Category Archives: Content marketing

What you believe: The road to your “why”

What you believe — your values, your heart and soul — are the key to your why.

Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk, Start With Why is the first place I go when working with clients on product and company messaging. Why? Because most of us naturally think about what we do and how we do it. It takes discipline to get to what really works: why we do it and why the customer needs it. Sinek has helped us all switch to a far more effective approach: Start With Why.

Simon Sinek Start With Why


The most powerful way to get to the Why is through our values: who we are, what really matters — what we believe. Here’s a new video with a more developed version of Sinek’s talk. It incorporates a super-important feature that had scant mention in the earlier video: how what we believe connects to customers.

Funny, but I hadn’t really noticed how often he used the word “believe” in the original Start With Why presentation; and since then, I have been noticing how often it comes up in the values statements of the best companies in the world. 

In particular, listen at the 4:50 mark as Sinek uses Martin Luther King and others to explain how “we believe” is how you connect to the why. Your values — your beliefs — are what moves you and moves your customers into relationship with you.

“The clearer you are about what you believe, the more disciplined you are in how you do things and the more consistent you are in what you do, everything you say and do becomes a symbol for your values and beliefs.” — Simon Sinek

Every company I work with has heartfelt values, but few have enumerated them — or even discussed them. But most companies are motivated by more than just making money. For instance, my company is here because I believe in startups and entrepreneurs. I believe that bringing them world-class marketing will help them succeed, which makes the world a better place as their great ideas become commercially successful. They do not need a big budget and an expensive marketing executive to have quality marketing. A marketing strategy built on straightforward processes delivers a roadmap that even junior-level marketers can execute.

Those values — my beliefs — translate into my why, and I think all companies benefit from knowing what they believe, and why.

Managing Online Discussion Groups and Expert Communities

Social media is not just for hobbies!

Even experts in deeply technical, specialized areas are gathering online in discussion groups and expert forums. I have worked with discussion groups and forums for many companies in high-tech and consumer markets. It requires an investment and a long-term commitment but can return tremendous visibility and credibility with users and influencers.

discussion groups and expert forums exchange ideas

Here’s how you can be present, learn from your customers, establish credibility and authority, and be found by search engines. Some points to ponder:

  • Your users and potential users may already be using online communities to solve each others’ problems. They may already be talking about you! What are they saying, and how can you influence the conversation?
  • If you’re not part of the conversation, how do you become known? Can you become part of the community without seeming like a self-promoter?
  • You can offer support in public forums. Often, users will step in and do the support job for you.
  • Communities are a great place to see the voice of the customer first-hand. What are their problems and needs? What will they need in the near future?
  • If there are no communities, maybe you should start one!


Consider the benefits of online community participation. Online forums:

  • Foster learning and creates a loyal community.
  • Turn users into experts. They are especially good in fields where just a few people have expertise and many want to learn.
  • Can assist product definition. In three companies where I managed the online programs, developers were on the boards, hearing first hand from customers. One said they had a “fast measure of what customers want, motivated programmers. The design team … felt a calling to not let members down.” I often saw product development debates settled by talking to the online communities.
  • Help develop and enter new markets, by building reputation and establishing authority.
  • Lead to an intimate understanding of customer problems through close relationship with real customers. One R&D Director told me that their group “reaches (their technical customers) on their own time, in their passionate pursuits, where they are more available and have greater discretion.”
  • Bring up ideas that lead to new products. In hockey, you skate to “where the puck will be.”
  • Can serve as a technical support vehicle. These groups usually develop gurus who answer the bulk of the questions.
  • Can develop into an excellent loyalty vehicle: Members generally champion the company. Members who evangelize on our behalf have high credibility, as impartial third parties. When I led the marketing for a consumer electronics that produced video editing equipment, our forum was frequented by fans who jumped in and supported each other and championed our products.
  • Fosters company image as the expert.
  • Can deliver heavy reach into universities: A semiconductor company whose products required development and application found that “professors and students participated and created class projects.”
  • Provide a competitive edge. If your competitors are neglecting discussion groups, you become the leader and own the conversation. In one discussion group populated by influencers, our startup company dominated Sony, Canon, and Panasonic, because they weren’t there. Conversely, if they are present and you are not, you are operating at a disadvantage.


