The Ice Cream Sandwich Approach to Content Marketing

The Deck is Stacked Against the Traditional Marketing Department

The marketing department is undergoing a transformation. The CMO is responsible for mapping the customer journey, and identifying new revenue opportunities while collaborating with other departments to make an impact on the business.

Demands from the C-Suite to demonstrate ROI on marketing spend are at an all time high. The tools and technology in the marketing landscape are changing at lightning speed. Resources are limited…

Content marketing can no longer be considered the sole responsibility of a traditional marketing department.

Most of a brand’s expertise rests in the employee ranks where they do the work of research, engineering, product development, sales, distribution, customer implementation and support, etc.

Cross-functional content marketing is not an option.

The modern marketer must build consensus with other departments to willingly participate in content marketing strategies that humanize the brand.

A Three-Layer Framework for Enterprise-Wide Content Marketing


The three-layer framework to enterprise-wide content marketing is like an ice cream sandwich. At the center of the sandwich is the employee population across all departments. The top layer is a story-telling layer. The bottom layer is the marketing layer. Let’s look at each layer.

1 – Storytelling

The most effective form of communication is and has always been storytelling. It starts for us as infants. It turns out the consumer – regardless of age or industry – responds well to storytelling.

The key to effective storytelling for marketing impact is that it is: 1) authentic, 2) relevant, 3) actionable.

Creating stories that are authentic and relevant are impactful when originating from the employee subject matter experts across the enterprise. Stories that are actionable take planning. More on this later.

2 – Cross Functional Contribution by Employees

An organization made up of 100, or 100,000 employees has one thing in common. The employees create the value for the organization!

You can’t buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks without engaging with a Starbucks employee. Even the most complex B2B products and services get designed, delivered and supported by specialists inside those organizations. It’s the employee’s specialized knowledge that is so powerful in its storytelling potential.

Here’s the challenge… Most employees didn’t get trained to tell stories, at least not for marketing purposes.

And, that’s where the marketing layer for enterprise-wide content marketing comes in…It is the responsibility of the marketing department to harness employees’ story telling potential!

3 – The Marketing Layer

The skills needed in the modern marketing department are part “Quant and part Crayola.” The “Quant” part requires deep insight into the buyer personas. Analytics skills and tools are tapped to document your customer’s needs and wants.

The “Crayola” part involves creative thinking to develop stories that speak to each customer persona. And, that requires collaborating with employees from other departments. The marketing team must traverse the organization, using word-of-mouth referrals within the organization to find the people with stories to share.

The challenge – and opportunity – is that these stories exist throughout an organization, but they must be uncovered.

The process is exactly like a reporter hunting to find the best sources to tell a story.

It’s the role of marketing to be part networker, part detective, and part journalist.

  • The networker must find the people with stories to share.
  • The detective must ask the right questions to uncover the stories.
  • The journalist must document and publish the stories in a way that is authentic, relevant and actionable.

The most important responsibility of the marketing team is to make stories actionable – stories so meaningful that the consumer wants to take an action.

Cross Functional Content Marketing in Action

There are many inspirational examples of cross-functional content marketing in action. Here are seven examples to fuel your juices from my podcast.

Avery Dennison

Under the leadership of James Moat, Avery Dennison has launched a “movement to educate and mobilize its 25,000 employees in these new ways to communicate.”


Through a collaborative initiative led by Carlos Abler and Christian Plewacki, 3M is reaching across its 89,000 employee workforce to tell stories relevant to “Science. Applied to Life.” in an educational manner to humanize their brand.


Under the leadership of Kirsten Chiala, Cisco’s Newsroom dubbed The Network is an online media property that delivers a cornucopia of branded journalism. Kirsten’s team often taps into the ranks of its 70,000 employees to contribute to stories on tech topics running the spectrum from mobility, to security to Internet of Things.


Amy Heiss is the Global Program Manager for Social Media Training and Activation at Dell. Amy provides continuing education on the latest trends in social for the entire Dell team of 110,000 employees, and helps team members understand how they can create tangible business value when using social media in day-to-day business operations.


Humana’s enterprise social network (ESN), which they call Buzz, is a five-year-old initiative led by Jeff Ross that has been transformational. Approximately half their 50,000 employee population has adopted Buzz as a form of internal connection, collaboration and story telling that has improved business operations.

Indium Corp.

Under the leadership of Rick Short, Indium Corp. taps into the expertise of its engineers to write blog content on technical topics pertaining to its industrial materials sold to electronics manufacturers, which serve to humanize their brand and gain their customer’s trust.


Under the leadership of John Yembrick, NASA has embraced transformative digital communication across its employee base to make space exploration interesting and relevant to all of humanity, with contributions coming from NASA employees across many functions including astronauts.

Training is Required

Brands who are adept at cross-functional content marketing have implemented training plans supported by the C-Suite. Consider the university-style training delivered by Dell’s Social Media Activation and Community University at one extreme (SMAC-U). Thousands of Dell employees have received classroom training to learn how to share their stories through social media. The type and frequency of training you should deliver depends on where you are on this journey. If you’re just getting started on cross-functional marketing, start by bringing together marketing people and non-marketing people to collaborate on how to do story telling that is authentic, relevant and actionable.

Actionable Stories

I want to address what I mean by actionable stories. In the simplest form, I mean that the reader, viewer or listener of a story is inspired or invited to click on a link, or visit a website, or download a piece of content, or share the story with a friend, or respond to a promotional offer. Whatever it is, the action should be relevant to the story and relevant to the person in the moment.

It’s the marketer’s responsibility to map out the customer’s journey and connect the action to a part of their journey running the spectrum from awareness through post-purchase support. In other words, it is not realistic to think that each action will always be transactional. This is especially true of B2B offerings where the buyer is on the journey to determine fit before he is willing to sign up for your demo.

The “Marketing is Not One Department” Mindset

An organization-wide approach to content marketing is transformative. It’s a mindset shift that starts in the C-Suite. Its success depends greatly on collaboration between subject matter experts across the enterprise, and the journalistic capabilities of the marketing team to develop, publish and distribute stories in a way that is authentic, relevant and actionable.

What action will you take as a result of reading this article?

7 Comments to The Ice Cream Sandwich Approach to Content Marketing

  1. by Spencer Maus April 12, 2016

    I can use this strategy with all clients, whether they have 10 employees or thousand of employees.

  2. by Jeannette Barcelos Kravitz April 12, 2016

    Thanks Bernie for your input today at SociaJackTV! Any chance you are related to Phil Borges in Seattle?:) He’s a great creative producer and photographer.
    Peace, Jeannette

  3. by Bernie Borges April 12, 2016

    Hi Jeanette,
    Thanks for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed my input on Social JackTV! I don’t know Phil Borges in Seattle. He sounds like a fun guy.
    Thanks for your engagement with me!


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