Circa 2008, bestselling author Seth Godin claimed: “[Content Marketing] is all the marketing that’s left.” A dozen years later, we may be neck-deep in content, but we are still discovering the true potential of content marketing.
This blog decodes the difference between marketing with content and content marketing; and curates examples of winning content marketing strategies used by businesses to achieve remarkable and profitable outcomes. We’ll also share what a popular Netflix series taught us about the power of content. Intrigued? Read on.
Content Marketing vs Marketing with Content. What’s the difference?
Content is all around us — social media posts, memes, influencer content, user-generated content, blogs, infographics and e-books. Creating, collating, publishing and distributing branded content through official business channels is often termed “content marketing”.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Let us understand how marketing with content is different from content marketing.
When businesses rely on visibility or engagement through a singular piece of content, they are marketing with content. This piece of content could be a graphic, a meme, a blog, a book or even an infographic. The rationale behind marketing with content is simple — customers are consuming content, and hence, delivering relevant content with implicitly or explicitly embedded brand messages will keep the business top of their mind (often referred to as top of mind awareness).
Truth be told, marketing with content does work in the short run. Frequent, topical content creates spikes in engagement. That said, it is largely a myopic solution since businesses cannot project revenues or subscriptions based on it.
Content marketing, on the other hand, is a slower process of creating consistent content as part of a premeditated strategy that meets the audience’s needs and is driven by the deliberate goal of taking them through the brand’s stages of awareness, cognition (unaided awareness), engagement, trial, purchase and retention. When businesses employ content marketing, they are looking at long-term brand- and community-building. They are looking to attract potential customers and engage with current customers by giving them content that is of value. In fact, according to a 2021 study by the Content Marketing Institute, 83% of B2B marketers and 77% of B2C marketers attributed content marketing success (extremely/very successful) to the “value their content provides”.
Constant brand engagement that provides value to its audience increases the lifetime value of the customer, thereby increasing the revenue of a business.
Limiting marketing goals to top of mind awareness and other top-of-funnel activities limits the potential of content marketing, which must also serve the core business purpose — sales. Considering the multitude of media touch-points and customer journeys being anything but linear, merely creating exemplary content may not directly lead your potential customers down the path of purchase.
So what does?
Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Advisor, CMI, states, “Content marketing is cool - but content operations make it work.” Content operations involve distributing, disseminating, promoting and using whatever leverage the content has created to further business goals.
Let us look at how businesses have leveraged robust and focussed content marketing operations to produce remarkable, profitable outcomes.
Blend it like Beckham
Understanding how an idea created a lasting impact on a business
Blendtec is the developer of the world’s most advanced blenders and a pioneer in new blending technology. They are widely recognised in the food service and kitchen appliance industries.
They had an amazing product, but no one knew about it. As a conventional brand, they had to find a way to create an interest in the minds of their potential customers.
They targeted the end-user by launching the quirky Will It Blend? video series on YouTube in 2006. The series starred the founder and CEO, Tom Dickson (in mock mad scientist mode), using Blendtec blenders to pulverise everything from marbles and golf balls to the latest iPhone. The idea was to demonstrate the power and durability of their blender.
The first video was produced with a budget of $50, which was used to purchase white lab coats, marbles, a garden rake, a rotisserie chicken, a McDonald’s Extra Value Meal and the domain name — Will It Blend. Tom Dickson donned the white lab coat and proceeded to blend these items in the company lunch room.
The video series has garnered over 291 million views with over 861,000 followers on YouTube and more than 54,000 followers on Facebook. Additionally, Blendtec has close to 32,000 followers on Twitter. On top of winning a slew of awards, the videos have significantly increased the company’s revenues, and the content has generated over $50,000 in ad revenues. The video series struck a two-way communication channel with their audiences, with the latter often suggesting newer, stranger products for blending, which the business humoured.
Decoding the success
Creating a sustainable content property that showcased the use of the company’s product in an entertaining manner worked well for Blendtec. The approach was straightforward, showcased the product’s USP (powerful blades), and, most of all, was entertaining for people to watch, share and talk about. Creating the content in an “episode” format was genius — it was consistent and frequent, making people look forward to their next interaction with the brand. The evergreen nature of the content compounded the effect since people not only viewed the most recent content but also shared and compared older episodes, often picking their favourite.
Businesses should focus not only on showcasing their offering’s USP but also on making it entertaining and interesting for their audience.
How a content hub helped Lenovo build a thriving community
One of the largest manufacturers of computer hardware, Lenovo’s marketing team formulated their content marketing strategy with the objective of building trust with their target audience — IT professionals. As part of a cut-throat, dynamic industry, their target customers needed to keep themselves abreast of the latest news and technology. Lenovo tapped into this need and created a digital content hub called “Tech Revolution” to deliver technology-related news and information to their audience. The portal neatly offers categories ranging from product information to industry knowledge — allowing the audience to pick content that is most valuable to them and giving them ample incentive to return.
Though the strategy of creating an information hub is not new and has been employed by scores of businesses around the world (the first one being The Furrow by John Deere in 1895), it still reaps dividends. This initiative established Lenovo as a thought leader in the segment of technology. As of August 2021, the digital content hub had more than 500 articles with 34 million impressions, 250k+ views and was visited by 170K+ new web users. Commercially, $300 million in sales was attributable to this initiative alone.
