Content Marketing Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you know what this is?


(Image source: Wikipedia)

This, my friend, is one of the greatest examples of content marketing of all time.

I bet, when you hear “content marketing,” you think about blogs, Twitter, Facebook and viral YouTube videos.

But, it’s been around far longer than the internet.


Because content marketing is all about storytelling – and humans have told stories for as long as they could speak.

Our attention will always go to those who tell great stories. That’s the reason why in 2015, blogs like the one by Tim Ferriss and movies like Jurassic Worlddo so well – and why Kevin Spacey is a keynote speaker at a marketing conference.

When Hasbro and Marvel cooperated to launch their comic book series, “G.I. Joe – A Real American Hero!”, in 1982, all that they wanted was to create what Kenner Toy Company’s Star Wars action figures already had – a rich back story for their action toys.

Within 2 months of releasing the first comic book, about 20% of boys between the age of 5 and 12 had 2 or more G.I. Joe toys.  And, the comic book only had 2 stories.

7 years later, the series was one of Marvel’s strongest titles and 2 out of 3 boys in the same age category owned at least one G.I. Joe action figure.

How’s that for using content to market a product?

But, a lot has changed since then and what worked back in the 80’s won’t necessarily work today.

So, let’s take a look at what content marketing means now.


According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is defined as:

… a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

Their definition is solid, in my opinion, but could use some clarity.

It means that content marketing is a long-term strategy, based on building a strong relationship with your customers, by giving them valuable content that is highly relevant to them on a consistent basis.

Eventually, when customers make a purchase decision, their loyalty already lies with you and they will purchase your product and prefer it over competitors’ options.

In contrast to one-off advertising, content marketing shows that you actually care about your customers and today, more than ever, they sure want to feel cared about, because the world is louder and noisier than ever before and attention is our most valuable resource.

Keep that in mind, while we take a look at what types of content marketing there are.


When Joe Pulizzi founded the Content Marketing Institute, in 2010, I don’t think he knew exactly how spot on he would be, let alone how successful CMI would become.

In 2015, they were one of the top resources, when it comes to content marketing statistics.  And, they’ve created a great video overview of the evolution of content marketing:

The History of Content Marketing:

You can already see that the activity has been around longer than the term itself, since it’s predicated on storytelling.

There’s still plenty to learn from those first offline content marketing activities that pre-date the internet.

However, the online part can hardly be ignored for any successful content marketing campaign today.

Because storytelling has changed over the years, the attention of people is found in more places than a few years ago and marketers have to make sure that they tell stories in the year we actually live in.

Now that you have a good idea what content marketing stands for, you probably wonder: “How can I succeed at content marketing myself?”

I’m glad you asked!

There are 3 major categories where you can put content marketing efforts these days: online, offline and hybrids.

The best way to learn how to be a great content marketer is by example.

That’s why I’ll show you 15 great examples of content marketing in all categories.  Then, you can model them, tweak them and apply them for your own business.

Putting age before beauty, we’ll start with offline first.


While the comic book industry is even more on fire today, than it was in the 80s, that can’t be said for all of the offline channels where brands used to tell stories.

But, all of the lessons learned from them can be translated to today, in one way or another.

I’ll walk you through 3 examples from content marketing history and then show you their modern day equivalents.

Offline Example #1 – Comic books and blogs

Stan Lee and his crew created Marvel, as we know it, in the 1960s. They tried to tell the best stories that they could. Their initial comics have consistently sold millions of copies each month.

Marvel still dominates the comic book space today, with not only a crazy market share of about 30%, but also sky high order numbers for individual comic book issues:


And, even though the comic book industry made a whopping $540 million last year, it absolutely pales when compared to the sales of merchandise around those books.

Last year alone, Disney, who bought Marvel in 2009, recorded sales of $40 billion dollars, just from merchandise.

Again: They made $40 billion from selling mugs, plastic figures and t-shirts.

This number doesn’t include any money generated from movies or theme park entrance fees. Just merchandise.


That means:

  • Good storytelling alone = a crapload of money, but…
  • Good storytelling + great products = 80 craploads of money

In Marvel’s case, the story was the product and then additional merchandise came along the way.  Even today, the story should come long before the product.

By far, the easiest way to tell great stories, around which you can build great products, is with blogs.

You don’t need drawers, painters and a printing press to put out comics any longer. If you’re talented at drawing or creating witty stories, you can outsource the other part for as little as five bucks and create a blog that attracts hundreds of thousands of readers each month.

All you have to do is release a strip a day.

Aggregating news around comics is just as valuable.

Remember, the content has to be valuable and relevant to the target customer group.

That’s why brands, like Excedrin, celebrate major successes, by developing a content strategy for their headache pills.


