Masters of Content Marketing

Content Strategy Lessons from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

I consider myself lucky to have been a part of the golden age of toys.  Born just before the explosion of Star Wars into the world, I would experience some of the greatest content marketing projects of all time.  The toymakers of the 1980’s such as Hasbro and Mattel would create a generation of toy fanatics by building a content universe around their products, capturing our hearts and minds in the process.

Over the last few years, I’ve delved into the basements and closets of my parents home and emerged with great relics of my childhood. With two young boys that have overlapping interests to mine, these tattered findings are real treasures.  That said, something struck me while thumbing through a stack of Masters of the Universe comics a few weeks ago.  These miniature comic magazines that accompanied each action figure sold by Mattel in the 1980’s were a genius act of content marketing. 

Assortment of Covers from Masters of the Universe Comics
Assortment of Covers from Masters of the Universe Comics

For those unfamiliar with the legend of He-Man and the Masters of The Universe, I will provide a brief overview.  Mattel initially introduced the first few action figures in the early eighties accompanied by a set of great mini-comics.  He-Man was a warrior in the land of Eternia who is granted access to the magic of the mysterious Castle Greyskull and the Power Sword. He soon learns that both are coveted by an evil being known as Skeletor who sends his henchman after He-Man at every turn.  The stories were very much drawn from classic sword-and-sorcery material but peppered with modern sci-fi weaponry and strange beings. It suggested this might be past or future, but definitely somewhere very different.  For us kids, it was brilliant.  

Little did we know that Mattel was feeling sore over having missed the boat when it declined to take on the Star Wars toy line that Hasbro was now reaping the rewards of.  The concept of the He-Man toys was one designed to start with the outcome in mind: a set of action figures in every kid’s toy chest.  Targeted at kids already enthused with fantasy and science fiction, the content strategy painted a larger picture that a wider group of parents and kids, boys and girls included, could latch onto. This strategy would drive the franchise into a long running animated television series, a DC comic book series and a full length motion picture (which if I remember was not very good).  Along the way, I dare say they succeeded in driving quite a few toy sales; certainly enough to expand several years of expansions of the line and multiple reissues of the original characters.   

Here are some of the characteristics I’ve observed about the franchise in retrospect.

They started with the product

Unlike Star Wars, this was not a film that led the charge and followed by the toys. The initial figures were these musclebound, 5-inch hulks, permanently molded into a squat stance that indicated they were “ready for battle”.  They came with their weapons and a small comic that painted a slice of the mythology of the land of Eternia, its heroes and villains.  I believe that the toys were on the market in toy-stores, relying on those comics and the word of mouth of fans to make the rounds with kids for a couple of years before they ventured into the animated television series.

They allowed the story to emerge over time

Each comic also revealed a few other pieces of the universe on the back cover: other action figures, vehicles and play sets. Some of these were revealed in the comics, but others were mysteriously omitted. It let you know there was a bigger story but also allowed you to create some of that narrative in your own imagination.

There was also a degree of ambiguity surrounding who was good and who was evil.  In the first few issues, it was clear that many of the protagonists were themselves strangers, drawn together by some mystical forces.  Often they would also have certain characters depicted in the shadows; you could recognize them by their silhouette, but their role could be construed as observer or participant.

They revised the narrative to speak to their broader audience

When the animated series hit the air, there were a few new elements introduced in order to make the story more accessible to a wider range of fans.  He-Man now had an alter ego, Prince Adam, the royal ruler of the land of Eternia would be gifted his power sword by the feather clad Sorceress. 

Classic image from the original animated He-Man series
Classic image from the original animated He-Man series.

Signaling a desire to reach a broader audience than just the male fantasy geeks, the series introduced a number of new characters which would later be implemented as toys. These included several new female heroes and villains.  The series also brought comedy into the fold by including a goofy wizard named Orko and even a cowering version of He-Man’s trusted Battle Cat that shivered in fear until emboldened by a blast of energy from the power sword.

