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Content Marketing Case Studies: What Drives Your Business?

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Content Marketing Case Studies: What Drives Your Business?

I’ve read some content marketing strategy case studies and they’re good reads. It’s useful to view how other companies attract and keep visitors on their sites. What fascinates me, beyond the great writing and stellar design, is how these companies use content to fuel their entire commercial engines. They give away content, put some behind a firewall and repurpose a lot of it, and their work is so outstanding that visitors return again and again to learn from an authority about their favorite subjects. I’ve selected a few of the sites that I visit again and again for a simple case study. Beyond the great content and design, I asked myself: what is it that makes these sites leading content marketers?

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Photograph by Sergey Nivens via

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America’s Test Kitchen: repurposing content

The first case study is a site that the public can access and receive free recipes and content that America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) featured in its shows, hosted on PBS. Cook’s Illustrated owns ATK and has done a brilliant job of content marketing.

Cook’s Illustrated does little advertising beyond its ATK broadcasts. Instead, it relies on ATK’s content marketing to fuel its paid publications, online subscriptions and books. The money they’d allocate to ad campaigns they use to create content for the TV show, instead. This becomes content for their opt-in newsletter and ATK website. From there, they promote Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country and their books. Users can subscribe to the website, the magazines and buy the books: all with the same content, but in different formats.

It’s brilliant: the free ATK content fuels the rest of the publications, which also repurpose content for sale. You wouldn’t think cooks would buy the book when they can access the recipes online, but you’d be wrong. Just look at my cookbook shelf.

For Dummies: content to drive book sales

The next marketing case study is the for Dummies website. Remember black-and-yellow manuals from the 90s that claimed even a complete dummy could understand the book’s technical topic? Well, the current Dummies offerings span topics from lawn care and landscaping to HTML programming and investment. If you have a technical topic, chances are there’s a Dummies book for it.

The problem is: who buys books anymore? Some people still love the feel of a book, but many of us choose digital versions for our e-readers or, more likely, just look up topics on the internet. That’s where the Dummies website shines and why I’ve chosen it for an advertising case study example. The Dummies site will offer visitors useful, authoritative content and videos about the topic, but leave visitors craving more. Of course, they can buy more of that useful, authoritative content – right from the Dummies website.

Dummies lures visitors in with great content, keeps them on the site and encourages valuable conversions because its content is just that good. Visitors trust the Dummies brand and end up making a purchase when they may not have done so otherwise. Since it is an established brand, once visitors rely on the Dummies site for content, they’ll bookmark it and return again and again for quick DIY help or ways to beat one’s brother-in-law at chess.

Elegant Themes: the soft sell

I chose Elegant Themes for this simple case study post for two reasons: I’ve been a member and fan of theirs for over five years and I love their work and I’m crazy about their blog. If you use WordPress or you are a web designer, you should consider subscribing to their blog. It’s that good.

They use both long-form blog posts and video posts to provide readers with help choosing plugins and running a web design business. Authoritative and useful, Elegant Themes’ blog is terrific, even if you don’t use their products or WordPress. They’re masters of the soft sell, a good example of which is the post about

pop-up plugin functionality. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, pop-ups haven’t gone away for a simple reason: they work. The ET blog post reviews 19 plugins for this functionality, both free and paid, of which only one of is theirs. That’s worth the mention among my advertising case study examples.

ESPN – multiple content entry points

I’m not just a football fan, I’m a Football Fan with capital effs. Naturally, ESPN is in my browser’s bookmarks, their app is on my smartphone and so is their fantasy football league. (No, I did not win my league last year. Yes, I did make the playoffs. Yes, I’m still bitter.) Roger Godell, I hope you’re reading: I don’t have the NFL’s site bookmarked and I’ve removed their app from my smartphone. Why? It’s just not as good as ESPN’s.  It doesn’t match the reporting on my home team and the fantasy football app is clunky. Sorry. #truth

ESPN is more than football 24/7/365. They understand that there’s more to life than the 4 preseason, 16 regular-season, 3 post-season and one Super Bowl game. Sure. I get it. There’s the draft, OTAs and training camp. And endless summer months full of charity golf tournaments. To fill in the gaps in the NFL’s schedule, ESPN also covers basketball, hockey, baseball and other sports. Or so I’ve heard.

It’s those other sports that make ESPN’s site terrific. Even a football fan like me has a hard time not clicking on the box scores at the top, especially when it’s not football season or it’s my team’s bye week. The real estate on the top of the first page has links to the major sports, video, audio, and fantasy leagues. Visitors see a newspaper-style above-the-fold in-depth long form news story about a major event, complete with a great dominant image and headline. Old School. In the side bars are headlines, video and news briefs, just like the traditional sports pages. The other side bar has my teams and news hand-picked for me and my interests.

In journalism, we call these multiple points of entry for visitors to engage with the text. You don’t care about hockey? Well, look at this compelling photo. Did you miss Stephen A. Smith’s rant today? It’s there, just scroll down (you know I love you, Stephen A.). All of those different access points into the content hook visitors. Before you know it, even a football fan in June has spent half an hour on ESPN and has no idea where that time went. Again.

In between the videos, the stories, the photography and the fantasy leagues, ESPN slips in that advertising, which is another great reason to list it as an advertising case study example. See that Samsung banner at the top, right under the box scores? That’s prime website real estate and ESPN gave it over to advertising, not content. In the world of print journalism, that’s a bold move. I think it’s bold for a major website, too. The site’s own logo is above the ad, but small and tucked out of the way. That’s confidence right there; they don’t have to advertise who they are; if you’re a sports fan, you know.

ESPN has also tucked advertising content into sidebars among the news briefs and at the beginning of most videos. ESPN gets away with all that advertising because it’s a terrific site and they know that its loyal readers and viewers come back every day for the sports coverage only they provide. Sports fans might go elsewhere, too, but they always stop at ESPN every day.

WebMD – specialized, authoritative content

The last example in my content marketing case studies is

WebMD, a site people visit for content related to an ache, pain, diagnosis or other health concern. If you’re looking to improve your diet or you’re worried about that twinge in your back, Google search results will often list a WebMD article to educate you about your condition.

I’ve added them my content marketing case study list because they have a large quantity of specialized, authoritative content. Click on the WebMD search engine result and you’ll know that the information and advice comes from writers who research their content and whose content has been viewed and approved by physicians. If the content on the site suggests you should visit your primary care physician, well, you should get on the phone and make an appointment.

WebMD relies on their trusted content to sell pharmaceuticals, often targeted to conditions you’ve been searching for. Other brands outside the health care field also advertise on WebMD and ride on the site’s trustworthy coattails. Looking up heartburn? Maybe you need a new mobile phone or hair clippers. I don’t understand the reasoning behind the ad server’s algorithm, but I do understand the value of having an advertisement alongside trusted content.

Naturally, this isn’t the definitive case study list of content marketers who use their content to build their businesses. However, it is a good look at how different organizations can use their content to power their online business, create a loyal following and improve their revenue streams.

My content marketing case study list has only five examples. What other sites are expert content marketers? Please share your favorites in the comments and let us all know why those sites are terrific.

Do you need a case study done? Is your content marketing in need of a boost? Contact us and let’s have it all improved. Or subscribe to our mailing list to receive updates about content products.

Diane has nearly 20 years’ experience as a professional writer and editor. She has been an editorial director, technical writer, journalist and journalism instructor. She taught scholastic journalism and advised award-winning scholastic publications and national-award-winning students. Most recently, she was the editorial director for an education publication and multi-media professional development division with a Midwestern education publisher.

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