On their migraine blog, Excedrin provides helpful advice for all migraine sufferers, free software to help track the source of the problem and coupons for loyal customers and readers.

But, this kind of marketing isn’t just for big brands. Single individuals can create huge audiences this way.

James Altucher is a great example. After blogging for 5 years and telling stories every week, his blog posts now routinely get thousands of shares.


Over time, he’s built a huge following and all it takes now to sell his books or info products is an email to his 200,000 person email list.

Since running a blog costs next to nothing, it’s a great way to test if your stories are good already or if they need work and you can always use it as a channel to provide helpful advice to the audience in your niche.

What’s more, you can do this before ever selling anything, building a loyal relationship with your audience, long before you have customers.

The result will be a long line of eager friends, waiting to buy from you when you launch.

Offline Example #2 – From soap operas to Netflix

Do you know why soap operas are called soap operas?

The first soap opera aired in 1930. It was called “Painted Dreams” and ran on the radio, 5 days per week, in the morning and early afternoon.

Primary audience: housewives.

The open-ended shows, which often presented a cliffhanger at the end of each episode, showed very dramatic elements, previously only known from opera plays.

While listening to the show, most of the housewives cleaned their houses. Naturally, the commercial industry jumped aboard the ship and, you guessed it, aired soap commercials during show breaks.


(Image source: Wikipedia)

The stories sold the products and the products were connected with activities that led customers to listen to more stories.

Okay, so how about today?

Well, any ideas what’s similar to a soap opera today? Cliffhangers…binge watching episodes…opera-like drama…

Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like Netflix?

With 60 million subscribers, the $10 per month subscription streaming service saw around $6 billion in revenues in 2015.

A few years ago, Netflix started producing its own original shows, such as House of Cards, and, recently, Daredevil.


Instead of just bringing great TV shows and movies to users all over the world, the company decided to start telling its own stories, to create more awareness for the brand and to expand like crazy in its first few years.

Daredevil is fully financed and produced by Netflix and, who would’ve thought, a Marvel classic.

See how the content marketing wheel keeps turning round and round?

Note: Netflix has since gone on to turn more Marvel comics into TV shows, the latest being Jessica Jones.

Offline Example #3 – From sneaky advertising tricks to viral commercials

When Hasbro released their comic book series around G.I. Joe, they faced a dilemma.

They wanted to run TV commercials, to promote their action figure toys and comic books, which was a new concept.

But, TV regulations stated that toy commercials had to show the toys and only include up to 10 seconds of animation, in order to not mislead kids into thinking the toys could do more than they did.

In order to circumvent this problem, they decided to focus on the story, not the product. They completely took out the toys and just promoted the comic book series.

Never before had a TV commercial solely promoted comics, and, thanks to bending the rules, Hasbro was able to show 30 fully animated seconds of material.

The original commercial has now made it to YouTube.

But, back then, TV commercials themselves were still working. In today’s ADD world, where our attention spans have shrunk to that of a goldfish, TV ads hardly capture us any more.

What does spark our attention are viral commercials, like the ones for the Super Bowl.

Consider this one from Volkswagen, a German car brand, that ran during the 2014 Super Bowl:

Volkswagen Super Bowl Ad:

Not only was it seen by hundreds of millions of viewers during the Super Bowl itself, but it’s also become a viral video on YouTube, garnering hundreds of thousands of views.

The best part: It will continue to do so. Every Super Bowl commercial the company creates will just become an online asset and collect views for years to come.

60 million

(VW’s Super Bowl commercial from 2011)

Customers are happy, because they can spend hours entertaining themselves and Volkswagen is happy because it nurtures the relationship with its fans while the executives are sleeping.


Okay, so offline translates to online one way or another, but hasn’t content marketing really been all about the interwebs from the beginning?

Yup, it has.

Brands are huge on it and some do a pretty good job.

Which is why it’s time to look at some of the best examples of content marketing that originated online.

Online Example #1 – The first viral video ever

Back in 2005, when Google Video was still, well, Google Video and people used to download videos to watch them offline, the first viral video happened.

IT company, LiveVault, hired two independent marketers, who decided to make an entertaining video for them that would stand out among IT professionals, their target group.

After all, disk-based backup systems for corporate data are not very sexy, so they decided to go for a few laughs.

John Cleese, famous actor and comedian, made sure that they got them.

Cleese demonstrates the severe consequences of a fictional disease called “Backup Trauma” and leaves the viewer with several options to continue exploring the company’s products and services by clicking buttons at the end of the video.

It was great content, because it was funny and interactive, yet it still promoted their services.

The video was downloaded almost 300,000 times in the first few months after its release – and, remember, this was 10 years ago!

Of course, it’s gotten harder to stand out, with so many videos published daily.  But, if you create solid video content, you can still land a hit!

