I’ve just returned from an 8-day trip to Europe, the last few days of which I spent in Denmark, where I spoke at the country’s first-ever content marketing conference.
I felt warmly welcomed there—in part because I spent time with some truly warm and wonderful people. (That’s always the key to a great trip, isn’t it?) But I also felt welcomed for business reasons: The business culture seems so ideally suited to embracing content as a cornerstone of marketing, and I came away from both the event and the country feeling like there was a kind of perfect content marketing storm brewing there.
Why should you care, if you aren’t Danish or don’t do business there?
Because there’s a lot that modern marketers can learn from the Danish mindset. Sometime very soon, I think, this small Northern European country of 5.5 million will be creating and leading some truly innovative content marketing programs.
Content marketing is, of course, about creating and sharing information that is designed to attract people to your business. Here’s my working definition that I gave in Denmark (and earlier in the trip, in Istanbul):
Content marketing means you consistently create and share information that is packed with utility, seeded with inspiration, and is honestly empathetic to attract customers to you.
The best content has elements of all three; or, said more simply: Useful x Inspiration x Empathy = Innovative Content.
Here’s why I think innovative content marketing is about to explode in Denmark, and why it matters to the rest of us:
Danes understand the content mindset. Championing the notion of a new approach to marketing can sometimes feel a Sisyphean task. Content marketing means abandoning a campaign approach—where the entity with the biggest budget wins—and embracing a new mindset: One where empathy and story are increasingly at the heart of marketing, a mindset that demands a certain measure of wit, courage and inspiration, instead of just… well, cash and cleverness.
Sometimes when I’m on stage, for example, and I’m talking about things like honest empathy, and how (quoting my friend Tom Fishburne) the best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing, I look at the faces of people in the audience and read a certain skepticism and (sometimes) flat-out disbelief. No matter how much I might show evidence of true business results, I nonetheless sometimes feel doubt emanating from the audience, like I’m standing on stage arguing that businesses should put all their budgets into something like performance dance or shadow puppets versus, you know, creating marketing people actually want.
I didn’t get that skepticism in Denmark, though. Perhaps people there are just more polite, but the auditorium full of people listened intently. I saw lots of nodding heads and lots of scribbling. Perhaps they were gathering evidence and scribbling plots against me and the rest of my content brethren… but I don’t think so. I think they were just taking notes. (I’m kidding about the plotting, of course. No audience has ever been quite that hostile!)
Advertising is less entrenched. Philosophically and culturally, the Danes are less about bold claims and big budgets—at least about most marketing. Unlike many other parts of the world, the Danes have less of a history of promotion and propaganda—those things traditionally aligned with marketing. This is a country that didn’t even have television advertising until the mid-1980s, as my new friend Signe Jepsen told me on a ride to Copenhagen.
Most Danish organizations, it seems, prefer a more subtle approach. The countryside isn’t littered with billboards and advertising flyers: Even their political signs tacked to utility poles (local elections are coming up on November 19th) adhere to what seems to be strict templated requirements: Aside from the names, faces and party affiliations, they could’ve all been designed by the same agency. (And, probably, they were.)
Danes love a good story. Unlike advertising, however, story is culturally entrenched. This is a place with rich narrative traditions, where the work and life of Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, who adapted folktales he heard from oral storytellers, is a cultural icon. So is the work of other writers and poets and filmmakers—the philosophical essays of Søren Kierkegaard, the short stories of Isak Dineson (the writer Karen Blixen), and the films of Lars Von Trier. In other words: The Danes grok story. (Right, Trine Ellegaard?)
Local is beautiful. Instagram is big in Denmark; Twitter less so. Jesper Outzen presented an entire session just on Instagram at Content Day. And my take on Instagram’s popularity is because Instagram is an inherently more personal platform than Twitter is.
From a marketing perspective, you could say that this small country of only 5.5 million kind of likes its intimacy. That means a local organization can have a big impact for a relatively modest investment. As I always say, content innovation is more about brains that budget!
There’s a deep gladness and a deep need. In other words, there’s momentum. The first-ever content event was organized by the business training company IBC. It sold out in a matter of weeks.
If I’m being honest, I’ll tell you that I was a little nervous for IBC when, following an invitation to speak, organizer Mette Will and her team seemed to take some risks (by American standards) in marketing this event. There was no event website until September. The event was to be held not in Copenhagen, the business and cultural center, but nearly three hours outside the city, in Kolding. At MarketingProfs, I can’t imagine starting promotion of any event less than two months out. But astonishingly to me, Mette and her team filled the room, and they had to turn people away.
No matter how great a marketer you are, there’s no way that you can pack a room without also tapping into a deep hunger, to paraphrase the theologian Frederick Buechner (“The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”). In other words, the Danes are ready.
There’s already some high-profile use cases. It’s easier to sow seeds when someone else has already plowed the first rocky furrow. And in Denmark there are already some great examples of companies effectively using content in their marketing:
Jyske Bank is the first (and only) Danish bank with its own TV station.
Copenhagen’s Saxo Bank also has its hand in content marketing with its community site for traders, Trading Floor.
LEGO does a great job with microsites and a print magazine.
And Silvan, a Danish hardware chain, publishes handy-man videos on YouTube.
In part because of these early high-profile success stories, and because of the reasons I listed above, it seems that…
Globally, there are signs that many are past the Why of content marketing. The future is the How. Most of the questions I got after my two talks at Content Day were about the how of content, not the why or the whether.
Denmark is less advanced than the states or other parts of Europe, but the challenges are similar. The issues in Denmark, in short, are less about “why content” and more about “how content”: How do we integrate content into our organizations? How do we tie content to strategy? How do we make this work? How can we launch a pilot program to test our content ideas? And, then, how do we innovate?
That’s always an indication of the sophistication of an audience: They aren’t questioning the validity of the concept; they are already trying to figure out how they organize their culture and adapt their processes to enable it.
And in Denmark and elsewhere, that evolution happened (and is still happening) awfully quickly.