Mac to a PC was a critical job skill). She was an early contributor to StayAwake (which started life in 1992 as a zine) as the author of the popular ‘Malaprop Corner’. Most importantly, we share a love of language and learning new stuff.

While we don’t always geek out to the same things (I tried, and failed, to match her appreciation of Mystery Science Theatre 2000, but we do both agree that PG Wodehouse was a genius), we do tend to have the same approach: We catch the end of a thread of something, we want to know more, and before we know it, we’re down a rabbit hole. Four hours later, we know everything about, say, the science behind Stephen Fry’s QI explainer on why horizontal stripes don’t make you look fat.

But what’s to be done with this information? Is it right that it just goes in to our heads with no chance of escape? Do we have the right to deprive those around us of what we have discovered in our rabbit holes of knowledge?


So we’ve created our new podcast, in which we share the fruit of our recent rabbit holes, fall down some new ones, and provide you with some entertainment along the way. Alanis even has actual facts at her disposal most of the time.

We’ve got 3 episodes in the can right now – you can check out the pilot episode, on the subject of Guilty Pleasures, here.

Is this the best podcast you’ve ever heard in your life? Not yet. But if you’ve ever found Alanis or I even marginally interesting, I encourage you to give us a trial listen.

Let us know what you think!




One of your target groups is better than the others. Market to it.

Not all target markets are created equal

Do you really know who your best customers are?

Not all target markets are created equal

Okay, so the other week I talked about how it’s crucial for small businesses to get specific with their marketing goals. And last month I talked about how small businesses need to answer some very detailed questions about their business before they spend any money at all on marketing.

Look how theme-y I’m getting! Pretty soon I’ll be doing the 12 days of blogmas or something.

Just in case you haven’t spotted the theme yet, here it is: When small businesses start throwing money at marketing without doing their homework or getting very specific with their goals, they often always spend more than they need to for less than they hoped. And probably start saying things like “marketing is useless” or “marketing consultants are idiots”. (Only the second of these is sometimes true.)

Narrowing down target markets is the worst part of my job

Most of the time, when I tell clients that it’s important to articulate clear business goals so they can tie their marketing efforts and results to them, they’re totally on board. It’s easy to understand that you can’t reach goals if you don’t set them.

It’s when we get to identifying the target market(s) that we always run into trouble: “We have no ideal client!” the businesses say. “We want to sell to everyone!”

Except even McDonald’s isn’t selling to everyone – or at least they’re not trying to sell everything, all the time, to everyone. That’s why Happy Meal ads feature kids, while McCafe ads feature mildly hipster-type 30-somethings: They have different target markets.

So I can assure you, with some confidence, that your commercial office moving service, or your financial planning consultancy, or your large-scale aquarium maintenance business should also not be trying to market to ‘everyone’.

I get it. If you’ve spent the past few years of your life pouring all your time and energy into your business, the thought of losing even one potential customer makes you feel a bit sick to your stomach. But if you’ve spent all that time building your business, you’ve probably learned that chasing the wrong clients is futile: The cost of acquiring them is too high, they keep you up at night because they’re never satisfied anyway – they just don’t deliver a good ROI.

(And as so many Canadian companies saw with the Target debacle, even if you do, once in a while, land one of these unicorn clients, they can still be the kind of nightmare that demands 90-day payment terms and then skips town.)

Marketing is the same: Chasing long-shot target markets will cost you more money, time and resources than you can afford. So while I know it’s painful, you’ve got to define one or two ideal customers and then spend most of your time marketing to them. A year or two from now, when the cash is rolling in, then go ahead and broaden your scope – you’ll be able to afford it.

How to start defining your ideal client: 5 steps

If you want to get more out of your marketing dollars, you have to make decisions based on actual facts. Here’s how to determine your ideal client:

  1. Stop relying on anecdotal information. It’s easy to get sidetracked by compelling anecdotes about unexpected, easy, or huge sales wins. But repeating an anecdote at every sales and marketing meeting for 2 years doesn’t turn it into ‘data’.
  2. Pull a list of your clients from the past 12-24 months. 99% of the time, you’re going to find that your most profitable clients aren’t actually who you thought they were.
  3. Segment your client list by industry/vertical. When they actually sit down and do the numbers, most B2B SMBs discover that they’re making 85% of their revenue from a shortlist of 3 or 4 key industries. That’s where you should be spending your marketing dollars – until you’ve saturated those or have a specific business mandate to expand to other verticals.
  4. Ensure senior leadership – including the sales department – is on board. One of the biggest hurdles to marketing success for SMBs is when the CEO, the VP Sales and the VP Marketing can’t agree on which target market(s) should get the most marketing support. It dilutes the marketing message – and the marketing budget. Don’t spend any money on marketing until everyone’s on the same page.
  5. Create a profile of the individual decision maker(s). In B2B marketing, companies often don’t think about demographics/psychographics: They get focused on marketing to an industry or organization, and forget that, just like in B2C marketing, there’s an actual person who has to make the final purchasing decision. Knowing exactly what that person looks like, and what motivates them, will help you focus your marketing efforts more effectively. (And don’t forget to create profiles for the decision influencers, too!


Special K’s ‘Own It’: Inspiring or pandering, again?

Special K ads Sarah Welstead

Didn’t Dove already do this to death?

Special K ads Sarah Welstead

I know this spot has been out there for a while, but it’s suddenly started showing up every 3 seconds as pre-roll on YouTube and it’s starting to really bug me.

