Oftentimes when you give a formal name to something, the initial concept which it is based on grows into what seems to be a heavier, more complex issue. Content marketing is a huge case in point. The term has become so important in online marketing success, that people are often intimidated by the concept.

  • What are we going to write about?
  • What kind of  “content” can we use?
  • We don’t have the time, how on earth will we figure this all out?

What does it take to be engaging?

The answer is simple, it doesn’t come from hours of sitting around meeting tables writing content topics and editorial calendars. It comes from taking the issues and interests of your target population, listening to your employees and your customers and simply extending responses to the online world.

Java U, a Montreal based coffee shop had an awesome example of “real” content that makes for great community engagement.  Aside from having great coffee, the staff who works at the Ste-Catherine Street location are always friendly, and quite “engaging”.

They smile at you, they remember your favorite drinks, and when you talk to them, they are genuinely interested. They make it pleasant to come and see them. They take the time to know you. Does this sound the the recipe for success when managing a brand online?

Brilliance & Authenticity Come Naturally

A few months ago I noticed something new at their cash. Instead of having a simple tip jar, they started putting out two tip jars, and on each one they would write something different. What they chose to spotlight often allowed for some expression of personal taste or style. The first one I really noticed was “IronMan” or “Batman” (see photo in the collage below).

Where did this idea come from? Was it a long meeting where the top officials at Java U sat down and drafted hundreds of options? Or had a long discussion on how to come up with some “engaging activities”? Was it out of a marketing book? The idea has been in the franchise for years, and the weekly topics come from Phaedra, one of the Java U employees who so obviously cares and loves her job.  With simple execution and leadership values that not only allow for but appreciate & encourage creativity at work, this totally fun and easy idea keeps clients smiling.

 @JavaUMTL on Ste. CatherinHow to Engage Community in Real Life e, employees are given the opportunity to be creative. I love their tip jar campaign, where every week they put choices for people to "cast their vote" This week: "Don Draper or Don Draper?" I guess the choice is obvious here!

@JavaUMTL on Ste. Catherine employees are given the opportunity to be creative. I love their tip jar campaign, where every week they put choices for people to “cast their vote” This week: “Don Draper or Don Draper?” I guess the choice is obvious here!

I asked Janet Lane, inspiring leader and General Manager for all the Java U  stores about the initiative, here’s what she had to say:

  “This is why I love hiring artists in the cafes – they are always full of creativity and know how to spark customer relations…..Phaedra who comes up with the weekly ideas is awesome!”  She also added, “Bimal Das, is doing an awesome job of managing that store and always comes up with customer centric ideas, like keeping the loyalty cards on the wall so customers who don’t want to carry them around, always have them nearby.”

Sometimes the best examples of strong content marketing & outstanding service come from the simplest ideas.

So what’s the recipe for success in business which also carries through online? It’s simple:

  1. Hire people who care
  2. Create an environment where creativity is not only appreciated, but encouraged
  3. Spotlight your employees and your customers (notice how Janet attributed all this success to her awesome barista & store manager?)
  4. It doesn’t have to be complicated, if it makes your customer smile – you’ve won.
  5. Encourage participation with your efforts – but don’t make people go out of their way! The tip jars show clients you car about their opinion, their choice – yet don’t ask them to do anything out of the ordinary.
  6. Provide light entertainment and a possibility for discussion.
  7. Be consistent. The tip jar topics change every week. I for one look forward to seeing what Phaedra comes up with! It always makes me smile. Do something that keeps people coming back and having fun.
Coffee or Java U Customer Engagement by Mila Araujo 2013

Some of the tip jar “campaigns” from Java U over the past weeks. It doesn’t have to be complicated to draw people in.

Yes, there is a lot more to content marketing than just one campaign, but the lesson from this very simple idea is as solid as they come – it doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to relate to your clients and give them some value.

Next time you are racking your brain struggling to think about what you can write about, take a moment, look around ask the people on the front lines of your business what they think. Take the pressure off – a little creativity and fun might just solve all your problems and win the hearts of some new fans.

Giving that little extra:

Want to be inspired by what some other businesses do to make their customers feel special? Check out Stan Phelps’ excellent book:  “What’s Your Purple Goldfish: How to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth”  The Ebook is free on Amazon, today only and a great place to get inspired.

It’s the little things that often make the biggest impact.

What do you think? What kinds of small gestures or ideas have you come up with in your business that yielded high engagement or results?