  • It is hard to demonstrate the value. It is easy to judge the costs (which can be considerable since we’re investing the time of some of our most valued employees) but depending on the business, may be hard to show revenue.
  • It’s definitely not for all products and businesses.
  • You are open to fire from disgruntled customers. Your mistakes (e.g. product issues) are fodder for public grumbling. However, consider that unhappy customers will vent one way or another and you can benefit from being present when it happens. I have good experience with controlling the conversation. In a well-managed forum, loyal list members generally defend the company and in the end, it generally ends up positive.
  • There is no way to keep competition out. You must assume they are present.
  • If it’s someone else’s forum, you need to obey the local customs and tread lightly, especially with commercialism and the forum operators’ egos or sense of ownership. The whole thing can backfire if you irritate the locals.

Where are the communities?

  • You can establish a presence on expert communities such as Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, Quora, Reddit, or industry-specific sites like StackExchange.
  • There are still web-based discussion groups and “bulletin boards.”
  • Many platforms and technology ecosystems have user groups associated with the product.
  • Some trade magazines maintain discussion boards.
  • You can use comment capabilities on your own content such as blogs or technical articles, using commenting platforms like Disqus.
  • You can also build your own. The infrastructure is pretty easy — the hard part is promoting and running it.

Running the Group

Running a group is probably easier than you think but it does require a commitment. You need two people (to provide coverage for vacations and such) who commit to visiting at least once a day. Once your presence becomes known, visitors will develop an expectation of response within a day.


Step one: Listen. Visit the group and just read for at least a week. Learn the cadence and tone. It’s an extremely bad idea to walk into a room and start talking.

Who’s in charge?

When you’re new to a discussion group, find out who the moderators are. It’s a good idea to introduce yourself and ask if there are any guidelines. Moderators can greatly support you (and if you do make a mistake, forgiveness will come much more readily if they know who you are.)

What (not) to say

General rule: Less is more. The less often your staff speaks, the more likely members will participate. If you jump in on every question, group members will almost never chime in. You want to avoid killing a thread by satisfying the question too quickly!

Members have an impartiality that gives them a special credibility. In the video editing forum I ran, we had a 24-hour rule and it worked perfectly. An interesting thing happened: Members responded to almost every new visitor or question.

Knowing that we were present, group members rarely said anything critical of the company and were quick to chime in if visitors were critical. Supportive comments from a third party always carry greater clout than anything company employees say.

Our guideline was that the company never answers unless:

  • Someone says something that is blazingly wrong and no member corrects it.
  • Something goes unanswered for 24 hours.
  • The question is specifically aimed at the company and no member answers. But we learned that even questions aimed at the company were usually better answered by members!


Remember that the group is public and archives mean you can never un-say anything. All communications must be professional, polite, and restricted to public information. Assume that everything you say will be read by customers, the press, your competitors, and your boss.

Fostering Communication

Much more important than answering questions is fostering discussion. Leave answers incomplete, with room for others to chime in. Leave a hook for further discussion. Steer people to the website wherever possible (e.g.: “Good question. There is an technical note that covers that here: <list the web address>“).

Abuse and Problems

In case of technical issues, offer massive support — jump in with free replacements, a phone call from the right person, a private message from a company director — whatever it takes to make these people happy. Even if it’s just a college junior or small company engineer, what you do is in public view of an important community.

Most of the time, hot situations are best answered completely candidly and if appropriate, taking the detailed discussion off-list.

Credibility and authenticity

Having a company in a user community can feel like having a fox in the hen house. Your commercial interests may seem at odds with the community’s common interests. How do you become part of an online community in a way that enhances authority and credibility and makes the community a better place — all the while, avoiding the appearance of self-promotion?

Be very careful about anything promotional. Announce new products but keep in informational. Tie it into discussion topics if you can. You want to scrupulously avoid having people think this is an advertising forum.

I have had great success with an approach that sounds strange: Freely mention competition. For instance, if someone asks who makes a certain product, mention the competitors as well as your own offerings. This impresses people and makes them think you are confident of your products. And it really gives nothing away — you know they will find the competitors anyway.

If someone asks about your products, it’s perfectly ok to answer but avoid sounding like a pitchman.

Steering the Discussion

After the list has matured, feel free to toss in thought-grenades to stimulate discussion. Ask about what people would like in future products, how they have addressed certain challenges. Ask legitimate market attitude and product feature questions. You want to stimulate interest without appearing to manipulate or control.

Ho Ho Holiday Branding

A little cleverness from FedEx deftly makes the brand festive:

FedEx brand meets Santa: Clever use of holiday branding





Business hint: Right now, make repeating calendar entries prior to holidays that can have meaning for your brand. And have your content marketing crew do the same. When the holidays first appear on your radar, it’s usually past deadline for the really good ideas.