They grounded themselves with influencers

Knowing that parents were ultimately the gatekeepers to getting their products adopted in the homes, the series creators began to articulate a moral lesson in the epilogue to each story.  This was a helpful counterweight to justify watching a program that was filled with violence between battling factions. This would become a popular tactic in other series launched around this time, including the popular G.I. Joe.  

A good run while it lasted

By the time the full length feature movie and DC comic series came out, I had outgrown the franchise.  I remember seeing the film and hating it.  Of course my opinion might have been colored by the fact that I was no longer playing with the toys, but I suspect it really was horrible. Let’s face it: it starred Dolph Lundgren who had previously played Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, another famous franchise “jump the shark” moment. That said, the films did not discolor my love of the original concept and characters.

On a final note, I am excited to have learned of a book written on the rise and fall of the He-Man toy empire by its creator. I’m looking forward to reading, Mastering the Universe by Robert Sweet.  Apparently the toys sold more than 1 billion dollars worth in their time on the market!

I look forward to exploring the content marketing strategies behind some of my other favorite toy franchises in future posts as I unearth more of my childhood from the depths of my parents’ basement. 

How to Avoid Becoming Hamsters On Wheels: 3 Questions That Will Simplify Your Content Marketing

3 Questions That Will Simplify Your Content Marketing

I can remember sitting in a digital marketing conference workshop just a couple of years ago. The topic was optimizing performance and we began a discussion about how to simplify your content marketing. The facilitator kicked us off by saying: “So you all are doing content marketing in your organization. How is that going for you?” The response was sort of a collective groan.

Hamster On A Wheel
Hamster On A Wheel – By Doenertier82 at the German language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=642841

The general sentiment was that content marketing can be a ton of work. More so, it’s hard to prove value to the business. Multiple people used the analogy of feeling like a hamster on a wheel. Leaving that workshop, I started to look at what content we were offering those feeling like content marketing had become a slog.

What I found was that there is quite a bit of material out there on:

These are all valuable topics, however, they can seem overwhelming to those that are struggling under the weight of too much to do.

When trying to simplify your content strategy, here are three simple questions to ask:

  1. What is one thing we can change tomorrow?
  2. Are there pieces of content we have already created that more of our audience should see?
  3. Could we be clearer in what we ask our audience to do after reading our content?

What is one thing we can change tomorrow?

Often we get paralyzed with inaction when staring down the face of a large project. Launching a new content project is no different. An essential truth of project management is that planning is an essential activity, but plans are obsolete as soon as they are finished. You will never be able to keep up with all of the changes in your business and the digital marketing industry while expecting your plans to remain unchanged. Your team needs to be prepared to adapt to change and look for incremental ways to measure value delivered to your business partners.

A question I often like to ask teams that know they need to make a change to their strategy is: “what is one thing we can change tomorrow?” This forces them to prioritize and make a choice. Once they make one small change, be it a copy change on a key web page, or the call to action in a customer email nurture, they will realize that they have the power to make bigger changes over time.

Are there pieces of content we have already created that more of our audience should see?

When someone joins your audience today, there is a strong possibility that everything you produced up until now will be new to them. To that end, your team can extract value from existing blog posts that explain a core issue for your business or on boarding emails that explained how to make the most of your product. You do not need a fancy marketing automation platform to obtain these gains, either (although they can sometimes help); having a simple report of your web pages and emails with the most consistent performance over time can help here.

Note that this phenomenon also plays out in the social media space. Those who have mastered communicating on Twitter will tell you that it’s a game of repetition. Because people tend to check their feeds consistently at the same time each day, you may miss them if you are not broadcasting your posts at numerous intervals. Tools such as the wonderful MeetEdgar help take the work out of posting your content at a schedule custom to your audience.

Could we be clearer in what we ask our audience to do after reading our content?

Do your blog posts get quite a few views but fail to keep people engaged on your website? How about your emails? Do you drop in a boatload of sections chocked full of links and then wonder why your emails with high open rates just don’t convert?

It is possible you are either, not clearly presenting your audience with a call to action (CTA), or doing it in a very ineffective way. You should always have a CTA in your content, even if you just want to drive the reader to another important article that you think they will find relevant.

