The three principles of epic content marketing
And three case studies to understand and implement them for your company
Content marketing takes time, and that’s one of the first things a practitioner needs to understand. The second thing is that the stakes for what is good content are constantly being raised.
Add those two and what you get is that for any kind of content to achieve its goals, it needs to be consistent, different, and entertaining.
Those are the three principles of epic content marketing, and I’ll try to explain them with case studies.
1. The consistency of Moz
Regular readers of this newsletter have read this story before, but it’s worth telling again.
So here goes.
Moz is one of the OG marketing companies, and one of their original content marketing properties was Whiteboard Fridays, started in 2007.
It is one of the digital marketing community’s most ubiquitous resources. Started by Rand Fishkin and now continued by others, it’s a treasure trove of digital marketing knowledge.
This is what used to happen in its original incarnation: Fishkin stands in front of a whiteboard that has been filled up with the ideas of that episode, and explains stuff. It was a dramatically successful format and brand, in time recording 20% – 30% higher engagement compared to other content on their blog.
But Fishkin has said this multiple times: For the first 2 years of Whiteboard Fridays, no one watched.
But he kept doing them. In the 10 years after Whiteboard Friday started, it was only not uploaded once. That’s 50 posts a year for 10 years.
Once Whiteboard Fridays became a brand, something marketers looked forward to, discussed and got worked up about, it would have been easy to keep producing. But when it wasn’t, for all those years, the hours required to conceptualise, produce, and promote it must have been a massive drag.
But Rand Fishkin kept at it, and every week it compounded, bringing in more and more people to the Moz brand.
This is the kind of consistency that’s required for any kind of content marketing to become legendary.
2. The differentiation of Groove
Groove is a customer support company, specialising in shared inboxes. They are far from being the only ones that do this. In a crowded market with products like Zendesk, Freshdesk, Happyfox, Desk, and even shared inbox competitors like Hiver around, Groove had a difficult time standing out.
Their product had no real differentiation, how could their content marketing have any?
But they found a way.
Alex Turnbull, the founder, started writing about his startup journey with Groove long before this kind of thought leadership went mainstream. This isn’t different now, but it was very different then, and it stuck. He produced excellent essays on what Groove was doing, how he was building and scaling the company and so on.
In a time when everyone was doing the same generic kind of customer support oriented content, Groove stood out. Customers discovered the product not because of the product and its features but because of the stories the founder was telling.
Even today, there’s not much different about their product, but Groove stands out and thrives in a remarkably crowded market.
3. The entertaining craft of Balvenie
This is one of my favourite content marketing stories.
Balvenie is a Scottish distillery making premium single malt whisky. It’s small batch, expensive, and needs to convey that it’s a premium whisky to justify its higher cost. But it also can’t go up and outspend a lot of its much bigger and more famous competitors like Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie.
So they went the content marketing way.
They engaged the late great Anthony Bourdain to conceptualise and produce a series of short YouTube documentaries on people in the handmade, craft industries, who spend a lot of time making sure what they are creating is perfect. There are cobblers, metalworkers, carpenters, and bookmakers. It’s gorgeously made, and gets across the idea that Balvenie is made with the kind of attention to detail that characterises these professions and crafts.
Also, associating Bourdain with the brand was another kind of genius.
Put together, around 15 short episodes of these free documentaries do more brand heavy-lifting than thousands of dollars of TV spots would have done. Also, remember that this is a small distillery, so there’s really no need for them to go for volume. They just need to convince a few people to pay more.
And this kind of content strategy was their best bet. Which they executed beautifully.
I repeat then: Be consistent, be different, and make it entertaining. If your content marketing checks all three, you’ll go a good way towards content marketing success.
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This weekend I’m teaching content marketing at Stoa School, a cohort-based MBA alternative here in India.
I have two reasons to do so: One, I think business education in India is broken and needs a revamp, and two, my own thesis that storytelling can accelerate engagement and learning in classrooms.
I have been thinking about these for a few years, and when Aditya and Manoj at Stoa invited me to design a module in their marketing course, I took it. The idea is that folks read and attempt a short task every day, and then the same gets discussed and dissected during the weekend, when everyone gets together. I daresay that the format seems to be working, at least in my experience.
The essay above is one of five that I wrote for the week-long module. I’ve revised and edited it for the newsletter.