James tells stories for a living. Sometimes they are true. Always they are crafted to help brands delight, educate and funny-bone-tickle their audiences into coming back for more. He’s super passionate (read: obsessive) about ecommerce content marketing. James is dedicated to teaching ecommerce brands how to create their own repeat-customer-generating media empire. Keep an eye out for his online ramblings - you can expect a generous helping of lightbulb moments and cheeky guffaws.
While all the ways American Girl connects to its audience are too numerous to cover in this one post, I’m particularly amazed by its print publications. For instance, The Care and Keeping of You is a book all about growing up for girls. It ranks second in its category (and 76th most popular among all books on Amazon.) It’s from a brand selling dolls – but the subject has nothing to do with the dolls.
Last year, Glossier added hundreds of employees and moved to a large headquarters in New York City. Content marketing is an even bigger part of the success formula. Glossier employees have created FaceTime makeup tutorials and Facebook Live videos. The brand has a large presence on YouTube, including the “Get Ready With Me” series, which features someone's morning routine.
The key word here is “valuable.” It’s what changes this definition from one that could describe almost any form of advertising or marketing. You can tell if a piece of content is the sort that could be part of a content marketing campaign if people seek it out, if people want to consume it, rather than avoiding it. So was VW’s 2014 “Game Day” commercial, which has been viewed on YouTube almost 18 million times as of the writing of this post, an ad, or content marketing? The answer is it’s both, depending on how it’s received by each individual who is exposed to it. The same will apply to any piece of content marketing you create, depending on whether the recipient received value from it or not. Of course the goal is to provide as much value from your content marketing to as much of your target audience as possible. At this point, despite this definition and explanation, you’re probably still wondering what exactly content marketing is. We can get more clarity by considering a few examples.
Crowe Horwath is a leading accounting and consulting firm. In 2013, the company launched a content marketing process for reaching financial institutions with $1 billion or more in assets. Their strategy consisted of generating nearly 50 different pieces of content centered around several topics of interest to their target customers, using all the following formats:
Luxury brands are largely about selling the idea of exclusivity. Their appeal lies in the illusory idea of superiority that comes from possession. However, some brands manage to communicate a feeling of exclusivity but also extend a pragmatic relatability in the minds of their audience. Tesla Motors has carved a niche for itself in the minds of the ecologically aware luxury customer. It caters to a growing class of urban and suburban rich who don’t mind a steep price tag as long as it justifies their commitment towards the environment.
My husband was in this camp until he told me about a newsletter that covers trends affecting financial markets. He looks forward to receiving it each day. He explained that the newsletters didn’t have anything to do with the funds the broker was selling, but the information was solid and valuable – and it was useful research for the investments he makes.
EXAMPLE: Outdoor retailer REI does a great job of answering questions and assisting its audience through content. On its YouTube channel, it offers dozens of videos depending on its audience’s interests and needs, often answering common questions. Whether it’s a backpacker who wants to know how to use a compass or a cyclist who needs to know how to fix a bicycle chain, REI provides the answers.
In 2016, the company launched GamePlan A, a digital magazine uniquely developed to build company culture and attract and retain employees. “Designed for those who believe in the power of sport, GamePlan A is here to make work life better, more inspiring, and fun, be it at Adidas or anywhere else,” reads the site. It’s “a mindset – and a platform…tackling work life with an athlete’s heart.”
From the smallest “brand me” to industry giants, organizations of all sizes can benefit from content marketing. Marketing through curated content reduces time and costs, increases visibility and reach, and quickly and effectively establishes thought leadership. It is not enough though to set the workflow to auto pilot and populate the pages of a site with aggregated feeds.
28. Home Depot: Spreading seasonal knowledge. Home Depot shares excellent content year-round, but I especially admire how their content is hyper-focused on what’s top-of-mind for customers in the changing seasons. Energy-efficiency during the holidays, selecting a Christmas tree, and how to create a wreath were all recent articles as I wrote this post in late December. To ensure timeliness, Home Depot is always thinking ahead to the next few seasons and anticipating customers’ future needs — a great reminder for all brands who create content.
Finally, by looking at the role of content marketing in a strategic way, that’s integrated with overall marketing and customer goals, you don’t need to get buy-in for content marketing or even make the case. You’re most of all being a smarter and more effective marketer. In social media marketing, executives needed to approve budgets that were sitting somewhere else. In content marketing that’s less the case as it’s connected with many other marketing goals and is not something “additional”. This doesn’t mean that a solid content marketing plan does not often require additional budgets but you’ll sell more business and a better brand perception to the C-suite, not necessarily a content marketing strategy.

Virgin Mobile was one of the first wireless communications and VoIP providers to adopt social media and content marketing. Since then, they’ve used these digital marketing services to provide better service to their customers. Virgin Mobile Live, for example, is a new social newsroom that the company uses to promote apps, music and other digital content throughout the day.

Or, take a look at Copyblogger Media. Copyblogger has dozens of landing pages, each aimed at a keyword that the target audience is passionate about. That’s a lesson for you when it comes to developing a sound content marketing strategy: when creating more landing pages, think strategically about keywords and build your content around the right ones.
Webpages. What’s the difference between a normal webpage and a webpage that is content marketing? Consider The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz, a provider of SEO related tools and resources. This resource, offered for free, has been viewed millions of times, bringing in countless customers who otherwise might never have stumbled across Moz and the services they offer. Or take a look at a case study from the design firm Teehan+Lax. Most case studies are boring. Their case studies are fascinating. That’s the difference between simply putting content on your website, and content marketing.
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