Keep your CTA’s short and to the point. Use simple and clear language, present them boldly and let your reader see the benefit.

There are lots of great resources on the web for optimizing your calls-to-action. Here is one of my favorites about Designing Great CTA Buttons by Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media Studios.

Prioritize to optimize

For years I was coaching software teams on how to adopt agile software development practices. We used to tell our clients: you need to slow down before you can speed up. Similarly, I think that if we want to avoid becoming hamsters on wheels of our own design, we need to think about doing less content, better.

I hope that these suggestions can help you find some small wins to harvest right away. Our teams can often use that little bit of confidence before they move on to bigger goals. 

Keep on doing great work.

Cutting Through the Noise of Social Media: A Guide to Smart Content Curation Tools

Cutting Through the Noise of Social Media- A Guide to Smart Content Curation Tools

Being a digital marketing professional, I know how hard it is to find the best content on social media when there is so much noise. A question I am frequently asked is: what content curation tools can help me find and share the best content? What I’ve done in this article is provide a guide to the smartest content curation tools available.

So Many Tools, So Little Time

The content marketing revolution has resulted in so much content being generated and promoted that it hard to find the best material.  This problem doesn’t only plague professional marketers; it has spread to almost every field and topic, making it even more confusing if you are not a social media expert.

In the last few years, there have been a number of solutions that have popped up to help readers find the best content being published within their networks. Not everyone has the time to keep up with all of these.  I have organized them into a few groups to better offer perspective on which are best for you.

Different Models for Social Content Curation

These four types of curation are what I feel broadly represent the offerings on the market today. I define these as Tribal, Algorithmic, Outsourced and Self Service/Team Based.

curation-methods

For each of the types, I’ll give a brief overview of its characteristics and call out a few sample tools in that category.  I’ll also describe what I feel are the key characteristics suited for this category along with pros and cons of this approach.

 

Tribal Curation

 

Tribal curation typically happens through affinity groups. These are collections of people that share something in common: profession, industry, location, etc.  The barriers to enter these groups can vary, but they typically are self-organized and enforced by members peer review. The format is most often that of a souped-up discussion forum where people can post new topics and discussion happens in threads around that topic.

Sample Tools: 

Reddit and it’s more specialized cousins, Inbound.org, Hacker News and Growthhackers.com

 

content-curation-tools-reddit

 

Quibb, the members only sharing network for professionals.  Content here focuses on the intersection of technology and business culture.  There is an application process for membership, and an editorial team that helps promote content worth reading.

 

BeBee –  Professional networking through personal interests. BeBee plays on the idea of social communities as places where knowledge workers “swarm”. It allows experts to organize small hubs called hives, centered around content sharing.

 

LinkedIn Groups –  Focused forums  created around areas of career skill, academic or professional membership. Web-based and backed by email notification, LinkedIn Groups are powerful and credible resources.  Trust is high because providing identity is the cost of participation.

 

NextDoor – A personal favorite of mine, NextDoor has become a way to communicate with your neighbors in your immediate residential area and also surrounding neighborhoods.  Because members have to verify residence through mail, you again have an exclusivity element.  Content types include some you would suspect like local businesses and home services, but are not limited to anything.

 

guide-content-curation-tools-nextdoor

 

Who it’s good for:  People who trust in group identity and preferences. Happy to digest what the community surfaces. Confident that the community will weed out bad content. These can be great solutions for folks comfortable in their role/career but looking to be kept up to speed on new developments.

 

Pros: 

  1. Mechanisms to let you see content by freshness and popularity. 

  2. Allow you to see many different formats of content.

  3. Once you find a group that matches your sensibility, you are likely to hang around for a while.

 

Cons:

  1. There tends to be a fair amount of posturing in groups like this, and you can see certain archetypes play out such as oversharing, dominating discussions and see promotion.

  2. Finding the right group for you can take time, as it involves staying a while with each and trying them on before you know if you like the experience.

  3. Reading through group posts and deciphering opinion just to find out what content to read can be exhausting.  

 

Algorithmic Curation 

 

With a little help from your friends (and artificial intelligence), you too can find some of the best things out there. Algorithmic solutions are powering many of the services you are using today.

