Chris Castiglione Teacher at One Month. Faculty at Columbia University where I teach Digital Literacy. I write about coding, the internet, and social impact.

What is Content Marketing and What are the Best Examples?

4 min read

What is Content Marketing and Who Is Doing It Really Well?

If you’re a business owner or someone with a product to share, you’ve probably heard of the terms lead generation, content marketing, and growth hacking a fair number of times. But what is content marketing, how does it work, and who is doing it really well?

You’re not alone if you think “content marketing” feels like just another buzzword — all jargon, no meaning. But the truth is, people have been using this form of free-to-paid marketing for a long time. Long before the invention of the Internet and digital products. Let’s look at how content marketing works. I made a quick video for you (above), and I want to dig in and break it down even further. Let’s talk about content marketing:

1: Create valuable, free content that other people want.

If you’re a content marketer, you’re going to spend your time making lots of content. This could be blogs, images, visual diagrams, e-books and emails. Things that people read, consume, and enjoy learning from. The keyword here is content and that can include a whole variety of forms, all of which you use to connect to your audience.

It’s not enough to make something and then just stop there, however. You need to know who you want to connect with, and how you’re going to share your product. This requires understanding your user, audience, or customer — also known as “marketing.”

2: Get to know your audience — marketing.

One of the things companies and teams forget to do is get outside of their bubble. We often make products, blog posts, and classes without digging in and getting to know who our desired customer is. Who do we want to reach? What are their hopes, dreams, wishes, and desires? In order to make something that’s really valuable, often you need to know who would find it valuable.

Content marketers spend a lot of time getting to know their audience, their users, and who they want to connect with. This is the essence of marketing. Figuring out who your ideal customer is, what they want, and how you can connect with them.

3: Sharing your work with the right people — promoting yourself and your business.

The purpose of creating valuable content is to ultimately share what you have to offer with the people who want what you’re selling. This isn’t a new story — chocolate shops will give out free tastes just to get people in the doors to buy more of their product. Online, it’s the same thing. We create free content of high quality and value so that people can get a feel for you and your business.

This is part of promoting your work and your business, and this is done effectively through content marketing — giving valuable (free) content to an audience that wants what you have to offer, so you can start a conversation with them, and potentially sell higher-level products, classes, or packages to them in the future.

Once people know what you stand for and what kind of work they can see from you, they’re more likely to come back and buy from you at a later date. People buy courses from One Month because they know people on our team. They trust what we’ve done or they’ve read good reviews. We write several blogs, set up email options, do free webinars, and create free presentations to share what we teach and reach more people who might find our courses valuable. Often people have visited our websites a few times or have seen our work before, and then they buy the class.

A few great examples of content marketing:

Some businesses have been making amazing free content and posting it to their Instagram channels. Yes, Instagram counts as content marketing! Simple Green Smoothies, for example, posts new recipes almost daily, and you can pop into your Instagram feed and be inspired to eat healthier with free photographs and recipes daily. You can discover them through hashtags and search terms (or friend’s recommendations), which introduces you to their business. This drives users to their website, to free content offerings (like recipe books)! and ultimately to their paid offerings.

Wistia, another example, is a website devoted to video content. Let’s say you’re browsing through a link that a friend sent your way, and it’s got an amazing tutorial on how to set up your video studio to get high-quality videos at a fraction of the cost. They make a clean guide and DIY tutorials that you love. Baked into their website is an opportunity to opt-in and put your email address in to get more useful video tips for how to become an expert video content marketer. You enter your email address and they send you weekly emails with the best video tips. Over the next few weeks, they email you with new posts once a week, and introduce you to more products they have to offer. After a few weeks, you’re hooked — and you sign up for your own Wistia hosting account.

The New York Times is another great example. They aren’t just a media and publishing house. You become a subscriber because their online content is designed to get you hooked. They give you ten free articles every month, and then, once you reach ten articles — you have to pay to read more. You sample enough of the content that they have to offer, and then you need to become a subscriber in order to read more of their daily and weekly articles.

This is all content marketing: they’re using free information (in the form of blog posts, recipe books, and then email correspondence) to attract their audience, gain signups (also known as leads), and then share with them further classes, books, and products that would be useful for the person who visits their website.

Look for it: what websites, companies, and products are offering a free version of their material to hook you?

Become a content marketing detective:

  • What free content are they offering?
  • Who is it targeted towards?
  • How are they sharing it? Through what websites or platforms?
  • Where did you first hear about it?
  • What made you sign up?
  • What are their paid offerings? Are you interested?
  • What makes it useful and valuable? Do you love it?
  • Or, what are some of the turn-offs? What made you not like the product or sales pitch?

A few reminders when you’re starting out: keep it simple!

All of the content out there can be overwhelming, and all the ways to share your work. Start with the platform and content that makes the most sense for YOU. You might start with just images on Instagram, or short blog posts on a platform you feel comfortable with. Whatever it is, keep it simple and focus on just one area at first. Get to know people in that arena that you want to connect with. As you grow over time, you can expand to experiment in new places and with new types of content — but the most important thing is to begin.

What great examples of content marketing have you seen? What are your favorite websites with free information, blogs, and offerings that you’ve actually signed up for?

Chris Castiglione Teacher at One Month. Faculty at Columbia University where I teach Digital Literacy. I write about coding, the internet, and social impact.