Lessons in B2B content marketing from the world’s greatest scavenger hunt

What can an annual international scavenger hunt teach B2B marketers about content planning, creativity and communication? Welcome to GISHWHES.

GISHWHES 2016

Every summer, since 2011, thousands of teams from around the world have been taking part in the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen – GISHWHES.

The hunt spans a week and teams of 15 compete to pull together items (as images or video) from a list of over 150 items published at the start of the hunt. Each item has its own brief. The items are either unusual creative projects or charitable acts.

Items are submitted as images or videos and are awarded points based on fulfilling the briefs for each item and how well they’re done. (Points mean the chance for your team to win a holiday with the hunt’s founder: actor and philanthropist Misha Collins.)

That’s a lot of briefs

By the way, in case you missed it: that’s at least 150 briefs in one week. Imagine!

I’ve taken part in GISHWHES twice (go Team SVOON!) and it’s taught me a few lessons that I can bring to my role as a content marketer.

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Team SVOON 2016, posing for item #114: “Let’s see each member of your team dressed in some way emblematic of that member’s state, region or country.”

1. Don’t be afraid of failure

This year’s hunt started with 173 items. And guess what? No one completes all of them. It’s not expected that any one team manages all briefs.

Even the items you do shoot for? Sometimes you can’t do them. Like when I tried to get an op-ed on this year’s leap second published in a newspaper. I wrote the op-ed fine, but I was unable to get someone to publish it.

Lesson: You don’t know if you can do something until you try. Each piece of content you publish carries a degree of risk and may not get the response you want.

If you’re unsure if a new approach to content marketing will work for your brand, or if you’ve never tried content marketing before, you should do as Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi advises and run a pilot:

With a pilot, you can set expectations somewhat low, so that even a little bit of success can get you a continuation on your budget ask.

A successful content marketing pilot includes:

  • A clear timeframe for running the pilot
  • Clear aims for what you want it to achieve
  • A set metric for measuring success

2. Take stock

When you have a team of 15 people and such a wide variety of items to create, all needing different skills, materials and tools, you need to take stock of what you already have.

Every year, Team SVOON (Shortened Version of Our Name) has a Google Sheet where we fill in team members’ skills and whether we have access to tools and materials to use them. So if you want a blog post written on an obscure chapter in the life of (the fictional?) Miss Jean Louis, you come to me:

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Lesson: Who’s your explainer copywriter who can write about niche subjects in a blog post? Get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your creative team and your content. For instance: no single copywriter can write absolutely everything. Everyone has different levels of experience and abilities.

And find out what you already have by doing a content audit of your website. Knowing what content you already have stops you from duplicating your efforts and allows you to see if you’re missing content for particular buyer personas or stages in buying journeys.

Even for a B2B marketer, a Google Sheet will do. Here’s an in-depth Coppyblogger guide to content audits. Things to look out for while you audit your content include:

  • Links and media embeds that no longer work
  • Calls to action – are they still relevant, could they be better?
  • Keyword stuffing, which you’ll need to undo

3. Be realistic about time

Ever tried building a trailer park out of sand on a beach? I have. You have to account for the weather and the tide. The weather in Cornwall during this year’s hunt wasn’t always fantastic.

When Paul (my partner), a friend and I managed to make it onto a beach, we had two hours until the beach would be covered by the tide, less for locations with usable sand. A plan to build dozens of trailers out of sand became ten. We assembled our sand trailers, took a picture and got out ten minutes before the tide consumed our creation.

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Lesson: Luckily, tides aren’t usually a threat to B2B content production, but good content still takes time. A huge volume of content takes time. Thankfully, and partly thanks to Google algorithm updates, content marketing is moving away from the low quality articles that our founder, Fiona Campbell-Howes, was rallying against back in 2013.

Skimp on time for content writing and you either get less of what you want or content length will be met, but it’s going to be low quality content. I’m not the only one that thinks this. The blog manager for Kissmetrics, Zach Bulygo, emphasizes the importance of time as a key creating to great content.

Why does great content take time? Because your writer needs time to not only write, but:

  • Understand your brief
  • Research around what they’re writing
  • Plan what they’re going to write

4. Keep everyone in the loop

Team SVOON had members around the world, very few were actually in the same country or town. To tackle the hunt, we had a spreadsheet that listed the items that we put together during a Google Hangout. The spreadsheet included item briefs; who was working on them; whether it was meant to be an image or a photo; space for progress reports and a colour code system for saying if they were complete or not.

This was on top of a Facebook Group and a WhatsApp Group. Everyone would know when Paul had completed an image of the Kings of Con hanging out with King Kong:

Left to right – King Kong, Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr. Art by Paul Blewitt.

Left to right – King Kong, Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr. Art by Paul Blewitt.

Lesson: Our Google Hangout call at the start of the hunt was like an editorial board meeting and the spreadsheet for checking what was going on acted much like an editorial calendar.

With or without a content marketing strategy (though I really think you should have one, 53% of the most successful B2B content marketers have a documented strategy), editorial boards and calendars seriously help streamline content production.

A good editorial calendar should contain:

  • Who’s creating specific pieces
  • Dates for review and publishing
  • Target personas and stages for the content

5. If you don’t feel passion for what you’re doing? Then you’re doing something wrong

Over on the GISHWHES website, it becomes quite clear that the hunt is meant to inspire more than just the churn of creating items to fulfil the briefs given in the scavenger hunt:

[GISHWHES] believes that “normalcy” is overrated and that true “living” can be found hidden under the rocks of community artistic creation, acts of artistic sublime public performances, and random acts of kindness.

You can be competitive while taking part in the scavenger hunt, and try your most to win the all-expenses paid trip that is the prize for the team that gets the most points. But if you don’t feel passionate about handing out ice cream to first response crews, or going on dates with a stuffed duck or making raps about historical figures like Isambard Kingdom Brunel:

Then you’re doing something wrong.

Lesson: The best submissions in GISHWHES always do more than just the fill the brief. In B2B marketing, what you publish should never just be by the numbers or else it won’t stand out.

Great content is created with passion. As Jay Baer of Convince and Convert explained at 2015’s Content Marketing World:

Passion is the differentiator, more so than any tactic. It will set you apart.

How do you get writers to write fantastic copy that you can use in your marketing? Strong, memorable content that engages your audience comes from:

  • Your own enthusiasm
  • Not creating content for the sake of creating content
  • Giving your writers good briefs

Normalcy really is overrated

If there’s one big problem that B2B content marketing has right now is that everybody’s doing it – 88% of B2B brands are – and that means it’s harder to stand out. It’s become normal along with the formats and ways of doing it.

As Joe Pulizzi said at this year’s B2B Marketing Summit, it’s time for B2B brands to find their “content tilt”. Or, as my colleague George Reith put it, brands need to:

[Carve] out an original niche in order to get an edge on the competition.

You don’t have to take part in GISHWHES to get that edge (though I do highly recommend taking part for your own fun). But B2B content marketers definitely need to start thinking like they’re taking part in the biggest scavenger hunt the world has ever seen.

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