Joy Parks

Archive for the ‘What works’ Category

The (Beauty) Content Queens

In Beauty, business development, content, content strategy, Cosmetic queens, great writing, Helena Rubinstein, retail, What works on February 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm

The first business book I read—without knowing it was a business book—was Madame: Intimate Biography of Helena Rubinstein by Patrick O’Higgins (1971). It appeared in my small town public library when I was about 11 or 12. Better than any romance novel, I loved this rags to riches story of how Chaja (later Helena) Rubinstein, a Polish medical student and the eldest of eight children, was shipped off to the loneliness and drying winds of her relatives’ homestead in Australia, and built an empire on a “scientific” cream made of sheep’s grease scented with lavender and water lily. Not just a business empire—between opening spas and launching products and getting very rich, Helena hob-knobbed with the art and literary set of Paris between the wars and lived the kind of life odd but ambitious and vengeful young girls like I could only dream of.

Since that time, there’s been a special place in my heart for the queens of the beauty biz, no matter how many warts are revealed in their biographies. I’ve read Jane Trahey on women and power: Who’s got it? How to get it? many times—Jane was an advertising legend who made it big back in the day when most women didn’t—but I most loved her descriptions of dealing with her client, the bitchy-beyond-compare Elizabeth Arden, particularly her account of the day Arden opened a window and dumped an entire season of cosmetic ads down on 5th Avenue.

Then there are the more contemporary beauty queen stories that recognize that they are also business content, like Lessons of a Lipstick Queen: Finding and Developing the Great Idea That Can Change Your Life. Poppy King, also hailing from Australia (it must be the weather) made it her life’s mission to create the perfect lipstick, which adoring fans, including me, will agree she accomplished with her Lipstick Queen line (Try the Medieval Red, it’s as perfect as lipstick gets.) The book outlines her vision, her girlish zest for playing with colors and instructs on how to get perfect looking lips, but it deals with the challenges of financing, product testing, manufacturing and distribution in one of the world’s ugliest and toughest businesses.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who can’t get enough of the beauty queens. Just last week, Ruth Brandon’s <em>Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’Oreal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good was released and widely reviewed in lofty venues like the <em>New York Times</em>. I could hear the serious literary types bemoaning all those column inches being wasted on stories of grown women who got away with adolescent temper tantrums simply because they made a good buck hawking lip liner and eye shadow.

So what do the beauty queens have to do with branded content? Plenty! In addition to the fact that most of these women were bona fide marketing geniuses, the entire beauty industry is pretty much all about content: the valuable how-tos, the lavish descriptions of product ingredients and their poetic origins, the hopeful mythology surrounding product lines that leads us to lay down large amounts of money in the belief that this dab of cream or that bit of color will make us younger, smoother, happier and more desirable. That is all the work of content—and darn good, incredibly effective content at that. Even though I understand the mechanics, even though I know I’m being played, I can still be seduced by the bad girl graphics and truly brilliant product names of Benefit, the brainy girl, civil engineer-turned-cosmetic maker story of Hana Zalzal’s Cargo brand and the self-righteous green chic of Aveda’s ingredient lists.

But also at work here is a second level of story, the very personal tales of the beauty queens behind the brands. The women who gave birth to the beauty industry were a rare breed and what has practically immortalized them is not so much their products or their brand or their logo (although every time I see a red door, I do think “Elizabeth Arden”) – it was the careful telling of their life stories, their business achievements, their marriages, their riches and their place on the social registry, stories that allow their female customers to bask in the attendant glow and feel they too, can get exactly what they want in life, if only they followed the instructions on the back that beautiful sea foam green and gold foil package. The beauty queens understood brand and the value of branded content; they enlisted the power of storytelling long, long before it became a common part of the marketing vernacular. Since an appetite for their stories remains to this day, clearly there’s still more to be learned from them. Apparently it’s true that a thing of beauty is a joy forever.


What do you know, Joe?

In content, content communities, content strategy, great writing, What works on January 7, 2011 at 12:12 pm

If the Joe in question is Joe Pulizzi , and the topic is content marketing, then the answer is PLENTY!!! The founder and driving force behind Junta 42 , the knowledge/service provider referral portal that has encouraged and enabled countless companies to add the content marketing to their communications mix, Joe (who seems like a really, genuinely nice guy from the few emails I’ve exchanged with him) is taking content marketing to another level with the establishment of The Content Marketing Institute. Bursting with case studies, research, stats and the chance to sign up for a FREE (!) subscription to the forthcoming CCO: Chief Content Officer quarterly magazine, the CMI not only tells would-be content marketers what they should be doing; by being such a valuable source of content about content marketing, CMI shows them how it’s done…and done right. The Content Marketing Institute is both example and inspiration to marketers and communicators who agree that all companies must become media companies—and that the future of marketing is content marketing. If you’re not already one of the true believers in content marketing, download CMI’s ebook, Social Media and Content Marketing Predictions for 2011.

The “A” List

In content, content communities, content strategy, Uncategorized, What works on January 4, 2011 at 10:33 am

Being a long-term believer in the power of list-making (if they ever stop making index cards, I’ll be lost!) and a recent fan of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), their current post on the value of checklists not only makes content developers aware of the need to ensure quality, but also offers tools to make it happen. Take a look–and while you’re there, check out their list (in the list of lists!) on how to hire a content marketing writer, it contains some real gems of advice if you’re looking to work in the industry.

Getting engaged

In content, great writing, retail, What works on December 14, 2010 at 10:06 am

Wonderful example of engaging content in this morning’s Conversation Agent.

Evil Corporate Communications

In content, great writing, retail, What works on May 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm

In his article for Inc. magazine, “Why Is Business Writing So Awful,” Jason Fried has stirred the hearts of hardworking, passionate and professional copywriters, content providers, corporate scribes, et al, everywhere. He’s figured out why most business writing is terrible. For anyone who has ever tried to write clearly, effectively and creatively for a corporation, the source of the problem hardly comes as a surprise.

“Unfortunately, years of language dilution by lawyers, marketers, executives, and HR departments have turned the powerful, descriptive sentence into an empty vessel optimized for buzzwords, jargon, and vapid expressions. Words are treated as filler — “stuff” that takes up space on a page. Words expand to occupy blank space in a business much as spray foam insulation fills up cracks in your house. Harsh? Maybe. True? Read around a bit, and I think you’ll agree.”

You can almost hear the sound of a thousand writers sighing. Validation is a wonderful thing.

Fortunately, he also notes there are some companies that are communicating brilliantly and originally, but you’ll have to read the article to find out which ones.

One of my personal favorites? Trader Joe’s — informative, witty retail writing that treats customers like smart grown-ups. No wonder the small gourmet food chain has a cult-like following.

Branded Content: The New Old Thing

In content, What works on May 1, 2010 at 9:06 am

In 1921, the Washburn Crosby Company, which would later become part of General Mills, offered women a chance to win a flour bag-shaped pincushion for correctly completing a word puzzle available in their bags of flour. Along with the contest responses came a tidal wave of questions about food, cooking and entertaining. The time was right—the American middle class no longer had servants to depend on and the lady of the house needed to strap on an apron and get busy. From these questions, the marketing persona of Betty Crocker was born. Created by home economist and business woman Marjorie Child Husted, with a surname in honor of a recently retired Washburn Crosby director and a first name chosen for its happy, all-American sound, Betty Crocker became the American homemaker’s new best friend, dispensing advice through newspaper columns, a long running radio show and eventually television. The persona was brought to life in 1949, by Adelaide Hawley Cummings, an actress who hosted the General Foods branded entertainment ventures and did walk-on commercials on the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. At one point, she was believed to be the most recognizable woman in America, bested only by Eleanor Roosevelt. The campaign branched out into cookbooks and other products, many of which are still available today. The visual of Betty Crocker changed eight times between 1936 and 1986, reflecting changes in how American women viewed themselves and the most recent version continues to peer at us from ads, product packaging and an aesthetically pleasing and information-packed

The creation of Betty Crocker also inspired other early companies to recognize the value of what we now call branded content; what they viewed as a means of reaching and connecting with customers, and providing information of value to develop loyalty. In the 1920s, women’s editorial departments sprung up in early ad agencies to give credible voices to personas like Libby’s Mary Hale Martin and Odorono’s Ruth Miller. The Lux Soap Company had two spokes-characters; Marjorie Mills for soap flakes and the chatty Dorothy Dix for toilet soap. The advice, humor and information provided by these characters and others laid a strong foundation for the value of branded content that we are only now rediscovering.

General Foods build an empire on branded content nearly 90 years ago. Just imagine what you can do with it now.

What do you think your audience will swallow?

In content communities, What works on March 17, 2010 at 12:15 pm

After years of working in the advertising industry and sitting through countless pitches— when I see a particularly annoying or ineffective television commercial, I have to wonder what went on in the presentation meeting. Sometimes it seems as if traditional advertising is digging its own grave.

I would have paid good money to be at the pitch for a commercial for a mainstream brand of yogurt that’s currently running. I would have paid even more to know what was going on in the mind of the marketing executive who decided to green light it. Basically, it’s a woman in a long flowing gown, flanked by young men in tuxes (and possibly tails), singing and dancing about yogurt to a hokey broadway-esque tune.

Considering that the number one target market for yogurt is power moms who buy it by the case load because a) calcium and vitamin D are important for growing bones and apparently it’s easier to get a child to eat a cup of pink fruit-flavoured goo than drink a glass of milk and b) keeping a power mom’s schedule is rough on one’s digestive system. I’m trying to figure out how a power mom, a woman who lives in sportswear and quite literally doesn’t have time to go to the bathroom, can relate to fancy gowns, boy toys and dancing to show tunes. Seriously, how does this commercial in any way relate to yogurt or, for that matter, to contemporary marketing approaches?

Then there’s the Stonyfield approach—based totally on useful (and quite beautiful) branded content. Granted Stonyfield is a small boutique brand, but it’s got the marketing savvy to be a lot bigger. First of all, CEO Gary Hirshberg wrote Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World, an insider guide to running a profitable, environmentally responsible business. That’s big time credibility. Plus the Stonyfield website is full-on branded content. There’s a simply gorgeous video featuring beauty shots of the yogurt’s natural ingredients and the farms where the milk is produced, articles on organic living, a downloadable “go green” handbook, plus more conventional content like CRS goals, coupons and recipes. Not only is it a visual feast, but at a time when the local food movement is telling power mom she needs to be on a first-name basis with the guy who grew the tomatoes in her lunch salad, this level of branded information hits on all cylinders.

Let’s see—a traditional 30-second spot featuring an irrelevant dancing routine that has nothing to do with the product, ignores the needs of its audience and offers little but a corny sales pitch…or beautifully produced branded content that understands its audience and offers both information and a sense of community. The traditional approach is about the product, the company, the sale. The branded content approach is about understanding customers, responding to their needs and building relationships.

So which one do you think would be easier to swallow?

Why Martha Rules

In What works on February 17, 2010 at 9:10 pm

I have to admit I am a shameless fan of Martha Stewart. But while I like smart-looking storage as much as anyone and if you need to kill an afternoon and have something beautiful and delicious to show for it, I recommend the carrot cake with cream cheese icing, the bulk of my admiration is due to the perfection of her branded content—it’s genius. And then there is the fact that when the boys in charge of the glass ceiling tried to break her, she bent beautifully and came back even stronger. It’s hard not to love that.

A few years ago, I found her guide to business-building, The Martha Rules on Amazon’s bargain book page (unfortunately paired with Christopher Byron’s mean-spirited Martha, Inc). It’s simple but terribly impressive. In fact, I think if it had been called Building a Business Through Strategically Integrated Branded Content, the book would have received a lot more notice (and plenty more respect).

The thing is, Martha gets it. She gets it so well that she’s managed to create a content empire and multiple delivery systems that draw revenue—and lots of it—while basically creating desire for her products. Think about it. If you need to buy a pan to make those cute cupcakes you watched Martha make on her television show, her brand of baking equipment is the first that comes to mind. When you read about a beautifully decorated bedroom in one of her publications or online, which brand of paint or sheets stick in your mind? Advertisers pay to have their products associated with the level of quality she represents. Consumers pay for her information—which in turns sells them on her products. Any marketing that you can get someone else to foot the bill for can’t help but offer an excellent return on investment.

I was leafing through Martha Stewart Living in the grocery checkout line the other day and realized that if you ripped out all the non-Martha ads, you’d have the perfect branded content print vehicle for housewares, decorating items and gardening products. Here was loyalty-inspiring credible information of value created to lead me to buy her products, register at her website and watch her television show. A thick package of perfectly integrated branded content designed to sell me on everything and anything Martha makes—and there I was, quite willing to pay the cover price to be sold.

That’s brilliant marketing.