The Content Pool

One Man's Adventures in Content and Customer Experience

The Content Pool

A World Record Weekend for Brand Marketing – Almost.

Over the weekend my wife and I drove the nine hours from Central Illinois up to the top of Lake Michigan to help try and break a world record. The event was labelled as “MINI on the Mack” and the aim was to get a record number of cars of a single make across the spectacular suspension bridge that links Mackinaw City with St. Ignace, MI.

We love our MINIs and over the years have owned a variety of different model types and configurations. The Roadster and the sporty Cooper S that currently reside in our garage are our ninth and tenth MINIs. Although we’ve owned many other makes and models of cars over the years, we always seem to come back to MINI. I guess you could say we are brand loyal.

mini1319At the event this weekend someone said that what makes the MINI so much fun is that it’s the only car that comes with friends as standard. Well we met up with over 1,300 such friends (as you can see above), and had a great time.

But of course I had to also take a look at the event with my marketing glasses on. The official corporate MINI involvement was low-key. Of course there was MINI branding visible, and MINI goodies for sale, but this wasn’t an overt sales pitch, it was about the MINI owners – usually referred to as either “MINIacs” or “motorers.”  This was brand activism at its most visible.

The convoy of MINIs was impressive providing an almost two-hour long rolling billboard for the brand highlighting the different models and the fact that thanks to the multiple creative options available no two MINIs are alike. Every car is a reflection of its owner’s personality.

MINIviewThe town’s people got behind the event lining the roads and waving to participants; other motorists got into the spirit too with waves, horns, and even a few pulling over to take photos and video. After the event when we were walking around town still wearing the MINI on the Mack t-shirts we were constantly thanked for being there and asked about the event. And about the cars.

All weekend the MINI spirit was pervasive, associating the brand with fun, and friendly people.

But did it help MINI with driving revenue? If my experience is anything to go by, it certainly did. After seeing photos and notes of the event on my personal FaceBook page I had two friends message me asking advice about purchasing MINIs. – If even a fraction of our fellow 1,300 MINIacs had the same experience I’d say the event definitely helped move the needle for a few MINI dealerships around the country.

So did we get the World Record? – Unfortunately no. We needed 1,452 cars present to snatch that title, but the 1,319 who turned up was enough to set the American record for the largest collection of MINIs assembled. – There is already talk of trying again in 2017.

Be Arnold – Not Mary-Kate

“Why be Mary-Kate and Ashley when we can be the Arnold to the rest of the industry’s Danny DeVito?”

It may sound like a strange conversation, but it’s one I’ve had several times at different points in my career; usually when I’ve been at a small to medium sized, or spin-off start-up, software company. The underlying conundrum behind the question was “How do we differentiate ourselves?”

Nearly every business, to a greater or lesser extent, is akin to a commodity driven business these days. There are very few disruptive companies whose success is solely due to the fact that they are the only one doing something. Everybody has a competitor, or two, or lots; all doing essentially the same thing you are, especially when you are playing in a global marketplace.

If someone tells you what line of business they are in, and you answer “Me too,” then you are now a commodity. If you don’t differentiate yourself trough the unique value you bring to you customers you become an Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen. A product that can be swapped out with one that does basically the same thing and no-one really notices the difference.


So how do you differentiate your value?


Content can make you stand out like Arnold Schwarzenegger towering over Danny DeVito in the movie Twins.

Look at what makes your company and products special, how do you solve your customers problems in the way that provides them the most value? Find the perspective that only you can provide; look to your company’s own experts, and your customers too. If you can find a niche where you can provide the most informative, engaging, and useful information, then plan to become the industry’s leading expert in that space.

With the right content and the right approach you can position yourself to tower over others who may think they are just like you. Remember – Be Arnold, not Mary-Kate.


The Name is Bond, … Want to talk?

This is my 007th blog post of this year (according to the naming convention I use for these posts on my laptop), which seems appropriate as this week also marked the first release of any official photos and behind the scenes footage for the next James Bond movie, SPECTRE.


I’ve been fascinated by the world of 007 for almost fifty years now, I’ve written one book about Bond and have a second one that will be published later this year. It’s not just the character himself that fascinates me, it’s the way that the franchise has developed over the years, constantly changing to meet new challenges, changing tastes, changing political landscapes, and reach new audiences across the globe. A core part of that has been studying the way that EON Productions and MGM have handled marketing the movies. The release of the photographs and video footage this week was part of EON’s long established practice of building interest in their movies over a period of several months; in this case about ten months, as SPECTRE isn’t scheduled to open till November. Bond movie production has always been a series of milestones: announcing the cast, the name of the movie, the start of filming, a look at the impressive sets, the song, the trailer; they are all marketing events.

But they are all still essentially broadcast events, they help build awareness of the brand, but they are definitely one way communication. It’s a “look at us and this cool thing we are doing” message. If Bond marketing falls down in one area when compared to other franchises, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, the Marvel movies etc., it’s engaging with their core customers, the fans.

