Find A Way Media

What Is Content Marketing?


Content marketing is when companies create content – articles, podcasts, videos, books, newsletters, and more – that are intended to help and entertain readers rather than pitch a product. It’s entertainment, but also marketing, and helps those companies reach a wide audience of people who would otherwise ignore their emails. Learn how to use your content to drive revenue.

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Why Do Companies Use Content Marketing?

Companies use content marketing because buyers don’t respond like they used to. People regularly block ads, ignore emails, and tune out messages because they rightfully suspect that companies are trying to sell them. They instead focus on media sites that are fun and helpful, like Adweek, LinkedIn, Reddit, or Netflix.

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“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in,” said Craig Davis, Chief Creative Officer of the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson “and be what they are interested in.” Rather than beg for attention, content marketing helps companies become media brands.

We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what they are interested in.
— Craig Davis, J. Walter Thompson

Blending ads with entertainment isn’t new. Advertisers turned the Super Bowl into a spectacle where consumers who care nothing for sports still tune in to watch blockbuster-budget commercials. Content marketing is like that, minus the multi-million dollar investment.

Benefits of content marketing:

  • Enhance your reputation

  • Magnify your reach

  • Increase sales

  • Improve retention

  • Improve SEO

Read: What Does Good Content Read Like?

Why Some Companies Aren’t Successful With Content Marketing

It’s much easier to get content marketing wrong than it is to get it right. Good content is created for the singular purpose of being interesting to the reader. It is selfless. Yet our biology makes it difficult to think that way.

Marketers often believe that if they find a topic interesting, others will too. This is known as projection bias and it leads marketers to grossly overestimate their audience’s interest in any given topic which results in articles and podcasts that are more or less shameless pitches. Selfish content turns readers off, and they ignore it just as they do ads.

What a lot of companies get wrong is they focus too heavily on their own products and on their own sales strategy.
— Bill Connolly, Monotype

For example, read any story about GE’s stand-alone blog Ecomagination (it’s no longer active). While the Ecomagination initiative included events and talks, its online mouthpiece left readers puzzled. “Is it a marketing campaign? A corporate strategy? A guide for product and service development?” wondered the Harvard Business Review. Ecomagination tried to be too much, sold too hard, and stodgy corporate types retained too much editorial control for it to appeal to readers outside the company.

Even if companies get their tone and audience right, there are plenty of technical errors that keep content from spreading.

Content fails when it’s:

  • Wordy: Nobody pared the content down to just the parts that interest readers.

  • Boring: The content fails to capture the humanity of its subjects and gets mired in discussing product features.

  • Unhelpful: The pieces don’t offer clear educational or entertainment value.

To escape the projection trap, marketers must go straight to the source – their potential reader and customers – and study them.

Read The 11 Most Common Content Writing Blunders

Examples Of Good Content Marketing

Mixpanel’s blog takes a social stand

Mixpanel gave its blog a name – The Signal – and uses it to help product teams understand their data and build more diverse, inclusive, and successful companies. The Signal’s team publishes articles on everything from how diversity helped Uber to how to understand statistical significance. It rarely, if ever, mentions Mixpanel, or that the company sells analytics software.

Dollar Shave Club transformed a commodity into entertainment

Dollar Shave Club is famous for rocketing to a billion-dollar valuation based almost entirely on a single irreverent YouTube video where founder Michael Dubin drops lines like “Are our blades any good? No. They’re f**cking great.” The team parlayed that clip into a mini-media empire. Consumers have come to expect Dollar Shave Club to entertain them, and the company delivers with a branded publication and mailer that arrives with its shave kits.

Zendesk attracts leads with branded publication, Relate

Customer support software firm Zendesk has a stand-alone blog Relate that covers uncomfortable topics and tells the truth about work – like how not to be an asshole. According to Zendesk Editor Suzanne Barnecut, Relate helps them expand their audience and cover topics their readers care about, whether or not it has anything to do with the company.

“We think of [Relate] as a product-agnostic space ... a mostly sales-free zone where customers and potential buyers can consume content that is useful, relevant, and sometimes entertaining,” said Suzanne. “Relate offers a way to begin and continue a conversation and relationship with our audience.”

Read Suzanne’s interview.

More brand publications:

Denny’s went rogue and trampled social media convention

Content marketing isn’t just writing articles (though that’s by far the most common medium). The diner chain Denny’s created a spectacle on social media by slinging mud and reveling in the public outcry over its lack of shame.

On social media, Denny’s isn’t selling pancakes: It’s earning mindshare by being vulgar and entertaining. And even when it does pitch pancakes, it’s more concerned with being funny than appetizing.

Credit: Dorkly

Credit: Dorkly


Over 67 million people ages 12 and older listen to podcasts which are increasingly considered a serious and respected medium for communicating your message. Their genius is that audio content doesn’t compete for screen time: It exists in an untrammeled “third-space” where people otherwise can’t read, such as during commutes, workouts, or chores.

