Content Marketing All Stars: Q&A with Michael Kuczkowski, The Hartford

By NativeAI / August 29, 2014


The Hartford is considered to be America’s oldest company, founded all the way back in 1810. Since then, they have built a business that has become an industry leader in the investment and insurance spaces. In order to stay at the forefront for over 200 years, a culture of adaptation and flexibility has become a staple for the organization.

So, when content marketing took off as the next big thing, it wasn’t a surprise to see The Hartford ahead of the curve. We were fortunate enough to connect with Michael Kuczkowski, AVP of Integrated Marketing and Content Development, to hear about how content fits into their marketing strategy, and to get some insight into how content has become a cornerstone of The Harford’s marketing program.

Can you talk about your initial reaction to being tasked with creating a content marketing program for The Hartford? Did the experience of taking America’s oldest company and giving it a content presence match up to your expectations for the challenge?

In some cases, building out The Hartford’s content marketing presence was more challenging than expected, and in others, it was simpler. The challenges were some things you might expect such as needing to educate business partners on the differences between content marketing and other forms of marketing.  Several of the things I worried about at first turned out to not be problems at all.  Like building a content marketing team. It turned out there were a lot of great people here in Hartford – and some, like me, who were willing to move here. Once they saw the commitment The Hartford was willing to make to build a content marketing team, they all came on board.

Today, we have been able to build the best content marketing team here in Hartford. After more than 200 years in business, we’ve been through a lot as a company. We’ve learned a great deal along the way and have some absolutely incredible stories to share. It turns out people want to hear about it.

During your presentation at the Native Advertising Summit, you talk about sifting through The Hartford’s archives and finding some great company stories in there. How would you describe the ideal relationship between brands and storytelling? What makes a good story?

The stories that brands tell have to be genuine. They can’t be artificial. One example of a great story I had the privilege of working on was the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. The Hartford is a founding partner of the U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee dedicated to recruiting and training elite athletes with physical disabilities.  We’ve been supporting U.S. Paralympic athletes for more than 20 years. One of our athlete ambassadors this year is Amy Purdy, a world champion snowboarder who starred in our TV ad that aired on NBC and NBC Sports in the U.S. during the Paralympic Winter Games. The TV ad was part of our “What Defines You” campaign, a national initiative that resulted in The Hartford donating $100,000 to U.S. Paralympics.   

Let me tell you, the employees at The Hartford embraced the spirit of the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games. The Hartford set up televisions in its office lobbies so that employees could watch the games and support our sponsored athletes. Our employees watched the Game in the lobbies of our offices. Soon after, a movement began in support of Purdy on Dancing With the Stars, which she started just days after winning a bronze medal in snowboard cross in Sochi. It turned into one of the biggest social promotions in The Hartford’s history. Twitter asked if they could use it as a case study. I wish I could say this was my idea, but this is something my team helped bring to life. Genuine, heartfelt stories will always win.


You also talked about asking your target audience what they care about and want to read. How did you translate their responses into successful content?

One of our most important target audiences is small business owners. At The Hartford, we believe that we can succeed as a company if we give our small business clients the information they need to thrive as small business owners. We wanted to create a sound, coherent, easy-to-use guide for small business owners. We began by conducting a lot of research, asking small business owners what kind of help they were looking for. They told us that they needed information about a range of issues, such as start-up financing and taxes, hiring employees, legal issues and tips on how to grow their business. We hired the best writers we could find on these topics, and engaged a series of small business experts. This helped us build a more authentic voice. Now we regularly go back to small business owners and ask their opinions on the content we’re developing and make adjustments based on their feedback. Finally, we monitor every piece of content we distribute. We look at the amount of time spent on it. If we see issues, we monitor user flow to see what’s not working. Sometimes the fix is as simple as rethinking an opening paragraph, or changing out a word or two. We’re always listening to make sure that whatever we develop is resonating with our small business owner audience.

You can check out the Business Owner’s Playbook here.

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What can other businesses learn from this approach?

Spend more time listening to (and less time talking at) your audience. It’s important to listen to your audiences – and that can include virtual listening.  They’ll tell you whether what you have to say has value to them.

Let’s talk about SmallBizAhead. The instinct would be for a brand to talk about the topic they know best, but you don’t publish stories about insurance here. How do you balance covering the things your readers want to see while maintaining a strong brand identity?

As I mentioned earlier, The Hartford recognizes that we can succeed if our customers succeed. That’s why we provide them with the information they need to be successful small business owners. While we don’t do many direct stories about insurance, we do a lot around the risks small business owners face such as data theft, employee accidents and weather emergencies. These are all topics that small business owners care about that can drive conversations around insurance coverage.

You can check out the SmallBizAhead site here.


Small Biz Ahead also has syndicated content from Forbes, Business2Community and Fast Company. How have these partnerships helped you elevate The Hartford’s identity as a content resource?

I’ve always believed that providing a mix of custom and curated content is important. It can help get more valuable information out to readers. It also helps build brand credibility because it shows your brand is not just sending out content that serves its own needs, but that you’re willing to share outside opinions.

You’ve also created a sense of community beyond content. Can you talk about the importance of incorporating events like Google hangouts and other meetings with experts and business owners?

The Hartford has partnered with some amazing small business experts including Gene Marks, author and small business owner, Melinda Emerson, social media expert and Barbara Weltman, tax and legal expert as well as millennial expert Lyndsey Pollak. All of them are great writers and have very engaging video personalities. They really come to life when we give small business owners a chance to interact with them during a Google Hangout or online chat. Small business owners like to get answers to their questions from the experts. Sometimes, just giving small business owners a chance to interact with each other is valuable. They love having an opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences.

When you’re measuring the success of your content efforts, what metrics are most important?

Honestly, anything that demonstrates that we are giving our clients information that they find valuable. It can include number of visitors to our content, time on our website, number of pages viewed, clicks to articles. And of course comments.

How do you use these metrics to help change and improve your content marketing?

We tend to be very reactive as we watch our metrics. Simply changing a headline or photo or opening paragraph can improve engagement very quickly and dramatically.

What’s next for The Hartford’s content marketing efforts?

There is so much we want to do. My team is always coming to me with great ideas. We are looking to create more video and optimize our video channel as well as develop content for different customer segments. More contextual advertising is also on our minds. We definitely want to keep getting better at online events and chats. Everyone on my team is passionate about constantly improving what we do. I love coming into the office every day to find out what ideas they have for taking our content marketing program to the next level.

Written by NativeAI / August 29, 2014