The Case for Free Content

Five brands show how to do it right

As a content marketer, your goal is to convert online visitors into paying customers. It might be counter-intuitive to some, but offering free content is an important first step.

Of course, it has to be good content, not the wafer-thin blog posts propped up by keywords or boring videos published by less-enlightened brands.

Content should be useful, something that offers a solution to a problem experienced by your audience. Giving away valuable information turns your website and other digital channels into resources potential customers will return to repeatedly. Demonstrating your expertise builds trust and creates a sense of community, so that when you do have a paid offer, you’re more likely to get a bite.

Many content marketers believe in an 80/20 rule, in which 80 percent of the content you post enriches or entertains your audience, while 20 percent is brand-specific or a call to action.

So which brands are doing it right? Plenty, and they span across multiple industries. Here are five examples:

CrossFit: All the Right Moves

CrossFit, a company that promotes a high-intensity exercise program available at affiliated gyms, posts all kinds of free content on its website and YouTube channel. Some pieces show the uninitiated how to do certain moves correctly, others tell inspirational personal stories. There’s even a Workout of the Day people can complete without being a member.

Company founder Greg Glassman said on 60 Minutes that he didn’t understand the value of free content until he saw the results. “The more video we give away, the more money we make,” he said. Bingo!

Mint: How to Manage Your Money

Created by Intuit, known for its tax preparation software, Mint is an online service that helps you pay bills, manage your budget and track your investments. Mint also has a blog called Mint Life with practical financial advice for most generations (from college students to retirees) on saving, investing, managing credit, affording a home and even traveling on the cheap. Authors vary from Mint Life writers to guest bloggers with financial street cred.

Of course, anyone who reads Mint Life will see the option of signing up for the Mint app, but you won’t find a hard sell in any of the blog posts. And that’s the key.

Sharp: Leading a Healthy Life

Sharp Healthcare, one of the largest not-for-profit healthcare systems in San Diego, provides general tips on everything from diet and exercise to pain management and emotional distress. Listed under Sharp Health News, these articles appear alongside stories about Sharp patients who have benefited from good care and Sharp doctors who provide it.

Sharp uses its own clinicians as sources for these articles, demonstrating their healthcare expertise and knowledge of the latest trends.

Ashley Furniture:  Stylish Living

The Ashley HomeStore blog promotes the Ashley Furniture brand without overtly selling. A blog post on top bachelor pad ideas, for example, shows images of lighting, sofas and accessories accompanied by brief captions and unobtrusive links. To find out more about the furniture you see, you can click on the image, which will take you to a page where you can order the piece. On images with multiple items, like a sofa set, numbers and alt tags appear on each item only after you mouse over the image.

In another post, the Ultimate Gift Guide for Graduates the company mixes in an Apple SmartWatch, wireless headphones and a wireless tracker keychain along with the Ashley area rugs and dinnerware.

In this case, the blog probably breaks the 80/20 rule, but it’s more discreet than “in your face” sales, which makes a big difference.

Lancôme: Make-Up Tips

Lancôme, a perfume and cosmetics company headquartered in Paris, uses video to demonstrate how to apply make-up, especially the latest trends, such as Parisian lip art and Ariana Grande’s feline flick. The roster of experts ranges from Lancôme make-up professionals to well-known beauty enthusiasts, such as Michelle Phan, who became famous on YouTube for her make-up demonstrations.

It’s no surprise that the experts use Lancôme products to demonstrate the perfect brow line and concealer, so that might blur the 80/20 rule a bit, but the tips are free and work just as well with Maybelline or any other brand. Not that Lancôme would agree.


Want to learn more about integrating your content within a broader campaign? Sign up for the Integrated Campaign Planning Workshop June 14-15 at UC San Diego Extension. You’ll start the workshop with a blank slate and leave with a completed integrated marketing plan to help guide you when building future campaigns for your organization or business.

About Bonnie

Bonnie is a professional copywriter at Hear Ye! Writing, specializing in case studies, white papers, articles, blogging, web content and ghostwriting. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking around San Diego, reading about the Founding Fathers, or planning her next trip in the camper with her husband.

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