Branded podcasts:

TV shows and movies

Though not as common, some consumer brands produce feature-length films. The Lego Movie, for example, snowballed into a blockbuster franchise with three films, four cross-promotional spin-offs (Lego Star Wars, anyone?), and two video games. Every scene and character in Lego’s films and games are made of products it actually sells. They are effectively giant ads, but ones that are so entertaining people pay to watch.

Book and print magazines

The founders of the content marketing software firm Contently went from high-tech to old-school by writing a paperback book about storytelling. So did the founder of the analytics firm TrackMaven. And before all of them, Ann Handley, founder of the marketing education site MarketingProfs, wrote Everybody Writes, which hit The New York Times Best Seller list and, seven years after its publication, still drives crowds of aspiring marketers and writers to the company’s site.

Contently, TrackMaven, and MarketingProfs didn’t give away their books – they sold them. Millions of readers paid tens of millions of dollars because all three companies nailed the point of content marketing: Create content that’s so useful that readers would pay for it.

For your marketing to be so useful that people want it and would gladly pay for it, you have to understand what your customers need to make better decisions, and how you can improve their lives by providing it.
— Jay Baer, Convince and Convert

Some brands, perhaps suspecting their audience of having shorter attention spans, print magazines. The mattress retailer Casper, for example, publishes and sells Woolly, a magazine that’s “a curious exploration of comfort and wellness in modern life” that rarely mentions bedding.

Examples Of Bad Content Marketing

Nestlé tried to make National Bunny Ears Day happen

In the fall of 2013, Nestle launched a multichannel marketing campaign that implored consumers to tag a photo with themselves wearing bunny ears with the hashtag #NationalBunnyEarsDay. Only, nobody had heard of such a holiday, it wasn’t very funny, and consumers saw it as a tone-deaf product pitch. Nobody cared and few participated.

GE’s Ecomagination was unimaginative and boring

GE launched a branded blog to talk about green initiatives. Only, the parent company retained too much editorial control and their marketing mindset of ‘always be selling’ died hard – but only after a decade of trying to grow the blog. In the words of one commentator, “It looks more like a news section of a site than a thought-leadership blog. This distances them from their audience and hurts their brand. People want to hear about the issues, not that your company is greener than an Irish bar on St. Patrick’s Day.”

How To Get Started With Content Marketing

Content marketing has one major downside: It’s time-consuming and it can take a long time to pay off. “Content marketing takes a lot of work, persistence, and patience – it’s not for everyone,” says Michelle Linn, Chief Strategy Officer at Mantis Research.

Some companies invest years before seeing the results. For example, Copyblogger, a marketing agency with a blog of the same name, invested heavily in articles in 2012 that didn’t immediately prove useful. But now, six years later, many of those articles show up as top Google search results and the company is reaping the benefits. Here’s how to give your content the best chance of success:

1. Experiment

Every business has a unique audience, brand, and point of view, and every marketer has to find what works for them. The best tool for that is a bit of mental technology that toddlers excel at: trial and error. Start creating content on many channels and see what sticks. Write contributed articles to industry publications and read the comments. Ask questions on LinkedIn to see which questions people reply to. When something consistently fails to work, stop doing it.

This is the route CB Insights, a private data firm, has followed since 2013, and it’s grown its blog from a few hundred followers to 500,000. “When you find a theme that works, flood the zone and do more of it,” says Anand Sanwal, CEO of CB Insights. “People responded favorably when CB Insights shared bad data visualizations or nonsensical pie charts or when we made fun of management consultant frameworks that were gibberish. So we did more of those. Once you find things that work, do more of them.”

Once you find things that work, do more of them.
— Anand Sanwal, CB Insights

Here are popular content formats:

  • Launch a blog

  • Publish a newsletter

  • Contribute articles to industry publications

  • Build a social media following

  • Create a video series

  • Launch an email nurture

  • Develop online training courses

  • Produce a TV miniseries or movie

  • Launch a podcast

  • Write a book

2. Document your strategy

When your experiments bear fruit, create a content marketing playbook that codifies what works and what doesn’t. That playbook should include four chapters:

1. Customer research: Who’s your audience? Summarize them into personas so your team has a customer in mind when they write content.

2. Content strategy: What should you publish where? Daily or weekly? What color schema? What tone?

3. Analytics and optimization: How will you track and measure the success of each piece of content? Whose job is it to amend the playbook when you learn something new?

4. Growth plan: How will your strategy change as you grow? If you had a larger audience or more resources, where would you invest it?

👈 Get A Playbook

3. Test and repeat

Content marketing is a marathon and all winners travel light. As you test, it’s just as important to discover what doesn’t work and to stop doing it as it is to find what works. The mattress company Casper was brave enough to shutter its first branded publication, Rip Van Winkle, when, after several years, it was clear that it wasn’t paying off. GE accepted defeat with its Ecomagination blog, and McDonald’s abandoned its podcast The Sauce, a spoof on NPR’s podcast Serial, after only three episodes.

Closing doors frees you to reallocate your time to the channels and formats that actually interest readers. That way, you have a chance of discovering formats so valuable readers would pay for them. And we can’t say the same for your ads.

Why stop now? Learn more on our blog, The Beat.

More topics:

What is cross-promotion?

What is a content marketing playbook?

How to write jargon-free sales emails