Decoding the success
Lenovo elevated their role from a technology product seller to that of an industry leader. They recognised the lack of information as one of the key impediments in buying behaviour, so instead of pushing out communication about how great their product is, they chose to pull in their target consumers by providing relevant information. This approach built a relationship of trust and value, which was further associated with their product range.
Focus on building trust and creating value by sharing information that helps customers.
Sit, Squat… What?
Recognising the power of user-generated content to fuel brand engagement
Businesses usually create apps associated with their products or services. Charmin flipped the playbook and slipped into their customers’ shoes to invest in branded property that created value for the end-user.
Charmin recognised that finding clean public restrooms can be a challenge and partnered with an application that crowdsources content from their potential user base. The GPS in the application allowed customers to rate toilets based on how clean they are — like a Yelp for public restrooms. The idea behind it is simple: which toilets can you sit on, and which might you have to squat over to finish your business. This gave users an understanding of the hygiene conditions in the toilets and was particularly helpful for families with young children or geriatric members.
The app earned widespread praise and shared a rare emotional connection with its target segment. In 2017, Charmin continued cementing their position in the minds of their target audience by releasing a new version of the SitOrSquat restroom finder mobile app.
By the end of 2017, the app had a total of 7.2 million searches across online and mobile platforms since its launch. The brand updated the app in October 2020 and extended the universe to create a #tweetfromtheseat campaign, cleverly adapting the digital campaign to BTL activations.
Decoding the Success
Charmin went above and beyond just advertising their product to their customers by creating something useful that solved a problem. Often, brands are so engrossed in talking about themselves that they forget to take a step back and listen. Actions are, after all, louder than words.
While others continue only to hear, brands can lean in and listen to what the audience needs and create something that addresses them.
The Third Eye
How a search platform used data to create value for its user base.
Shutterstock is one of the largest virtual marketplaces for licensing royalty-free images, videos and music.
They recognised that their proprietary data is an asset and used it to create something genuinely useful for their two audiences – customers and contributors.
As a contributor or a customer, one is constantly on the lookout for upcoming trends in the world of design. Shutterstock analysed their customers’ search and download data to detail trends that influence creative direction and design aesthetics across images, videos and music. Further, helpful insights into the type of artforms, examples where those artforms were used and so on provided added value.
In 2020, the infographic was publicly released in 20 languages and earned over 170 articles and mentions across the web in its first two weeks. These articles spanned publications for creative, business and marketing audiences, such as Adweek, Campaign, Vogue Australia, Design Jungle, Follow the Colours, and W&V. The 2019 report recorded over 160,000 page views and 146,000 unique sessions in the first two weeks of its release (This number has nearly doubled to date.) The report garnered a 22% open rate of email promoting this infographic, which resulted in direct revenues.
Decoding the success
Every year, Shutterstock earns mentions in hundreds of articles and garners millions of unique site visits, social media shares and engagements from the report. They used the data they already had to create something meaningful for their customer base. Providing primary data that is not available anywhere else continues to strengthen Shutterstock’s positioning as the authority on visual assets — increasing their loyal base.
Use proprietary data to create content that positions the business as an authority while serving the needs of the audience.
The Queen of the Game
Disclaimer: This case study is NOT an example of deliberate content marketing.
Why does it feature on this blog, then?
This example opens the doors to exploring how consumer behaviour can be modified through content.
On October 23, 2020, Netflix released a drama miniseries based on the life of a fictitious Elizabeth Harmon, the charismatic orphan genius who takes the male-dominated world of competitive chess by storm. "The Queen's Gambit" was a huge hit, becoming a top-rated show on the platform across the globe. However, the shining star of the show — maybe even more than the protagonist — was the sport itself.
In the week after the show launched in the US, the UK and many other countries, worldwide Google searches for "chess" increased significantly:
eBay saw a 273% increase in searches for chess sets in the 10 days following the show's release, the UK's Metro newspaper reported. In the US, Mary Higbe, director of marketing at Goliath Games, said that the late October release of “The Queen’s Gambit” led to a 1,048% increase in sales over those of 2019.
One of the series' strengths has been foregrounding a female player, still a relative rarity in the world of competitive chess.
Women's interest in the game witnessed a surge. Battersea, London’s oldest continually-running chess club, reported more inquiries from women. The US Chess Federation reported how hundreds of women had signed up for beginners’ classes.
Decoding the success
With its superior quality of production, this content piece was able to drive millions of dollars of revenue globally, elevate the industry globally and challenge cultural stereotypes in what was viewed traditionally as a boring sport with viewership in decline.
Although this was not a paid marketing activity, it does offer insight into how quality content is able to shift behaviours, benefitting industries globally.
Shifts in buyer behaviour can be accelerated through content, and video is particularly powerful in this respect. Video offers an opportunity to build a strong case for the product/service by engaging with the audience and priming them more effectively to respond in kind.
Leveraging content to gain remarkable outcomes
As the focus on content marketing grows, strategic content marketing is especially beneficial for those with longer and more complex buying cycles. These case studies show how marketers who step back to look at the bigger picture, listen to their customers, share information, innovate and build an eco-system of value can break barriers and exponentially get ahead of their competition.