Content marketing has replaced social media as the season’s most overused marketing buzzword. But at its origin, content marketing wasn’t just an excuse for marketers to put their recycled PowerPoint presentations on Slideshare in the name of engagement, it was a genuine pursuit to provide people with information, and more often, entertainment, they wanted.
One of the best known examples of content marketing is the Guinness Book of World Records. The best selling copyrighted book of all time (how meta is that!), started as a way to settle bets about the strongest, the fastest and the biggest…whatever… in the pub. And hey, if a few more Guinness’s were sold in the process, great! The key point to remember is that the book sold more beer (and ultimately became as famous as its hoppy-namesake) because it was truly awesome, and weird, and irreverent. In short, it was different.
It was against this historical backdrop that I set out to create a program of my own in 2010. There was this new thing called “the cloud” and everyone was trying to sell a ton of it including the company I worked for the time- Rackspace. Although a clear number two in the industry, Rackspace lagged far behind Amazon Web Services in terms of number of public cloud customers, and general market awareness. Marketing to the rescue!
Rather than producing whitepapers, or heaven forbid infographics, about why the Rackspace Cloud was the best choice for this or that use case (or some other douchy content strategy that marketers sometimes use), me and my good friend and collaborator Ben Kepes decided to take a different approach: actually educate IT professionals who had spent the last 30 years learning the client-server model of computing about this new thing called the cloud.
We ended up calling this program CloudU– get it?- , and created a certificate that IT professionals could earn to demonstrate their command of this new technology paradigm. Throughout the course, we always kept it vendor neutral, including case studies of customers building apps on top of Rackspace competitors , and talked about things that sometimes didn’t make Rackspace look good. We did all this because is was the right thing to do…and admittedly we thought we could probably sell some more beer in the process.
In the end, our CloudU course ended up getting hundreds of thousands of downloads, it got me noticed by executives internally at my job (yay me!) and it got Ben a lot more exposure in his gig as an industry expert and commentator.
But my proudest moment came later when Rackspace needed to train over 3000 worldwide employees on cloud computing in less than 6 months. Long story short, Rackspace made all its money, the money that let it become a player in the new cloud world, in the old dedicated server market. That meant that it had thousands of employees, all trained (and incentivized) to understand the benefits of doing things the old way. Luckily, seeing how Blockbuster the once-hot video rental chain had failed to adapt to the online video market, Rackspace was determined not to let its previous success jeopardize its brighter future. So to train 3000 employees, it used CloudU. The “marketing” program that Ben and I created was used to train all of Rackspace on this thing called the cloud. That blows my mind. I still see new employees reading our case studies. And I’ve never been prouder.
So marketers, here’s my question for you. Is the content that you are producing bigger than your monthly lead or revenue quota? Will people other than you be better off because of it? Or are you just taking the same old sales pitches you used to send out in an email and posting it to your Facebook account. You’ll know the answer. And I hope you’ll know whether its the right one.