Content Marketing Lessons From RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI

As you read this, I am en route to an adventure — battling heat, fatigue, sunburn, and, yes, possibly the overwhelming stench of cow patties baking in the sun. Or, at least, this is what I anticipate — along with camping, eating, drinking, games, music, and general tomfoolery with 12 friends, members of our cycling team, “High 5!

I’m heading to RAGBRAI, the world’s oldest and largest bicycling event. RAGBRAI — which stands for the “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa” — is celebrating its 41st year. This year’s route (it changes annually) is amongst the shortest in many years. It clocks in at 450 miles and some change, and travels the southern part of the state.

An event like RAGBRAI may or may not be your thing, but it presents an excellent content marketing case study:

  • How can content marketing spread the gospel and the history amongst long-time participants?
  • How can it get first-timers like me fired up and excited to roll?
  • How can organizers create content suitable for such a large event featuring such a diversity of participant ages and athleticism (they anticipate 15,000+ participants, most between the ages 8-80)?

Let’s look briefly at how the event organizers have addressed these three broad questions.

Inventory Your Assets and Advantages

The originator and long-time sponsor of the event is the newspaper The Des Moines Register. We talk a lot about the evolution of journalism here, so it is easy to spot two of The Register‘s key advantages: First, a wealth of previous content to remix and redistribute. Second, The Register has access to hordes of capable writers, photographers, videographers, social media managers, and other key media professionals required to successfully create and disseminate new content.

“Wait,” I hear you, the thoughtful reader, protest: “How could my business possibly manage to do what a newspaper does?”

The short answer is that you can’t, and you should hire a company like ours for newsblogging services — of course! Another response is that you indeed have more content marketing advantages at your disposal than you might consider. For example:

  • Access to SMEs — subject matter experts
  • Access to specialized data and insider industry knowledge
  • Access to an existing library of content assets that can be utilized

A lot of people focus on using a content library to reach new clients. That’s important, but, digging through and repurposing your old content is a great way to remind your existing base why they remain loyal to you. RAGBRAI organizers do this well by telling the story of the event, using previous newspaper articles and other media.

People: It’s All About People

Sure, reliving past events can recharge your base, but what about the newbies? How can you use content to attract new people?

It sounds cliché because it comes down to one thing: building a connection with actual people.

The content at the RAGBRAI site gives me, a new person, an in-depth look at who, what, when, where, and how — with an emphasis on who. Take a look at these diverse bits of content to serve the “who” in WWWWH:

  • Podcasts — Iowa Agcasts features an episode for each leg of the trip featuring the local farmers, conservationists, and others who work the land along the route. This content invites participants (and anyone else) to experience the trip before, during, and after the event.
  • Blog posts — Various people and each of the “pass-through” towns are highlighted on the official blog to build anticipation and create personal connection.
  • Video — Various characters are introduced via video. Two examples are Jason Waite of Team Jorts (the team known for wearing tuxedo tops with jean shorts) and longtime food purveyor, Paul “Mr. Pork Chop” Bernhard.

(Oh, and, of course, the requisite social media updates, apps, and other digital content that keep things humming!)

Your content marketing plan may be bigger or smaller. One thing that needs special attention is the connection with real people. Featuring real people is the key because it rarely gets stale. Real people, especially those who can convey a little humanity versus projecting corporate-ese, can be a significant emotional draw to any brand.

Here are some ideas for using content marketing to build awareness and excitement for your next big event.

Diversity of Content to Serve Specific Needs

The partial list of multimedia above is just a taste of the content RAGBRAI produces. As one person I know described it, “RAGBRAI is basically a party the state of Iowa throws each year” — and, yes, that means a lot of diverse people- and information-wrangling.

Here’s a glimpse at more utilitarian content that also serves important dual functions:

Training series and message boards — helpful for real people, but also wonderful for search engines.

Safety videos, such as “10 Tips for a Safe RAGBRAI,” are helpful to people. They may also subtly serve the dual purpose of deflecting liability claims.

Together, all of these pieces of content serve one purpose: to convert casual readers into cycling tourists. As you prepare your content marketing strategy, ask yourself these questions as takeaway lessons from RAGBRAI:

  • How can I gather, organize, and reuse existing content assets?
  • How can I work to introduce real people into my messaging?
  • How can I be sure all of my content serves at least one purpose, maybe more?

See you in the end town!

Image: RAGBRAI/The Des Moines Register.

About Katie McCaskey

Katie McCaskey is SixEstate’s content director. She tests real-world application of content marketing techniques using the cafe she co-owns as a laboratory. She was Tech Editor of Chief Content Officer, 2010-2011, and contributes to the Content Marketing Institute. Connect with her on Google+ or @KatieMcCaskey.

  

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