Online Example #2 – What is code?

“What is code?” is an article published by Bloomberg Business Week in June 2015. Let me rephrase that. It’s not an article.

It’s a book.

The article is the longest piece they’ve ever published. Its 38,000 words.

Yet, they didn’t publish it as a book. Or as a magazine. Or in a newspaper.

They just released it online. For free.

It has animated graphics, chapters, sections, examples, notes, statistics and, and, and…

lets begin

The result? 93,000 social shares. That’s 93,000 people who now know about Bloomberg.


And, they’re likely to return to read more, and to eventually, one day, become customers by buying a magazine subscription.

Will it hurt them that they published it for free? I doubt it.

Pro tip: You don’t even have to go as nuts as Bloomberg. Look at this 7,000 word productivity guide on how to stop multitasking and focus on what matters.

It’s an example of an expanded list post, as Brian Dean from Backlinko would call it.

You know all those long list posts, right? Like this one from Boost Blog Traffic with 77 traffic building resources?

Instead of just listing out all of the items, simply adding detailed instructions to each list point will make your post 10 times more valuable – and, before you know, it you’ll have a great, long piece of content. Brian is the master at this.

Online Example #3 – Infographics

You probably already know that I’m a huge fan of infographics. On KISSmetrics, we’ve published 63 infographics to date.

They are a neat way to bundle up valuable information, summarize it and present it in a clear way.

It’s easier to understand how much click-through rates for email outgun Facebook and Twitter, when shown as ounces in a beer bottle, rather than just saying, “email has more engagement”.


(a great infographic from Devesh Design)

They usually get lots of shares and the reference section is a great way to load up on influencers you’d like to connect with.

They’ll often be happy to share it with their audience, since you mentioned them.

Plus, when your audience has future questions about the same topic, guess who they will turn to?


“Let me look up that email infographic guy again, maybe he has something on this as well.”

That’s exactly what you want.

Online Example #4 – Podcasts

Podcasts are the radio of the 21st century. There’s just less advertising and more value.

Most podcasts usually have a sponsor or advertise a product at the beginning and at the end of the show, but that’s it.

People love them, because they can listen to their idols and heros spill their guts about whatever topic they’re interested in.

When I listen to Pat Flynn interviewing Ramit Sethi, I deepen my relationship with both of them. I get to know them more and, since they’re helping me out, I’ll be happy to turn to them in the future for further advice.

Sometimes, I might pay for that advice and that’s fine.

If you think interviewing people is a waste of your time, you couldn’t be more wrong. John Lee Dumas, host and founder of Entrepreneur on Fire, is the best counter-example.

All that he has done is to interview one entrepreneur per day and press publish. That way, he built a huge vault of recordings pretty fast – and massive success right along with it.

Check out his income report from one month:


(see the full income report here)

A million dollar business from picking up a microphone and calling a bunch of people on Skype.

Not too shabby, huh?

Online Example #5 – Guides and ebooks

Think through this scenario with me.

You’ve done what few people do and have created an actual product for your online business.

You’ve created a sales page and send it around. But, no one buys 🙁

There’s something missing. Then, it hits you.

Copywriting! You need to learn copywriting. Easy enough, you just turn to Google, right?

Type in “learn copywriting” and voila, Copyblogger turns up.


Hit that link and hold onto your chair. Look what they’ve done:


That’s insane. It’s not a PDF. Or a blog post. Or some paid course.

It’s a series of 16 ebooks, PLUS a 20 part course.

All for free!

You can learn copywriting in a week, just from these guides. If you ever need more, it’s highly likely that Copyblogger will be your first stop.

Online Example #6 – Red Bull Stratos

This one’s remarkable. It’s like Red Bull created its own, mini version of the Super Bowl.

On October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian skydiver, jumped out of a hot air balloon floating in the stratosphere. He basically jumped towards the Earth from space.

He fell down 24 miles at 843 mph. He broke Mach 1 and 3 world records right along with it – the first human to break Mach 1 without any engineered vehicle, highest balloon travel and highest jump.

Never has anyone done this before.

The sole sponsor of the event: Red Bull.

They made history – and marketed it.

Not only did the event get insane media coverage, it also went into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Excitement, gripping suspense, entertainment at its best and, needless to say, a total home run for Red Bull.

Online Example #7 – GoPro’s sponsorships

“Hey, when you surf that next huge wave, want to film it? Here’s a camera that’s perfect to do so!”

GoPro is wherever sports is. Which is pretty much everywhere.

Since their product is a way to create content, the best way to market it is to show how great it is at doing what it does.

Therefore, they sponsor all kinds of events, athletes and artists, like surfers, bike racers and even Rubiks’ cube jugglers.

