… Businesses Large and Small

Last week, we defined content marketing and talked a bit about why businesses engage the practice. This week, let’s take a look at some real-world examples, from your local hardware store to software and services behemoth, Microsoft.

Since 2008, the folks at Elegant Themes have been creating beautiful out-of-the box WordPress themes used by bloggers and businesses alike. In 2013, they created the popular Divi theme and soon after the Divi Builder, a plug-in that allows users to build WordPress pages using drag and drop elements in any WordPress theme. All told, Elegant Themes is a success story in building a business around WordPress.

Many developers and do-it-yourself WordPress site creators found Elegant Themes through their stellar blog. There, the company posts on using their products and general information on WordPress, web development and business practices/tools. The ratio of posts that deal directly with their products versus useful explainers and how-tos is about one to one. Their blog is a powerful content marketing platform that serves two broad audiences and supports their other marketing and advertising efforts.

Elegant Themes: Serving their Audience

Here’s a list of some recent posts from the Elegant Themes blog:

  • How to Stop WordPress Forum Spam
  • Design a Striking Divi Product Layout …
  • How Much Traffic Can Your Shared Host Handle?
  • Using Sideways and Vertical Text to Create a Unique Landing Page with Divi
screen grab of blog post
Example of a general, how-to post from Elegant Themes.

These headlines – and my experience with the Elegant Themes blog – tells me something about their audience. First, they’re speaking to customers and potential customers with two examples above of posts about using the Divi Builder. They’re also talking to a broader audience of anyone interested in WordPress site management (the spam story) or individuals or small businesses using shared hosting for website deployment.

The first case is easy – we all want to help our existing customers find success with what we sell and showoff a bit for potential customers. The second segment of their audience, those WordPress site managers and folks working through shared hosting or other business issues are a different case. By sharing, or ‘giving away’, expertise and wisdom, they’re telling the world, we not only understand our products, but we understand the context within which we all operate. The power is in this hypothetical: Today, Samantha, who is just starting a home-based e-commerce side gig, is researching web hosts for a site she’s building. She knows she’ll start with shared hosting, but is concerned about uptime. She comes across Elegant Themes’ post and finds it helpful. Two weeks later, she’s working on her WordPress site and wants to change her theme to something that gives her more design control. She comes across Elegant Themes again, and realizes they have a product that will help her – and she has already developed some trust in the company because of her hosting research. This is the power of content marketing at work.

Weaver’s Hardware: Proving It with Content

There’s nothing like a great local hardware store filled with employees who know their stuff, family ownership and that broad, eclectic mix of products that gets you in the door for one thing, but wandering the entire store for an hour. Weaver’s Hardware, with two locations in eastern Pennsylvania is a 54 year-old business using 21st Century content marketing.

Mega-retailers like Walmart, Lowe’s and Home Depot have changed the retail hardware landscape, but the best local retailers have held on by providing superior customer service, catering to regional needs and aligning with buying groups/brand franchises like Ace and Do-It-Best. Weaver’s has gone the extra mile and gotten their traditional business online – and content marketing. They have a blog – here are some of their recent posts:

  • What to Do About Frozen Pipes
  • Tips for Choosing the Right Paint Brush
  • How to Seal Coat a Driveway

A quick analysis shows Weaver’s blog is dominated by how-to posts. They contain well-written, organized information that deliver on their headlines. Quality box, checked. Their posts don’t contain shopping lists, they simply help homeowners solve problems. But, think about it. If you live in Douglassville, PA and your pipes are frozen and you Google “What to Do About Frozen Pipes,” you may just come up with Weaver’s post and decide, “I’ll just go to the hardware and get what I need.”

Weaver’s is “proving it in the marketplace,” by sharing expertise and providing a useful information.

Another interesting thing I noticed on Weaver’s site is that some of their content is authored by Lou Manfredini, Ace’s corporate home improvement expert. Weaver’s is an Ace affiliate. I’ll bet that Ace is providing this content to store owners for them to use on their local websites. Is your business tied to a national franchise or larger industry association? You may already have access to great content you can supplement your own local content with in your efforts.

Microsoft: Communicating on All The Channels and Authenticity

channel 9 logo - a number nine stylized with cartoon head
The Channel 9 logo. Channel 9 operates as a developer-oriented content vertical (video) from Microsoft.

Companies like Microsoft that cut a wide, international swath across industries are able to content market across all the channels.

Digital communications have opened marketing opportunities to tell the same story in text, images and video. That’s one set of channels. Our digital landscape provides another set of channels, the actual platforms we publish on – from your own website to your Twitter timeline. Microsoft’s audience ranges from Fortune 500 senior management teams to elementary schoolkids playing Minecraft. Their content marketing spans a range of corporate blogs and educational sites dealing with particular market/audience segments.

I stay up to date with the Microsoft Office Blog which contains posts about changes to their services, how-tos and case studies. For the most part, they communicate to customers or existing customers on this blog. Dig around the various parts of microsoft.com and you’ll find many blogs for specific audiences with text, images and video. Chances are if you don’t keep a bookmark or RSS feed of a particular Microsoft blog, you’ll encounter the information elsewhere – on social channels like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

One of Microsoft’s coolest efforts wasn’t intentional content marketing at its beginning, but fourteen years later, their Channel 9 site serves as a powerful marketing aid in burnishing their credibility with a key audience: software developers.

The Channel 9 doctrine states in part:

Channel 9 started April 1, 2004 with Robert Scoble and Charles Torre having conversations with thought leaders and friends around the Microsoft campus. But it was a series of videos with the late-Bill Hill that set the spirit of the site. In long discussions Bill would talk about how Windows wasn’t the most important operating system, how he came up with ClearType while tracking animals in the woods, and how there should only be one space after a sentence.

These videos were a bold look inside Microsoft at a time when other companies were considering restrictions on employee blogging and disclosure. But these were the real conversations we would have with each other in the hallways and across the campus and we thought they were important to share with you.

The “you” is a specific audience – developers. There is a push and pull between openness and control and employees and top management about what to say and who is allowed to say it in many businesses. By allowing more open-ended conversations on Channel 9, Microsoft establishes authenticity and fosters a sense of community between itself and the developers who use its products. Developers view it as a place where they can hone existing product skills, but also get a view into the future.

Your business is a part of a broader industry and you have customers. Why not communicate more? Why not follow in the footsteps of Microsoft – or Weaver’s Hardware?