Content Collides with Marketing & Design Marries Strategy

Sep 09, 2019

I’ve been to a lot of weddings over the years.  Spectacular destination weddings, huge traditional church weddings, casual outdoor barn weddings and even a few ‘create your own’ weddings that seemed to mix, match and merge models to fit the excited newly weds. But here is the common thread - two individuals from different backgrounds join together and, in theory at least, use their distinct strengths to build a whole that is better than either could be individually. It is a merger of interests, styles and backgrounds.

Over the last few years I’ve watched two major weddings / mergers take place in the business world: the first was between content and marketing, and the second was between strategy and design. Have you noticed this? Make no mistake, these historically independent disciplines have merged like the Amazon and Nile coming together to fashion a whole new river bed.

In both cases, there was a bit of a dating process between the two parties, and in both cases, the bride and groom each brought an awfully big family with them.  Things got a bit messy at times, but slowly but surely, they’re working things out.

Content and Marketing

Seth Godin puts it this way, “Marketing in 1965 was the same thing as advertising. We called it marketing, but it was advertising. As advertising has faded away, marketers have tried to turn the Internet into advertising. My argument is: Real content marketing isn’t repurposed advertising, it is making something worth talking about.”

The truth is content marketing has been around for over a century (in 1904, Jello gave away free cookbooks and, voila!, sales increased to over a million), but historically, there’s been content and there’s been marketing.  Now, the two are blended like a strawberry banana smoothie.

For example, have you seen the Payton Manning letters? They are a Gatorade advertisement framed around an emotional narrative and tribute to his super bowl winning departure from the NFL. It is gold medal content marketing if you like sports or Gatorade.

Good marketing must include quality content today. One fuels the other. They have been consummated as one discipline and to separate them will sabotage a brand.  

In days gone by, companies took a much more direct approach to pitching a product or service. The call to action was up front and in your face fast and loud. Today there is still intent but it is woven together with a narrative that might actually be about something totally different but important to the customer. Remember the first TOMS’s shoes commercial that was actually an ATT advertisement - content marries marketing. And it can show itself in any number of ways:

  • A company story, like Whole Foods and its “Values Matters” campaign. It’s narrative attached to marketing.
  • Piggybacking on someone else’s content (advertising on Amazon-shipped products or wrapping a city bus)
  •  Developing entertaining content that sells (like Toyota’s ingenious Swagger Wagon music video or the Holderness family launching their video company this way.)
  • ESPN has re engineered its Saturday Game Day experience to be more about emotional narrative and less about sports facts and statistics with every new season.

Looking for more examples?  Here’s a list of top industry examples—from Coke’s Share a Coke campaign to ALS’s Ice Bucket Challenge.

What do we learn from this?

  • Make sure your content is grounded. In other words have something to say, show or write about. Tie your content to your reason for being more than just chasing market share or a customer segment.
  • Know where your lines and boundaries are regarding sensationalism and exaggeration. The marketing genes will be pulled toward that to lift above the noise and clutter.
  • Be ready and certain to live up to your campaign and any promises. Some folks (and companies) are at their best pitching themselves. But when it comes to delivery they fall back into the pack with disappointing results. Don’t be that guy or that company!
  • Never forget, we live in a story world and the power of testimony will never go away.

Strategy and Design

Design is no longer just the assistant to strategy.  It’s now the co-pilot.  And often the pilot. They too have merged their power family traditions and missions.

That’s what the September 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review was all about . It’s a fascinating read.  Among other things, PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi tells how the company has completely retooled with an emphasis on design. PepsiCo focused on the issue of user experience and that changed everything, down to the size of your SunChips.

Look at Google. Their innovation in the realm of digital content is perfectly mirrored by its office complex.  Or is it the other way around? Does the office complex bring about the innovation in the digital realm?  And that’s exactly the point.  Architectural design, branding, product design, all of it is helping to drive the corporate strategy.

But again, don’t mistake, it’s not simply redesigning products. It’s about taking the strategies that make for good design—empathy, prototyping, iteration, pivoting—and making them part of the corporate strategy process. It’s also why corporations are hiring design companies (or headhunting their employees) to look at their strategy.

Of course, this isn’t new information to many people.  Harvard Business Review itself ran an August article entitled, “When Everyone is Doing Design Thinking, Is it Still a Competitive Advantage?

Perhaps no company has done a more pure blending of design with strategy and marketing with content as Apple. Look at their products, their advertising campaigns, their annual investor meetings, their campus and all communication. From their inception they melded content and marketing and design with strategy.

I asked five friends to give me their thought about these two marriages – a literary agent, a content strategist, an executive with a publishing company, an ecommerce genius, and a design strategist. In this attachment you can find their raw comments about this conversation.

These four independent disciplines—content and marketing, design and strategy have migrated into two robust, redefined verticals.  In other words, I’m pleased to conclude this double wedding by presenting to you Mr. and Mrs. Content Marketing and Mr. and Mrs. Design Strategy. 

They are going to be around for a while so you might as well get to know them better.

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