RENEGADE THINKING from the Founder/CEO of Renegade AND the author of "The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing."

Drilling into Content Marketing with Hu-Friedy CMO Patrick Bernardi


PBHeadShot (1)Hu-Friedy is a mouthful of a brand name which may or may not have been on the mind of Hugo Friedman when he founded his dental instrument company back in 1908. More than a century later, Hu-Friedy is a global leader in its category and yet, quite remarkably still completes 80% of the manufacturing process by hand.  According to their website, “they meticulously mold, treat, and sharpen instruments to perfection, which is why we call them artisans.”  And while their dedication to craftsmanship may be old school, their marketing is anything but.

Led by CMO Patrick Bernardi, Hu-Friedy has been on the cutting edge for some time now especially in the area of content marketing.  That’s why I was so pleased Patrick could join one of my panels at Incite’s Content Marketing Summit AND that The CMO Club recognized him with their Content Engagement Award.  Our interview below is definitely something you can sink your teeth into, helping to flesh out these bite-sized nuggets of content marketing wisdom:

  • Take a campaign approach;
  • Empathize with your target;
  • Measure more than leads & sales generated;
  • Get your employees involved;
  • Keep it simple, smiley!

Drew: What was your overall content strategy in 2015? What role does it play in your marketing mix?  

Hu-Friedy casts a wide net in terms of the functional areas of dentistry we play in, so to support our broad portfolio, we have instituted a content calendar format that we like to call the “Thud Factor.” Our approach here is that during each quarter we focus on a specific area of our business, anchor it with a significant piece of content and execute a series of integrated campaign elements to drive maximum impact.

Hu-Friedy is a world leader in dental products and instrument manufacturing, and while our brand has a tremendous amount of affinity, the fact that we sell through distribution presents certain challenges in terms of developing direct relationships with our customers. We have fantastic distribution partners, and they support us extremely well, but it really is our job to drive demand for our products. So, we have been working on getting closer to our customers over the last few years by improving our web site experience, our social media platforms, and this year we really focused on delivering utility by creating and distributing value-add content. And in terms of the marketing mix, content plays a vital role, as it is a critical part of our overall inbound marketing strategy.

Drew: What motivated you to launch the #ShowUsYourPurple campaign? Has it been successful?

Hu-Friedy has many different product lines and customer segments, but a group that has always been near and dear to our hearts are Dental Hygienists. Think about the experience you have with your own dental hygienist when you go to the dentist. Can you describe that person’s personality? What is so interesting is that these folks are all kind of described the same way. Friendly, gentle, smart, caring, fun, passionate…the list goes on. At Hu-Friedy we feel that the Dental Hygienist is really the heart of the dental practice and should be celebrated for all they do. So, that is why we created the #ShowUsYourPurple campaign – to express our gratitude and to deliver a rallying cry for this special group to celebrate one another. And it has been very successful, as we’ve had more social sharing and engagement tied back to this campaign than anything else we have done this year.

Drew: How do you measure the success of your content efforts? 

We measure success in a number of ways. First, as we are trying develop stronger and more direct relationships with our customers, data collection is very important. It has been gratifying to see how many new emails we have been able to collect this year based on engagement actions like ebook digital asset downloads and email newsletter registrations. The other success metric we look at is new members added to our online dental hygiene community, Friends of Hu-Friedy –

We have over 40,000 dental hygienists as members and our content marketing efforts are designed to deliver information to this group so that they can perform at their best clinically, in addition to how they can take care of their overall health to ensure career longevity.

Drew: So many brands have started cranking out content. How do you make sure your content really stands out from the pack? Is there such a thing as too much content?

