There is a subtle art to content marketing, to balance the need to sell products while offering audience-centric, helpful information.
The value of that content must take precedence over short-term product sales for it to attract, engage, and retain potential customers.
Content marketing purists might even argue that new businesses should start as publishers and broadcasters, building an audience before they try to sell products.
Thus, there’s the aforementioned balance between trying to create content that people want to read or watch with the need to leverage that content relationship to sell products.
How does a business integrate the products it sells with the content it publishes without cheapening articles or videos meant to engage?
1. Focus on How Products Are Made or Used
Content — be it an article, a social media post, or a video — can be useful, informative, or entertaining and still be about your business or your products.
The difference is in how that content describes your products. If your business comes across as self-interested, your content marketing will fail. But if you can convey passion or value in a way that captivates, you should be successful.
One of the content marketing examples I cite most often is the “short film” actor Matthew McConaughey made for Wild Turkey about a year ago.
The video is entertaining in the same way that good documentary stories are entertaining. When you watch you learn something about the brand. You may even want to buy Wild Turkey. But you are not being sold. You are being told an interesting story in an entertaining way.
What makes this video interesting to me is how well it is executed, especially when you compare it to similar videos.
For example, in 2014, Wild Turkey released a 15-minute film about master distiller Jimmy Russell, who is also mentioned in the McConaughey video.
Some of the footage and dialog from the previous video, “Jimmy: The Man Behind the Bourbon,” is similar to what we see in the more recent Wild Turkey content.
If your company produced a video like this earlier Wild Turkey effort, you would be doing a good job of striking the balance between telling a story that includes products and trying to sell those products in a video. But the more recent film, featuring McConaughey, is far better executed and a lot more entertaining.
It is successful because it is relatively more concerned with engaging the audience than it is with promoting the business.
Lest you think the only difference is McConaughey, watch this video featuring Mila Kunis, who appears in Jim Beam commercials.
The three-minute short is “good” content marketing, but, to me, it is not as engaging as the McConaughey example.
So what can you apply to your business? All three of these videos are relatively good ways to integrate your brand or your products with content. But one example — the McConaughey Wild Turkey video — is arguably more successful because it seems to place more value on providing a good experience for the viewer.
2. Use Products in a Matter-of-fact Way
The term “matter-of-fact” can have two meanings. First, it can describe something that is factual. Or second, it can be applied to things that are practical.
It is the latter, practical sense that we want to focus on next.
Simply put, you can introduce your products into your content when they make sense or when they are practical.
In this nearly 10-minute video, below, Greg Berzinsky of Beardbrand goes into some detail about how men can trim and groom eyebrows.
The video is focused on explaining the task, but it also gives Berzinsky an opportunity to show off a Beardbrand comb. He doesn’t try to hide the fact that he is showing you a Beardbrand product. He simply takes a moment to describe why he likes the comb and why it is a good choice for the task. Then he uses the comb in his demonstration.
3. Treat Your Content Like a Magazine or Show
Some have argued that content marketing, in effect, takes out the advertising middleman.
When your business buys an ad on radio, on television, in a magazine, or even on Google AdWords, what you are really doing to paying to access the audience another company has built.
You pay the radio station, Spotify, or Pandora to share your audio ad with listeners they attracted. You pay the television station, Hulu, or YouTube to show your videos to the viewers they garnered.
When you produce valuable content on your own, you are, in a sense, building your own audience. You have become the publisher or broadcaster.
For example, the following radio show, owned by a retailer, included eight ads for products the retailer sells. The program is broadcast on four stations and has an estimated 6,000 listeners per week.