By Clare McDermott published November 22, 2016

How to Differentiate Content in a Crowded Field [Example from Adidas]

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Adidas Group’s corporate communications team recently launched a new content platform for athletes and athletes at heart. Often erroneously thought of as a single shoe brand, adidas Group is a product design and development powerhouse that owns a bevy of athletic brands including Reebok, TaylorMade, CCM, and the eponymous Adidas brand.

We spoke to the group’s Senior Director of Content Strategy and Creation Kirsten Keck and Senior Manager of Content Strategy Frank Thomas to understand the strategy behind the new venture, and how the company plans to differentiate itself in a crowded field.

CCO: Your new platform, GamePlan A, targets what you call “creators and entrepreneurial minds with an athlete’s heart.” What’s the significance of that statement?

Frank Thomas: Our audience is made up of creative, confident, and collaborative people who instinctively know that sport has the power to change lives. They strive to incorporate sport into everything they do — in work and in life. Our research shows our audience’s three big areas of interest are business, sport, and lifestyle; GamePlan A addresses the sweet spot among all three.

Our group faced a common challenge: As corporate communicators we serve a variety of target groups, such as business journalists from many industries (e.g., finance, HR, sustainability), NGOs, employees, future employees, and corporate brand advocates. To stay relevant, our content needed to become much more focused.

To stay relevant, #content needs to become much more focused says @framatho. Click To Tweet

First, we eliminated those groups we knew we didn’t want to serve with a content marketing approach. Then with the groups that were left — which included employees, prospective talent, and corporate brand advocates — we worked hard to find shared interests and aspirations. And even more, we aim to attract those with values that overlap with the values adidas Group stands for.

We know content on GamePlan A is resonating because our engagement rates increased 150 percent, and the feedback we’re getting has been very positive.

CCO: How did you convince people inside adidas Group that you needed to move away from the product-based approach?

Kirsten Keck: GamePlan A embodies a new strategic approach for us, one that emphasizes content marketing as a part of the communications mix. For us content marketing doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from a product-based approach — in our industry people want to know when the latest shoe drops, what it looks like, and where they can buy it. But we also know some want more than that. They choose what they wear or what company they work for to showcase who they are and their attitude about life.

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Author and speaker Andrew Davis once said, “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” Our primary focus is not on driving revenue but building trust. GamePlan A is our way to add genuine value to our target audience’s lives, build relationships with like-minded people (we define them as “creators and entrepreneurial minds with an athlete’s heart”), and nourish our own culture by intensifying the connection between our external and internal target groups.

The primary focus for @adidas #content platform is not on driving revenue but building trust says @kixita. Click To Tweet

Having a clearly defined target group and content strategy makes our job easier because it gives us focus. The more people you try to talk to, the more generic and meaningless your content becomes. Good content marketing isn’t about reaching all people, but about reaching the right people with relevant information.

Good #contentmarketing is about reaching the right people with relevant information says @kixita. Click To Tweet

Our stakeholders understand that people’s trust, admiration, and appreciation (and eventually advocacy) for the adidas Group influences their decision to work for us, invest in us, or buy our products. Managing the company’s reputation (as a measure of trust) has a direct impact on business results.

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CCO: I love the focus on the “athlete’s mindset.” Can you tell me more about how it informs your editorial strategy? How do you ensure that you don’t stray too far afield?

Thomas: An important task of a coach and his staff is to develop a strategy and a unique perspective of the game. But in the end it’s all about how well they organize, educate, and prepare the team for execution. It’s the exact same thing here.

In content marketing it begins with a documented, data-driven strategy. To guide the team toward achieving our mission (to inspire people to tackle work life with an athlete’s heart and become their business life’s MVP), we developed tools like a simple Content Creation Journey, which helps the team find the right story angle(s).

#Contentmarketing begins with a documented, data-driven strategy says @framatho. Click To Tweet

We created a documented methodology — the Content Creation Journey — to vet new ideas and ensure that they are on point with the group’s overall objectives. It includes the following stages:

  1. GamePlan A DNA

First, the editorial team asks, “Does the topic showcase the feeling we want readers to experience in every story (e.g., spirit powered by sport)?”

  1. Mega Theme

Next, writers must question which overarching theme the topic touches. Mega Themes reflect the intersection of what’s important to adidas Group combined with what the target audience is interested in; they include creativity, innovation and trends, intrapreneurship, and collaboration. One story might be a fit for various Mega Themes but should ideally focus on one.

  1. Trigger

With the DNA and Mega Theme defined, writers must ask what “trigger” will cause individuals to share a story. Triggers are predefined and include, for example, a reader’s desire to optimize or advance his or her life, or to position themselves for success. The content that readers choose to share says something about who they strive to be.