Holiday Marketing Opportunities: Does Your Customer Want Sleigh Bells?

How do the holidays affect your content marketing? Maybe the obvious ho-ho-ho themes are not for your business-to-business (B2B) audience.

I was running web marketing for a large B2B company that sold mainly to engineers and technical people. One November, we were in a meeting with the CEO and a couple of business managers. One of the business managers wondered whether we should introduce a new technology campaign until after the holidays, figuring it would miss a lot of audience if we ran it over the holiday break.

Holiday marketing? Santa knows, engineers are never off lineThe CEO was Jack Gifford, an outspoken exec who an uncanny marketing sense. I had learned to never disregard Jack, even if what he was suggesting sounded crazy. He claimed that engineers would be a better target during the holidays.

Jack explained that engineers don’t stop working on holidays and in fact, at family gatherings, you could bet that they were stealing away to poke around the websites to find things to read and learn.

I ran some stats from prior years and while overall traffic was down on holidays, we had plenty of traffic to technical articles. So we ran the campaign, geared it as an opportunity to learn about a new technology, and promoted in our weekly emails and on the home page.

It worked. Jack’s intuition was spot on.

The lesson for B2B companies is that if you are thinking of a holiday-focused theme, forget Santa, sleigh bells, and snowflakes. Think instead of your customer — maybe bored, maybe holidayed out, with a churning, analytic brain thirsting for a good tech story, or eager to learn a new skill.

Your competitors are probably not thinking the way Jack did, so this is your chance to do some targeted customer education and relationship-building.

Ho ho ho!

Illustration by Matti Mattila, CC BY 2.0

Don’t be a bad ad

Don’t be a bad ad.

If you are trying to balance the need to be noticed with the need to make friends, see The Most Hated Online Advertising Techniques, from Neilsen-Norman Group, one of the most respected user experience research firms. Their research confirms what most of us already know: that users hate, hate, hate ads that obscure or rearrange content, are hard to dismiss, or play sound or video automatically.

If making your prospects hate you is not sufficient incentive to be a good guy, Google and Bing are increasingly penalizing sites with obtrusive ads, pop-ups, and interstitials, especially on mobile.

This is not to say all ads are a problem. Be aware of the tradeoff between getting the attention you need and irritating your prospects in the first moments of the relationship. Modal ads (as in the illustration here) are bad; those that cover the whole screen and make you search for the close link are cruel; and on mobile, anything bad becomes downright evil.

“Modal ads, ads that reorganize content, and autoplaying video ads were among the most disliked. Ads that are annoying on desktop become intolerable on mobile.”

The Most Hated Online Advertising Techniques

SEO in minutes?

I don’t need to sell you on the value of search engine marketing, do I? It doesn’t get all the “shiny new thing” attention it used to, but search is still where your prospects name their needs, and search engine optimization (SEO) is how you get in front of them at exactly the right moment. My search and content marketing strategy session is one of my most popular offerings.

But the best search marketing requires time, expertise, and constant care and attention. Even sophisticated, Fortune 1000 enterprises I work with sometimes allocate their smart search marketing resources elsewhere.

When resources are tight, you can apply the 80-20 rule and achieve pretty-good SEO with fewer resources, at least for a while. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, the best search marketing information resource I know, addresses what he calls “minimum viable SEO” in Moz’s weekly whiteboard Friday series. Even enterprises with robust search strategies will benefit from this, as will smaller organizations with rudimentary search marketing.

Go visit Rand. In just nine minutes, you’ll have a practical program for pretty-decent SEO when time is tight:

Minimum Viable Search Marketing: Minutes Per Week, Rand Fishkin of Moz.

Say again? Social postings bear repeating

“Say something once, why say it again?” — Talking Heads

Do you repeat your postings on social media? According to Julie Gauthier of (a publisher of content marketing software), only a third of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) do this as a standard practice, and a third never do.


Repost for better reach

According to Gauthier’s recent blog article, “when you share it once on social media, you reach no more than 6% of your followers on Facebook, and your Tweet’s lifetime is about 18 minutes.”

Repetition, she claims, can double your traffic and increase your reach. Though she doesn’t cite research to quantify (or even qualify) the claim of expanded reach, it makes sense.

