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Content marketing: selling the culture not the can

Rusty can

There’s been a lot of buzz about content marketing lately. Forbes recently called it “the next digital media revolution.”

But content marketing isn’t new, in fact some companies have been doing it for a while. John Deere’s been doing it since the late 1800’s.  The Internet has certainly streamlined the delivery of content marketing, making it easier than ever for brands to become publishers, and this has thrust the concept into the spotlight.

Red Bull is one of the most successful brands to use this format.  Their website is filled with host of videos that speak to extreme sports subcultures. It’s entertainment. None of the videos are commercials depicting athletes consuming their products. No glamor shots of cans. Instead, the videos are easily consumable entertainment that shows how their athletes and artists are out pushing the boundaries of their discipline.

The Red Bull brand benefits by association with the stories that they tell. They’re tales of excitement, exhilaration, daring. They’re high-energy scenarios. All of this content reflects positively on their brand and plays into the qualities that they want to highlight in their product.

In truth, if you search around their website enough and you will eventually find the link to the product pages.  But it actually takes some effort to find.  At first, the site feels more like that of an extreme sports cable network. It almost feels like purposeful brand obfuscation. How can this work, when as marketer’s we’ve had it drilled into us that we need to always be on message and have direct calls to action on every page of every website and in every piece of media content we produce?

Apparently someone is being influenced here.  Red Bull sold 5.2 billion cans last year, up 12.8% from 2011.  5.2 billion cans of energy drink sold by not directly advertising a product.  How is this possible?  By creating video content that appeals to their audience, they are effectively able to leverage their customer base as advertisers.  Good videos get shared.  Red Bull produces good videos.

How often to you see a commercial that so moves you that you send the link on to your friends? Red Bull has mastered the influence of this behavior. Their recent Stratos project, which featured Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic, record-breaking jump from space, has been viewed over 32.5 million times (by the date of this post).

So how can your business implement a content marketing strategy?

Look at your mission statement. Is there evidence of your core beliefs that are important for customers to understand? What kind of stories can you tell that will reflect positively on your brand? Sit down with filmmakers or storytellers and brainstorm how you can create some web video content that doesn’t have a direct marketing pitch or clear call to action. Skip your next broadcast commercial and instead focus on a piece of content marketing. Leaving behind the rules of old advertising for a while can be refreshing.  You can take a break from trying to convince your customers why they need your product and instead spend some time sharing a bit about what makes your business tick, what drives you, and what you hope to achieve.  Your customers will enjoy the break too.

– Justin

Red Bull jumper

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