Content Marketing on My Doorstep

Four times a year a magazine called Drive shows up in my mailbox. I never subscribed to this magazine, but I did buy a Subaru a few years ago. Drive: The Magazine From Subaru is, I guess, the car company's thank-you gift to me.

I'm not what you would call "a car person." I really don't care about much beyond fuel efficiency, how a car performs in the snow, and that the radio works. So more often than not, the Subaru magazine gets tossed directly into the recycling bin or languishes in some pile of catalogs and magazines until I decide to toss that entire stack into the recycling bin.

And then the most recent issue showed up and tricked me into reading it, because the cover story wasn't about the 2014 Forrester or some 24-year-old German kid who just won a road rally in his WRX. It was about the farm-to-table movement. With lush pictures of vegetables on the cover, I thought it might be my organic gardening magazine.

Why the heck was this magazine for car lovers (or, at least, Subaru lovers) doing stories about restaurants and local food? Were the chefs featured in the story picking the food up from farmers and hauling it back to their kitchens in their Outbacks? I just didn't get it.

Then I realized that Subaru was just practicing good content marketing. If someone asked you to tell them what kind of person owns a Toyota or Honda, you probably couldn't answer in any kind of meaningful way. But we all know who is driving Subarus. The company has long been positioning itself as the car of choice for outdoorsy types and tree huggers. Many of its commercials are targeted at dog lovers, hikers, and skiers, and they never fail to mention that the cars are made in zero-landfill plants. If you care about the environment but live too rugged a lifestyle to own a Prius, you've probably got a Subaru in your driveway-and that has not escaped the company's marketers. (Just a few pages after the farm-to-table story is a two-page spread explaining how "green" the PZEV vehicles are.)

So how does a car company get nongearheads (like me) to pay attention to its content marketing? Write about other things that they do care about. In this case, that happens to mean local, sustainable foods-but in the past, cover stories have focused on kiteboarding, canyoneering, and, of all things, changing your career.

The spring issue of Drive conveniently showed up at the same time I happened to be planting seeds for my cold-weather crops and searching Pinterest for DIY greenhouse plans. I was raking leaves out of my flower beds and smiling at the sight of daffodils and crocuses. By the time the magazine with the colorful carrots and chard showed up, I was ripe for the picking (pardon the pun).

I soon discovered there was more in the magazine for people like me. There was a profile of an archaeologist who drives (what else?) a Subaru while searching for pottery fragments and dinosaur bones. There were pictures from other readers who were checking items off their "bucket lists" while road-tripping around the United States, and there was an ode to tailgating. Of course there were also a few pages dedicated to horsepower and car awards, and other things that didn't interest me, but I still ended up reading most of the magazine (and learning new things about Subaru models I didn't even know existed).

Here at EContent we talk a lot about content marketing and how journalists are moving over to the business world to fill the new chief content officer positions at companies and enterprises, but Drive has been around for 25 years. It has a masthead just like ours, complete with an editor-in-chief. There's no doubt that what this publication is doing is content marketing, but I'm not so sure anyone there knows it.

And perhaps that's the lesson all content marketers should take away from this column: The best content marketing shouldn't even be identifiable as content marketing. If you're doing your job right, the content you produce should be virtually indistinguishable from any other type of content. But the Drive example also goes to show the importance of knowing your audience. While your customers may not be into white water rafting or ice climbing, they likely care about something you can use to engage them with your content and eventually your product.  

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