Luckily many of the Bond writers, scholars, collectors, and fans makes up for that with a very lively, welcoming, inclusive, and fun informal community with an active collection of websites, social media feeds, blogs, podcasts, publications etc.

Among these one of the recent stand outs has been the emergence of the James Bond Radio podcast, and they did it by marketing through conversation.


Launched only a year ago it is already the “must listen” podcast for Bond aficionados for its insightful reviews, news, interviews, and more. This isn’t just two guys telling us how much they enjoy Bond, although that is a recurrent theme, it’s an inclusive experience with fellow fans providing input for trivia quizzes, or even providing jingles. The associated Facebook page is a lively community with the hosts engaging in dialog with the listeners. To celebrate their successful first year they didn’t do a self-congratulatory show, instead they invited six of their listeners to be on the show and asked them the same Bond related questions they ask when introducing the various Bond related professional guests that have appeared to date, instantly placing the fans on the same level of conversation as anyone else. Whether they know it or not, the James Bond Radio guys are a great case study in Content Marketing and using the content they produce to engage with their audience to build not just brand awareness, but loyalty, and retention. How did I first find out about James Bond Radio? By recommendation from a friend in the Bond community – and personal recommendation is the strongest marketing tool there is.

Start a conversation with your customers and they can become your greatest advocates.

What Exactly is “Authentic”?

Authentic marketing – Isn’t that an oxymoron? Let’s face it historically the world of marketing has not been one where you would immediately relate truth with message. But times they are a changing, and today’s audience is quick to point out when we stretch the truth too far. (A topic I wrote about back in June 2009). But what about being authentic? – What does it mean to say that your content marketing efforts should reflect the authentic voice of your brand.

The dictionary definition of the word “authentic” according to Meriam-Webster is that it represents something that is “real or genuine: not copied or false.”

The chances are that your brand has an underlying brand promise or set of values that define you as a business. It’s what you are in business to do. To be “authentic” your content should reflect and communicate those values. Your messaging doesn’t have to parrot your brand promise verbatim, but the words, tone, images, colors, and the value of what you deliver should clearly support what the brand means to your customers.

Consider the kings of Content Marketing – Red Bull. They are all about energy. Their brand promise is that they “ will increase (their customer’s) performance, concentration, reaction speed, vigilance, and even well-being.”


It’s arguable whether a can of caffine achieves those result in a healthy way, but it’s clear that their whole marketing effort from the “Red Bull gives you wings” tagline to their global sports and events sponsorship programs where people excel at extreme physical activities are an authentic reflection of the brand’s values and promise.

A Single Word Can Say So Much

This video has been around for a while now, I think it was first posted early in 2013, and I’ve watched it several times, enjoying it as a nice piece of humorous advertising that plays to our obsession with technology and gadgets. – In short it’s a fun piece.

But today a friend of mine referenced it from another perspective, one that made me look at it with new eyes.

It’s not only a witty piece of advertising, it’s a great piece of content marketing that works for a global audience.

It’s message is universal, it works across many cultural boundaries by playing on shared human experiences (and needs!), and by only using a single word, a name, it also crosses language barriers.

Why over-complicate your message, when with a bit of thought and ingenuity, so much can be said to so many with but a single word and some well thought out images telling a basic human story.



Sheldon Cooper and Brand Deflection

A couple of days ago we were having new carpet laid throughout the house, and at one point during the day I was walking out to my car for a coffee run when the head of the carpet crew looked up and asked me if I liked the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.

The question threw me for a second, not because I don’t like the show – I do. It’s a must watch for my family – but as to why he’d asked in the first place. I must have looked puzzled, because by way of explanation he pointed in my direction and said “Your shirt.”

At the office I may be all dressed up, but the days I’m working from home you are more likely to find me in jeans, sneakers and a superhero logo t-shirt. The thing is I don’t own any Big Bang Theory shirts. Not a single “Bazinga !” adorns my closet space.

I looked down and realized I was wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt. Just like this one.

sheldonshirtThe one that Sheldon Cooper often wears on The Big Bang Theory. – Mystery solved.

On my drive to grab my drink I started to think about what had just happened. In my Content Marketing role at Caterpillar a major consideration is how we build and develop messaging and content that supports the brand message and the brand story. Ideally every interaction with the brand (and that includes the logo – perhaps the most frequent brand encounter) should reinforce the brand’s promise.

Yet my carpet guy had seen the Green Lantern logo, a brand owned by DC Comics and by association, its parent company, Warner Bros., but associated it with a completely different property and message. In this case one owned by CBS.

The more I thought about DC Comics brand placement on The Big Bang Theory the more I realized that as much as it’s cool for me as a comics geek to play spot the reference, I’m not sure Warner Bros. is getting the business value it wants from that relationship.

comic_book_storeThe comic book store featured in the show seems to stock only DC Comics related titles and merchandise (Click on picture above to get a good look at the stock); but whenever comics, or comics characters are mentioned on the show in dialog it is usually a conversation about Marvel characters. Characters and brands owned by the directly competitive comics publisher, who are now owned by Disney.

