The Content Experience & The Hedgehog

In his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, Jim Collins talks at some length about being a hedgehog. What’s that, you say? Well, the story of “The Hedgehog and the Fox” is originally attributed to a phrase by the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

As Collins says, “It’s not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely critical.

I was reminded of this story last week as I traveled by train through the German countryside from Berlin to Frankfurt. The four-hour trip was made even more enjoyable by a long, relaxed discussion about content with the VP of marketing of a UK-based software company. We were talking about differentiation. He said,

“We’ve actually reduced the amount of content we create. We used to create tons of customer-loyalty leadership content across the whole industry. You know, news, trends, all that. Now, we’ve taken the hedgehog approach and decided that there’s one area that none of our competitors are covering from a content perspective, and that’s what we’re going to be the best in the world at it.” 

He then said, “We’ve built a whole digital experience around the concept. It has taken us 18 months to get there, but it was so worth it.

As you might expect we had lots to talk about.

From a content strategy perspective, there are many corollary thoughts to the hedgehog approach. You’ve got Simon Sinek who says, “Start with why.” You have Youngme Moon, whose book Different is a wonderful approach to differentiation. One thing I like about Collins’s Good to Great is this set of questions that we can apply to developing content-driven experiences.

  • What can you be the best in the world at? And what can’t you be best at?As my colleague Joe Pulizzi says, “No successful media company sets out to be the fifth-best magazine or third-best news network.” Just because our business has a competence in a particular vertical doesn’t mean we can, or should, provide thought leadership in that vertical. Asking ourselves where we can be the best is critical.
  • What drives your economic engine?From a content perspective, I might shift this to “If our customers got terrific value from our content, what business outcome would be the most likely?” In short, if our customers got tremendous value and wanted to subscribe to the content-driven experiences we produce, how might they “pay us” for that content? Might they raise their hands as active leads? Might they stay subscribed to our service longer? Might they be better served and decrease our service costs? Might they provide us with such rich, accurate data that we could better target our advertising and thereby drive down advertising costs? Might they literally pay us for that content?
  • What is your organization deeply passionate about? This answer seems like it should be a no-brainer because an organization’s passion is what should feed the content-engine. But passion can be a tricky thing for businesses. The word passionsuggests that we have a distinct point of view and will not back down from it. It means that, as much as we’re right for some people, we’re willing to be wrong for others.

Combined, these three questions form a sort of Venn diagram. Where your answers overlap, there lies your content mission. If you’re a hedgehog, that content mission is part of your one big thing – the deep, differentiating advantage that moves your business forward.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
Robert Rose on LinkedinRobert Rose on Twitter


Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.