Useful Content Strategies: L.L. Bean

NOTE: Useful Content Strategies are a series of narrative posts in which I explore an idea for a brand’s content marketing strategy or program. I have not (unless otherwise noted) worked personally or, even, indirectly with these brands and, in most cases, I have no relationship with the brand, parent company or employees of either. These are just thoughts, observations and ideas. 

Fog rolls in off the bay, across the rugged rocks and kisses the feathery needles of the pines that line the shore.

A worn path winds its way up the rocky trail to the bald top of Cadillac Mountain, the first place to greet the dawn on the East Coast and a refuge for thousands of would-be adventurers escaping from the cities of America to find their place to resonate.

A small in-land lake with tea-dark water and fresh green bass, the cottages and their tiny docks, the skiffs launched from the side of the road, the canoes and kayaks paddled by the young and young at heart skimming the ancient boulders that line the bottom.

Somewhere in the Hundred Mile woods, a hiker nears Katahdin and the end of a six month trek that started back in Georgia, where the world looked different and would never again be the same. Coming up the path, swatting black flies and steeling their resolve, is another hiker just beginning the same trek, starting their way to a different world, a different perspective, a different life.

Along Highway 1, a motorist takes their time to take in the views – a fisherman casting for brookies in the early morning air of a stream Continue reading

Benefits vs. Features is Content vs. Product

I’ve been looking for a succinct way to differentiate the kind of messaging that should be contained in content marketing versus product-centric digital information. I’ve tried imagery – there’s a bad paragraph on my hard drive somewhere of me clumsily describing a rock going into a pond and leaving concentric rings… it is really terrible- and specificity. I’ve tried developing models related to intention and audience, but they all feel very obscure and theoretical. It wasn’t until I was re-reading Chris Guillebeau’s “The $100 Startup” when I came across a paragraph on differentiating between benefit and feature messaging that went a long way toward explaining what I’ve failed to explain for a long time. “More than anything else, value relates to emotional needs. Many business owners talk about their work in terms of the features it offers, but it’s much more powerful to talk about the benefits customers receive. A feature is descriptive; a benefit is emotional.” (Chris, if you happen to see this, please take it as an homage and not a rip-off.) I agree with this 100%, but when thinking about digital content marketing specifically, I have one minor tweak – features describe the product or service while benefits speak to a person’s need – a tension in their life that needs to be relieved. I make this distinction for a couple of reasons- 1. Emotion is a bit too vague – it’s conceptual and ephemeral. It also smacks of a starry-eyed or brooding bond, which may be the case, but certainly is not the only case. 2. Need takes many forms. People need information and education, they need entertainment and a sense of belonging. Need can be a manifestation of curiosity. Need is more pointed and can create a more direction connection from benefit to features. When I work with clients on developing their approach to content, I rarely recommend they spend a lot time, money or effort in defining and expounding upon their product features. Instead, I recommend that they spend time exploring the needs of the people they want to reach. Spend time defining the problem your product solves, the practical, real-life experiences of the audience you hope to solve or help with. In short, when you begin thinking about your content approach, focus on the challenge – the needs of customers – and let your product be a natural extension, an obvious solution.

Bounce Rate is Dumb, or, Why Context is King

A man walks into a a doctor’s office and starts screaming “Help! Help! I have ebola and I’m going to die!”

The doctor bravely comes running and takes the man to an exam room and away from the other people in the waiting room. He keeps his staff away to protect them and, without any regard for his own safety, begin his examination. “Why do you think you have ebola?” the doctor asks.

“Because, Doc, I’m sweating and am short of breath. My muscles are burning and I have a headache. Plus, my stomach is all torn up – I’m on the toilet every few seconds.”

“Okay,” says the doctor. “What makes you think it’s ebola?” Continue reading

Habit is Powerful

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I have the worst kind of habit – a near complete lack of habits. Apart from a commute, there’s almost nothing I do every day. Some nights, I’m in bed early. Some late. Some days I write. Most days I don’t. I go to the gym with no particular regularity. And the results are as to be expected. I go through spurts of health and fitness. I go through fits of productivity. And the products are inconsistent.

But I was reading a post from Chris Guillebeau last week that spoke to me – particularly as I wrestle with balancing work, ideas about my future and three parallel writing projects. Most times when I write, I go in major spurts – usually on a deadline – five, six, 7,000 words at a time. And I tend to get myself into some trouble; behind the eight-ball, up against a wall. I also end up not getting that much done. A thousand words takes me a half hour to write. And if I follow Chris’s plan, I’ll be able to write four or five books a year instead of one or two. Continue reading

The Why Equation

I was having breakfast with a friend of mine this morning and, as usual, we talked about a lot of things – life, business and most things in between.

I’ll call him ‘L.’

‘L’ works in financial planning. He’s self-made and one of the most successful people I know. Though he works with a large, global firm, he and his brother own a smaller company within a company, of which ‘L’ is the principle owner, executive and strategist for a team of five. His business, like his life, is in a period of evolution and he’s beginning to ask some questions. How is his team going to make the next evolution? What does he need to do to improve his leadership? All the kinds of questions a considered guy like ‘L’ should be asking.

I’ve spent my career asking questions. First as a journalist and now as a strategist. Continue reading

Post No Bills: Aren’t We Selling Soap?

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Mostly books about marketing and presentation of information, about content marketing and social media. And some have really struck a chord (see the bottom of this post for a list and links to my new favorites), especially those that deal with story telling as a marketing principle – well, not just a principle, but a marketing bedrock.

There are a lot of reasons why these resonate with me, not least of which is that I am both a) completely convinced that story telling is the foundation of all human interaction and b) an instinctive story teller.

And, to be sure, these and a lot of other books, podcasts and conferences do a wonderful job of covering the need for story telling and some of the basic (and some advanced) principles of story telling. Continue reading