Not sure if there is such a thing as too much content, but for sure there is such a thing as poor content. Any maybe that is really the issue, because I am a firm believer in quality over quantity as it relates to content. I say that because I know from personal experience that the second a brand “jumps the shark” by delivering content that is not relevant or valuable, then I will be more judicious in my engagement going forward. There is nothing worse than being hooked by a subject line like “the top ten things a marketer should never do,” and the come to realize the content is of limited value. So, at Hu-Friedy we ask a lot of questions to customers which informs our content creation. We also do our homework on industry trends. For example, general practice dentists are doing more and more specialty procedures themselves instead of referring those cases out. To address that trend, we developed an eBook designed specifically to deliver education on this topic.

Drew: On the topic of championing your employees, let’s talk about your Apprenticeship Program – Hu-Friedy University. This idea of taking training back to a fundamental level and creating ‘apprentices’ out of your best employees is a huge internal investment on the part of the company. What have been some of the outcomes of this project so far? With such a long-sided vision of success, how do you project that this will prepare your newest team members for future challenges?

One thing that maybe we should have realized, but didn’t, is the amount of pride this program generated internally – especially when the story got picked-up the Wall Street Journal and leading dental publications. Externally, it has played an important role in our employee recruitment efforts. But more than anything, it is an example of a brand really walking-the-walk to ensure that its’s value proposition continues well into the future. Long term, the art of instrument making is being passed to the next generation, who will then ensure that the craftsmanship of our instruments, and the high-quality reputation that our artisans have made legendary, will continue on for years to come.

Drew: Where does content rank in your marketing priorities and why?

It ranks as a very top priority. The bottom line is this – relationships are the vehicle for brand advocacy and that vehicle requires fuel in the form of value-add content, loyalty experiences and simple ways to engage with our brand.

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome? 

Simplifying customer experiences. I am inspired here by the point of view of Margaret Malloy, who is the Global CMO for Siegel+Gale. She has stated that winning brands consistently deliver clear, useful and beautiful experiences for their customers. At the heart of this lies the concept of simplicity. An ambitious goal for sure, but one that is no longer optional for brands who want great relationships with their customers.

Happy Employees = Happy Customers



Sometimes a single blog post can’t span the breadth of what I’ve learned from a particular CMO.  This is definitely the case with Steven Handmaker, CMO at Assurance, winner of The CMO Club Leadership Award who also joined me for the opening panel at Incite’s Content Marketing Summit.  While the interview below focuses on his approach to leadership, it doesn’t cover what I subsequently learned about his approach to content and the highly effective marketing campaign he helped initiate for Assurance.  So allow me to address that first.

Knowing how hard it is to differentiate insurance companies and the products they sell, Assurance decided to focus attention on its “quirky culture” thus putting employees front and center. With its campaign, “Happy Employees = Happy Customers,” Assurance not only found a source of highly distinctive content but also they tapped into a wellspring of goodwill both internally and externally.  Assurance does many professionally-focused things to engendered this goodwill (i.e. training seminars & a “university” ) along with many just plain fun things like an employee Olympics, a casino night and sending digital high fives to top performers. These activities have catapulted Assurance to be among the top 5 places to work in Chicago and just as importantly, helped Assurance outperform many of its rivals.  And frankly, that’s what I call leadership.

Drew: How would you describe / or how have others described your leadership style? 

In terms of leadership style, I’m always aiming for inspirational.  I work hard to have those I lead understand our ultimate vision and allow them the freedom and flexibility to use their talents to help us get there.  Beyond inspiration, I’m a big believer in consistently showing appreciation.

Drew: Do you have any role models that you’ve admired over the years and if so, what did you pick up from him/her?  

Personally, I worship at the altar of Bruce Springsteen. I mean, he is the ultimate Boss.I never miss a concert. Seen him in multiple cities, seen him in multiple continents — I am one of those. I could write a book (and may one day) on why he’s a great leadership role model for business. But for the purpose of this interview, let’s just say he’s a master storyteller, first and foremost, with legendary desire to connect with his audience.  Something to which all marketers should aspire.

Drew: Can you talk about some of the actions you took as a leader in the last couple of years that were particularly challenging?

