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It’s easy enough to create amazing content if you’re ASOS or Red Bull or LEGO. But what if you’re a dentist or a funeral provider or you sell Hoover spare parts for a living?
In the world of content marketing, ‘boring content’ seems almost to have become a genre in its own right.
It tends to stand for content from B2B organisations facing those classic considered-purchase challenges: sales lead-times that can run into years, forbidding levels of compliance and stakeholder review, and products/services that can be dauntingly complex or just too mundane to inspire content that could ever be considered compelling or engaging.
And yet I can’t help feeling that, what with all their breathless talk of Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Amex, LEGO and the like, content marketers are in danger of giving the less glamorous businesses among us a bit of a complex, and for no good reason.
Sure, next to the content marketing galacticos just cited, we can all look a little Conference League. But B2Bers and other ‘boring’ businesses shouldn’t get too discouraged.
First off, we’re not comparing like with like. Most of us don’t have the kind of budgets and production resources that those big boys have, but then nor do our competitors. You may not be able to outdo Red Bull, but then your prospects probably aren’t comparing you with Red Bull either.
Second, your business’s content isn’t boring if it’s telling your users what they need to know in a generous, informed and editorially approachable way.
And third, constraints and challenges are grist to the content marketer’s mill – cause for creativity, not complaint.
So with that in mind, I’ve been doing a bit of digging for examples of less-than-obviously sexy businesses who’ve come up with marketable content that’s well worth engaging with.
There’ve been lots of great posts recently about B2B big boys such as Massey Ferguson and Maersk, Siemens and GE, so I’ve focused on smaller or more niche operations. In each case, I’ve tried to identify a learning point or two too...
From replacing a Hoover washing machine door seal to replacing a Bosch lawnmower switch to replacing an oven thermostat, the range of 'How to' videos on YouTube from eSpares, the appliance bits-and-bobs supremo, is formidably helpful.
But alongside this invaluable library of home help – in among all the videos about how to cure a smelly washing machine and how to replace a fridge thermostat – eSpares has put together a reel of outtakes from its videos.
It shows that even the experts sometimes struggle with decoupling a dishwasher cutlery tray or undoing a strimmer wire cap, and they get this across in a way that manages to raise a laugh without detracting from the products or the brand.
The video has attracted lots of positive comments from people who are clearly very grateful to the company for all the advice it provides. As one commenter comments:
LOL glad to see it can go wrong for the Pro's also. Love the videos and site this has helped me save ££££ on repair bills.
The lesson: a spare parts company doing an outtakes video sounds indulgent and irrelevant, but eSpares has built up such a valuable information resource, and generated so much goodwill in the processs, that it has earned the right to switch from information to entertainment for a spot of light relief.
Knowing that even the experts struggle sometimes only adds credibility to the advice too.
Unum is all about income protection insurance. This might sound like unpromising territory for great content, but under the slogan ‘everyone needs a back-up plan’, it has extended this idea to a whole range of materials – ebooks, tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates – which look at ways to look after yourself or your staff better, depending on whether you’re an employer or an employee.
The materials are all informative, often gently humorous and designed with a light touch that belies our traditional perception of financial services as grey and dull.
Typically they’re full of real examples of what other businesses are doing to address the same issues of retention, staff motivation, managing sickness absence and more.
For example this post, 'you don't need to know feng shui to create awesome office space', looks at what you can do to create a more inviting environment to woo potential new recruits. Again, lots of useful ideas, a frank but friendly tone of voice, interesting and humorous illustrations, and all backed up with lots of real stories.
The lesson: Unum is a classic example of a business that is projecting a powerful content brand by focusing on that sweet spot where its users’ content needs and its own domain of expertise intersect.
Unum thinks hard about what other related areas an employee or employer looking at their services might be interested in, and extends that niche to a wider range of topics that the brand can talk about with credibility. And they show serious topics don’t have to look dull either.
Edmonton Dental Clinic
The website of this Canadian family dentist is no ordinary dental website (I can say this with some confidence as I once had to deliver a speech on content at a dental conference).
What you get here is a dental blog ‘targeted at young readers’ that is ‘full of great articles about teeth, dentist, and oral care’.
But these are no ordinary oral care articles either. You get click-tastic headlines like The Biggest Tooth Ever Discovered, Strange Teeth Modifications (teeth tattoos, anyone?), Three Insane Dental Floss Flavours and The Parasite that Eats Tongues. But in among all these Buzzfeedesque goodies, you also get the stuff mum and dad will be pleased to see covered: Three Common Toothbrushing Mistakes, Pros and Cons to Tooth Whitening and Bad Breath – Not Just in Your Mouth. [FYI all the title casing in these posts is their idea, not mine.]
