How To Deal With A Boring Product and Too Much Content –
Mint and Freshbooks Case Studies
What if you’re a company with a boring product? Does it make sense to use Content Marketing? Is there anything interesting to write about?
And, on the opposite side of the spectrum, how do you stand out in a very crowded content area?
We look at two companies who have succeeded in Content Marketing in two different ways.
In principle, Mint has it easy: Personal finance is a bottomless content gold mine. It is one of the most popular subject areas to write about. There is plenty evergreen topics, and you can jump on societal and technological trends that open new ideas for saving or making money.
But popular also means crowded, and Mint needed to stand out. In 2007, when their story began, there already was a huge amount of online content on the topic of personal finance.
Mint asked: What’s the right angle to serve young professionals and turn content readers into Mint customers?
In contrast, Freshbooks had a different Content Marketing challenge. Its core business is an invoicing solution for small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs). But who wants to read about invoicing? If Content Marketing was the way to go, Freshbooks had to come up with interesting topics that would drive traffic, despite the unsexiness of its product.
What Freshbooks had going for it, though, was a very specific user base: Freelancers and leaders of SMEs. Surely, there had to be content that would cut across SME verticals and be interesting – no matter if you sell plumbing, beauty, or PR services.
So the companies faced different challenges:
- Mint needed to stand out in a highly competitive content marketplace
- Freshbooks had to find a content angle that would engage their small business audience
This difference lies at the heart of Content Marketing strategy: Most companies either inhabit a high-interest topic or they have an audience united by a common identity trait.
There are companies who don’t inhabit either one of these worlds. Mainly because their customers are so widely varied and they are part of a huge market. Large hotel chains, energy providers, and mainstream car brands come to mind.
Some of these companies try to overcome this problem by creating entertaining content with less emphasis on usefulness and information value. For example, Marriott and its two bellmen video series. Rather than Content Marketing with its focus on performance and conversion, these efforts are better described as Branded Content which has less emphasis on ROI. Also, it usually isn’t owned by the Performance Marketing function in a company but by its Branding department.
But I digress.
How did Mint create a fresh take on personal finance?
- They asked personal finance bloggers to write on Mint’s blog. They did so for free as long as they could link back to their own site. This meant high quality content and borrowing that blogger’s audience.
- They made access to their alpha product conditional upon the user placing a Mint “badge” on their social media profile, which linked back to mint.com and thus gave the site SEO mojo
- They sponsored other blogs and thus built relationships with influential writers
- They seeded its content on popular content distribution platforms at the time (Digg and Reddit) and tracked its popularity
- They created content formats that superbly leveraged human psychology:
- Trainwreck Tuesdays – stories of personal finance disasters. Few things attract attention like someone else’s misery.
- Interviews with their own staff about their personal finance habits – showing your face and opening up on this sensitive subject builds trust – which is an absolutely essential ingredient for a company that will have access to your sensitive data.
- Interviews with influential people about their personal finance habits which is an ever popular content format: How do successful people do it?
As a result, Mint ended up amassing an audience of 20,000 before the launch of their first product and, for a while, grew to have the largest blog in the personal finance space. Two years after its launch, Intuit acquired Mint for $170 million.
What did Freshbooks do to engage its audience of SME leaders?
No matter which field they are in, people launching their own business have very similar challenges: Time management, client acquisition, hiring, cashflow, employee motivation – all are part of the journey. Therefore, what suggests itself for a company like Freshbooks is to create an all-round small business advice magazine. Here’s some of the blog titles that showcase the breadth of the Freshbooks blog:
- Spring Cleaning for Creatives – Author Fay Wolf on Getting Organized
- Time to Hire: Make Sure Your Off-the-Cuff Interview Questions Don’t Get You in Legal Trouble
- How to Write Effective Emails that People Will Actually Read
One important component of Freshbooks’ Content Marketing is the profiling of small businesses. In this example, they had an in depth conversation with a freelance consultant.
This serves three purposes:
- The profiled person will become a Freshbooks advocate. Grateful that his business will receive exposure to many new prospects, he will benefit from the credibility boost for his article on the Freshbooks’ blog. As a result, he will likely endorse the product to anyone who asks. Also, he will probably share the article with his network where many will also be freelancers or small business owners. It will put Freshbooks on his network’s radar screen.
- It serves as an endorsement of the product. There is no mention of Freshbooks in the article at all, and Neil doesn’t expand on the topic of invoicing or billing. But the article title mentions that he is a customer. And when the customer is profiled well and credibly, has an interesting story to tell, the message is being conveyed: This is a solid small business that uses Freshbooks. It won’t
- It is plainly good content and, as such, grows Freshbooks’ reputation. It is informative, well written, and provides many points of identification with the protagonist. And being good content, it adds another piece into the mosaic of credibility that Freshbooks is building in the minds of its prospects and customers.
I wasn’t able to find data on Freshbooks’ success with Content Marketing. however, the fact they continue to publish two posts a week is a good indicator of its positive impact.
This last point is important to keep in mind: Content Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. As opposed to sales and performance marketing that shows more immediate results, Content Marketing requires a long-term commitment to be effective. If the company published too little or stopped publishing new content altogether, it would work against them. People would look at their blog and think “wow, they haven’t published anything in months. They must be in trouble.”
There is a similar story from a company that sells help desk software for SMEs – Groove. They have followed in Freshbooks’ footsteps and created an online magazine for small businesses. Content Marketing is the only marketing channel they invest in. The results of their work? Their company saved from bankruptcy, an engaged audience of 250k readers a month and $5m in annual revenue. You can read the full story here.
So even if you’re in an “unsexy” business or face strong competition in your chosen content area, take heart – there are ways to get noticed and grow your business!
Let’s have a chat! Contact us to discuss what Kontent360 and Content Marketing in general can do for your business.