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Under The Microscope: IBM’s Content Cantina

I wanted to try something new on the podcast. There’s a lot to be learned from past campaigns, so that’s what Under the Microscope is about. Once per week, we’ll take a look at a company’s marketing campaign and talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. This week, I examined IBM’s Content Cantina campaign. This campaign isn’t over yet, but it’s already generated some amazing results!

Here’s the podcast episode:

Or if you’d rather watch the video:

The First Installment of Under the Microscope!

This is a weekly series that I’m calling “Under the Microscope”, in which I select and dissect  a marketing campaign. It might be a content marketing, but maybe not. You get to hear about what made this a great or not so great campaign, as well as my favorite parts, and what I think they can improve on.  

Today, we’re bringing IBM’s Content Cantina under the microscope. This campaign was for IBM’s internal personnel, so I will preface everything I say with the fact that I don’t have access to IBM’s internal content platform. 

I can only talk about what I saw, but with it being IBM, I have high confidence that they’re doing awesome things that I was unable to log into. Yes, I tried. 


Discussing Content and Thought Leadership

A Powerhouse of Content Creation

IBM wanted to change the conversation around content and thought leadership for their internal personnel. I don’t know if you know this, but IBM makes a lot of content. They have multiple websites for different things. 

Part of why they’re able to do this is because they have decentralized their content production. Not all of it funnels up to the top. They’ve got editors, who are the boots on the ground for content, embedded throughout the organization. 

Let’s Rethink Thought Leadership

The tagline for the campaign is: “Let’s rethink thought leadership”. Simple, to the point, and great. 

IBM is considered a thought leader in many industries they’re involved in, so they clearly identified their audience. They were trying to speak to 300,000 internal personnel. 

They wanted to reach those people outside of their typical internal communications channels and inspire storytelling. That’s how they came up with the Content Cantina. 

An Attention-Grabbing Setting

The Content Cantina seems to be centered around videos, which immediately get your attention. It’s a Star Wars-themed talk show. You hear the Star Wars theme playing, and you see the Star Wars setting behind the talk show host, George Hammer, also IBM’s Chief Content Officer. 

That shows that they really know their audience because even if you don’t like Star Wars, you know about it. It’s familiar, but it’s also unexpected. 

George Hammer is a great host. He’s very energetic, does great on camera, and I imagine he’s a great keynote speaker. 

The Results of IBM’s Content Cantina Campaign

Contrarian Marketing Generates Attention

When you look at these campaigns, they often talk about their results. I think that’s fantastic because it gives you an idea of what it can be like when you do something contrarian in your marketing. 

Contrarian marketing is a low key buzz phrase, but it just means that you did something different and caught people off guard. Your marketing is outside the norm of common expectation. You can take inspiration from other people outside of your industry too, and it makes you stand out. 

So that’s what made me notice this campaign. I was like, “Oh wow, Star Wars! That’s fun!” It was an interesting setting to have a conversation about the future of content and how we can advance it. 

Results in Numbers

Anyways, let’s get back to the results of the campaign. 

  • Once they started posting these talk show segments of George Hammer speaking with some incredibly serious thought leaders within the content marketing space, their Linkedin post engagement went up 130%. 
  • Searches for IBM’s content on “Content Marketing” went up 100%. That’s huge, especially when you consider the number of people looking for content marketing! 
  • They noted that campaigns which used their best-identified practices and thought leadership saw a 23% increase in ROI and $5 billion in revenue leads. 

They had likely planned this, which goes back to when I talked about knowing the value of your content. There’s no way that they would’ve been able to easily chart out those numbers if they weren’t clear on their content goals from the beginning. 

It’s Not Over Yet

It turns out that more episodes of the IBM’s Content Cantina are coming, which is so cool! I can’t wait to watch them. 

George Hammer announced on Linkedin that the next 6 episodes are coming out soon. If I were you, I’d go search George Hammer on Linkedin and give him a follow, so you can see the episodes when they come out. I’m interested to see what the second part of the campaign will add to the mix. 

A Last Note

I obviously can’t see what they did with this content on their internal processes. But if I was part of that, I’d definitely make video snippets for snackable content, and then gauge serious interest in the various topics. That could serve as inspiration for a white paper or further research. I’m certain they came up with wonderful ways to repurpose this great video content.

Anything to help the 300,000 IBM personnel! However, that’s just me and they’ve got a whole team over there. I’m sure they’re doing wonderful things inside the platform that we can’t see.