What the Food Network Taught Me About Content Marketing

September 19, 2013 •

My grandmother would be rolling over in her grave. What used to be one of the greatest, most cherished family secrets, passed down carefully from generation to generation, is now out there for anyone. I’m not talking about why my cousin, Joe, looks completely different from the rest of the family (but oddly like the mailman).

I’m talking about this:

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add ½ red onion, diced, and 4 tablespoons minced garlic and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes…

If you haven’t already guessed, it’s the secret family recipe. It’s cherished and closely guarded, not just by my grandmother but by many companies, as well. Because, like my grandmother, they feel that if the secret gets out, the end of the world is surely around the corner.

Your Secret Sauce Isn’t Much of a Secret

We all know those companies – afraid to share their “secret sauce” for fear that others in the industry will read their blog, eBook, or whitepaper, know everything that they do, and immediately become a formidable competitor. With a few limited exceptions (true intellectual property), if that’s the case, I would suggest that your secret sauce probably isn’t that good.

Take Emeril Lagasse as an example. After joining the Food Network (then FoodTV), Emeril proceeded to reveal, one by one, all of the recipes that were the most famous and best selling at his New Orleans restaurant. Now instead of ponying up for a night out at Emeril’s, you could easily stay home and make a meal using the exact recipes Emeril’s would serve you. Do you think business at Emeril’s restaurant went into the tank? My grandmother would have thought so, but instead, Emeril went on to open MORE restaurants, expand into multiple television shows, sign lucrative licensing deals for cookbooks and cookware, and capitalize on the word he pronounces so well, “arugula.” At its peak, the “Emeril Empire” was raking in more than $150 million per year. Not bad for a guy who gave away all of his valuable secrets.

Educate Your Audience

It’s entirely possible that a significant chunk of Emeril’s audience had never even HEARD of arugula before watching his show, and had no idea how to appreciate the complex flavors and style of food he is known for. By educating the audience, Emeril created smarter buyers and turned them on to more sophisticated products.

Your content should do exactly the same thing. Through this blog, for instance, we’ve helped people understand how to Create a Core Messaging Document, Conduct a Marketing Audit, Create a Content Marketing Plan,and much more – and yet companies continue to hire us to do those very things. Actually, we are both better off because they understand what they are buying and why they are buying it. Giving away our recipes — teaching people how to fish — has led to more business, not less. As a services firm, clients hire us for the way we think, and there’s no better way to demonstrate that than through teaching and sharing – just like our friends on the Food Network.

I’m Not Emeril

Most of us aren’t in the position of having a platform like the Food Network, but that doesn’t mean you can’t think like Emeril. Take some inspiration and generate ideas using some of these examples:

1. At last week’s Content Marketing World, and previously on Convince and Convert, Jay Baer showed how Lowe’s uses Vine as a way to educate users on quick ways to solve home improvement challenges (a homemade paint tray liner, a do-it-yourself watering can) – even if some of those solutions compete against actual products Lowe’s sells (like paint tray liners and watering cans).

2. Again at Content Marketing World, Andrew Davis highlighted FoldFactory, a company that provides templates for creating unique folds for direct mail pieces. FoldFactory produces a weekly video on “super-cool” folding samples and production tips, including the Fold of the Week, to a highly targeted but passionate audience.

3. We launched our very own comprehensive free content marketing eBook How to Grow Your Business with Content Marketing with easy-to-digest tips (see what I did there) and more detailed content marketing recipes (I did it again), including insights from industry experts who are even kind of competitors.

Right Source Marketing: eBook

4. Wonder what is literally in the secret sauce? McDonald’s will tell you. In arguably the company’s biggest content marketing success, McDonald’s Canada has been a poster child for transparency with its platform, “Our Food. Your Questions.” Users can send in any question about McDonald’s food — truly anything — and the company answers it honestly. Some questions, like “What’s in the Big Mac sauce?” and “Are the chicken nuggets made from pink sludge?” have been turned into videos. Thousands of questions have been answered, and no one has started another chain of restaurants with billion-selling Big Macs yet.

So the next time somebody pushes back about his or her secret sauce being confidential, remember Emeril’s empire. And, if you want Emeril’s sauce recipe … well, go check it out from the chef himself. (Sorry, I can’t give out grandma’s full recipe. Despite the overall message in this blog post, I’m not really brave enough to cross her.)

What do you think? Is your secret sauce too secret to let out? Are companies nuts for teaching people how to DIY the very things that they sell? Sound off and share your thoughts in the comments below.


About the Author

As Right Source’s chief marketing technology officer, Will Davis oversees the intersection of marketing strategy, consulting, execution and technology for our clients. He focuses first on business objectives and then on helping clients leverage marketing and technology to deliver against those objectives. A recognized leader in content marketing, Will has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in government and politics and broad experience developing marketing strategies that help organizations reach milestones and grow. You can find Will on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn, or read his other posts.

  • Will,

    Great post! Thanks so much for sharing it with me!

    Too many people hold their secret sauce too close…

    Great insight and advice!

    – Andrew

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Andrew – I appreciate you reading and commenting. Great
      presentation last week.

      Catch up soon!

  • Sociometrist

    This is a fantastic piece and resonates with many of my own beliefs for implementing a successful content marketing game plan. The world is more social than ever before and businesses need to embrace it fully. On the surface this means participating in the ever growing number of social communities, but on a deeper level it means learning to communicate with your potential buyers and current customers more openly.

    The rules and customs that dictated how businesses have traditionally pursued customer engagement were forged in a time when the streams of communication were severely limited. With the liberation of communication channels businesses that continue to stick staunchly to their old habits of interacting with their customers in a highly controlled and clinical manner will continue to lose out and can easily be left behind as more adaptive competitors capture their markets attention.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Dave, great comments here! I appreciate you contributing. I think you nailed it when you said it’s all about openness, and that more adaptive competitors can capture market attention.

We’re always looking for exceptional, new Right Source talent. See Career Options