Before the pandemic, we were always trying to figure out new ways of engaging with customers – how to get their attention and keeping it. Then we closed our doors, hunkered down, and eventually started to peek out into civilization.
Everything has seemingly changed, but there is comfort in the small things that make us feel like the world has not been spun around and shaken like a snow globe.
Getting Ann Handley’s newsletter is one of those things for me. I devour everything. Then I mark it unread so that I can go back again and again. A few years ago, one of those newsletters included the green bean casserole story — a Thanksgiving staple. Green bean casserole?
After reading it, I asked and was permitted to share it in my newsletter. It’s now my Thanksgiving tradition.
More than a recipe, the ubiquitous side dish’s story is a lesson in the best of content marketing. As marketers, we all look at content marketing as a way to connect to buyers by “giving” them a level of product information wrapped in a cloak of useful information.
However, smart marketers realize that the best content is that which puts the buyer at the center of a story that isn’t complete without us. Excellent content marketing answers the proverbial “what’s in it for me” question and generating sales because the buyer strives for that completion.
The Content Marketing Institute’s research has shown us the pillars of excellent content marketing.
- Know your audience. It gives me great pleasure to see the Institute’s top tip and my Jules Rule #1 are practically identical. (Insert shameless casino branding book plug here.)
- Lead with the audience’s need, rather than the brand, putting them in the center of the brand’s story.
- Nurture the relationships by creating communities, watching for changing preferences, and earning their trust.
I also think the green bean casserole story is a lesson in creating brand rituals that engage our guests and team members. Rituals connect us at a deep, emotional level. They tell us things will be ok, and we are comforted by that.
Perhaps I see both sides of the story because great content and rituals share some common traits. They are relevant to the customer, and they are consistent along with providing the customer some level of value.
As we seem to be resetting nearly every detail in our marketing, let us consider how we can place our brands in our customers’ lives. How can we begin to (re)play an essential role in their lives? How can we start sharing the information that is meaningful to them?
Here’s the story (almost) as it appears on Ann’s website.
In 1955, Dorcas Reilly invented Thanksgiving Green Bean Casserole.
Dorcas worked in the test kitchen at Campbell’s Soup, where she wrote the recipe in response to a question from the Associated Press:
What’s a good Thanksgiving side dish that uses ingredients found in most American kitchens?
The dish she invented went viral.
Millions of Americans made Green Bean Casserole that year. And the next. And every year since.
And this week — more than 60 years later — it’ll be served on an estimated 20 million Thanksgiving tables across the US, Campbell’s says.
Today, Dorcas’s casserole accounts for 40 percent of Cream of Mushroom soup sales.
You might be skimming here… so I want to be sure you caught that Marketing ROI stat again:
A. SINGLE. RECIPE. DRIVES. 40! PERCENT! OF! SALES!
That makes Dorcas’s 100-word recipe one of the most lasting and successful content marketing efforts of all time.
So why did Dorcas’s Green Bean Casserole go viral in 1955?
Because it was three things: Easy. Fast. Cheap.
Her original recipe could not be more basic: Frozen green beans, an entire can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, milk… anointed with a tangle of fried onion strings.
Here’s the recipe on the Campbell’s site.
Dorcas died in 2018, just shy of her 93rd Thanksgiving.
She wasn’t a marketer. But, still, her Green Bean Casserole followed a modern content marketing playbook — decades before its time:
It started with a question.
🦃 Doesn’t all great content marketing start with a question?
It didn’t launch until Dorcas tested the recipe and perfected the script in her test kitchen.
🦃 Doesn’t all great marketing need testing?
🦃 Doesn’t all great content have a backbone of carefully chosen words?
It really took off after Campbell’s added Dorcas’s recipe to its soup can label in 1960. (It’s still there.)
🦃 Doesn’t all great content marketing have an ongoing distribution strategy?
And finally, what may be the most important play in the playbook…
Eating a bowl of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup straight up is about as appealing as eating a tub of schoolroom paste.
But maybe you like paste. Or maybe your paycheck is signed by the Cream of Mushroom Soup Lobby. (Is that lobby a thing? Please-please-please be true….)
Whatever our differences, I hope we can still agree:
…the smartest marketing puts a product into context.
🦃 Doesn’t all great content marketing place a product in the context and circumstances of its customer’s lives?
Freedom from Tyranny
Those 100 words perfected in Dorcas’s test kitchen tapped into the zeitgeist of 1955. What she wrote was a prescription for ease, convenience, and make-ahead freedom for US housewives suffering from the tyranny of mealtime.
Because they embodied the spirit of the times, Dorcas’s words mattered.
Then again, such words almost always do. We see that in today’s charged political climate, too, where words have real-world consequences.
In marketing, your words can literally make a product: Where would Cream of Mushroom soup be today without Dorcas?
Marketing can take you only so far.
Campbell’s has been struggling in the past few years, like a lot of other big consumer brands that need to stay relevant when we have greater access to better options.
Marketing can’t fix products or turn back time or address management challenges.
But other things are more lasting like the simple joy of green beans, canned soup, milk.
Like the legacy of a woman who changed Thanksgiving forever.
And like the ability of words to capture the spirit of a time.
For better. And for worse.
So, I ask you, “What simple idea have you been holding on to that could become marketing gold?”
Happy Thanksgiving! I am always amazed and blessed by you because you want to listen to what I have to say.
By the way, you should sign up for Ann’s newsletter so you can get this kind of inspiration!