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BLOG:Ace Hardware Leverages the 3Rs of Content Creation to Become Content King

Ace Hardware Leverages the 3Rs of Content Creation to Become Content King

Content is king. There is no doubt about that in this ‘always on’ world. Today, getting valuable content to your audience as quickly as possible is mission critical - a mission Ace Hardware recently came to Universal Mind to help complete.

The plain truth is that outside of actually purchasing your goods and services, content becomes the primary way your customers engage with your brand, ideally on a very regular basis. As we hit full throttle in the “age of the customer”, your customer is now conditioned to having things their way. They demand a seamless experience, 24/7 access to your products and services, and unlimited access to information, always at their fingertips (or, better yet, thanks to the likes of Amazon Echo, at their voice command). As organizations seek new ways to level the competitive playing field and amp up their customer experience in a desperate attempt to lock down a bit of brand loyalty, content isn’t just king, it’s trip aces.

To keep up in this competitive landscape where “good enough” is no longer good enough, organizations have reacted by attempting to transform their marketing efforts from the ‘brand as an advertiser’ to the ‘brand as a content provider’.

Universal Mind was recently engaged to help make Ace Hardware, a client of ours, the king of content in their industry by redesigning their consumer marketing Tips & Advice website, turning it into a valuable tool for completing home projects. There’s nothing we love more than a good challenge, so we dove right in. Before designing a single screen or interface, we first took a look at what we like to call the 3R’s of content marketing: Reach, Relevance, and Rendering.

  • Reach: Content needs to be portable and ready to go viral – it needs to be tweeted, linked, relinked, added to other blog content, indexable by search engines,…you get the picture.
  • Relevance: Content should correlate to your audience’s perception of your brand. It should be fresh, relate to your audience, and be context dependent.
  • Rendering: Content needs to be adaptable and optimized for screen size and bandwidth, and able to be seamlessly consumed across devices.

In the case of Ace Hardware, engaging “Do It Yourselfers” means relevant content should be findable and easily available. The content on their current site was stale, hard to find, and not in a good format for homeowners to consume. In order to stave off the competition from the large home improvement centers, Ace had refocused its brand messaging on being the place to go to maintain and enhance your home. Large home improvement stores are your best bet for large projects, but for the design do-it-yourself projects, the convenience and knowledge of your local Ace Hardware, “the helpful place”, can’t be beaten.

To ensure content relevance, Ace started by creating a completely new series of “How To” project content including enlisting the help of their resident Ace Hardware expert, Lou Manfredini. With a slew of resident home experts chomping at the bit to produce content, ‘relevance’ was a non-issue for Ace. The real challenge for Ace was getting this fresh content into the hands of their consumers (reach) and ensuring the content was easily consumable on whatever device was being used (rendering).

This is where Universal Mind came in.

Taking a look at the business landscape within Ace, we put ourselves in the shoes of the user; not just the end consumer, but also the person who would be adding this content to the website. What was their comfort with web technology? Any coding or design background? What tools were they comfortable with? We also engaged IT to understand Ace’s technical landscape and corporate procedures. As it turned out, Ace did not have full administrative rights to their current content site and the opportunities for adding new content were few and far between. Ace’s consumer marketing team operates without IT support so having a solution that could be self-administered with zero IT intervention required to publish new content was vital. What’s more, we knew the ultimate success of this solution hinged upon them being able to fish for themselves, independent of our support and fishing skills. The target goal was to design an engaging and powerful experience that enabled Ace’s consumer marketing team to achieve their goals without having to rely on anyone, whether it be their IT department or our crew.

We got to work on selecting a content management solution that would enable a user with no web design or development skills to add content on an ongoing basis. The content had to be properly formatted for web, tablet, and device, as well as properly indexed for search engines. Looking at the user needs and ultimately the consumer needs were key, but it was also crucial to understand the business goals. Engaging the audience is great, but does it pay the bills? Ultimately, Ace needs to sell products to stay in business. Keeping in mind a business focus, we made a mental note to make sure we linked product to content and content to product.

Selecting the right CMS tool was the next focus in getting their 3R’s up to par. We evaluated available CMS tools not only for their flexibility but also for the “authoring experience”. There is a multitude of CMS tools available at all different price points. We knew exactly what the system had to do; so choosing the right one was relatively straightforward.

Simultaneously, we needed to configure the proper set of templates so the Ace team could create a new “How To’ experience and have it render on the site correctly whether it was a video, step-by-step set of instructions, an animation, or just a set of helpful tips. In doing this, we determined that content would need to fit in one of a selection of fixed templates, and ensured these templates configured the breakpoints to enable the site and its content to be responsive and presented in the right layout and format for web, tablet and phone. We made this step completely hands-off for the user.

The third task was designing an experience that would attract customers and enable them to quickly find helpful content. We automated the design of the templates by leveraging scripts so that process and integrations removed the content author from having to worry about things like formatting, search words or product links. This ensured the content was properly formatted for web, tablet and phone. It was made to be fool-proof and completely transparent to the person adding content.

At this point, we could safely say Ace was a resounding YES on the 3R’s of content marketing, well armed with the proper content that is adaptable, optimized and in the proper location(s). In this case, Ace isn’t just the king of content; they’re the Ace of it.

“Universal Mind provided us with a design that will attract consumers and search engines by being inherently helpful. It’s responsive, image-rich and features our growing library of how-tos in a simple, but sophisticated user experience. The step-by-step format is especially unique from other publishers’ sites. Printable project instructions, web pages, and even videos can be difficult for a do-it-yourselfer to follow along with as they are actively completing each step. With the swipe-able images and tips in Ace’s site design, the do-it-yourselfer can progress through steps one by one without losing the helpful visual guides.“ -Kristy Molander, Content Manager, Ace Hardware Consumer Marketing