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When Content Is All You Have for Your Audience

When three companies essentially closed their retail businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, their marketers made a detour to their kitchens.

Though none of the companies is a food-based brand, each created content marketing strategies around their oft-requested, never-disclosed recipes – content that surprised and delighted their target audiences and attracted widespread attention.

Let’s explore their basic content recipes, a few add-in ingredients, and a couple recipe tweaks.

Bake it up

When I say, “warm chocolate chip cookies,” most of you know what brand I’m referring to. This hotel chain has become synonymous with those warm confections delivered when guests check in – DoubleTree by Hilton.

Basic content recipe

On April 9, Hilton released the recipe: “We know this is an anxious time for everyone. A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness,” Shawn McAteer, senior vice president and global head of DoubleTree, said in the announcement.

The cookie recipe wasn’t limited to a standard news release. It was a full content marketing push.

.@Doubletree’s release of its secret chocolate chip cookie recipe launched a COVID-19 #contentmarketing strategy, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Add-in content ingredients

The recipe news was published as an article on Hilton at Home, a new blog introduced by the brand as a content response to the pandemic.

TIP: Save yourself writing time and use the same content twice. Hilton’s chocolate chip cookie blog article is the same as the news release. The intro is published on the blog (, but when readers click, they are taken to the release (

Hilton also repackaged the content into a video, which was primarily used on social media:

In less than three weeks, the Hilton video had been viewed over 195,000 times. But the recipe release’s amplification grew exponentially with user-generated and mainstream media content.

As you can see below, Parents took on the DoubleTree cookie recipe in a video that garnered 324,000 views in just 12 days, while Bring Me did something similar and earned over 700,000 views in just three days.

Mainstream and niche media picked up the content, including CNN, The Washington Post, Adweek, Forbes, USA Today, Fox News, Travel and Leisure, Pop Sugar, Fatherly, and Taste of Home.

Content recipe tweak

Though Hilton did a lot right in its recipe-release strategy, it missed an opportunity in the downloadable PDF of the recipe:

It omitted any DoubleTree by Hilton branding or call to action. The plain document lacks a logo and does not include a website address (or even a recipe source link). It also doesn’t promote Hilton at Home content, which includes at least another recipe (cocktails and mocktails) that these readers might find valuable.

.@Doubletree by Hilton didn’t put its brand on the chocolate chip recipe PDF. A missed opportunity, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Whip it up

Though the gates remain closed at its California and Florida amusement parks, Disney is going full throttle with its content marketing strategy thanks to its voluminous recipe box.

Better known for Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the gang, the amusement park brand is catering to its audience’s interest (and in some cases, fanaticism) for its food.

Basic content recipe

On April 8, it rewarded its Disneyland app subscribers, sending a push notification for a “frozen pineapple treat” recipe, better known as Dole Whip.

TIP: Let your subscribers be the first to sample your content. Reward those who have been committed to receiving your content. It also gives other people an incentive to subscribe.

Let your subscribers be the first to receive your #content, says @anngynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Add-in content ingredients

The Disney Parks blog also is getting in on the recipe content game. Though it appears to have published a recipe or two before the pandemic, it seems to be doing it more deliberately now that many of its previous topics – around the parks themselves – are not as relevant.

The series – Disney Parks Cooking Up the Magic at Home – has a distinct identity:

All the recipe articles are authored by Alex Dunlap, whose blog beat is food and beverage.

.@Disney smartly assigns beats to its @DisneyParks blog writers, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Among the recipes Alex has published in April are beignets from New Orleans Square and Disney’s Port New Orleans Resort – French Quarter, chocolate peanut butter French toast from PCH Grill, grilled cheese from Woody’s Lunch Box at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Disney churros recipe.

Similar to DoubleTree by Hilton, Disney has seen its recipe content picked up by many media outlets, including Glamour, People, Nerdist, and Travel and Leisure.

TIP: Assigning employees to cover topics allows them to become more proficient on the subject matter (and reduces the time they need to get up to speed for every content piece being created).

Have a ball

The Sweden-based global brand IKEA sells products for the home, from furniture to kitchen gadgets and more, as well as frozen versions of the food it serves in its in-store cafeterias.

Basic content recipe

On April 20, the U.K. division tweeted a recipe for IKEA’s famous Swedish meatballs. The content creators smartly maintained IKEA’s brand voice – designing the cooking instructions in a motif similar to its infamous product assembly instructions. (Though I think the recipe is a lot easier to follow than their bookshelf-building instructions.)

In less than seven days, the U.K. tweet garnered 310 comments, 5,100 retweets, and 11,300 “likes.” But the content resonated far beyond the account’s 49,800 followers.

Add-in content ingredients

The media and their followers took the recipe launch to new heights. The Washington Post’s Voraciously even tested the recipe:

Today on NBC used the occasion to not only share the recipe but to tell the story behind the meatballs and discuss IKEA’s plans to introduce a plant-based meatball down the road.

Recipe tweak

However, the IKEA brand didn’t take the recipe’s release as far as it could have. It seems to have been up to each country’s content team whether to promote the content. For example, IKEA Canada, which has 2.5 times more followers than IKEA UK, crafted its own tweet using the UK-generated graphic:

But the IKEA United States account never tweeted the meatball recipe.

.@IKEAUK’s meatball recipe release doesn’t seem to have been coordinated with its geographic divisions, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

TIP: In this example, IKEA UK used #IKEAmeatballs, while IKEA Canada used #IKEAInspo. Make sure to coordinate your social media hashtags across departments and divisions to achieve maximum effect.

It also appears that IKEA treated the meatball recipe as a one-off post. It hasn’t followed up with sharing user-generated or other media content created around the meatball news. It also hasn’t interacted with any of the replies to the original tweet. (One enterprising tweeter found a different recipe on IKEA’s Singapore site and wanted to know why. Others surmised, but no answer has been given by IKEA.)

What content will delight your audience?

You may not have a recipe to share like DoubleTree by Hilton, Disney, and IKEA, but you likely have something to give your audience that it would be surprised and delighted to see. Brainstorm some ideas. Ask questions such as:

  • What has our audience always wanted to know, but we haven’t revealed because of logistics, time, etc.?
  • What format would surprise our audience?
  • What would our audience be interested to learn that is happening behind the scenes?
  • What’s the most unexpected thing our brand does?

Whether your doors are closed, shut halfway, or open wide, your audience is eager to consume unique content and your brand can be the one to cook it up.

Want to ensure that your content marketing mix cooks well in the short and long term? Stay connected with us. Subscribe to the newsletter. Join us at noon U.S. EDT Tuesdays for #CMWorld Twitter chats. And browse our list of COVID-19 resources for content marketers

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute