Message Pillars, Content Strategy and Distribution


Rethink Your Content Marketing Strategy


Lesson Info

Message Pillars, Content Strategy and Distribution

So I shared with you about our customer research process at MyFitnessPal and the customer journey mapping process at MyFitnessPal. We went to six cities, we talked to people. We talked to them in their homes. We went to the grocery store with them. And we asked them really general questions first, really broad questions about what their number one obstacle to living a healthy life was. And then we narrowed down as we needed to. Ultimately, we distilled some of the patterns that we heard them come back with into a customer journey map, where we documented and understood their struggles, their successes, the individual stages, the universal stages of the journey from living an unhealthy life to living a more healthy life, where we inventoried their feelings and emotions and things that got them stuck, the places they got unstuck, the questions they asked, and even their natural language phrases. As you might remember, there were some surprising findings in that process. We realized, we h...

eard them say that the number one obstacle to living a healthy life was cost, was the cost of healthy food. And at first we didn't believe it, until we drove through the drive-thru with them and saw them buying masses of food for very, very cheap prices, (laughs) on the dollar menus at various fast food restaurants. We heard them saying that cooking was hard for them, and we knew cooking would help them be successful, 'cause we had seen that already in our usage data. We heard them saying, the food I cooked doesn't taste good if it's healthy; it's hard, cooking is hard; and we heard them talking about calories being a little confounding for them. They sort of were getting the nutritional literacy of this food has this many calories in it, but when they were trying to stay within calorie counts, it was really hard for them to put together a meal or a day, even, within the calorie limits that they were trying to stay in. So we came out of that journey mapping and customer research process not just with a journey map like the one that I've showed you but also presenting a, we just had a bunch of data (laughs) and made a bunch of frameworks. We validated a lot of them with usage data and with surveys. We made sure that everything that we were asserting about our customers was a thing we could back up or made sense to us based on what we had seen. We were able to use that data in a lot of different ways. So that's the other sort of pro tip here, is if you're having a hard time arguing for resources to do big research projects, figure out how you can use the research in multiple ways. So in addition to just doing our own internal content and marketing strategy and fueling the product roadmap, we actually also just built a media kit because we were in advertising. We sold advertising at our organization, too. And we hadn't had that level of a media kit. So we used the data, and the marketing team actually produced this media kit for ad sales that started to kind of sketch out the picture about who the MyFitnessPal customer was in a way that advertisers would also be interested in. I'm showing you these in part because they are from the media kit, so they were public data. The rest of the journeys and stuff I've had to take the data out of. For example, one of the findings we found here was actually a lot of MyFitnessPal people were exercising, but the exercises that they were doing tended to be pretty beginning. You know what I mean? People far and away were walking as their primary form of exercise, right? So that's useful information. And we basically were able to turn these insights into a whole, full-blown content and engagement marketing strategy. So our theory, always, at that company, in every team, was that if our users are successful, then we're successful. We really thought much less about selling them stuff and about selling ads against them than we thought about, how do we drive customer success? If we can make them be successful, they will keep using it. If they use it, we are good. If we can't figure out the business that works behind that, something's wrong. If people use it, we're good. And that was true. So we sort of systematically took these insights about what triggered their progress and where they got stuck, and then programmed content to insert those triggers and remove resistance. So that's what I'm talking about. Success criteria, which we're gonna go over next. We did the user research, we created the customer journey map, and then we turned that into criteria for like, okay, if we do this, if we solve for this specific customer insight problem, that content will engage, right? So we're gonna take a feeling or behavior, a customer problem, we're gonna pick a couple, and a piece of content that solves for that will engage. So example, cooking is viewed as time consuming, expensive, and hard. So an editorial franchise of easy, affordable recipes with clear calorie counts will engage. Oh, and approachable language, sorry. (laughs) So we definitely had people being like, ugh, healthy food is so gross. That was a common thing. Or healthy, that's for fancy people, i.e. people who are not like me, 'cause I'm not fancy. That is me speaking in the voice of a customer, not me speaking in the voice of me, 'cause I'm kinda fancy. (laughs) So an editorial franchise with stories and photos of real people who feel like they could be me, succeeding and showing that healthy is actually kinda tasty and fun will actually engage. That was the hypothesis we came out of. So I'm kind of trying to show you the intermediate step, right? Take the step of making the success criteria before you just start doing content ideas. You can do this with super big picture, like a 10 million dollar ad campaign that does these things, that solves these issues will engage. Or you can do it with really super granular, like a subject line that solves for this issue will engage. So if our success criteria was, and one of them was, that an editorial franchise with stories and photos of real people like me succeeding and showing, modeling that healthy, I'm big on modeling, by the way, in transformational work. People wanna see, they don't wanna hear you tell them what to do. They already know, they've heard it. If you can show, not tell it, great. If you can show with customer success stories, great. This should engage. So we first did a single blog post. (laughs) Or maybe we did like three or five single customer success story blog posts that kinda did what this was. She looks like a real person. You know what I mean? She looks like a person you could know. And she had a real health problem, like a lot of our people had had, some kinda health problem, diagnosis, whatever. And she got it together, and she lost 95 pounds. And yeah, she used MyFitnessPal. But she did a bunch of other stuff than just using MyFitnessPal to lose 95 pounds, right? So we told stories like that. And people loved them. So again, we created a whole series of franchises specifically around this. We knew people wanted food that made them feel comfortable, 'cause they didn't feel full when they ate low calorie count foods. People, just basic exercises. We wouldn't be teaching, we literally were like, I've joked in here between the breaks, let's do burpees. We would not have been doing burpees on this blog at this point in time, 'cause people were really beginners. Burpees were intimidating. We did a 28-day squat challenge. We, every slow cooker recipe that we ever did in life, (laughs) people love slow cooker recipes, guys. I think people who don't even have slow cookers (audience laughs) read slow cooker recipes. So we just would pay attention to what people clicked on and do more of that. (laughs) And we would distribute it in a way that we knew would engage them. And so we created different editorial franchises. Like once a week, we would send out, at first once a week, we would send out this Hello Healthy. And it had different topics. At some point, the recipes just kinda went into this whole new stratosphere in terms of customer engagement. So every day we would send a recipe as the Day Roundup. And people would click on it. Our unsubscribe rates were like 0.01. And not only would people click on it, people would click on it who hadn't been in the app in a long time. And that is like a massive win for an app marketer. So we took this blog from zero, like it didn't exist, to, let's just see, oh, and we also would do these, like I said, when we saw something really get a lot of play and a lot of engagement, we would do more of it or do a special content program around it. So people were really struggling with these low calorie counts. I've only got 200 calories left. What am I supposed to do with that? So we would give them just ideas, and we ended up co-publishing that with Cooking Light. So a lot of the times, if we did a special content program, the business objective would be around distributing it beyond our own branded channels. So when you do a report or a book or a series or a thing like that, it's easier to get attention from the syndication partners you want, who are often the outlets where your customers are already, right? Especially if you're building something from scratch, it can be really, I've done this, I've even done this at TCI. Like when I first started, when I left MyFitnessPal and started this company and wrote this book, I created a couple of reports about the transformational consumer and got them placed on Harvard Business Review and big outlets, because people want really meaty, in-depth content that's valuable to their readers. And if you can do that, they don't actually, I mean, you can't be totally a shady organization. But they don't care if you're the biggest thing or the smallest thing. In fact, sometimes the smallest thing is the coolest thing for an older media outlet to be associated with, right? So coming up with ideas for content that reflects and is consistent with your messaging and what you do, that's a deep dive and you can offer to other outlets, is an incredible way to get exposure on outlets you really couldn't afford to pay for advertising on. So we did this one on, this was like a calorie, I think both of these were digital. This was a cookbook. This was a report we did. I mentioned it a couple of classes ago. But we had data that, we had two things. We had social features in the app where people could add friends. And people who added friends lost a lot more weight, a lot, even if the friends were strangers. You didn't have to know them, just having friends on the app. And in fact, just as a side note, we often found that people who didn't have necessarily supportive families or people in their personal circles would do really well making friends with total strangers across the world on this app where all they did was just encourage each other. It was kind of lovely, in fact. So people would definitely lose more weight on the app when they had friends. And we also just were finding, and again, we wanted people to be successful. So we wanted them to add more friends so they could all just be successful. So I did a little survey of just some of our users and came up with a bunch of interesting data points about how people loved to work out with each other and loved to take on these things jointly. And so we turned it into almost like an infographic-style kind of book and pitched and placed that along with the PR story about that data. So you kinda have to know, for us it was always important to deliver the message that we did have a very vast database of customer data, not for customer data purposes, like for us to use in any kind of way except to distill the insights about what works from a large group of people and share those back with people so they could be more successful, right? So we created this book, and it was helpful at both driving the messaging that, hey, you should really use the social features on the app because they work, and you're more successful if you do. But also it was just content that was really engaging, and because it was deep dive and it wasn't about us, really, it was almost not about us at all, we got it placed on a bunch of great media outlets. And sometimes I still find it there. So this is kind of what our numbers looked like early on. This is in the first, you know, let's see, this is really early on. We just had a lot of engagement. We literally went from email traffic, so email was basically our distribution media that we were looking at in this. And you can see it went from like 300,000 people in one month to like 27 million people, views, in less than a year. We had 50 million, this is about, yeah, this is 10 months in. We had 50 million monthly page views on the blog. Monthly blog uniques was a big metric that I was paying attention to, at 10 million. And this was actually my biggest, proudest number. So weekly active users and monthly active users are engagement numbers on the app. So we were bringing people back into the app. These numbers are strictly from content. They do not account for the fact that our product team was also crushing it, increasing engagement with product features at the same time. So we were just driving a dramatic increase in people's repeat visits to and usage of and time onsite and time in app with content. Let's see, so I had a whole moment in time when I was very fixated on, how can I reactivate users? How can I bring people back that haven't been to us in a long time? And we got to a place where we were bringing back about 500,000 new users every week. And in some ways, I mean, this is not real, authoritative, quantitative data. But I will tell you, if you've ever run a newsletter, it's very rare that people tweet you love notes about your emails that you're sending them. That's not really a thing that happens that much. But them being like, whoever you are who does this newsletter, you're awesome. Every article on your blog is relevant and interesting. This is very well done. And I love your weekly newsletters, very interesting. Please keep them coming. That, I cared about. And we really began to see this thing. You've heard this phrase probably before, the virtuous cycle. But we started to see this as like, okay, we create content and apps. This is not just the apps. This is also the content, right, which was a shift for us, big time. And both of these things, not just one, both of these things drive user engagement. And both of those things make our users be more and more successful. And that fuels back into the content that we do. And it just was a cycle. The more successful our users were, the more data points we could pull out about what was making people successful, the more fitness reports we could do. So it just became this huge cycle. And now it's your turn. (laughs) It's your turn to put all of these things into play that we've been talking about today. And I'll tell you, the world is ready for business to be done like this. And it wasn't always, I don't think. There definitely was a day and age in which it was the little guys out here fighting to do good business and lift people up and the big, bad, mean companies. No, now some of the big companies are just as motivated to do business in these transformational ways as the small ones. And a lot of the small ones are gonna get big by surveying consumers in this way. So I wanted to leave you with a couple of words of advice. The first comes from one of my heroes, the filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who talks and writes a lot about permission and about how many of us are stuck in our creative, or stuck creatively by waiting to ask for permission or waiting for someone to give us permission to do something that's different than we've done before or different than anything we've seen before. And so really you should google her name and permission, because some of the things she says will blow your mind. But there is one long quote where she's like, hey, my whole world changed. She was in PR. She was a publicist. And she now makes some of the biggest films in Hollywood because she decided to stop waiting for permission to do what she had in mind to do. So don't wait for permission. But do create some space and carve some space out and devote some resources to following through on this stuff. It is not going to happen overnight. It will not happen, unless you're solopreneur, that's the one case in which you do have total control over your business. But even then, it won't likely happen with you on your own, as we talked about before. You gotta allocate space and time and calendar hours in which to do the customer research, put things on, put it on the calendar. Calendar an hour in the next week to rethink what you sell in the way that we've talked about, to do your story spine exercise and retell that story. If you can do one thing, right now, calendar one hour in the next week to rethink what you sell and do your story spine exercise and just keep, don't stop that hour without calendaring the next time for doing the next step, right? And then just do it. Start doing stuff. (laughs) Start doing stuff. I'm sure, and remember the steps, right? Remember the first step is to rethink what you sell. The second step is to, and in there you can rethink your competition. Rethink your customer, who they are, what problem you're actually existing to solve. Become an expert on their journey, you know? Then you rethink your content marketing. And especially if you're in a larger organization, you will need to take some time out in this process to do some rethinking around team and culture at every role, every level. And that's some of the things that I deal with in the excerpt chapter that's in the bonus resources. But the biggest piece of advice I can give you is just to start, 'cause just by starting, just the fact that you step up and are like, hey, I'm wanting to do this project, 'cause I do not feel like we have the insight and intelligence about our customers we need to be as effective as we could be, just that, you have no idea what kinds of resources may flow to you because you make that step and say that thing, even if you're relatively junior in a relatively large organization. If nothing else, you may get introduced to the team that's responsible for that and have a whole new world open up for you. I've seen it happen over and over again. I'm happy to help. The book is also happy to help. The book is me helping, in proxy form. (laughing) And that's actually all for me for now. These are all the ways that we can work and play (laughs) together. Work is play, actually, at this stage of the game. So at Transformational Consumer Insights, it's strategy consulting, customer journey mapping. We're also running some mentorship groups for marketers now. So you would email me to get more information on that. I'll put my email up in just a second. At SoulTour, you can get the Transformation Tuesday newsletter or join me on a 30-day writing challenge for conscious leaders and creators. It is one way in which people take on a bigger project, like the one we've talked about. So it's also free. You're welcome to register at And here are all the places you can reach me, including LinkedIn, which I do check all the time, and email,

Class Description

Branded content is everywhere, with more companies than ever trying to promote themselves with useful content that their customers want and need. Unfortunately, consumer engagement with that content is plummeting. It’s enough to make it hard for a marketer to get up in the morning.

But don’t despair! There are ways to fight this epidemic of disengagement and ensure your branded content becomes a regular stop along your customers’ daily journey.

This course will help you master your customers’ real-world aspirations by using marketing levers to trigger their progress and delivering content that can change their lives. Not only will you succeed in engaging your customers, you’ll rediscover your energy and joy for your work again.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Create and deliver content and media that triggers people’s dreams and aspirations and reaches them at critical moments along their journey.
  • Develop a clear roadmap for engagement marketing that will spark a two-way love affair between your company and your customers.
  • Shift your marketing priorities from growth to engagement.
  • Position your brand and product as an aide, guide, mentor and tool.
  • Discover your message pillars and content strategy basics.
  • Figure out which content channels you should be meeting your customers on.