It’s been exactly a year since my friend and mentor Don Schultz passed away. He was 86. If you don’t know about Don, you should look him up. He’s known as the father of integrated marketing, writing multiple books on the topic and teaching at Northwestern for decades.
Note: the picture above was taken in May of 2015, the last time I saw Don in person.
But more than that, he shaped my career in ways I don’t think he ever realized.
In the early 2000s, I took over Penton’s Custom Media group when Jim McDermott became publisher at Contractor magazine. More than anyone else, Jim had the biggest impact on my career. There would never have been a Content Marketing Institute without Jim. His passion for the practice surpassed everyone I knew.
When Jim was leaving for his new position, he told me to call Don Schultz, tell him I was coming to Chicago (from Cleveland) and take him to dinner.
I thought Jim was crazy. Don didn’t know me at all. Don didn’t know Jim. I didn’t know anyone who knew Don. But, Jim told me to do it, so I gave it a try.
I found his phone number and gave it a ring. His wife, Heidi, answered. I asked for Don and Heidi called out for Don to come get the phone. It was something like you’d see in a sit com.
Don said hello and I said something like this.
“Hi Mr. Schultz. My name is Joe Pulizzi and I’m director of Penton Media’s Custom Media group. I’m planning on being in the Chicago area next week and was hoping to take you to dinner.”
He said yes. I gave him a date and he gave me a time and a location. “Make it Gibson’s Steakhouse on Rush,” he said. I didn’t know anything about Gibson’s but I’ve been there a half a dozen times since.
That was it. A week later I was eating steak and drinking wine with the legend himself.
Over the next 17 years I would touch base with Don at least once a year. When I ran into a tough spot, I’d send a quick email, which he always promptly responded to (unless he was traveling, mostly in Australia). When he keynoted Content Marketing World in 2013, I remember standing in the back watching in awe.
Okay, enough of my blubbering.
What can Don Schultz teach us today?
I keep a stack of Don’s old writings around my desk for easy reference, just in case I lose my way. Here are a few.
“Learn as much about your customers as you know about your products and services.”
He wrote this in 2003. Way ahead of his time. Too many companies lose their way by focusing on what they are selling and not understanding the pain points of the customer or audience. If you begin and end with your customers in mind, things generally work out.
“Stop spending all money externally. Internal marketing is more vital than external marketing. Customer-touching and customer-facing employees, not external marketing, drive acquisition and retention.”
This is so simple and brilliant, yet hardly any large enterprises truly focus on this kind of an approach. When I go in and talk about the practice of content marketing, I generally tell them to create an internal marketing program before you work on your external communications. You can have the best content in the world, but if your employees can’t back up the message, it’s a big fat waste.
“If you can’t measure it, don’t do it. Behaviors, not attitudes, are the real measure of communication success.”
This is how we measure content marketing. When someone subscribes to our information, how do they behave differently. Do they buy more? Stay longer as customers? Refer us?
That’s why the end of the definition of content marketing is so important:
Content marketing is a marketing strategy where you create indispensable information to a specific audience on a consistent basis with the goal of maintaining or changing a behavior.
And last but not least.
“Everything you do as a company can be copied by someone else… except for how you communicate.”
This is why we cannot get hung up on how our amazing product is or will be. It can be copied. If your product is good, it certainly will be stolen by some entity.
So how do you compete? Create amazing experiences for your customers on a consistent basis.
Apple is a great example of this. They don’t have the best technology. I would argue Samsung kicks them all over town. But does any company create a better experience every step of the buying process? I don’t think so.
I’ll simply end this section by saying thanks. Thank you, Don. You continue to make a positive impact on the world.