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Secret’s in the Sauce

By: Stephen Godbout

You’ve probably heard that phrase before, but now the secret is out.

The lovely and talented Carol Ann Faber spilled the beans at DMAW’s Lunch & Learn last Thursday with a spectacular presentation on content marketing: The Secret Sauce of Content Marketing (Turning Prospects into Members, Donors & Customers).

But in case you missed it. It’s not a secret anymore.

In fact, content marketing in its earliest forms dates back to the turn of, not this century, but the last one! John Deere used it in 1895. Michelin in 1900 and Jell-O in 1904.

So what is content marketing? (hint: you’re reading it)

Content marketing is the art to communicating with your customers, donors, members or prospects without direct selling. It is creating or exchanging something of value with your prospects, donors, members, or customers with the belief and understanding that eventually, they will return something of value to you through a direct transaction such as a donation, purchase, sign up or through word of mouth and social media testimonials.

And as you’ll see, content marketing doesn’t have to be a thesis wrapped up in white papers or native advertisement and editorials. It can be as long as a geek-ridden how-to-manual or as short as a few words.


Just look around, pay attention the next time you see a Farmer’s Insurance commercial that tells you a few reasons why you need insurance, or see a full page magazine display that has a bit of instruction—set off to catch your eye—on how to apply or use the product being displayed. That’s content marketing.

Now, in our field of marketing, there are certain steps you can take to make sure you’re giving the right piece/s of content to the right person/s through the right channel/s at the right time/s. That is the core of what Carol Ann, Marketing Director for the National Fire Protection Association graciously shared with us.

I have broken down her “secret sauce ingredients” for effective content marketing into three easy to follow recipe items:

1) Find and Create Your Content.

It’s easy.

Every organization has a history. There’s part of your content already. Look toward reports your organization produces. Case studies. White papers you’ve developed. Annual Reports (as riveting as they are). Videos. Transcripts. Personal stories or testimonials about how you help people, the environment or animals.

What are trends in your industry? Is there something in your field of expertise that you could share and would be beneficial to your prospects, members, donors or customers? Tell customers how to help your cause. List 5 things they can do today that will make them better stewards of the planet and humanity. Give them some useful instructions on something they may want to know how to do. Look anywhere and everywhere.

2) Tell and Market Your Story.

When you think about sharing your content, don’t just think send an email, post a video link or include an insert in a mail piece.

Think storytelling.

Carol Ann referenced the movie, “The Princess Bride.” A classic story within a story, that unfolds gradually and as it does, it draws you into the characters and their lives in different times and places but wraps them all into one.

Most likely, your organization is very similar. You have a core mission, but within that mission are many branches, yet all tied together. Break your story up. Tell bits and pieces at a time. Through your story, express how the different branches of your organization are tied together to serve your ultimate goal.

And another good analogy Carol Ann pointed out is the “To Be Continued …” series. Remember watching Dallas, Dynasty, Batman and the show builds to what you think is going to be a revealing moment and suddenly … To Be Continued …. (“Broadchurch,” currently showing on BBC America is an outstanding example of this time of storytelling.)

For our marketing purposes, if a prospect is willing to give you an email, they get one piece of your story. If they are willing to give you a phone number, like you on Facebook or take an action like sign a petition, they get another piece of your story. (And remember to make if valuable to them). And if they donate, join or buy, give them more of the story. But to keep them as repeat donors, members and buyers, never give them the full story all at once. Give them bits and pieces, sized according to their willingness to get involved with your organization.

Also, consider your audience. Who are they? What motivates them? What turns them on or off?

Carol Ann gave a great example of how her organization, the NFPA first used humor to renew and attract members. They offered not only a plush animal to hug, but the ability to obtain “invisibility—to avoid certain colleagues,” “telekinesis,” and a “fast forward button for business meetings.”

Potential members loved it, but the people who wrote the checks in their organizations which would pay for the memberships weren’t going to spend valuable company money on an organization that offers “telekinesis.” Plus, NFPA is the go-to organization for serious building and fire codes, so humor gave them great visibility but failed in member recruitment.

Alas, failure is not failure if you learn something from it, as Carol Ann and NFPA did, which brings us to the third ingredient.

3) Test, Test, Test.

Figure out what works for your organization’s goals and messaging. And then find out what audience your messages resonate with the best. And through which channel. There are so many channels today to market our organizations allowing us to tap into new demographics and markets that before were hard to reach.

Adjust your story as you go according to your test results.

And that’s the secret sauce as I saw it.

I’ll leave you with Carol Ann’s Top 5 Tips for Content Marketing. But I must tell you, reading a blog about Carol Ann’s presentation is NOTHING compared to the real thing, so stay tuned to DMAW to find out where Carol Ann will be appearing next.

Carol Ann’s Top 5 Tips for Content Marketing:

  1. Sharpen your storytelling skills, hire out for it, mine it, make it work.
  2. Start where you’re comfortable and test and measure along the way.
  3. No test is a failure—lessons learned are often more valuable than results.
  4. Build your story, break it up, tell it in bits and pieces.
  5. Start TODAY—take one action right now to launch or improve your organizations content marketing.

Happy Contenting!


Stephen Godbout is a freelance copywriter/content specialist with 13 years direct marketing experience. He can be reached at