Getting Creative With Content Mediums

Music and news aren’t the only industries getting caught up in the shift to digital distribution; it’s happening to everyone. It’s a double-edged sword because, while digital distribution has leveled the playing field and made the same audiences accessible to both corporations and bootstrapped startups, it’s also commoditized content.

A commodity, by definition, is a mass-produced, unspecialized product and commodities compete on price because they are essentially all the same. When the market price is “free,” as is the case with much of today’s highly consumed content, it puts the producer of that commodity in a tough spot. How do you make something that’s differentiated while offering it at the same low price as your competitors?

The key, then, is to differentiate your offering – often by way of outstanding quality – and to do it at the lowest possible cost. One way to do just that is to experiment with the mediums through which content is distributed. Here are three real-world examples of content marketing that are simple – commoditized, if you will – in concept but differentiated by the medium through which they are delivered.

The Newsletter

When so many aspects of our lives have gone digital, it can be refreshing, nostalgic, and novel all at the same time to get something “the old fashioned way.” When’s the last time you received a printed invitation to an event via snail mail? Do you remember what it’s like to sit down with a friend in the flesh to look at her vacation photo album, let alone hear the stories that go along with them straight from her mouth?

We don’t do these things anymore because we’ve discovered more efficient ways of distributing our photos and event invitations (read: content). But when someone takes the time to do it anyway, doesn’t it seem a lot more genuine and thoughtful? Even if they don’t personalize what they’re sending, the fact that it’s delivered outside of the norm makes it stand out.

That’s what happened when I recently opened my Green Bean Delivery box to find an old-fashioned newsletter staring up at me, printed in full color and on glossy stock, nonetheless. The content of the newsletter wasn’t earth-shattering and it didn’t require them to spend hundreds of dollars on commissioned research, but they took the time to curate helpful, practical tips for preserving produce and made that effort all but impossible for me to ignore.

As if that wasn’t enough, they decided to include a handy icon guide to make my ordering process easier.

The App

If it were 2007, the idea of curating relevant content and making it accessible via a streamlined application on your mobile phone would blow your mind. But it’s 2015 and free apps are a dime a dozen, so what makes “the app” a creative content medium? It’s all about what you put inside it and how you serve it up that matters.

Jay Baer encourages us to make marketing so useful, that people would pay for it (if you asked them), which is exactly what Nike has done with their Training Club app. It would be one thing to interview expert personal trainers on everything they deem to be essential knowledge about High-Intensity Interval Training and file it away on pages inside an app, expecting users to sit down and read hundreds of words on their tiny phone screen and find the motivation afterward to put it all into action. But it’s a completely different thing to turn the app into an actual personal trainer.

Nike Training Club has become a bit of a small phenomenon in our office and every time I walk someone new through all of its special features – preprogrammed workouts, photo and video demonstrations, workouts for various lengths of time, in-session directions, and motivation – they always say in disbelief, “Wow, I can’t believe Nike gives this away for free.”

Jay Baer would be so proud.

Email Marketing

Just as is the case with apps, email marketing isn’t a novel content marketing medium in and of itself; it’s how you use it that makes people notice it.

When’s the last time you received an email marketing message from someone that wasn’t begging you to attend their webinar or download a new guide? For me, it was a couple of weeks ago when I found this message from Runners Forum in my personal inbox:

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By my calculations, there are six featured messaging areas and every single one of them exists to serve me – not Runners Forum – first and foremost.

This email newsletter seeks to educate me about when and why I need to replace my running shoes, as well as how to help my muscles recover after a good workout. I could easily find the same information on my own, but they – just like Green Bean Delivery – have conveniently curated that information and delivered to me personally. And I appreciate that.

They’ve also given me a coupon, alerted me to an in-store sale, told me about upcoming educational classes and events and invited me to a new shoe launch party. They’re helping me save money, making me smart about exercise and letting me feel exclusive with special invitations.

There are, of course, self-serving motives behind the offers they’ve presented me with, but they’re doing it in such a mutually-beneficial way that I’m not even mad about it. Email marketing isn’t novel on its own, but there are certainly novel ways to go about using it.

With all the processes and data and models and funnels out there, it’s easy to get caught up in what the numbers are telling you (or if you’re like me, trying to figure out what the numbers are telling you). Don’t forget that marketing is a craft and an art, which means it takes time and creativity. Use the tools and listen to the data, but be savvy enough to do it in a creative way that’s actually deserving of your audience’s attention.

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