I work for an insurance brokerage whose primary business is B2B.  When it comes to marketing technology, our industry is woefully behind the times.  I’ve installed a state-of-the-art Eloqua automation system and have established an engaged audience of prospects and clients, rich with data.  The challenging part is partnering with our sales people who are already tops in our industry, and convincing them to incorporate this new technology in to their process for even greater results.  I’d say this work in continually ongoing.

Drew: How important is your peer to peer network to your on-going success?  What are the biggest benefits of having a peer network?

Peer-to-peer for me has been invaluable.  I’ve learned (stolen) so much from marketing leaders, particularly in other industries, which I’ve been able to take back and apply in my own environment.  As I’ve said, nearly every industry is further along than insurance brokers – so it’s not too difficult to identify some amazing things we should have probably been doing 4 years ago.

Drew: What’s the best advice you’ve been given to guide personal / career success? 

Anybody can follow a job description, do exactly what is asked, and produce positive results.  If you really want to get noticed, if you really want to get ahead in your career, you need to ask yourself what else could you be doing that isn’t in your job description.  What else should you just do to help those around you and the company succeed.  Do that, and success will follow.  If you apply this ideology to your personal life as well, you can expect the same results.

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?

My own marketing team is growing and I’ve got some amazing talent I’d love to spend more time working closely with and nurturing. However, time management is something that ebbs and flows for me.  Lately I’ve been ebbing and I’ve got to get my flow back!

Wilson Scores with Content Marketing


Content marketing is one of those things that is easy to talk about yet extremely hard to get right.  It’s not enough to have a clear strategy although that is essential. It’s not enough to tell compelling stories across a wide range of platforms.  Even with paid media driving views and influencers adding their audiences, there is no guarantee that your content program will take off right from the start.

These realities were front and center at Incite’s Content Marketing Summit in Chicago a couple of weeks ago.  While there, I had the pleasure of kicking the first day off with some historical perspective on the use of content as a marketing tool (i.e. 1900: Michelin Guide; 1955 Guinness Book of World Records) and moderating three panels, including the opening keynote with Charlie Breit (SurePayroll), Steven Handmaker (Assurance), Jeff Pundyk (The Economist) and Amy Weisenbach (Wilson).  I’ve already posted my interview with Charlie and the others are forthcoming, including my refreshingly honest conversation with Amy that follows.

Amy_Wilson_headshotAs VP of Marketing at Wilson Sporting Goods, Amy is the force behind Wilson’s first ever cross-brand campaign that includes lots of branded and user generated content.  And though the campaign has exceeded expectations, generating strong engagement rates and significant brand lift, Amy is the first to admit that they are on a steep learning curve. For example, it turned out that it was much harder to get consumers to submit videos than photos. They also learned that when working with influential video creators, it’s probably better to let them go off and create their own content rather than offering them a particular story line. All I know as a tennis fan is that it sure doesn’t hurt when you can get the likes of Serena Williams and Roger Federer to help tell your brand’s story.  Read on.

Drew: How important is content marketing in your overall marketing mix? 

Content is critical to how we build passion for the Wilson brand among our core consumers: avid youth athletes.  Young people are consuming an extraordinary amount of digital content each day, and if we want to be relevant and top of mind with them we have to be in the mix of what they’re consuming.  We have a ton of great stories to tell and interesting assets we can leverage — from our pro athletes and league affiliations to intriguing product development stories from our  Wilson Labs, the innovation hub at Wilson.  We’re luckily in a category that’s important to our consumers’ identities and are among the kind of content they want to consume.  In terms of our marketing mix, most of it is what I’d call “content” – some is more heavily branded and from the Wilson brand voice, but we’re increasingly developing content that feels more organic and soliciting content from our athletes and consumers themselves.

Drew: What role or roles does it play and are there types of content that you are you finding particularly effective?

