He had me at Apple. It was circa 2011 and I was interviewing the former CIO at Commonwealth Bank, Michael Harte.
Known as the “celebrity CIO” at Australia’s largest bank, Harte was clever, charming, and slightly mysterious. All the qualities that appeal to journalists on the hunt for a cracking story.
Back then we were discussing CBA’s billion-dollar technology transformation and Harte’s role.
In simple terms, he led a team that successfully modernised the bank’s back end infrastructure. During this time, capital expenditure on technology fell while innovation spending increased. It’s a well documented case study so I won’t repeat all the details.
But one small part of the story caught my imagination. A decision was taken to standardise, where possible, on the Apple platform. Specifically, a decision was taken to deploy MacBook Airs for all its employees as part of an innovative activity-based working program.
Consider for a moment that many banks still run Microsoft’s ancient Windows XP operating system, and you get a sense this was a truly radical departure from the status quo. CBA was going out on a technological limb.
The question for me was, how? How did Harte arrive at this decision? How did he convince other senior executives that switching to Apple was a good idea? What did Apple do to get him over the line? And how will it convince employees, many of whom love Microsoft products, to change their primary computing device?
The short story was he had the power to make a decision. He felt it was the right way forward, all the right security and budget boxes were ticked, so on they went.
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It struck me because executive decision making in large corporates has always been part logic and part mystery. Of course, if you’re working away in the trenches and aren’t an executive decision maker, it can feel all mystery.
Think about all the times you’ve sat there in a meeting wondering how your esteemed bosses arrived at a conclusion that on the surface sounds crazy. All sorts of emotions come flooding back.
Content marketing decisions
When you step away from all the hype, the harsh reality facing CMOs and marketing executives is that all the usual rules apply.
Executive decision making processes are largely the same regardless of whether you’re transforming banking infrastructure, implementing a global HR program, or implementing a marketing strategy.
At Filtered Media, it’s a story I’ve seen unfold many times as we have the privilege of working with marketers of all stripes.
Regardless of whether content marketing is a new thing or an old thing being reinvented, it still needs executive approval. In fact, as time goes on, more marketers are realising inbound and outbound content marketing needs to occupy a greater share of their attention and budgets.
No names or pack-drill, but I’ve worked with clients who invited us to prepare strategies, pitches and costings for all sorts of great ideas. The only trouble was when they took their grand ideas to the boardroom it all went pear-shaped. The CEO, COO, or VP of Everything said no – or even worse, watered it down to within an inch of oblivion. Happy days.
Three rules for getting it right
So how do you get it right? I recently presented a webinar for the Australian Marketing Institute, titled Selling Content Marketing: How to build a business case for the c-suite.
In that presentation I outlined three unsuspecting rules for making a successful content marketing pitch. And fear not, this isn’t the typical content marketing hype.
Rule #1 – Master managing up
There’s an old saying that you join a company and leave your boss. So how well do you get on with your boss? Managing up is an age-old technique. As HBR notes, this isn’t all about sucking up. The key focus on managing up is being a genuine source of help and creating value.
A healthy relationship or friendship is a great place to start, but your focus is actually helping them achieve their KPIs.
Within that context, here are critical questions for self-reflection:
- How do new things get done in my organisation?
- What worked in the past, and what failed? Why?
- Who do I need to influence?
- If I’m pitching the CMO, what will also impress the CEO?
I once saw someone nail this process by stopping to consider what the CMO was actually trying to achieve. This marketer had tried pitching events, newsletters, whitepapers, PR and case studies and hit roadblocks everywhere.
The final solution – a digital magazine – got over the line because it took into account the CMO’s detailed set of requirements, most notably measuring subscribers and calls to action.
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Your situation will be different, but the dynamics associated with managing up need careful consideration.
Rule #2 – Master the simple pitch
One of the great temptations in content marketing is getting too carried away. Sure, lots of detail is necessary when your big idea gets up and running. But first things first.
If there’s one thing executive decision-makers love, it’s simplicity.
Yes, it’s common knowledge that any content marketing pitch needs clarity, sparkle and a compelling idea that makes people go “yes!”
But there’s something else – your pitch needs one simple, compelling idea that’s different in the marketplace. Think about a few of the world’s most successful TV shows.
- Seinfeld: a show about nothing
- Top Gear: funny car reviews
- The Simpsons: middle class satire
In each case, the producers have a very simple and clear vision. Clarity and focus makes subsequent decision making much easier.
Here’s my personal take on a few famous example, the first two of which are Filtered Media clients:
- Coca Cola Journey: sharing happiness
- Adobe CMO.com: insights for marketers
- John Deere’s The Furrow: helping farmers
So, how well have you distilled your content marketing pitch? Is it obviously different to other examples in the market?
Rule #3 – Go large, become a media company
One of my favourite memes shows a picture of a boy dressed up as batman, with the caption: The most important thing in life is to be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Always be Batman.
Becoming a media company is the new Batman. We want to be Batman if it’s possible, but we’re not sure if we’ve got what it takes.
The most visible example are the multinationals who’ve donned the Batman mask, taking the bold step of turning their corporate home page into a media site.
Some good examples:
- Accenture – note the use of headlines, graphics, and magazine style “features.” Goodbye boring corporate website.
- Virgin – Sir Richard Branson’s blog takes prime position, followed by a string of interesting stories about entrepreneurs, innovation and positive living. Oh, and if you want to do business with Virgin there’s a few handy tabs up the top right. There’s confidence.
- Kraft – no corporate guff here. More recipes than you can poke a blender at, and its customer-centric approach is enormously successful – the site is bigger than many mainstream consumer magazines. Check out this review over at CMWorld.
So it’s worth asking, are you thinking big enough? There’s enough me-too content marketing out there, so the opportunity is to break the mould. Elevate your content marketing pitch beyond the meat and potatoes marketing and grab their attention. Fortune always favours Batman.