How to create brighter lives with content marketing

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By Alexandra Reid

Two content marketing all-stars, Katherine Fletcher and Darin Diehl, presented at Social Media Breakfast Ottawa on Wednesday on how businesses can use rich, interactive content to increase brand awareness, build communities and generate leads.

Katherine is the senior vice-president, senior partner and managing director of digital at High Road Communications, an interactive communications agency. She was also appointed in 2007 as a global chair for Fleishman-Hillard’s international digital practice group where she works with a small, global team of digital leaders to drive innovative digital communications with specialists worldwide.

Darin is the assistant vice-president of digital communications at Sun Life Financial Canada, and the leader of the team that developed, a social media-powered, consumer-focused portal where Canadians can engage with the brand and each other about financial challenges and opportunities they face in their everyday lives.

Katherine and Darin developed and executed the content marketing program that would support the launch and ongoing success of On Wednesday, they explained the efforts that went on behind the scenes that helped it become an award-winning site. I also had the opportunity to chat with Katherine before the show to glean some more details about their content marketing program.

Setup for success

It’s worth noting that Sun Life had some competitive advantages to begin with. It was already a strong, tech-savvy brand with a mob of impassioned customers. But that doesn’t mean Katherine and Darin were entirely set up for a successful launch. They needed to staff the project, by both outsourcing and hiring professionals for their internal team, and determine how they were going to create timely pieces of content regularly that not only engaged their target audience’s attention, but encouraged them to distribute the content and follow through on specific calls to action to ensure the project delivered a healthy return on investment.

“Although we had a lot of competitive advantages from a traditional financial services point of view, content marketing is really about your skill set when it comes to publishing and being a media property, and there we had to add to our skill set. It wasn’t our natural home,” said Darin.

They also had to connect an entire system of web platforms to support that content and move customers through their sales cycle. was built to attract prospective customers. From there, prospects are softly encouraged through relevant and targeted calls to action to click through to, where more hard-selling content lives. If all goes well, established customers are retained through the customer service program hosted on

So, how did they pull it all off?

“When we were thinking about, we were thinking about the potential of relationship building and how we could build the site in the context of those customer relationships,” said Katherine. “You’ve got to create content that’s relevant to consumers, that attracts their attention, engages, amuses, educates and empowers them. Attention, education and empowerment are the keys for making them aware of a problem they may not have known they had in a positive, non-salesy way and to get them to act on it. That’s the best way to increase the pool of potential customers.”

To ensure their content reached a wide audience, they focused on its portability. is the portal and brand extension of, where all the educational content lives. They decided that hosting it separately would create a clear divide between where customers go for their various needs.

To successfully attract and engage prospective customers, they optimized their content for search and sharing. They first ensured that all content on was attention grabbing. This included writing snappy headlines, and hiring the proper people to produce valuable, interesting, entertaining and unique content. They also made it easy for people to find them on social media, and provided links so they could share the content through their own feeds.

“It’s important to introduce new concepts early in the engagement process, and gently lead them down the path to purchase,” said Katherine. “To do so, content must be both contextual and educational. That way they at least go away with helpful information and a positive impression of your brand.”

Seeking out syndication opportunities is another must-do, which includes not only establishing relationships with prominent bloggers in your space, but aligning departmental silos so that content from all over the organization can be repurposed online.

“We’re trying to disperse the content on as far and wide as possible,” said Katherine.

In the presentation, Katherine and Darin shared their top five keys to success:

  1. Internal buy-in: Consult widely to understand business needs and evangelize often.
  2. Know your voice: Be authentic, engage with your audience, and build those relationships early in the buying process.
  3. Get support: Lever expertise across the company, and from outside as well. Ensure the right people are in the right roles.
  4. Create clear calls to action: Make sure your prospects don’t end up at a dead end, and your path to purchase is optimized.
  5. Know your review protocols: Publishing content in real-time is possible with advanced planning. You can be timely and meet industry regulations.

Internal buy-in and making sure they constantly educate internal stakeholders has been vital to the success of the program.

“I don’t look at it as a past tense thing,” said Darin. “I don’t think we got internal buy-in and now we are free and clear that way. I think we are constantly earning internal buy-in by proving the benefits …  We built a really important digital asset for the company and we need to be making sure we understand the needs from the business units of Sun Life and that this is delivering value to them.”

Because they are in a highly regulated industry, they also had to satisfy compliance and proper review procedures while ensuring content was published with immediacy.

They discuss the details of how they went about both of these essential processes in our video interview.

SMB Ottawa – Katherine and Derin from SMBOttawa on Vimeo.

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