We’re continually learning the best ways to package our stories and engage our audience.  We’re experimenting with everything from Wilson Advisory Staff Member takeovers on Snapchat to documentary storytelling to blog-like content to soliciting UGC.  We’re definitely in test and learn mode, but early findings suggest the obvious which is that more visual stories get higher engagement.

Drew: Tell me about #MyWilson.  What was the strategy behind this program?

We created the My Wilson campaign to create a conversation amongst youth athletes – across a wide range of sports — about the role their equipment plays in their lives and in the pursuit of their personal ambitions in the sport they love to play.   It’s a 360-degree marketing effort, with a heavy emphasis on social and digital media. At the heart of the campaign is a video, called Nothing Without It, that features amateur athletes alongside some of the world’s best professional athletes recounting the ups and downs of their journeys.  The video features pros like Serena Williams and Dustin Pedroia as well as amateur youth athletes side-by-side.  We also invited youth athletes to add themselves to the video by sharing a clip tagged #MyWilson. To incentivize participation, we pledged to donate sports equipment for every clip shared up to $250,000.

Drew: How did you bring this program to life?  How did people find out about it?

We launched the My Wilson campaign amidst one of the biggest weeks of the year across all of our sports: during the US Open, the kickoff of the NFL season, the AVP Championshipsweekend and the MLB pennant were just underway.  We kicked it off by engaging all 10,000 members of our Wilson Advisory Staff made up of pro athletes and coaches from around the world.  They posted personal stories about what their Wilson equipment means to them and encouraged youth athletes to add their own stories to the conversation.  We also supported the campaign with paid media, including TV and digital video as well as some home page takeovers on key youth sports sites like and

Drew: How has it worked out?

The campaign has performed really well to date.  We’re seeing very high video completion rates and many of our social posts related to the campaign have garnered some of the highest engagement rates of anything we’ve ever posted.  It’s been incredibly rewarding to see and hear the stories our youth athletes have to tell and how Wilson plays a part in their journeys. The most exciting results have come from a brand lift study we conducted where we’re seeing double-digit lifts in key brand health metrics like “for me” and “is a brand I talk about.”

Drew: Was it tricky implementing a program like this over a wide range of sports – did you have to make adjustments as you moved sport to sport?

Each of our sports has its own culture and a slightly different tone of voice; that uniqueness is critical to engaging authentically with youth in each specific sport.  So as you can imagine, it was challenging to get all of our individual sport marketing teams to coordinate on approach, content and timing. Believe it or not, I think this was the first time we used a common look for our social skins and avatars. In the end it was worth the extra time and effort because it helped us take a huge step forward in presenting ourselves to consumers as one brand.

Drew: What are some of the major lessons learned when it comes to driving (user generated) content programs like #MyWilson?

Our baseball team has a long-running social photo contest called “Wilson Wednesday” where consumers submit photos of their glove for a chance to win a prize.  We learned through that promotion that it takes a while to get consumers over the hump to submit photos and even there we’ve had limited success with getting consumers to submit videos.  Given that, we decided to lean on a content partner, Whistle Sports, to help solicit user generated content for the My Wilson campaign.  Whistle Sports’ community readily garners and shares UGC content and so when they asked for videos on our behalf, UGC content began flowing in.  As we suspected, we saw a limited number of consumers willing to create and submit content directly through our channels.  Photos a little more, but very few videos.  Moving forward we will be looking for ways to build a stronger two-way conversation with our audience so they are primed when we’re ready to turn on a UGC-based initiative.

CMO Chronicles: 1st 100 Days with Emily Culp, Keds


04b9474 Passion will take you far in just about any job in any industry.  In marketing, passion for the customer, the product and your company will take you very far indeed.  You may recall my interview with John Yembrick, the head of social media for NASA and how his passion has yielded astronomical success for that organization’s social program.  In my book, The CMO’s Periodic Table, Sharing Passion is in the elemental category Inert Fundamentals along with elements like Showing Courage and Always Innovating.  Also in that category is Listening, which brings me to the subject at hand: Emily Culp.

