What does it take to be a top content marketing strategist? And where can you find them?
While good marketing is all about team effort, there is usually one person steering the ship. Here we focus on the people who have made their brand a content marketing powerhouse. We cover both B2B and consumer, and sectors as diverse as computers and clothing.
Many of our subjects no longer work with the brands in question. Some no longer work. But the fruits of their labours are still being enjoyed.
They appear in no particular order of priority. But as with all lists, some readers will agree and some won’t. Either way, feel free to let us know via the social links on the left.
Jonathan Byerly, Dell
Jonathan Byerly is global director of sales transformation programs at Dell.
Despite working in an ultra-competitive market, where (unless you are Apple) price is the only differentiator, Dell has carved out a niche for itself.
Byerly has been central to this.
The change goes back to around 2010. Previously, Dell’s strategy was targeted around product and price.
Yet, Byerly realised that a solid content marketing strategy needs to steer clear of these areas. Instead, Dell focused on the way customers researched and purchased products, on what information they were looking for at each stage.
By creating suitable content, the company was able to place clear water between itself and its competitors.
Interestingly, Dell only produces 30 per cent of its content itself. The rest is curated from other sources.
Moreover, the content it does create is largely written by copywriters without any technical knowledge. This is intentional.
Other innovations include the Dell Nurture campaign. This involved ‘content packages’ – different combinations of articles based on where the customer was in the buying cycle that could be built into digital brochures.
Byerly has been with Dell since 2001, having joined from Johnson & Johnson. Despite having moved Dell’s marketing to a customer-centric approach, he first worked on pricing. Byerly did not become a content strategist until 2010.
Dave Beebe, Marriott
Ask someone what they think content marketing is and they will likely mumble something about text.
Fair enough. In a lot of cases, it is closely related to SEO.
However, as Beebe has shown, being a good content marketing strategist can encompass many things. As long as it keeps the consumer interested.
By avoiding a hard sell, because no one likes being sold to.
Beebe was the first ever VP of global creative and content marketing at Marriott. There he ran a department of around 120 people and created Marriott Content Studio for the hotel chain.
During his time the brand produced more than 50 documentaries and films – including Two Bellmen. Marriott also pushed into other platforms such as virtual reality.
Beebe is currently CEO of ContentDecoded, working with brands to produce content for genres including music, TV and technology.
Doug Busk, Coca-Cola
When it comes to content marketing, Coca-Cola is seen as a groundbreaker.
Why? Because it was one of the first major brands to take the leap and make content marketing a cornerstone of its marketing.
As the majority of this output falls into web-related properties, we have flagged Doug Busk, global group director for digital communications and social media at Coca-Cola, as the content marketing strategist pushing this change.
In this piece on Coca-Cola, Busk explains his role. It goes beyond the creation of content and into ROI.
Five years ago, Coca-Cola shifted towards editorial and content marketing with the launch of Journey (“Refreshing the world, one story at a time”). The site gets around 5-6 million views a month and is running in 35 countries.
But there is more to it than just hits. Notably, traffic is not the ultimate arbiter of success (something we have argued).
Discussing ROI and how the content strategy dovetails with Coke’s other marketing activities, Busk says: “We benefit from success on partners on the marketing side. It’s tough to compete with TV advertisements during the Olympics.
“We’re never going to get into an impressions game; we focus instead on how engaging the content is.”
In terms of background, Busk has been with Coca-Cola since 2010, when he joined as director of mobile technologies and strategy.
Proof that mobile is the dominant platform of the future – at least in Coke’s eyes – he previously worked on a number of start-ups.
Rather than marketing, his background is more in tech. Make of that what you will, but it could be seen as a sign that new delivery systems are the future of innovation. Pictures and words will never change.
Daniel Gaujac, Rolex
This is a tricky one.
In picking Gaujac, we have chosen someone who stayed only two years at the brand in question.
Furthermore, he left Rolex more than six years ago and currently resides agency-side as a senior partner at DigitasLBI.
Our motive is buried in Rolex’s position as a producer of excellent content marketing. For evidence, just take a look at the firm’s campaign with Titanic director James Cameron.
All of this stems from Gaujac.
He joined as CMO at a time when Rolex was in a spot of bother. A double-digit sales decrease had taken hold after the previous marketing director left.
Changes included merging departments such as retail, sponsorship and promotions. Focusing on local customers at a retail level while creating the Live for Greatness campaign.
The latter features personalities in various areas – sports people, musicians and the like – who are at the top of their game.
It allows for both brand ads and content. The latter in the form of interviews with the talent about their work and philosophy. Rolex watches barely play a part.
