No matter how you feel about them, the National Rifle Association (NRA) knows how to connect with their 4.5 million members, and that’s not by accident. The organization’s blueprint for advocating its gun rights agenda is the brainchild of ad agency Ackerman McQueen, and there’s a great deal that small businesses can learn from them about marketing to customers in the digital age.

Since 1999, Ackerman McQueen’s approach has been simple: companies need to start thinking of themselves as media companies, not advertisers. That requires businesses, no matter their size, to control the story of their industry through digital and other technology to steal attention away from their competitors.

“In the influence game,” according to AM’s web site,  “your competitors aren’t the brands you compete with for market share. They’re the brands you compete with for attention.”

What’s in a Story?

Every Brand Must Be Its Own Media Company.

I’ve never liked the Disneyesque connotation of the term “storytelling.”  For years it’s been dropped like a hockey puck at marketing conferences and webinars with little direction about how to create and sustain the telling of a company’s “story.”  Most marketing firms translate company stories into uncoordinated, predominantly text-based historical narratives with supplemental customer testimonials, favorable industry reviews, media coverage, event promotion, photos and internal news releases.

In stark contrast, Ackerman McQueen positioned the NRA to tell its story by transforming the organization into a media company using NRA TV, a now defunct media platform that covered gun rights issues and the lifestyle of gun ownership. Their approach transformed the NRA’s story from an organizational history of gun rights advocacy and gun safety into to a lifestyle tale that powerfully taps into the passions and ideological mindset of the rank-and-file member. Whether its programming about hunting weapons or controversial political commentary, the NRA’s story is always member-centric and targeted at building sustained community — not merely membership — around the NRA brand.

How to Tell Your Story

Especially for B2B consultants, differentiating yourself from your competitors means demonstrating your expertise. It’s always all about selling you to gain the trust of your clients and prospects. That’s predominantly done through authorship of reports and analyses, and the goal is to achieve top-of-mind recognition as a thought leader.

Well, you only goes so far, so here are three approaches to create immersive, customer-centric experiences like NRA TV. With each approach, keep in mind that the goal isn’t just to create content, but to also enlist your web site and social media channels to actively build community around it.

1) Monthly Video Show

Video is white hot right now, and will continue to dominate content development into the foreseeable future. Doing a monthly video program doesn’t need to be a Hollywood production. In fact, you can literally shoot the whole thing with your webcam. All that’s required is to set-up a YouTube channel and then editing your video in iMovie for the Mac or Adobe Premiere Rush.

The sky’s the limit in terms of content, but your focus should be on salient topics of interest to your audience and ideally invite feedback and interaction. For example, a financial consultant could do a 15 minute trends or financial news analysis show, highlighting financial news, reports and trends that they feel their clients need to know. You could also do a monthly program answering user submitted questions. (People still love to see their name in lights!)

2) Monthly Podcast

Regular podcast subscribers listen to 7 shows per week, and 46% of them listen in their cars. The same content focus for video programs carries over to an audio format, especially if you’re camera shy or don’t want to get into video production and editing. However, you can actually do both by simply importing your audio into iMovie or Premiere and adding a static screen with your company’s logo and/or your photo to display throughout the video.

All that’s technically required to do a podcast is a microphone to record your program; an audio production software like Audacity and a cloud based hosting service such as  Libysn or Buzzsprout where you’ll upload your programs.

To simply and guide your development, download this podcasting cheat sheet.

3) Curated News E-Newsletter

There’s no excuse for a company not to offer their audiences an e-newsletter, if only because it makes a 1-to-1 connection with your customers. But, generating enough blog content to create an issue is a labor intensive experience. A down-and-dirty way to handle content creation is to curate industry news with a simple headline and links presentation. In essence, you become the editor for your customers and prospects, selecting the most relevant stories for them to read. Great time saver for both you and the end user, and, over time, they’ll depend on you as a news service.

I took this approach with an employee benefits management firm during the rollout of ObamaCare. Confused by competing information in the mainstream press, their clients were simply looking for reliable information on the requirements of the new law. Each month, we used Feedly and Google Alerts to curate stories that, not only answered client concerns, but transformed the company into a trusted source for ObamaCare news and information.


As time moves on, digital marketing will naturally evolve even closer to Ackerman McQueen’s model, because the Net has grown more interactive and its users more dependent upon trusted sources to provide them with quick, easy to digest reliable information. No company will be able to dodge or escape that trend, and those who adopt a “media mindset” early can potentially expect larger audiences and stronger customer relationships as they steal attention away from their competitors.

So are you ready to tell your story?

Pat McKenna

Pat McKenna is a digital strategist, social media manager, web designer and founder of MojoWeb Productions, LLC. in Milwaukee, WI.

MojoWeb Productions