  1. Category

Next, a writer must define the story’s category, which is the organizing principle on the GamePlan A website, such as “in balance” or “skill drill.” These help readers find new content.

  1. Content Guide

Finally, editors can find practical tips and rules (like “how to write a headline”) in the Content Guide — an editorial style guide that includes answers to common questions and concerns.

From there, it’s all about constant education and communication. We are in touch daily at a conversational level, host weekly editorial meetings, and organize quarterly content/target audience workshops.

CCO: How do you ensure that stories are distributed widely and gain followers?

Thomas: We’re focused on unlocking the full potential of our existing followership instead of just blindly chasing new followers. One important driver of this is optimizing our content. We look at general content KPIs, as well as specific content characteristics that originate from the content creation journey (e.g., Mega Themes and Triggers) and adapt our content based on patterns.

While we share simple metrics with the wider team in an open dashboard, we’ll present and discuss more complex findings in our editorial meeting to improve future content.

We also A/B test headlines and images in our social networks, measure native advertising, and sponsored content campaigns, and optimize all promotion activities towards quality traffic (looking at bounce rates, conversions, etc.)

In terms of distribution, we use a mix of tactics that are constantly evolving. One of our most important channels currently is LinkedIn. Nevertheless, we are also expanding our ecosystem of touchpoints where it makes sense.

We also try to involve the community in shaping GamePlan A. We co-create content with influencers and sports figures, and also invite community members to contribute.

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The editorial team collects ideas and inspiration from its readers through a dedicated community page.

CCO: Your content on GamePlan A is all about setting goals, coaching yourself through inner dialogue, and even using relaxation techniques. Does the team use these ideas in the everyday life of running the platform?

Keck: Through sport, we have the power to change lives — this core belief unites all adidas Group employees around the globe, not just our editorial team. Sport helps us to be confident, collaborative, and creative in everything we do. It’s who we are and the culture we live each day. The content does not influence our behavior, but our culture and shared mindset of being athletes at heart shapes our content. Our ambition is to take an incubator role for the community and the idea behind GamePlan A; we want to fuel those who are fueled by sport.

We get the conversation going by activating our own colleagues, partners, and athletes. They share their experiences of mixing their athletic lifestyles with their creative and entrepreneurial ambitions. Ultimately, it’s about getting to know, understanding, and inspiring each other. Strong relationships are built on showing genuine interest in the other person and opening up yourself, too. The same is true for content marketing in general, and GamePlan-A.com in particular.

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This is why we created a digital hub that promotes tackling work-life with an athlete’s heart, be it at the adidas Group or anywhere else. GamePlan A is also an invitation for everyone with an athlete’s heart to take an active role. We want it to be their go-to place to connect with like-minded people and get support in combining an athletic lifestyle with creative and entrepreneurial ambitions.

CCO: What are the biggest challenges you face as a team? Individually?

Keck: Continuously creating relevant and engaging content while keeping up the frequency is never easy since we produce the majority in-house and we challenge ourselves to avoid stock imagery. Also, the ever-changing social media landscape needs constant attention. New channels pop up every day and we check them carefully to avoid getting sucked into a hype, but choose the ones that really help us achieve our goals. After all, jumping on new channels means having the resources to maintain them or using automated publishing in a clever way.

Continuously creating relevant & engaging content is never easy says @kixita. Click To Tweet

Individually, due to my role (overseeing both technical development of our corporate digital platforms and content creation), it’s sometimes hard to understand why some content performs and some doesn’t. It’s weird: there’s content that ticks all boxes and still is a benchwarmer, and then there’s content that you’d never have expected to perform that well and it’s hard to find out why. That’s why A/B testing is so critical.

CCO: What can marketers learn from the athlete’s mindset?

Thomas: Athletes surround themselves with the best team (coaches, physiotherapists, etc.) to focus on what they can do best. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses at work and setting up your team to balance them will help you reach your goals.

Keck: Athletes enjoy challenges and focus relentlessly on getting better. If they fail, they get up and try again. They analyze their game only to learn and get better. That’s an inspiring attitude in business, too. Don’t spend time on blaming yourself or someone else if something doesn’t turn out the way you wanted. Briefly looking back to identify what didn’t work is OK, but focus your effort on giving the best for what lies ahead of you.

CCO: What habits make you more productive?

Thomas: An important one is to not neglect recovery. We only can perform well if we plan for breaks as well as for meetings, etc. Mental work can be just as exhausting as physical training … would you train non-stop, without a break, for a marathon?

This article originally appeared in the October issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bimonthly print magazine.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Clare McDermott

Clare McDermott is the editor of Chief Content Officer magazine and owner of SoloPortfolio, a Boston-based content marketing provider for professional service firms.You can follow her @soloportfolio.

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