So why don’t we repeat ourselves? Gauthier suggests two reasons:

  • We’re afraid to fatigue or offend the audience
  • We lack tools that schedule repeats

I find my clients pretty readily repeat postings on Twitter but we should probably do it on all media. My thought is that social media is ephemeral and no one (possible exception: my Mom) attempts to read it all. It’s like listening to the radio — you hear what you hear and miss the rest. Consequently, a repeated posting is not likely to be seen and if it is, not likely to gather much notice.

How much can you repeat? That’s harder to gauge. We want to test everything we can, but most SMBs lack the traffic or the mechanism to know when prospects are becoming annoyed, so begin reposting according to a rigid procedure (automated if possible) and watch response rates. Look at where returns begin to diminish and call that your benchmark.

Start With Why to Reach Customers

Reach customers with benefits

Do you want to reach customers in a more effective way, to help them understand why they need what you do? To help them see how your products and services fit their needs? To help you talk in customer-centric, benefits-focused terms?

Here’s a powerful device to reach customers: Start With Why.

To reach customers, start with why

Why do we need “why?”

It may seem simple to talk about products and services in a way that connects with customers. But most companies so it incorrectly.

Most of us naturally start talking about what the product or service is and how it works. We love to talk about features (what it is) and technology (how it works)! We may not realize that while those are important points to cover, it’s not how humans make buying decisions. We decide using a deeper portion of our brains, one that is powered not by words, but by feelings. This is why sometimes we make decisions that defy logic, or why we spend weeks agonizing over a decision despite the fact that we already have every bit of information we need.

How do we come up with marketing messaging that speaks to the feelings-powered portion of the brain, a portion that doesn’t use language?

Watch the video, Start With Why. Simon Sinek does the best job I have seen of explaining not just what kind of communication works, but why it works.

Simon Sinek, Start With Why

Most of us talk about what we’re offering; how it works; and finally, maybe, why we make it and why you would want it. Powerful marketing flips that around and talks first about why. Solution marketing is the example best known in the business world — it talks first about the customer’s problem.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Start With Why: 18-minute TEDx talk

We believe…

In this video, Sinek uses Martin Luther King and others to explain how “we believe” is how you connect to the why. Your values — your beliefs — are what moves you and moves your customers into relationship with you.

“The clearer you are about what you believe, the more disciplined you are in how you do things and the more consistent you are in what you do, everything you say and do becomes a symbol for your values and beliefs.”

Optimizing Search for Blog Posts

Congratulations: You’re doing a blog. You’re thinking about search engine optimization (SEO). You have the machinery in place to consistently produce a couple of posts per week on topics that will interest customers and prospects. Now: How will they find you?

Blogs are great search engine bait

One of the reasons I favor blog posts and other content is that it is search engine bait. When someone is searching on a problem they have that you can solve, your content is the most likely way they will find you and see you as the solution to their problems.

Here’s a video from Rand Fishkin of MOZ on how to make it a practice (key concept!) to make your blogs (and other content) appeal.

Some key ideas for optimizing search for blogs:

  • Make your content unique and valuable. Are you solving a customer problem?
  • Think about who you want to reach (executives? coders? bakers? managers?); what you want them to gain; what you want them to do as a result.
  • Pick 3-5 search terms as your target for this article. All should have same searcher intent and be juicy terms that people actually search on, are reasonably unique, and have great click potential.
  • Look at who else appears for those terms and readjust of you realize you can’t compete.
  • Now: Make your posting, armed with knowledge about what will work.
  • Do the appropriate technical tasks and keywording.
  • Watch your results so you can learn and adjust.

Content marketing index

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 4.33.13 PM I write a lot about content because, as content marketing strategy expert Rebecca Lieb says, “Content is the atomic particle of all marketing.” It’s what marketing is made of. It’s how you deliver value to all customers, including the ones who aren’t paying you. It serves every step of the buyer’s journey. It’s how you make people aware of your brand and move them toward familiarity, purchase, and loyalty.

Here’s an index of the top articles I’ve written here about content marketing:

Getting started

Best practices, building a content machine

  • The top 50 content marketers: Learn from the best.
  • A culture of content: Content marketing can’t succeed if everyone looks to the “content guy.” Here’s how to build content into the organization and make it everyone’s job.
  • My favorite article: What if you could amplify your effectiveness by turning every piece of content into 20? What if you could build a machine to make this happen? Learn how to make Many Pieces of Content from One.

Getting the word out

And all the rest…

Follow the full index: All articles on content marketing, to see everything, including new articles, as they appear.