The lesson: The wealth of topics and energy of execution communicates a real passion for the profession. As a parent I’d no doubt be pleased to see my dentist helping me to interest my children in a not obviously exciting but important area too.
Good oral care starts young, and to that end the content cleverly mixes the sensational and the sensible. Once you’ve read Tooth Battles of Nature: Sabre-toothed Cat versus African Elephant you might stick around for Three Desserts that Will Destroy Your Tooth Enamel too. [Insert your own sugar-coating gag here.]
Green Acres Woodland Burials
On the face of it, the topic of death and dying has to be one of the trickiest areas to approach for any content marketer. But Green Acres Woodland Burials – ‘thoughtful funeral services, naturally’ – tackles the topic head on in a way that is thoughtful, compassionate and unembarrassed.
Woodland burials are a growing area, especially for environmentally conscious people, and on the website there are some powerful arguments for the benefits of a green send-off.
Its survey of funeral music requests, from the usual to the unusual, includes (on the unusual side) Nights in White Satin, Steam Training Leaving Station, Hole in the Ground and Tiddly Widdly Winky Woo.
Click to enlarge
The topics of death and grief naturally involve lots of stories and emotions and memories. Green Acres uses it social presence, especially on Facebook, to curate a conversation that covers these potentially difficult areas with content and conversation that ranges from the personal to the philosophical.
The lesson: No subject is too difficult, if you know what you’re doing and you can stand behind your work.
Green Acres’ approach wouldn’t ring true if it wasn’t informed by obvious integrity and passion; in this most sensitive area content that was merely a marketing ploy would quickly be seen through and backfire. The Facebook pages are a great demonstration of how to nurture and maintain a conversation without dominating too.
First off, special mention to the imagery on the UK site. Check out the cockroach page, for instance:
Personally, one look at that and I’m sold already. Who needs any more content? Is this not storytelling in its most viscerally disgusting yet strangely mesmerising form?
But in case you want some rational expertise to go with your fear of creepy-crawlies in your home or office, there’s always the company’s deBugged blog. This is made up of contributions from around the world, but my favourite is the North America version.
Here, as with the dentists, we have a well-planned blend of the nerdily entertaining and the expertly informative. So you have pest experts addressing such hoary urban pest myths as 'can cockroaches survive a nuclear blast?' and 'do termites like rock music?'
This is high-end pub trivia of the not-a-lot-of-people-know-that variety, but it’s mixed in with more serious (and commercially important) messages such as 'the ultimate guide to pest seasonality' and 'dampwood and drywood termite control tips'.
The lesson: We sometimes deprecate the use of scare tactics in marketing, but if you’re in pest control your prospects are probably running scared already, so it’s not cynical to remind them – visually and verbally – of the dangers of infestations and the like.
To help with editorial planning, the blog categorises posts by section e.g. ‘pests in the headlines’, ‘the lighter side of pest control’ and ‘industry Insight for pest control professionals’.
This is a simple but effective content-planning technique – each strand can be given to a different writer/team, it’s easy to see at a glance where content is short, and strands can be prioritised according to an agreed overarching strategy.
If industry professionals are identified as the main target audience for the blog, for instance, planning and resourcing can be tweaked to make sure they get twice as much content as the other strands.
Ace Tree Management
Ace Tree Management is all about tree cutting and tree pruning in the Melbourne, Australia area. As with many of the businesses here, you can certainly see areas for improvement in some of the content, in terms of distribution, presentation or both.
But one thing Ace Tree does very well is to use video to create a sense of admiration for what it does and the risks it takes.
See, for instance, 'tree removal jobs of 2013' or 'cherry picker hire tree cutting aerial platform man lift'. Much of the footage is filmed by a drone, which typically swoops over the head of a man on a platform at 70m (soundtrack by Daft Punk, natch) to show us a plungingly vertical view of great bits of tree plummeting to the earth way, way below.
At such moments one’s overwhelming emotion is, well, vertigo.
In case that all sounds a bit butch and blokeish, check out videos like 'slow motion tree removal work with Husqvarna chain saw Ace Tree', which captures the falling branches of an unsafe, 45m hollow tree with a balletic beauty that is equally hypnotic, but for more aesthetic reasons.
As in every video, you see the whole operation in action, the skill of the team, the efficiency of the process. As one commenter says: "Nice one boys. Great efficient teamwork. Like a well-oiled machine."
The lesson: Are you old enough to remember Play School? Remember when they took us through the round/square/arch window and showed us something being made?
You had to guess what it would be – is it a broom? A chair? A wardrobe? As with those time-lapse videos you get of a skyscraper being built or an exhibitions being broken down, there can sometimes be good content-marketing mileage simply in the contemplation of your business at work.
I’m not quite sure what to call the impulse at play here – completism? Professional curiosity? – but something makes us want to stick around to see that building get finished... or that tree come down.