Take a look if you haven’t seen it yet:

I know it’s supposed to be all body-positive and inspiring and everything – and I happen to know that Kelloggs did a lot of research for this, worldwide – but every time I see this, all I think is:

  • .
  • Hasn’t Dove already done this, like, a million times?
  • I’m tired of accepting the premise upon which these types of ads are based (i.e. that it’s normal for women to spend so much time hating their bodies, and that a couple of inspiring tv commercials will somehow fix this)
  • That DNCE video of ‘Cake by the Ocean‘, which includes some ‘curvier’ girls as part of the general beach babes, without being sanctimonious or ’empowering’ about it, is probably doing more for body positivity among young people than this piece of cheese.

Feel free to tell me that I am standing in the way of helping young girls everywhere accept their bodies, blah blah blah. But as a woman who has spent most of her life hating her figure just as much as anyone else, I can tell you that (a) this ad is not helping me to reevaluate my whole perspective; and (b) it is definitely not going to prevent any overweight girl or young woman from hearing the kind of snide comments – often from other women! – about how she’s too fat, or unattractive, or somehow ‘less than’ her thin peers.

Maybe Special K should try addressing that.

“Sell more stuff” isn’t a marketing strategy – and won’t get the results you want

when marketing goals are hazy, results can't happen

when marketing goals are hazy, results can't happen

Marketing can’t deliver results if you don’t know what those results should be

The other day I had a conversation with a new client. He wants to grow his business aggressively (from $1.5 million to $5 million in revenue) in the next couple of years, and knows he needs marketing support to do it. But he hasn’t done a lot of marketing so far, and while he’s an expert in his field, he hasn’t had much experience in sales and marketing.

Here is part of our exchange:

ME: “Can you tell me a little more about your sales goals for the next 6-12 months?”

HIM: “I told you. I want to grow the business.”

ME: “Yes, but as we’ve discussed you’ve got a wide range of products and services. Which ones do you want to focus on?

HIM: “All of them. We need to sell more of everything.”

ME: “What does your business plan look like? Where do you see the bulk of your revenue coming from in the next 6-12 months?”

HIM: “We need to double our revenue by next year.”

ME: “Where do you see the incremental revenue coming from? What’s making you the most money right now?”

HIM: “Everything. We need to sell more of everything.”

ME: “But you said you didn’t want to spend more than $2500 a month, right?”


It’s hard to achieve goals if no one knows what they are

Many – maybe most – small businesses are afraid to get too specific with their sales and revenue goals: “If we concentrate too much on one area,” they fear, “we’ll miss opportunities in other areas.”

And it’s true that the nimbleness of small businesses – their ability to respond to changes in the marketplace and adapt their service offerings accordingly – can be a tremendous advantage.

However, when it comes to marketing, this strategy usually just results in chaos, overspending, and an inability to judge whether a particular marketing initiative has been effective.

Marketing isn’t like accounting. But you have to at least try to make the columns add up.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that marketing is often more art than science – and even the science bit is often alchemy. It’s tough to draw a straight line from $1 spent on marketing to $5 in revenue.

Big-data types can talk all they want about profiles and predictive modeling and one-to-one targeting, but until they figure out that I don’t actually live in Ottawa and that I am not interested in hiring a painting contractor in Virginia and that I am definitely not buying anything from Zulily, I am going to continue to believe that successful marketing consists of gathering all the information you can, then making some choices.

6 steps to setting marketing goals that are more likely to get results

1. Pull your actual sales data so you know exactly what you sold. Anecdotal sales stories about that one time you sold a whole bunch of random stuff to that healthcare center in Boston aren’t good enough. Most of the time, your sales data will tell you that, in fact, your best, easiest sales are of your top 3-4 product/services.

2. Figure out what’s driving customer acquisition. This is, in my experience, the biggest unknown for small businesses – and yet it can be the greatest source of information for marketing purposes. If 90% of your customers are referrals from other customers, then you should probably use marketing to encourage more referrals, instead of spending a zillion dollars on a fancy website that no one visits anyway.

3. Segment your customers. Again, stop relying on anecdotal information and look at the list of people/businesses who’ve actually bought stuff from you in the past 12-24 months. You’ll almost always discover that 85% (or more) of them fall into 2-3 easily identifiable categories (same industry, same function, same location, etc.).

4. Identify your high-margin products/services. It’s (usually) more profitable to sell $50k worth of stuff at a 50% margin than $200k of stuff at a 5% margin. So why focus marketing efforts on both?

5. Articulate the business goals – and be specific. Yeah, okay, you want to sell more stuff. But why? And what? Maybe you want to drive gross revenue because you’re looking at an exit strategy; maybe you want big profits because you want to give your employees a raise; maybe you want to push a monthly service because you want to stabilize cashflow; maybe you want to build the brand to attract investors. The more you know about your business goals, the better you’ll be able to determine what your marketing should focus on, how much to spend – and what marketing tactics will get you there.

6. Go after the low-hanging fruit first. Seems obvious, right?  Except, like I said, most small business owners fear that if they focus on the obvious, they’ll miss out on the mystical unicorns of untapped customers. But here’s the thing: I promise that if you spend 12 months focusing on the low-hanging fruit, the mystical unicorns will magically appear. Business is funny that way: The more successful you are selling your core products and services to your core target markets, the more likely it is that you’ll start selling to everyone else, too. Plus, you’ll be so profitable that you won’t have to go chasing unicorns any more!


I know, I know – all this talk of business analysis and goal setting means I’m taking all the fun out of marketing, which is supposed to be about Big Ideas and cool websites and getting a YouTube celebrity to endorse your product. It can be like that – as long as you’ve done your homework first.