It started with a request from a boss to Dean Foust, director of executive communications at UPS.
The global transportation and logistics company had a blog, but traffic was low. Study it and figure out what to do with it, Foust’s boss said.
Foust, who spent 23 years as a reporter and bureau chief for BusinessWeek, concluded that most of the stories interested neither customers nor the ideal target audience of decision-making executives.
“It was written by us and about us, and the result was, the only people who read it was us,” Foust says. “I came back with a proposal that we blow it up and replace it with something different.”
What emerged from the rubble was Longitudes, UPS’ content marketing website that is helping reposition the company from a package delivery service to a partner you’d invite to the executive suite to help plan logistics.
The blog is drawing praise in the industry. Capterra, a logistics company, recently ranked Longitudes one of the 11 best resources in the industry.
Peering into the future
“Reading the UPS blog is often like looking a year or so into the future,” Capterra stated. “You can see the changes coming down the road (Millennials in Latin America, Using Data to Understand Overseas Markets, etc.) before they impact your day-to-day.”
The website provides information of interest to both customers and general readers. This week, much of the content relates to a TED event hosted at UPS’ Atlanta headquarters.
A story called ” The Secrets of the Most Community-Minded U.S. Companies” discusses how a partnership that includes UPS and a robotics company is delivering vaccines via drone in Rwanda. A TED@UPS video introduces Detroit recording artist John Bidden, who talks about “transporting sound” to change people’s lives.
Readers can find specialized stories by clicking on tabs. Under the “trade” tab is a story about “the need for a jumpstart to the global economy“—a curated piece from the Guardian. Under “logistics,” check out “Sending Cancer Packing: How logistics can help make or break product launches.” Stories are also grouped under tabs for “global,” “innovation,” “sustainability” and “industries.”
A story on the potential for bitcoin in logistics drew 10,000 views and led to speaking opportunities for the author, who manages UPS’ portfolio of venture capital investments. It has also opened a business opportunity, which Foust says he can’t yet divulge.
All this reflects a philosophy that animates the new blog. Foust says he wanted to hang a sign in the editorial office reading, “THE WORLD DOESN’T CARE ABOUT UPS,” so writers should talk about the issues people do care about.
The blog adheres to the newsy style that has been labeled “brand journalism,” though as an old newshound, Foust prefers the term “content marketing.” Corporate reporting, he says, is never going to win a Pulitzer, and there are issues such as human rights in China that a global company wouldn’t touch.
Under the marketing radar
Longitudes went live in September 2014, and UPS managed to pull it off for $37,000, building it on a WordPress site. Sure, Foust would have loved it if the company had budgeted another $100,000 for the project, but he began to see the advantages of a smaller approach built on a WordPress template. It flew under the radar, he says. The site wasn’t required to generate leads or serve marketing goals.
“We were able to create a site where really there was no hard sell,” Foust says. “There’s not even a soft sell.”
Longitudes is produced with a team of six (most of them have other duties as well). Foust keeps his metrics on visits close to the vest, but he will say that the blog email has more than 6,300 subscribers. The audience includes executives and policymakers in 170 countries. Readers spend an average of 3.5 minutes per visit on Longitudes, a figure Foust says is high for a website.
One recently posted story and video, part of a series touting free trade, is called “From Epiphany to Action.” It tells of a marketing executive who was in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers fell. Traumatized by what she saw, she reassessed her life and started a charity called Heart for Africa, eventually moving to Swaziland to run an orphanage and farm. (UPS supports the charity, which hopes to become self-sustaining by 2020.)
Longitudes got the footage after Foust learned that another department in UPS was sending a two-person camera crew to various spots around the world to film its air hubs. Because they were visiting Johannesburg, Longitudes paid the extra fare to send the videographer to Swaziland.
From the beginning, the blog has used curated content, and it exchanges copy with GE, IBM, Autodesk, Hewlett Packard and many other organizations. Foust began using curated stories from the beginning, because he knew that he couldn’t immediately crank up a content engine that would generate five pieces of UPS copy a week.
The content-sharing agreement is an informal one, Foust says. “We keep the lawyers out of it,” he says.
An Algonquin Round Table
The blog attempts to serve as a contemporary Algonquin Round Table-the notorious 1920s gaggle of New York City writers, critics, actors and others—in its field, Foust says.
The blog has published experts such as Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia University professor of sustainable development. All this is part of a strategy to position UPS as something more than the company that ships your Christmas packages.
The company wants to be a strategic partner that can help organizations develop their global supply chains. It does this with L.L. Bean, Triumph Motorcycles and Advanced BioHealing, a company that produces a skin substitute that must remain below minus 75 degrees Celsius (minus 103 Fahrenheit) when it’s transported.
The blog has theme weeks, and during a recent one on growing business opportunities between U.S. and Mexico, all of that week’s UPS-bylined content in English and in Spanish. Foust envisions Spanish and German editions in the future.
“We’re actually much more than that. Creating a blog like Longitudes leads to a reconsideration of UPS as a global organization of 440,000 really, really smart people around the world in 220 countries who can see over the horizon and who can take you there if you’ll just hitch your wagon to us.”