 

Sample Tools:

 

Facebook Newsfeed, Instagram – The service that needs no introduction. Consider that Facebook is trying to be the be-all, end-all destination for your entertainment and information needs. Similar to how Google owned search (It just works), Facebook wants to make your newsfeed be intelligent enough to fold in recommendations and smart-sorting, so that it satisfies your curiosities. While algorithms can be  effective in making the system easier to use, the criticism that many experts have is that the content tends to get too homogenous over time and you miss out on a great deal of important content. Ditto Instagram.

 

Flipboard – The original magazine reader for tablets, this software curates the links shared by your contacts on Facebook and Twitter into topical news “sections” that you can flip through.

 

Prismatic (RIP) – Shuttered in the last year, Prismatic was one of my personal favorite solutions for some time as it combined elements of a the Flipboard style solution with machine learning so that it got smarter over time.

 

guide-content-curation-tools-prismatic

 

Nuzzel.com – Another personal favorite that was quite unique for a while, Nuzzel became  smart about understanding your reading preferences based upon your Facebook and Twitter connections and what you engaged with in their application. They also built in some nice newsletter features so that you could use their platform to build your own audience that enjoyed the stories you share.  I would love to see this one keep going, but I suspect that other products like Facebook are incorporating more of their ideas.

 

guide-content-curation-tools-nuzzel

 

Who it’s good for:  People who follow large numbers of content creators and sharers. Individuals in fast moving industries. Those who do not have a great deal of time to focus on what to read. 

 
Pros: 
 
  1. Smart filtering based on topics.

  2. Automatic curation based on popularity.

  3. Some solutions learn your preferences over time.

 

Cons:

  1. Algorithms are a black box – You don’t know exactly how they work and are subject to their decisions.

  2. Algorithms are based upon things shared by people in your network already. Since networks tend to foster group-think, these can reinforce you seeing items popular within the group but not necessarily new. 

 

Outsourced Curation

 

This category is where I consider that you as reader are deferring all control to a particular publication, host or expert to offer you their choice content picks. I find this to be one of the best ways to get introduced to new and interesting content, but its  the one that puts you least in control.

 

Tools

 

I consider the main tools in this space to be email newsletters. The email  newsletter has been a long staple of web culture, but it has seen a huge resurgence in recent years.  I subscribe to several, including, Nextdraft (one of my favorites). Of course, I also have created my own newsletter, which you should subscribe to.

 

guide-content-curation-tools-matrix-meme

 

Who it’s good for:  People that enjoy being taken on a journey through a new topic by an expert focused on that field. Those who relish in discovery of  new content. Lazy people who want a predictable number of new items dropped in their inbox every week. Individuals looking to get slowly introduced to a new field of interest/study.

 

Pros: 

  1. Delivered directly to your inbox.

  2. Curation is done for you.

  3. New content almost guaranteed.

 

Cons:

  1. You are subject to the perspectives and passions of your host.

  2. Depending upon the outlet, there is not always a way to offer meaningful feedback on what content you like or not.

 

Self-Service and Team Curation

This category represents the needs of individuals with an ongoing need for content to fuel their work and creativity.  Often they demand a level of control over their tools that drives a more “self-service” working model. In other cases, they team with similar power-users that quickly digest, curate and repackage what they read for others in the group.  Tools in this category offer a different level of functionality for a more demanding user, but with some tradeoffs.

Tools:

 

Feedly.com – Feedly came to fame as the product that picked up where the late Google Reader left off. A place to curate RSS feeds from websites you love, Feedly has become a very popular service for curating collections of sites and feeds for your audience.  In the past, one of my teams used Feedly Shared Collections to curate a large collection of our employee blogs; you can see the video describing our use case at their website. 

 

 

Pocket and Instapaper are two insanely popular “read later” services that also allow curators to share their wares with an audience.  I’ve actually enjoyed both services over the years and use a service called IFTTT (If This Then That) to keep them in sync.

