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Why Startups Trump Large Enterprises in Content Marketing Every Time


For the past 15 years, I’ve focused most of my content marketing time on the largest of large businesses. This means dealing with politics, silos, budget issues, and agency relations. In large enterprises, content marketing is a complex beast, hard to move without significant culture change. The hardest part? Doing something differently from how they’ve done it in the past (which is mostly paid media).

Enter the research for my new book, Content Inc. In preparation, Clare McDermott, editor of Chief Content Officer magazine, and I interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs. In almost every case, the entrepreneur started the business “content-first.” This simply means that they identified a content niche, built a loyal audience around that niche, and THEN developed products and services to sell.

Most had few resources, especially compared to a large business. What they did have was passion and patience, and that made all the difference. In the following examples, and the 20 examples included in the SlideShare below, each focuses on the same simple formula:

  • One content type (textual content, audio content, or video content) as primary
  • One main platform (a blog, YouTube, iTunes, etc.)
  • Consistent delivery (no campaigns, just a commitment to deliver amazing information on a regular basis)
  • Time (the average time to monetization was well over 12 months)

It’s so simple, yet so hard for even mid-sized companies to do this. With financial expectations on a quarterly basis at best, few larger companies have the patience to build a loyal relationship with an audience. In addition, budgets are set up as time-based campaigns, where short-term objectives take priority. That means the business tries to monetize the content program before the audience is ready (a big mistake).

It’s either funny or tragic … even with all the resources in the world, compared to startups, large enterprises usually can’t compete with a one-man band because of these short-term constraints. Something has to change.

6 examples to get you thinking

Matthew Patrick 

Today: Matthew Patrick’s Game Theory YouTube network boasts millions of subscribers and billions of views. He’s turned a simple YouTube channel into a million-dollar enterprise, and even consults directly for YouTube.

It may surprise you: Matthew started Game Theory (a YouTube show about video games) as a resume builder. Over 4 million subscribers and Matthew doesn’t need to look for a job anymore.

NOTE: Matthew (MatPat) is speaking at Content Marketing World.

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Joy Cho

Today: Joy Cho has designed and co-produced products for such brands as Target and Microsoft, and she has developed stationery lines, wallpaper, bedding, diaper bags, and even computer accessories. She recently debuted a line of Band-Aid bandages from Johnson & Johnson, which are almost certain to sell out in a similar fashion to her Target line. Joy’s revenues are diverse, from direct client-engagement revenues to product sales to sponsorship to licensing deals.

It may surprise you: Joy started as a simple design blog in 2005. When Pinterest launched, she grew her Pinterest following into more than 13 million followers.

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Today: What if I told you one of the most successful entrepreneurs on YouTube is 9 years old? Evan from consistently reviews toys on his YouTube channel, amassing over 1 million subscribers and a staggering 1 billion views in just a few years. According to ESPN, Evan generated $1.3 million in revenue last year. Wow!

It may surprise you: In 2011, EvanTube started as a father-son claymation project about the Angry Birds game. The initial video has garnered more than 20 million views.

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Today: The business of Glossier is thriving, with founder Emily Weiss recently raising $8.4 million from Thrive Capital and other investors.

It may surprise you: Emily began the company as a simple blog. Now, 200,000 followers on Instagram and 60,000 Facebook fans later, Glossier has become one of the leading online retailers for skin-care products.

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EntrepreneurOnFire (EOF)

Today: Fire Nation (as founder John Lee Dumas likes to call it), has become a multimillion-dollar podcasting empire in the last few years. EOF is consistently rated as one of the top podcasts in the startup space.

It may surprise you: Every month, John releases a podcast to his fans that details where every dollar of revenue comes from. And you know what? Business is doing really well.

Note: John Lee Dumas is speaking at Content Marketing World.

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Andy Schneider

Today: Andy Schneider (aka “The Chicken Whisperer”) is the world’s leading expert in backyard poultry, boasting the leading book, top magazine, and most popular radio show about raising chickens in your backyard.

It may surprise you: Andy turned his hobby into a regular meet-up group after so many of his friends wanted to raise chickens as well. Those regular meet-ups turned into a podcast with over 20,000 listeners a week. The rest is (chicken) history.

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Call to arms

Look, I know this isn’t easy. I’ve been there. I know the challenges and pressures you have as a marketer … the metrics, the ROI concerns … and of course, the politics. But this is your time now. A decade ago, we didn’t have the examples and case studies that proved content marketing works. A decade ago, a number of barriers stopped us from creating loyal audiences and, ultimately, better customers.

Today, the only thing stopping us is … well … us. Do whatever you must to convince upper management that this is a sound, if not critical business approach. Call it a pilot if you need to. Use fear as a motivator to make change happen.

If that doesn’t work, and you’ve done everything you can … maybe it’s time to leave.

Want to hear directly from some of these inspiring entrepreneurs? Register today for Content Marketing World this September. Use code CMI100 to save $100. Joe’s book, Content Inc., also will be released the same week.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute