Content-led marketing and product-led content are two terms you may have heard in marketing circles.
What do they mean and how do they differ?
In this article, you’ll learn what each one means, how to develop your product-led content strategy, the different types of product-led content you can use, and tips for making yours more engaging.
You’ll find examples of product-led video content to inspire you, too.
Let’s get started. First up: what are we dealing with?
What Is Content-Led Marketing Strategy?
Content-led marketing aims to change the hearts, minds, and actions of a target audience by:
- Educating them with useful information.
- Enlightening them with research or a documentary.
- Entertaining them with surprise, hilarity, or exhilaration.
- Or inspiring them with emotional and relatable stories.
What Is Product-Led Content Strategy?
“Product-led content is any type of content that strategically weaves a product into the narrative and uses it to illustrate a point, solve a problem, and/or help the audience accomplish a goal,” says Dr. Fio Dossetto, who writes and publishes the contentfolks newsletter.
The Problem With Product-Led Content
The problem with most product-led content is essentially that people just don’t know how to craft content with their product as the star in natural, engaging ways.
Product-led content isn’t an infomercial.
It’s not direct response copywriting.
If it’s a hard sell, then you’ll lose the reader and your content will be ineffective.
On the other side of the coin, there are marketers who are so afraid to appear promotional that they don’t mention their product or service at all.
Neither approach will help you achieve your business goals.
A Time-Tested Solution To This Problem
So, let me share an outline that can help content marketers develop a good storyline so their product can be the star of the show in a way that is relevant, engaging, and interesting to read.
By the way, this outline can be found in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. This ancient Greek treatise, which dates back to the 4th century BCE, is regarded as “the most important single work on persuasion ever written.”
You could say it has withstood the test of time. Aristotle’s five-part outline for a persuasive speech was:
- Get your audience’s attention.
- Explain a key problem they face.
- Identify a solution to their problem.
- Describe the benefits of this solution.
- Give your audience a call to action.
Now, this outline still works more than 2,400 years later because it strategically weaves a product into the middle of the narrative after getting the audience’s attention and explaining a key problem they face, which is the limited goal of most brand-building marketing campaigns.
And it does this before describing the product’s benefits and giving the audience a call to action, which is the limited objective of most performance marketing campaigns.
In other words, this product-led content strategy works because it transforms a product into a solution.
This approach requires that content marketers conduct some market research into what is keeping their customers up at night before they introduce the product that will be the hero of this story.
Unfortunately, most organizations cut their market research budgets last year in response to the pandemic just as their customers faced an unprecedented set of new problems. This meant that only 31% of B2B organizations re-examined the customer journey before 70% changed their targeting/messaging strategy.
Getting Started With Market Research
This year, as content marketing has grown again, it’s time to add money back to market research.
But there are several questions you need to ask before you start gathering information, advises Nate Laban, the Owner of Growth Survey Systems. These questions (and some quick answers) include:
What audience are you targeting, and can you access them?
For example, Google provides different tools to help you access different audiences. If you are targeting a list of contacts, then you should use Google Forms, but if you are targeting internet users, then you should use Google Surveys.
Do your contacts need to be pre-screened?
You can use screening questions to filter respondents to your survey.
For example, respondents first see your screening question, and then those who select a threshold answer such as “Yes” or “I plan to” can answer the remaining questions in your survey.
How many responses do you need?
The number of responses you need depends on how confident you want to be in your results.
The U.S. population is 328.2 million people, so 384 responses have a margin of error of +/- 5%, and 1,067 responses have a margin of error of +/- 3%, for example.
How are your contacts incentivized to participate?
Non-monetary motivation works if respondents’ passion for brand or organization drives participation, or their job responsibility requires participation.
Otherwise, you’ll need monetary motivation like individual incentives, prize giveaways, or charitable donations.
Do you have a research process you typically follow?
Laban recommends using this proven research survey process:
- Establish objectives.
- Design questionnaire.
- Program questionnaire.
- Post-collection quality check.
- Analyze and report.
Have all stakeholders agreed to the objectives?
Do yourself a favor and make that boring bulleted list of research goals and then make sure all other stakeholders on your team have contributed and approved your goals before you start writing your questionnaire.
Tips For Writing A Successful Survey
Now, you’re ready to write the questions that your target audience will answer.
There are several types of questions you can ask. For example, Google Surveys offers:
- Single answer: A user can select one answer from seven options.
- Multiple answers: Up to seven options can be shown at once, including “None of the above.” Users can select one or more options.
- Open-ended: Users can enter one- or two-word answers or a short phrase.
- Rating scale: Users can answer a question with a rating scale of 5, 7, 10, or 11 stars (e.g., “Not interested” to “Very interested”).
- Large image choice: Displays up to 5 thumbnail images that can be enlarged, and allows the respondent to pick one.
- Video: Upload a video shorter than 2 minutes and ask respondents questions about the video.
Narrow to your target audience. For example, if you only want answers from pet owners, then start with a non-binary screening question like “What types of pets do you own, if any?”
Be specific and clear. For example, ask “How many times have you bought orange juice within the last 12 months?” rather than “Do you buy orange juice?”
Provide enough answer options. For example, instead of asking “Do you agree with the following statement? I like apples,” ask, “How much do you like apples?” and give respondents options from “Not at all” to “Very much.”
Choose the right settings. People tend to click more on the top responses in a vertical list of multiple-choice answers. To avoid bias in your results, keep your answers randomized in some way unless these randomization options don’t make sense for your question.
Types Of Product-Led Content
Once you know how your target audience’s lives are changing, the key problems they want to solve, and/or the new goals they want to accomplish, you are ready to create different types of product-led content that strategically weave your solution into the narrative.
According to research by Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, the B2B content assets that produced the best results in the last 12 months were:
- Virtual events/webinars/online courses (58%).
- Research reports (48%).
- Short articles/posts less than 3,000 words (48%).
- E-books/white papers (47%).
- Case studies (39%).
- Videos (38%).
- In-person events (37%).
- Long articles/posts more than 3,000 words (32%).
All of these assets can be used in a product-led content strategy. But, it’s worth noting that the top area of B2B content marketing investment in 2022 is video at 69%.
Video enables you to strategically weave your product into the narrative to illustrate a point, solve a problem, and/or help the audience accomplish a goal.
The Benefits Of Product-Led Video Content (With Examples)
Over the past 15 years, I’ve seen myriad examples of the benefits of product-led video content.
Here are 10 videos that content marketing teams should want to watch and analyze so you can apply what you learn to your own product-led content strategy.
One of the first videos that caught my attention was “Will It Blend? – Marbles” from 2006, which has since earned 7.3 million views and 19,000 engagements.
In fact, I featured this success story in the first edition of my book YouTube and Video Marketing because Blendtec, which made high-performing, durable blenders for commercial use, spent just $50 creating the first five “Will It Blend?” videos.
That campaign delivered a 700% increase in sales.
On Nov. 13, 2013, Google demonstrated why video is a content marketer’s best medium for storytelling. That’s when the brand uploaded, “Google Search: Reunion.” The video has since earned 16 million views and 128,000 engagements.
As the video’s description says,
“The India-Pakistan partition in 1947 separated many friends and families overnight. A granddaughter in India decides to surprise her grandfather on his birthday by reuniting him with his childhood friend (who is now in Pakistan) after over 6 decades of separation, with a little help from Google Search.”
On Nov. 14, 2013, “Volvo Trucks – The Epic Split feat. Van Damme (Live Test)” mesmerized its target audience online and communicated the brand’s key messaging and value propositions.
The target audience for Volvo Trucks is comprised of a diverse mix of direct buyers and purchase decision influencers including carriers, fleet owners, owner-operators, drivers, and their own dealer network.
As the video’s description explains, “This live test was set up to demonstrate the precision and directional stability of Volvo Dynamic Steering — a world first technology that makes the Volvo FM easier to drive.”
But far more people than the brand’s target audience watch Jean-Claude Van Damme carry out his famous split between two reversing trucks. (Yes, they are going backward!)
This explains why the video got 113 million views and 1 million engagements.
It’s also worth noting that Volvo Trucks reported a 31% boost in truck sales for November compared to the previous year.
On Dec. 8, 2013, “WestJet Christmas Miracle: Real-time Giving” demonstrated that a Canadian airline could strategically weave service into the narrative and use it to solve a problem, and/or help the audience accomplish a goal.
This explains why their video got 49.8 million views and 241,000 engagements.
On April 14, 2014, “Stack | Cat Trials” demonstrated that even a B2B product demo could get 9.1 million views and 45,800 engagements.
How did Cat Products do that?
Their video pits five Cat machines, including excavators and telehandlers, against a mountain of massive JENGA blocks.
The object of the game is for heavy equipment operators to remove and then reposition a stack of 27 JENGA blocks one at a time, without toppling the structure, using only their Cat machines and attachments.
On Nov. 12, 2014, “1914 | Sainsbury’s Ad | Christmas 2014” literally made a chocolate bar the hero of their video, which was inspired by real events from 100 years earlier.
Now, content marketers may mistakenly think that they can’t learn any lessons about weaving their product into the narrative from advertising, but video ads are also video content on YouTube.
Made in partnership with The Royal British Legion, it commemorates the extraordinary events of Christmas Day, 1914, when the guns fell silent and two armies met in no man’s land, sharing gifts and even playing football together.
The chocolate bar featured in Sainsbury’s Christmas advert was on sale at the time.
All profits (50p per bar) went to The Royal British Legion and benefited the country’s armed forces and their families.
On Oct. 6, 2015, the Harmon Brothers uploaded “This Unicorn Changed the Way I Poop – #SquattyPotty,” which got 39.8 million views and 138,000 engagements.
It also increased online sales of Squatty Potty by more than 600% and retail sales by over 400%.
In November 2015, I interviewed Daniel Harmon, a “bro-founder” and the Creative Director of the Harmon Brothers. Prior to Harmon Brothers, he was the art director at Orabrush, where he helped create over 100 product-led videos.
I asked him, “What kind of products and services lend themselves to your methods?”
Harmon answered, “Differentiated products that solve a real problem. We like innovative things that sometimes require more education to understand.”
“We are salesman first, artists second… but it’s a close second. Sometimes we come up with crazy fun ideas, but we always have to ask ourselves, ‘Will it actually make the customer more likely to buy?’ If the answer is no, we don’t do it,” Harmon explained.
He added, “No matter how cool or funny it might be. Our number one objective is to increase sales while simultaneously providing strong branding.”
On June 27, 2018, “Hyundai | Celebrating 20 Years of Brilliant Moments,” showed that Hyundai Motor India could craft content with their product as the star in a natural, engaging way.
As the video’s description says, “In the journey called life, there are a few moments that are treasured for a lifetime. Hyundai celebrates 20 Years of Brilliant Moments.”
This begins to explain why this video got 224 million views and 139,000 engagements. For a longer explanation, read “6 Lessons In Video Storytelling You Can Learn from Indian Brands.”
On Feb. 25, 2019, “Real Life Trick Shots 3 | Dude Perfect” got 124 million views and 2.4 million engagements.
More importantly, it demonstrated that a video sponsored by Sam’s Club could get 1,503 times more views and 4,528 times more engagements than the top video created by Sam’s Club.
On Dec. 29, 2020, “Do You Love Me?” demonstrated that Boston Dynamics knows how to develop a good storyline so their product can be the star of the show in a way that is relevant, engaging, and interesting to watch.
The video’s description says, “Our whole crew got together to celebrate the start of what we hope will be a happier year: Happy New Year from all of us at Boston Dynamics.”
Now, you and I both know this is just another product demo.
But it’s a product demo video that got 35 million views and 1.3 million engagements.
Three Calls to Action
To wrap this up, let me give you three calls to action.
First, read Viola Eva’s A Step-By-Step Guide to Winning at Product-Led Content Marketing. Learn about the power of product-led content marketing for generating qualified traffic and meaningful organic conversions.
Second, conduct some market research into what is keeping your customers up at night.
Third, get your content marketing team together and watch the 10 product-led videos mentioned above. Analyze how they strategically weave different products into the narrative.
Then, apply what you learn to start crafting video content with your product as the star in natural, engaging ways.
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Featured image: Shutterstock/Red Fox Studio