It’s 6:10 p.m., and I’m stuck in an Uber on Boylston Street.
Like a shimmering mirage in the middle of an arid desert, my destination is tantalizingly close, yet terribly far. I’m trying to get to Atlantic Avenue in Boston, but the snarl of traffic currently blocking what seems like the entirety of Back Bay has other ideas.
A cyclist swerves dangerously close to my driver’s Ford Explorer, causing him to clench his fists a little tighter on the steering wheel. In a momentary distraction from the clock on the digital display on my driver’s dashboard, I wonder if my Uber driver would have cursed the daredevil cyclist if he weren’t worried about his rating.
I’m trying to get to 745 Atlantic Avenue, home of WeWork Boston’s second location in the city. A leader in the coworking (and now co-living) space, WeWork Boston is graciously hosting the inaugural Boston Content Hackathon, an event organized by Boston Content, a networking and advocacy group for content marketing professionals in the Boston area.
I’ve been to technical hackathons before, but never a content marketing hackathon. Nobody is likely to be coding anything, so I’m not sure what we’ll be building. I’m not sure what to expect at all.
It’s 6:20 p.m. By now, I’m convinced that everyone has already begun to forge bonds with other attendees over drinks. I feel a bead of sweat roll down my back. God, I think, I’m going to be that guy. The late arrival doomed to awkwardly mill around staring at my phone while everyone else talks excitedly in their newly formed cliques.
A few minutes later, with a screech of tires on asphalt, my driver gets me to 745 Atlantic. I hurriedly exit the Explorer, thank my driver, and head inside.
The hackathon was on.
Boston Content’s Content Marketing Hackathon was born of a competition among WeWork Boston’s resident businesses to win a night of free content consulting from content professionals across the Boston area.
The winning business was Knead, an early stage service-based startup that offers on-demand in-office massage therapy to companies in and around Boston. Knead had a solid offering, and had already made in-roads at some of the Boston area’s biggest and best-known brands, such as The Boston Globe, Babson College, and NECN.
What Knead didn’t have, however, was a content marketing strategy. That’s where we came in.
After half an hour of cold IPAs, hot pizza, and strong handshakes, Knead’s founder Nicholas Pierce addressed the group of 30 or so content professionals gathered before him to tell us about how Knead came to be. He told us of his own lengthy tour of duty in Corporate America, and how years of high-stress work in Boston’s professional sector had wreaked havoc on his posture and his health, a decline that prompted Pierce to quit the rat race and bootstrap Knead with his own savings and investments.
The crowd listens raptly to Nicholas Pierce, Knead Founder, explain his content needs.
We asked questions about Knead’s pricing model, the competitive landscape for on-demand wellness services in Boston, and other crucial background information we’d need to help propel Knead’s content marketing efforts. The group was divided into three teams, and then we set to work.
My team was led by Julie Carey, Product Marketing Director at Virgin Pulse. We took our places around the table in one of WeWork Boston’s conference rooms, and almost immediately people began excitedly coming up with ideas for content Knead could produce to expand its range and reach new customers.
Some suggested ways in which Knead could establish itself as a thought leader in the corporate wellness space, such as cosponsoring studies with the many medical organizations in Boston. Others recommended leveraging the power of listicles via social to build brand awareness and grow their social presence. A couple of our team members started typing away on their laptops, while others scribbled notes on Post-Its in black marker.
Boston Interactive’s Matt Naffah, left, and two team members strategizing Post-It style
As the others talked, I took a moment to check out Knead’s website on my phone. The site loaded quickly – a good sign – and after scrolling past the sunny image of the Boston skyline from the harbor, I got to the meat of the Knead homepage. The site told me that Knead delivers “short-duration chair massage to the office, building, or event/party,” and that the company handles “all scheduling and payment on our mobile-friendly website.” The site also promised “Convenient locations on a recurring basis” and told me that “It’s time for a relaxation revolution.”
At that moment, I realized that the entirety of the content on the Knead homepage and About Us page was feature-driven – there was no mention of the benefits of Knead as a service.
I brought this to the attention of the group. The typing and scribbling stopped.
We had gotten so excited to start talking content marketing that we hadn’t stopped to consider Knead’s content strategy.
Who IS that handsome stranger in the flannel shirt?
After discovering this potentially fatal flaw, we quickly got back to work. We discussed ways in which Knead’s service could be repositioned to focus on the benefits of Knead, rather than the features. We talked about how Knead could appeal to HR staff and wellness program managers – Knead’s primary audience – as a retention or onboarding tool. Somebody had the brilliant idea of positioning Knead as a way for HR professionals, typically the unsung heroes of the corporate world, to “be the hero” for a change by offering Knead massages as a reward incentive.
After another lightning-quick half-hour of brainstorming, Julie warned us we had just a few more minutes to present our case and outline our recommendations. Somehow, I was elected to co-present our ideas to the founders. We watched the first presentation, led by Boston Interactive’s Director of Digital Strategy Matt Naffah, nodding along as Matt and his team offered their insights.
A moment of quiet contemplation for Matt Naffah’s group.
Then it was our turn.
We stood in front of the whole group and the founders, and laid out our recommendations. We highlighted the lack of benefits-focused messaging, and urged the founders to reconsider the site’s positioning. I ventured the opinion that offering payment processing through a mobile-friendly website wasn’t a feature – it was an expectation, a remark that prompted nodding and murmured agreement from both the group and the founders. We offered actionable strategies that Knead could implement in the next three months that could help them drive traffic to their site and increase the number of leads they received.
After the event, I had a chance to talk with Knead’s founders, both of whom were excited not just by our recommendations, but by the excellent advice and strategies the other groups had offered. Knead had gone from very few ideas to possibly too many to implement right away. I can’t wait to see what Knead does in the next few months.
Knead may be an early-stage startup, but the problems Knead’s founders face are far from unique. Digital marketing is hard, even for experienced entrepreneurs who know the space. Many small businesses experience the same content marketing challenges as Knead, including difficulties with messaging and positioning, and resourcing issues for even the simplest content marketing efforts such as blogging and social media updates.
Knead Founder Nicholas Pierce and Account Manager Ned Suh, foreground left,
listen to a presenter’s recommendations after the group sessions.
It was fascinating to me that only our group chose to focus on messaging and positioning, rather than content marketing strategies that would better suit businesses with a more clearly defined offering. After the event, it occurred to me that this is a misstep that many new businesses – and not just startups – make. It doesn’t matter how much traffic your content generates if you’re targeting the wrong audiences, or targeting the right audiences in the wrong way. Knead knows its primary audience, but hadn’t realized that focusing on the benefits of the service may be more effective than touting the service’s features.
On a personal note, I’d like to thank WeWork Boston for hosting such an excellent event, the fine folks at General Assembly for generously providing the essential beer and pizza that all content professionals need to survive/think, and Devin, Mike, and Todd at Boston Content for organizing such a unique event.
I can’t wait for the next one.
Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.
See other posts by Dan Shewan
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