4 Big Content Marketing Lessons from General Mills, 3M, Ameriprise Financial & SCHERMER

ThinkstockPhotos-478438600Remember when public relations required you to persuade gatekeepers – news editors, TV and radio producers and reporters – to carry your company or client's content to their audiences? Now, brands from Red Bull to Google are becoming publishers and broadcasters themselves. In this brave new world, marketers are creating their own content – infographics, podcasts, webinars, YouTube videos and more – that are distributed for free via their digital channels.

This was the focus of a March 2015 event co-sponsored by Maccabee Public Relations and Minnesota PRSA. Moderated by Maccabee's Social Media Director Christina Milanowski, the panel discussions featured content marketing all-stars:


If you're getting started or continually refining your company's content marketing strategy, here are four big takeaways from our evening of content marketing nirvana:

1. Every marketer’s definition of content marketing may be a bit different, but all lead to the same goal.

World-renowned content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi openly admits in his book, Epic Content Marketing, that there are many definitions of content marketing. He called it “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling…instead of pitching your products and services, you are delivering information that makes your buyers more intelligent or perhaps entertaining them to build an emotional connection.” But, definitions vary by marketer. Take, for example, the four marketing expert panelists’ definitions:

  • Angela Dalton: Content marketing is any content that increases engagement with a customer/visitor. It’s the content that attracts and maintains visitors to your website.
  • Brian Enderlein: Content marketing is, in two words, content and marketing. It's been done for years. For 3M, we are not just products, we are the thoughts behind the products and we have the science to back it up. Content enhances and supports our brands.
  • Maura Ryan: Content marketing is content in any form or channel that supports a business strategy.
  • Chris Schermer: Content marketing is about creating content that is helpful to your customers. It’s about being constantly available and making a commitment to your customers to serve and solve their problems, all while putting selling behind it.

What we can agree on is that content marketing encourages marketers to establish their companies - instead of being just a vendor, seller or manufacturer - as a leading information source in their industries. And, why shouldn’t we be? No one knows our company or industry and its audiences better than the PR and marketing professionals who live and breathe their brands every single day.

2. Content marketing isn’t about you; it’s about your customers.

One point that we found reiterated by our panelists is that whatever type of content your brand is creating and curating, you need to know your audience. Whether it's mothers looking to make cleaning easier with help from an innovative 3M Scotch-Brite product or connecting millenials with creative cooking through General Mills’ Tablespoon.com, knowing your audience is key to the success of your content.

Angela Dalton said it perfectly, “We are all guilty of falling in love with our content, but if it isn’t relevant to your brand strategy [and, therefore, your customers] just stop doing it. Don't put a round peg in a square hole.”

We couldn’t agree more! There is only one reason that you are generating content for your brand in the first place: to accurately engage, interact and potentially impact your customers' purchasing behaviors.

What’s more, Chris Schermer, of buyer-driven B2B brand experience agency SCHERMER, explained that all marketers have the responsibility to not only produce meaningful content, but to also resist the volume of content created.

We know consumers don’t want to be bombarded with “Buy this!” or “You need this!” Creating content isn’t about spamming your customers. A quick peek at the junk inboxes of their email accounts will reveal plenty of that. Instead, content marketing is about creating useful content for the consumer or, as Chris pointed out, “to make them the hero of their own story.”

So the question is, how do you successfully develop this type of content? How do you champion your customers so they become your biggest fans while maintaining your brand strategy? You listen. Hear what your customers are saying and what they are searching for. What do they need and how can you be the one who provides it for them?


For 3M’s Brian Enderlein, successful content marketing begins with analyzing and listening to consumer and customer touch points across all channels. By monitoring keywords consumers were using to search 3M’s websites, the company discovered areas to enhance or build upon with new solutions-based (and not product-based) content. Brian recognized that 3M’s customers were looking for how to solve everyday problems they faced at home. The company was well aware that it had a loyal following of customers for the brand’s products, but, by producing how-to content, it not only provided great products to its customers, it enhanced their buying experiences. 3M's useful content solved household problems by helping consumers connect to the brand in a way that they previously hadn’t.

General Mills has a unique source for generating its content: Blog partners. Almost 100 percent of Tablespoon.com content is created through partnerships with bloggers. And it makes perfect sense! By working with a seasoned blogger who is invested in growing her blog, but also in working closely with the brands that support her blog, General Mills is able to tap into its customers through alternative, yet authentic sources. This not only extends the reach of the brand’s content through social media, it's also a way for a consumer to connect with the brand that doesn’t shout, “Buy me!”

3. Every “content marketing team” is unique.

When it comes to internal content marketing teams and resources, nearly half (45 percent) of B2C marketers have a dedicated content marketing group in their organizations, according to the Content Marketing Institute. However, our panel discussed that many content marketing teams could be one person or a group of social experts. Perhaps there isn’t even anyone in the building with content marketing in his or her title!

Maura Ryan said she works closely with multiple content owners, such as the integrated marketing team, product owners and PR professionals. Chris Schermer acknowledged that most large corporations don’t, in fact, have content marketing teams so it’s largely up to his agency to fill the gaps. 

In a past MaccaPR interview with content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi, we discussed that a content marketing department can actually create another silo. Pulizzi instead recommended organizations assign someone as the ambassador in charge of all content marketing.

Content marketing is a developing marketing practice that lives in many places in organizations, yet isn't often centralized. What is true is: There's no one-size-fits-all blueprint. Marketers are learning what works for their unique organizations.

4. As content marketers, we must prove the ROI that is meaningful to your C-suite.

As Brian Enderlein of 3M pointed out early in the evening, our room of event attendees represented different types of marketers (digital strategists, brand managers and PR professionals), but every attendee was seeking the same thing: Content marketing insights. Enderlein said that, for him, analytics should be the foundation of content marketing.

Chris Schermer believes that the goal of content marketing should be to create a sense of community that allows customers to achieve their goals. For Chris, that takes place through a series of traditional metrics via email, banner ads, embedded videos and more. He often also takes into account conversion rates for his B2B clients' content marketing programs - and acknowledged that tomorrow’s priority will be different from today’s.

Through a balance of offline and online metrics, Maura Ryan measures impact of how each channel performs as the best route to take. Angela Dalton proves ROI through engagement and website metrics with Tablespoon.com.

Across all industries, marketers are striking a balance with the types of content they create and who should actually be in charge of creating it. No matter who takes on a company’s content marketing role, every marketer must be able to prove the benefit of his or her content marketing program to keep the C-suite satisfied and target audiences engaged. That is, after all, the reason the content is being generated in the first place, right?

To download slides from this content marketing panel event and to download our exclusive Q&A with content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, go to http://info.maccabee.com/mnprsacontent.

Download Content Marketing  Q&A with Expert Joe Pulizzi

Image Sources: Maccabee PR, Maccabee Public Relations Facebook, ThinkStock
About the Author

Leila Erickson

Lelia Erickson is a former Maccabeast.

Topics:  Content Marketing, PR Perspectives

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