Emily Culp, the new CMO of Keds, is bringing two powerful elements Passion and Listening to bear on a remarkably cool 100-year old brand. Her passion for Keds is contagious and her expressed desire to listen and really understand the Keds customer is more than just lip service — she used a recent promotional event to personally interview dozens and dozens of Keds fans from multiple generations. It is this kind of hands on ears open research that helped Emily get off to a running start at Keds and makes it easy to understand why The CMO Club recognized her as a Rising Star.  But don’t take my word for it, read on.

Drew: As the new CMO just coming into Keds, what were your goals for your first 100 days?

That’s a great question. I just hit the 90-day mark and some of the most important things that I have sought to accomplish are making sure that I’m clear on the strategy of the brand from a growth perspective, a heritage perspective and a product perspective and just really emerging myself those aspects of the business. Additionally, I am enjoying building relationships with my team and peers in product development, international, sales and strategy. To me, teamwork is one of the most critical aspects of business.

Drew: So, as I was looking at the Keds site I had the realization that, “oh my god, Keds are cool again!” When did that happen?

I would argue it’s been cool since it was founded in 1916.

Drew: Oh, stop! Come on, it was cool and then it wasn’t cool.

You know what? That’s the beauty of heritage products. They ebb and flow but there is a DNA of the product that is substantial and that’s the reason it’s been around for 100 years. Next year is our centennial and it’s because it’s a great product. To answer your question, when did it become cool again? I can’t really pinpoint that. But when you look at Yoko Ono to Lauren Hutton, to Audrey Hepburn, to Marilyn Monroe and then “Baby” in Dirty Dancing and then Taylor Swift, it’s a pretty amazing mix of women wearing our product. And that’s where you can see the cool factor thing cycle. I think it also is important to note that we created sneakers just for women to empower them to be free to pursue what they wanted to and this gives us an unbelievable credibility with women. So fashion cycles may change but there is something just beautiful about the simplicity of our product and you know, we always update it with different materials or collaborations such as Liberty of London and Kate Spade but we are true to our DNA.

Drew: You know it’s funny; it does very much look like a shoe I might have seen on kids in Newport Beach in 60s and 70s.

Exactly but it’s back. That’s what I love about fashion. For example, jumpsuits are back. Who knows when that happened, but it did happen.

Drew: It seems like you’ve done a lot to infuse fresh energy like the Keds/Kate Spade partnership or Taylor Swift designing her own pair of Keds.

That’s exactly it, it’s a multipronged approach and there is a lot more we’re going to do in this coming year around our centennial. We are excited to announce more specific details around it later this year.

Drew: So I’m curious, is there anything in particular that you’ve done at Keds in the time that you’ve been there that you would like to talk about?

I started at a great time which was right around when we were focusing on a women’s equality day initiative where we really were amplifying our Ladies First since 1916 platform. On August 26th, in NYC we did a popup activation in Washington Square Park where we gave out one thousand nine hundred and sixteen pairs of shoes to women so they could conquer the world. We also asked them to pause & think about “today is women’s equality day. What about tomorrow?” and we got some amazing responses. We were all so moved that we captured the responses and created a short video to inspire women everywhere.

It was a terrific way to start at Keds, because it meant that I could personally speak to the first 100 consumers in line and it was multi-generational and there were people who were telling me nicknames that they would call Keds since they were kids etc. So it was phenomenal experience and what was even more fascinating to me was the idea around what does women’s equality mean and what does it mean to each individual. In order to capture this content and really honor the innovation that women are driving forward we made sure that we had content on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Periscope. This approach meant that the event was not only a big success with people physically present in NYC but also around the US as they could participate in many of the elements remotely.

Drew: And how do you measure the success of a program like that?

It comes down to social engagement, impact on sales in retail doors, dotcom traffic and of course, PR exposure.

Drew: Is there a person in your career that’s been particularly helpful or acted as a mentor?

I’ve been so fortunate. I have a number of mentors and I think the question comes down to “what is a mentor” and I think a lot of people have this vision of someone who you’ve worked with for 20 years, who you see every week for an hour. Personally, I reach out to a wide range of friends and colleagues from all different walks of life whether it’s past bosses, to good friends in private equity, to people who are in theatre. I reach out to each of them for different types of advice. So I’ve been very lucky in that regards and I think having such diverse counsel has served me very well and frankly I try and pay it forward. I actively mentor people in Columbia where I went to business school and WIR (women in retail) etc.

Drew: Looking ahead for 2016 (besides your 100th anniversary) what’s the biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?

As a marketer, for me one of the biggest challenges I always face is– how do you get into a woman’s psyche and become part of their DNA? So to me it’s all about driving brand heat and doing that in a meaningful and sustainable way. So that’s one of the largest challenges I would say I have but I’m beyond ecstatic about having that as a challenge and frankly, I’m honored to work on a brand that’s been around for a 100 years. When you actually look at the history of the shoe, it’s spectacular. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom–I have a daughter and a son but it’s the idea that these shoes were actually created to free women and empower them. That idea is very timely. So it’s how do we make sure that people understand what the brand stands for and also making sure that they think we’re a cool brand and want wear us.

Standing with France (and Ben Franklin)


Franklin with capTrying to come to terms with the senseless tragedy in Paris Friday, I retreat to what I know—a bit of history.

There is no United States of America without France. Simply put, our revolution fizzles before it gets rolling and even if we had managed to avoid catastrophic defeat early on, it would have dragged on way past 1781.  Here’s a gross oversimplification of the key role France played in the American Revolution and for reason’s I will explain shortly, Ben Franklin’s probable take on yesterday’s events.

Our revolution ends as early as 1777.  Why?  France started secretly aiding the US in 1775 with critical supplies like guns, gunpowder and cash. They also opened their ports to American sailors. Keep in mind, that America at this time had almost no manufacturing capability so without French supplies we don’t win the battle of Saratoga. In that confidence-building battle, it is estimated that 90% of American supplies came from France. If we lose that battle, half of Washington’s army might have been destroyed and the likelihood of further international support melts away.

The revolutionary war does not end at Yorktown in 1781. Why? This point is far less speculative than my previous one.  At Yorktown, France’s role cannot be overstated.  The generals, managing the siege, were French.  As hard as this is to believe, Washington had no experience managing sieges and smartly relinquished that responsibility to the seasoned French generals including the Marquis de Lafayette and Rochembeau who led the attack.  Nearly all of the weapons held by Americans at Yorktown were French made. And as many as 5,000 highly trained French soldiers were part of Washington’s 20,000-man force at Yorktown. But the coup de grace was the blockade of Yorktown by the French navy, trapping Cornwallis and his army, leaving no real alternative but surrender.  Voilà.  We win.

Off with Louis’ head. It wouldn’t be hard to argue that Louis the XVI’s financial and military support of the American Revolution cost him his crown and the head that wore it. All in all, the French loaned the Americans over 1 billion livres (roughly $13 billion in today’s dollars) during the revolution.  This cash money along with the costs of fighting the British on the high seas all over the world left France on the brink of bankruptcy.

And how did American show its appreciation to France?  We didn’t.  First, we begged off our debts.  Second, we double-crossed France in 1783 by signing a peace treaty with England.  Third and perhaps most telling, American politicians and historians of the time started downplaying France’s role in the creation of our faire nation. These folks wanted the American Revolution to be about American bravery, fortitude and righteousness NOT about some god-forsaken Catholic monarch across the sea.