Now, this seems perfectly normal. Back then, it was less so.
Yet Gaujac’s strategy saw a huge growth in sales and turned the premium watch brand around.
Then, job done, he left.
Looking at Gaujac’s career, it is filled with work on premium brands. These include Apple, Karl Lagerfeld, Louis Vuitton and Dom Perignon, and he has also been involved on both agency and client sides.
At Digitas, unsurprisingly, his role is as the agency’s go-to person for high-end campaigns.
Beth Comstock, General Electric
GE has led the way among bluechip companies.
Mention here could just as easily have gone to current CMO Linda Boff, who worked closely with Comstock to develop GE’s content strategy.
Comstock was CMO at GE before being promoted to vice chair in 2015. She joined the company in 2008.
Regular readers probably know about GE’s push for content: standouts for us have included Drone Week (live-streaming drones flying around GE-owned facilities) or bringing back General Electric Theatre – a drama-led podcast based on a 1950s radio series of the same name.
Prior to GE, Comstock held roles at NBC, CBS and Turner Broadcasting.
Paul Crandell, GoPro
Content24’s (link) pages are littered with articles about GoPro – a brand that has managed to carve out a position for itself as the go-to handheld camera.
It has largely done this through content marketing.
GoPro has its own TV channel, a YouTube channel with millions of subscribers (3.2 million, to be exact) and an army of content producers.
Around 6,000 videos are uploaded to YouTube with a GoPro tag. What’s more, 388 videos from athletes sponsored by GoPro have garnered over 50 million views each on YouTube.
It has created something of a movement.
The man behind this is GoPro VP Global Partnerships, Paul Crandell.
It requires a whole article to cover the GoPro strategy but it aims to become a media company in its own right, buying the rights to user videos it likes and posting them on its own channel.
Crandell has also built up the sponsored athlete roster from 65 to 131. This includes such names as Olympic snowboarder Shaun White and professional skateboarder Ryan Sheckler. He also made a deal with the NHL to supply footage from cameras mounted on players’ helmets and face masks to let fans see what it is like to score a goal.
Crandell has been with GoPro since 2011.
Yet his resumé includes one standout position. He spent nine years with Red Bull as director of sports marketing.
Red Bull’s strategy appears closely entwined with that of GoPro. Indeed the two have a deal to work together on certain features.
Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull
It is difficult trying to attribute credit for Red Bull’s strategy to one person.
The success of the company – its content marketing – is a well-known story. However, unlike Rolex there was no sudden revelation or Damascene moment of conversion.
Red Bull, at least as it has been marketed in the West, has always used content marketing. For all the accolades heaped on Coca-Cola for taking the leap, it was following the Red Bull blueprint.
Ironically, it was the likes of Coca-Cola that inspired Mateschitz’s content marketing strategy.
Rather than spend its budget on traditional media for soft drinks brands – such as TV or outdoor advertising – Red Bull went underground. It sought to put its brand and cans in the eyes and hands of its most likely drinkers – 18 to 34-year-old-males – by creating content.
Austrian businessman Mateschitz discovered the natural Asian “tonics” available in a small pharmacy.
Since then its content has included the Danny MacAskill Way Back Home video (40 million views on YouTube) and the Felix Baumgartner skydive from the edge of space.
In short, each piece of Red Bull content includes the following elements:
- Relatively subtle branding
- An everyman theme
- Engagement with the audience
- High production quality without an overproduced look
Natalie Massenet, Net a Porter
If content marketing is journalism not marketing, then Net-a-Porter founder Nathalie Messenet is its proof.
A former journalist, Massenet founded the site in 2000 with the aim of selling designer clothing within a magazine format. The idea came while she was sourcing products for a shoot.
The website (which merged with Italian rival Yoox in October, creating a €2.75bn luxury online retailer) offers suggestions for how to wear each item – with other clothes and accessories for sale on Net-a-Porter, of course.
It sends a “this week’s most wanted” email to customers, illustrated with highly-desirable items to click through to and buy. “How to wear” and “our picks” articles are fashion-magazine staples.
What was once an innovative approach is now the norm. High-street brands such as L.K. Bennett and Boden have taken up the Net-a-Porter approach and use their web content to hook shoppers.
In line with other marketers within this list, Messenet has moved onto new things following Net-a-Porter’s sale.
This February, she joined online fashion retailer Farfetch as non-executive chairman.
Any content marketing strategist will have been influenced by some of the people here. All of them have something in common; they created something new.
It is up to the next generation to do the same.