Their product does the rest for them. It basically markets itself.

All they have to do is edit the video, throw some cool music on top of it and boom, millions of views:


I don’t know how many times I watched that video. But, I’m sure that you guess what camera I bought when I went to Mexico on a vacation with friends.

Online Example #8 – Social Media Campaigns

The important part to get right, when running a social media campaign, is to respect the context of the platform.

You can’t publish a series of 10 tweets on Twitter. No one would see them all. Neither does video work on Instagram.

If you decide to go all in on a specific social media channel, be sure that you know how users use the platform.

Disney decided to run a Twitter campaign. But, on Twitter, you only have a few seconds to catch your audience’s attention.

They did a great job at it, by playing a pun on the way that the platform works.

Since Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters per message, Disney set out to create the “Ultimate Twitter Hashtag in 140 Characters”.


(way to go Disney)

That’s Disney characters. They rounded up 140 of their performers to form a hashtag symbol, snapped a photo of it and tweeted it out.

The result: over 2000 retweets and 3000 favorites to date.

So, be sure to research the platform that you’re running your campaign on. It’s not only about providing valuable content, but also providing it in the right form.

Online Example #9 – British Airways and the live billboard

Remember how I talked about billboards in another guide?

Well, they still work, if you use them right.

British Airways came up with a really cool way of doing so. They installed a video billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus that showed a kid who would point up to the sky every time a BA machine flew over.

Not only that, but the billboard would then also show the flight information and number.


(the #lookup campaign has reached 350 million views)

Imagine seeing your sister’s plane as it leaves for a trip to Europe and having that kid point to it.

Doesn’t it make you wonder: “Hm, wouldn’t it be cool if my family could see my next flight like this, too?”

British Airways just got to you. All it took was a few LEDs, a creative way of packaging flight information and the natural sense of wonder that flying still carries today.

Online Example #10 – Ford’s text message marketing campaign

How annoying is going to a car dealer, where you’ll be immediately painted into a corner by the next sleazy salesman?

Not any more. A Ford dealership offered a “text-for-more-info” service for its customers. They see the poster, text FORD to a certain number, and can then choose the model that they want to learn more about.

It’s a simple matter of providing timely information to save you some time. Don’t we all value our time more and more?

What a nice change of pace it is to have a company not shove their products in our face, but instead give us the time to think about it for as long as we want.

Although Ford would follow up 3 times, in case you didn’t respond, it’s still a great way of giving me control over the experience.

Their campaign landed them a 15.4% conversion rate.


Finally, I want to show you 2 examples of what I call hybrid content marketing. I already showed you that online translates to offline and vice versa.

Some companies already use this principle and build their content marketing around that.

You can use online as a gateway to offline and the other way around.

For example, you could use social media to drive awareness to an offline event or run an offline event and take it online.

Hybrid Example #1 – Gary Vaynerchuk calls fans

Gary is a true content marketing master.

This guy is always out to provide value. Plus, he hustles about 27 hours per day.

When he was on his way to an interview with Chase Jarvis in 2013, he had a few minutes to spare while going from the airport to the studio.

He tweeted out a simple message for his fans to text him their cell number and he’d call them.

gary vaynerchuk

Out of thin air, it seems, he created a mini offline event and used his massive 1.18 million Twitter following to drive awareness to it.

Within seconds, he had several people respond, called each of them for about a minute or two and moved on to the next one.

Such a simple gesture, but, as Gary later explained, a short 1 minute call can get him another loyal soldier in his army for life.

Hybrid Example #2 – Tweets during a show

The show that Gary did was called Chase Jarvis Live and it went on for 90 minutes.

During the live show, not only did they take questions from the in-studio audience, but also asked people to submit questions via Twitter, using a specific hashtag.


Instead of a boring offline event for a exclusive minority, they suddenly had a worldwide show, in which anyone could participate.

Just the chance of having my own, personal question answered, makes it so much more likely for me to be engaged in the show, listen closely and actually process the value that’s already being given to me.

The hybrid form of content marketing becomes more and more popular, with apps, like Periscope, Snapchat and others, making it easier than ever to take online offline and the other way around.


Phew. Lots of examples. And, these are only the tip of the iceberg. I hope they give you a good idea of what it takes to be a good content marketer.

What’s more, I really hope that you see that it doesn’t take a huge marketing budget. Today, anyone can use content marketing to their advantage.

Before long, we will all have to, if we want to remain successful, because the world gets noisier each day.

Those who focus their energy on telling good stories, no matter on which platform or in what context, will win in the long run.

Yelling louder won’t help you any more, only yelling better things.

So what’s your story? Are you using content marketing already?

If you have any other great examples I’ve missed, please tell me about them in the comments.