Ben Franklin and the French. My knowledge of all of this is a byproduct of my obsession with Ben Franklin. Franklin was dispatched to France in 1776 and didn’t return to the US until 1785.  During his time there, while cajoling the King and his ministers to dramatically increase their support of his cause, he fell in love with the French and they with him.  He loved their “joie de vivre,” their food, their wine, their literature and many of their women, although keep in mind he was already 70 years old when he arrived. One could argue that only Franklin could have persuaded a king to put his own country at risk to support a seemingly lost cause like the American Revolution.  But that’s a story for another day, one I definitely plan on telling in great detail.

My overall point here is that France is America’s oldest ally, an ally we didn’t start to repay until World War 1 and perhaps completed with the Marshall Plan after World War II. My man Franklin saw in the French an openness and appreciation of invention.  (The French were the first to confirm the validity of Franklin’s electrical experiments.) He even flirted with the idea of living his last remaining years with his dear friends in France but elected to come back to his country, a decision that couldn’t counter the forces of forgetfulness to the debts owed to France but did impact the Constitutional Convention.

Franklin would have been disconsolate over yesterday’s attack, seeing it for what it was — an attack not just on his beloved friends and the bankrollers of our revolution, but on all who believe in liberté.


Gearing up for Gen Z: The #Selfie Generation?


HeadshotPattiGirardiEmailJust when you’d thought you’d wrapped your marketing minds around millennials, along comes Gen Z to really mess with your head.  Born between 1996 and 2013, the oldest part of this group is just now entering college, wreaking havoc with their multi-tasking mobile mindset and no doubt, creating huge challenges for the marketers trying to engage with them.

One such marketer is Patti Girardi, VP of Marketing with Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services, a division of Compass Group that feeds the students at 270 colleges and universities across the U.S.  Patti and I got connected through Incite’s upcoming Content Marketing Summit, where we’re on a panel together. And it turns out, she’s has had serious success engaging Gen Z with content — user generated content. Based on our conversation, we might just have to call them the #selfie generation. Read on to find out why.

Drew: I read about your “Where Hungry Minds Gather” program, which was designed to address the “unique attributes of Generation Z.” Can you talk about the strategy behind this repositioning?

Chartwells’ new brand identity positions its brand for the new generation of college students, Generation Z, which is replacing the Millennials on college and university campuses. With its extreme affinity for technology, Generation Z is described by thought-leaders like the Harvard School of Public Health as “over-connected, yet under-related,” and its work suggests that brands promoting high-intensity relationships will be the key to helping prepare this generation for the future. We looked at what we do naturally to promote high-intensity relationships — our dining programs bring students together and serve as centers of academic life on campus, for example — to arrive at our new slogan, “Where Hungry Minds Gather.”

Drew: How did content marketing fit into this program?  What kinds of content did you develop to appeal to Gen Z? 

Content marketing helps us stay true to communicating with Gen Z “in their language.” This group wants a story, not a sell. So our emphasis is on developing visual content that is quirky and playful, versus a more traditional sales-oriented communication approach.

Drew:  What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in the content space?

Gen Z multi-tasks across five digital screens (versus two for Millennials). So we are always striving to tell our story consistently across multiple digital platforms.

Drew:  How do you measure the effectiveness of your content marketing activities and how have things been working?

We look at the volume of interactions (likes, shares, retweets, etc.). In some cases, we’ve been able to boost same store sales.

Drew: Is there a particular type of content that is really working well for you right now? 

Gen Z communicates in images: emoticons, emojis, video. Regardless of the platform, we emphasize visuals over text as much as possible.

Drew: How does social media fit into your content strategy?  

This group is really all about social. As the first generation that has always had social media and the Internet, this demographic does not differentiate between the two. User generated content programs are highly popular with this generation – this is the age of the selfie!

Drew:  What are the 2-3 key lessons you’ve learned when it comes to developing effective content programs?

  • Keep it short: this generation communicates in snack-size portions (when it does take the time to read).
  • Produce content that is sharable. If Gen Z isn’t sharing your brand, you don’t exist.
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