 

guide-content-curation-tools-pocket-instapaper

 

Paper.li – An amazing service that allows you to create a web-based newspaper with a publishing staff of one, Paper.li has built a steady following.  By allowing editors to create papers based upon the sources they follow already, Paper.li automates much of the acquisition of new content.  Editors can also set their distribution preferences up once and the paper will automatically publish and promote itself at intervals.  For power users, it can be integrated into your website with ease.  Another great aspect of Paper.li is that it can scale to teams as well. 

For an example of Paper.li in action, check out my daily Digital Marketer’s Toolbox.

 

guide-content-curation-tools-paperli

 

Anders Pink – A very new product on the scene, Anders Pink (AP) is brought to you by the team that created Buzzsumo, only it provides more utility for any sort of team of knowledge workers.  Organized around the concept of “briefings”, AP allows curators to build automated content feeds around extremely focused areas using keywords, influencers, websites and RSS feeds; it also allows them to filter out what they don’t want in the result set.  You can subscribe to existing public briefings or create your own, for free!   

 

guide-content-curation-tools-anders-pink

 

Feel free to check out AP briefings I created for myself that I’ve since made public:

 

Who it’s good for

 

Individuals and teams who have very deep areas of focus and an ongoing need to monitor areas of content publication. Consider product marketing teams, investment groups or research teams as prime examples here.

 

Pros

 

  1. Customization of criteria for what is collected

  2. A range of capabilities from automated to manual collection and curation

  3. Ability to add value to existing content for an audience around your specific focus area.

 

Cons

 

  1. Time intensive – requires ongoing investment in monitoring, curation

  2. Hands-on – Although there is quite a bit of automation capability, the curator needs to have an intimate understanding of how these tools work.

 

 

The Best Tool for Your Job

 

Choosing the solution that is right for you requires that you spend a bit of time considering how specific your needs are and what kind of effort you want to put in.

 

Deciding what toolset will fit your needs will mean considering what is the balance of process automation, editor attention, content freshness and editorial control.

 

I have attempted to provide a few suggestions for different roles, but don’t just take my word alone. I encourage you to experiment with a few of these tools in order to find the best solution for you and your team.

 

Is there another tool that you like for your curation needs that I haven’t mentioned?  Share it in the comments!

 

 

 

 

When Brand Messaging Misses The Mark

Today a friend pointed out this great example of messaging gone awry.  In the image below, from a recent RiteAid circular, you can see their familiar “Welcome to Wellness” tagline is followed by a listing of items on sale, specifically: chips, soda, ice cream and candy!

when-brand-messaging-misses-the-mark
Rite Aid Welcome to Wellness Circular

Now, as a fellow marketer, I want to give RiteAid the benefit of the doubt.  I’m sure that the masthead was designed to be constant, no matter what the contents of the page were.  Still, in today’s market, is it excusable to have such a bold tagline with such a weak follow through?  After all, CVS boldly removed all tobacco products from stores to support its wellness agenda.

Let’s explore the tagline a bit further. As far as I can tell, this is a part of a greater Wellness program that the brand has been rolling out. The Wellness program includes products and services designed to promote long term health and well being of individuals and communities.  There are some incredible aspects to this program, including the placement of Wellness Ambassadors in individual stores.   More benefits are found for members of the Wellness+ Loyalty Program, including specialized products and services for Diabetes patients.

RiteAid is not alone. These examples are all around us. It is up to us to call these brands out for false promises and mixed messages. I can recall another example from Budweiser just a few months ago where they released cans with messaging that claimed their beer helped “remove no from your vocabulary“.  That one didn’t go over so well either.

I do not think there was intent to mislead customers in RiteAid’s marketing, rather a neglect to test the content with the overall presentation. The net result was that the overall brand messaging rings hollow. That and the fact that I have no trust that RiteAid cares about my wellness while it promotes me junk food at cheap prices.  Hopefully someone at the brand will see this error and have a chance to run it up the flagpole.

Until then, I’ll just assume this circular is a promotion targeted at future Wellness Plus for Diabetes customers.

Many thanks to @KWeischadle for sharing this example today.