This post is the first of a 3-part series in which I’ll show how businesses are (successfully) re-inventing their marketing strategies for today’s digital world. This series will expand on some of the ideas I touched on at my ad:tech talk earlier this year: Hootsuite Secret Files: How a Social Media Company Markets Via Social.
Roasted strawberry buttermilk. Goat cheese with cherries. Bourbon with toasted butter pecans.
These are just some of the mouth-watering ice cream flavors that dessert aficionados across the country can enjoy, thanks to culinary entrepreneur Jeni Britton Bauer. Jeni dropped out of art school in the mid ’90s to follow her passion for making ice cream, and has since gone from having a small shop in her Ohio hometown to running 16 Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams shops in 5 states and seeing her products sold in hundreds of grocery stores in the US.
But the secret behind Jeni’s sweet success isn’t just a knack for making delicious and one-of-a-kind frozen desserts. Behind her business’ most recent growth spurt is also a story of great content marketing.
In 2011, after more than a decade in the ice cream business, Jeni published a book titled Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home. It contains many of her best recipes so readers can make their own tasty versions of her ice creams at home.
Upon release, the cookbook became a New York Times bestseller. It also received favourable reviews in major publications like the Wall Street Journal, and Jeni appeared on local and national TV shows to talk about her gourmet ice creams. It was precisely around this time that Jeni’s business and popularity really skyrocketed, going from a local to national brand, as demand grew for her commercial products.
In other words, that cookbook wasn’t just a cookbook. It was also a brilliant example of content marketing. By taking her passion and knowledge and sharing it with others, Jeni was able to give Splendid Ice Creams a monumental bump in terms of brand awareness.
This is what happens when content marketing works. Increasingly, brands, entrepreneurs and marketers who set out to entertain and educate their audiences through quality content are seeing promising returns like Jeni did. According to some studies, content marketing done right costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about 3 times as many leads. More and more, it’s a practice that businesses can’t afford to ignore.
At Hootsuite, we’ve seen content marketing work for us in various ways over the last two years. I’ll share some examples of our biggest successes in my next few posts. But first, here are three fundamental content marketing principles that from our experiences should never be forgotten:
Be the show not the commercial
One of the core principles of effective content marketing is do not directly sell your product. Instead, spend time creating and distributing high quality entertainment and value to audiences.
Now, that’s obviously easier said than done. Today’s critical audiences, for the most part, simply don’t have the patience for commercials, ads or sales pitches. They’ve become incredibly savvy at detecting signs of advertising and often tune out the minute they suspect they’re being sold to. To get attention in this type of atmosphere, brands need to rethink advertising: Instead of being the commercial, they need to be the show.
Red Bull is recognized as a leader and champion in this approach. Back in 2012, for instance, viewers who watched enthralled as Felix Baumgartner made a supersonic skydive from space were also being ‘sold’ a canned energy drink. By spending lots of time and lots of money producing must-watch, exhilarating content for its fans, Red Bull has established itself as the main event (not the guys selling peanuts on the sidelines). By doing so the company has also firmly stamped its brand into mainstream consciousness.
Don’t get stuck in routines
At the heart of effective content marketing is risk and originality. To provide real value and entertainment to audiences and stand out from the crowd companies today must be different and stay on top of emerging (especially digital) trends.
A great example of this is Blendtec, a Utah-based company with 350 employees, which since 1975 has been making and selling kitchen blenders. Blendtec’s modest business was going smoothly (pun intended) until the mid 2000s, when it decided to shake things up (pun intended, again) in the marketing department. To take advantage of the emerging trend of online video sharing and the popularity of YouTube, Blendtec’s founder Tom Dickson began to star in a series of YouTube videos titled “Will it Blend.” For each ‘episode’ of the series, the affable Dickson—donning a white lab coat—puts an unexpected item inside one of the company’s high-powered blenders and turns it on after posing to viewers the question: will it blend? iPhones, a toilet plunger, marbles and a can of chicken soup are just a few of the many household objects that have faced the wrath of a Blendtec’s sharp blades over the years.
The risky approach paid off big time. Soon after launching its first episode of “Will it Blend” on YouTube, Blendtec sales increased by a stunning 500 percent. Meanwhile, “Will it Blend” now boasts a loyal following of 700,000 YouTube subscribers and has accumulated over 290 million views of its videos. By paying attention to emerging trends and taking risks, Blendtec really nailed content marketing.
Tell stories with heart
When I watched Chipotle’s animated short, “Scarecrow,” for the first time last year, I had no idea it was produced by a major fast-food chain. Not only is the three-minute video visually captivating, but the way it tells its story—on the perils of modern day industrial farming—is really important and touching. I immediately shared it with all of my friends on social media.
This is an example of content marketing at its best. With “Scarecrow” and other popular videos in its “Farmed and Dangerous” series, Chipotle has found a way to connect with people in a deep and meaningful way and thereby reinforce its brand as a more sustainable alternative to other fast-food companies. Need proof of its effectiveness? The “Scarecrow” video alone has been been viewed nearly 13 million times on YouTube and the related app has clocked more than 400,000 downloads.
One of the most effective ways to captivate audiences is through stories with heart. When possible, strive to produce content that makes you and your team feel something.
Content marketing is here to stay. 93 percent of B2B brands and 90 percent of B2C brandsnow incorporate content marketing, which has grown to become a $44 billion industry. But as content-based strategies become the norm, brands must stick to the fundamentals to remain effective: Create amazing content that steals the show, is fresh and relevant and evokes emotion in viewers.
Of course, content marketing is only part of the picture when it comes to marketing for the digital era. Traditional marketing and advertising are being disrupted by rising forces like social media and mobile technology. In the next few posts I’ll share some other major strategies for successful marketing today, including social marketing and social advertising.
For more social media insight and to learn more about my company, follow Hootsuite on LinkedIn.