In a recent episode the girls on the show ventured into the comic book store to see what it was that was so important to their boy-friends/husband; and then spent half the show discussing the physics of Thor’s hammer. Thor being yet another Marvel character.

So what are DC Comics and Warner Bros paying for with this brand and product placement? Is it brand awareness? To me it seems more like brand deflection.

How is your brand message being used and communicated. What channels are you using to spread your brand’s story.?

Is your value message getting through, or is it being deflected?




Capturing User Content – Inspired by a CAT moment at Harley


During the last week of 2012 I took my Harley-Davidson motorcycle into the local dealership for a regularly scheduled service. While checking the bike in I started chatting with the Service Manager, and in the course of the conversation he asks where I work.

For the first time I get to say “Caterpillar.


And I get a reaction I tend to associate more with my other life as a comic book and pop-culture writer than with a business exchange, I can only describe it as he went “all fanboy” and started waxing lyrically about Caterpillar products and his experiences using them. Turns out he used to be in the construction business and is happy to list every piece of CAT equipment he has ever operated. He even has a wish-list of the ones he still wants to try.

As I’m heading out of the service bay he says: “I’ve used all sorts of equipment (and lists a bunch of other makes), but nothing does what a CAT does.

My marketing brain kicks in and thinks, “what an awesome soundbite.” Then I start thinking we need a way of capturing that, and others like it. And that will certainly be a conversation I will have as I ramp up my new role at CAT – maybe they already have a way of doing it that I’m not currently aware of – in which case, great. But I’ll certainly be looking at how we can leverage this sort of interaction from a Content Marketing perspective.

As I’ve been looking at various content marketing examples of customer interactions, from a variety of companies in all sorts of industries, over the intervening period, that exchange keeps coming back to me. It struck me that the vast majority of the customer endorsements and sound bytes in a business-to-business environment come from the customer’s executives and buyers, but very few come from the people who actually use the product everyday to do their job.

It’s only natural for as a marketing and sales organization you probably already have contacts with your buyer and probably his boss and executive sponsor too. You can just use that relationship to ask for an endorsement, soundbite, case study, or video interview.

But does that tap in to the people who really love your product and brand, the ones who get to experience it everyday?

Is it time to dig a little further into your customer’s organizations and capture the user stories from the real operators? The user stories that will appeal to, and provide all important peer recommendations, to other potential users.

Time to put the marketing excavators in to action.


New Year – New Directions

The on-line world is full of “it’s the end of one year, and I’ll make sure next year is better and different” blog posts. And this is another one – but one that marks a real turning point for both this blog and for me professionally.

The two events being closely related.

On a professional level 2013 will see me joining Caterpillar Inc. as their Content Marketing Manager, leading the team to develop and implement an enterprise-wide Content Marketing Strategy for one of the World’s Top 100 brands. – An amazing opportunity to put into practice many of the ideas, concepts, and methodologies I’ve written and spoken about over the last few years.

The start of a new phase in my career seemed like the perfect opportunity to relaunch this website too. So its been moved over to a new platform, given a new look, and the associated Facebook and Twitter feeds rebranded to consolidate “The Content Pool” brand.

Throughout 2013 I’ll be using this blog as a place to capture notes and observations around what it takes to develop a content marketing strategy for a major corporation. So I hope you will join me on a regular basis as I continue my “adventures in content.”

Have a happy and successful New Year.

How a Great Story Can Help Your Brand

Yesterday evening I spent a couple of hours interacting with other local business people and entrepreneurs at this month’s Network In Austin event. As usual it was an excellent opportunity to meet and learn about a whole new bunch of local businesses.

In the space of two hours I must have heard about at least a dozen new businesses, what they did, and what they were called. That’s a lot of information to take in in a short time.

As I drove home I did a quick mental review to see if I could recall the salient points from each conversation. I managed to recall something about everyone, but what struck me was that the first two businesses that came to mind were the two that had stories attached, and one in particular that had a story attached to the brand name.

The lady who ran the company had told a fun short story of how the company name came from an expression her father used to use a lot.

Brand names with a story behind them stick.

Several years ago I used to write a regular marketing newsletter that included the stories and histories behind some of the most well known brand names. That section was always the most popular part of the newsletter. It gave me the idea of maybe writing a book on the subject – but then I found out that someone had already done it…

And Evan Morris’ fun book “From Altoids to Zima” is now one of the most thumbed books on my marketing bookshelf.

There is a story behind most company and brand names. I’ve worked for companies named after bags of chips, science fiction villains, a historical event, and even one that got it’s name from a typo.

Discover your story – work it in to your pitch, put it on the website, and people will remember it, and they will remember you.