Dissecting a great content marketing campaign: The Great Courses Plus


Join us as we break down the brilliant content marketing of The Great Courses Plus, and provide tips for swotting up on your own communications strategy.

Sookio do content. We do great content. From the seed of an idea to the branching, towering oak of an active multi-platform campaign, we get our jollies from making pretty things for people.

We’re also geeky as hell, we love being able to see the strings as they’re pulled, to imagine why a certain decision was made a certain way, and incorporate techniques we like into our own work.

What makes good content marketing?

So much content marketing nowadays just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes people take a one-size-fits-all approach, producing work which shines on one platform and comes up short on another.

Alternatively, we see campaigns which have been micromanaged so intensely that material on Instagram bears no resemblance to stuff on Twitter, it hardly even feels like the same product, let alone the same campaign.

Meanwhile, a great content marketing campaign is one which makes the very most of what each platform has to offer, while still feeling consistent across the entire story you’re trying to tell.

This has three main advantages:

  • Faster consumer buy-in. If you’ve wowed someone with one facet of your campaign, they’ll recognise and connect with another facet much quicker. CompareTheMarket have nailed this so well that the mere mention of a meerkat has people looking for their next ad.

  • Scalability: Consistency allows you to add more elements later, without going back to the conceptual drawing board. GoCompare stumbled on an idea which was so good they could ride it to the very end.

  • Lower costs: Only paying for one set of concepts, guidelines, and branding which you can then apply to multiple platforms for a long period of time is a no-brainer.

One such brilliant campaign which caught our Chief Copywriter’s attention comes from The Great Courses Plus. We should stress that we have no professional link to these guys, we just love their marketing and wanted to break it all down in pursuit of aforementioned content geekery.

Who are The Great Courses Plus?

In an age where the subscription payment model dominates many fields in the form of things like Netflix and Spotify, The Great Courses Plus (TGCP) apply this model to university-level lectures on more or less any topic you’d care to name.

It’s not a university per se, you don’t get any qualification at the end, all the service does is give you access to the juicy knowledge. If Netflix lets you binge-watch, this service lets you binge-learn, all backed by partnerships with some of the most recognised names in academia, from National Geographic to the likes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Defining a target audience

Good marketing starts with a concrete definition of who, exactly, you’re trying to reach. Already we see a potential issue.

TGCP’s appeal is incredibly broad with information on so many topics on offer. It’s not like an online cookery school, who could get a significantly tighter grip on their audience.

But at the same time, that broad appeal is very niche in application. They offer video and audio streaming of academic lectures, which might not be everyone’s idea of a good time compared to the latest Netflix blockbuster.

So, when the product you’re selling is as nebulous as ‘knowledge,’ how do you make it appealing to a diverse audience, while also conveying benefits which drive people to come to you (and you alone) for that knowledge?

TGCP achieves this brilliantly by balancing their message on, from what we can deduce, three main pillars:

  • Visuals over text.

  • Big social proof.

  • Multi-platform strategy.

Visuals over text

Given the above, you might envision TGCP’s audience as a sliding scale between those who are intensely interested in one area of study, and all-purpose nerds who like to pick up a bit of everything.

Crafting compelling copy which speaks to both ends of that spectrum is possible, but you’ve got to lure their attention there first. TGCP takes a visually-led approach to some highly academic subject matter and it works wonders.

Only a tiny segment of people are going to get excited over paragraphs of historical info about Joan of Arc. But a photo of a badass woman in armour wielding a righteous sword has impact and broad appeal. As an image, it’s almost elemental within the human psyche.

For a copywriter this kills me to admit, but your content marketing should, wherever possible, lean on its visual elements for immediate effect.

Come up with a palette of unifying visual elements which will tie your campaign together, some branding which exists within your own company branding. These motifs can be used to tap into the same kind of elemental narrative instinct.

In fact, as far as playing on things which make for recognisable visuals goes, the only things better than photos and icons are faces. Speaking of which…

Big social proof

Planning a winning content strategy rests on knowing the levels at which people engage with your subject matter. For TGCP, they couldn’t bank on everyone knowing the names and faces of obscure academics who might, in fact, be driving their respective fields of study.

Playing on pop culture

However, pop culture figures like Neil DeGrasse Tyson are synonymous with, in this case, science. That’s the kind of broad appeal which led them to put his face on the front page of the website.

Even people who aren’t coming to the product to learn about science will see his face and think, ‘hey, it’s that science guy! If he trusts these guys about physics, I should definitely trust them about photography.’

Thus can a small amount of background consumer knowledge be leveraged to even greater effect that a large amount of focused expertise.

Successful influencer marketing

The same goes for how TGCP uses influencer marketing, and here is where they really shine.

Not only have they targeted the right kind of channels which appeal to people who exist somewhere on that spectrum we talked about, they trust these influencers to know how to appeal to their own audiences.

Look at how two different channels approach the same brief:

Lindybeige is a historical martial arts YouTuber with a whopping 571,000 subscribers. He plugs TGCP’s service in a more roundabout, conversational way.

Kings and Generals is a documentary channel with 183,000 subs at the time of writing. They present a much more polished sponsorship message, in line with their own product.

A lesser marketer would have presented both channels with the same narrow, proscriptive script for them both to parrot. TGCP, on the other hand, have faith in the presentation skills of these channels who have successfully build up loyal audiences in the hundreds of thousands.

For your own influencer marketing efforts, don’t forget you’re paying for the name and face of the influencer, nothing more.

Force too much deviation from their standard format, and their audience aren’t going to hold it against the influencer for taking a payday. It’s more likely that they’ll hold it against your brand for messing with their regularly scheduled programming.

Multi-platform strategy

Making the most of social media means knowing what roles each platform is suited to.

Depending on your product or service, some platforms might work for you, whereas some can safely be left alone. You’re not going to sell much B2B accounts auditing software on warm, fuzzy Pinterest, for example.

For TGCP, their product is ‘knowledge of more or less everything,’ which might seem an intimidating thing to try and cover in its entirety… so they didn’t try.

Instead they worked with the idiosyncrasies of each platform and matched content to that, rather than trying to bend each platform around themselves.

Twitter is a fast-paced, compact platform. Content that works well here is that which almost possesses a soundbite quality. TGCP riff off this wonderfully with a lot of ‘did you know’ factoid content and ‘on this day’ posts.

Facebook is where you hang out with your family and friends, so content here needs to be warmer and more personal. Here, TGCP promotes their content which alludes to happiness and human connectivity.

YouTube has settled over the years into a place to consume a handful of shorter videos in one sitting. So TGCP gives the people what they want with bite-sized snippets of the wider course material.

Pinterest can get a bit overlooked as a commercial social media platform, but TGCP use it to great effect, doubling down on showing off the scope of topics they cover. They’ve got boards for everything from astronomy to Tai Chi.

Bringing it all together

All this combines to send an aspirational message. It’s a campaign steeped in the idea of self-improvement, and couched in relatable, approachable language rather than academic jargon.

Note that I specify the idea of self-improvement, the ideal vision, rather than an exhaustive list of steps one can take to become a better human being. If those steps exist at all, they might be found in the knowledge gained from the courses themselves.

In fact, very little of what makes this such great marketing is found in the fine details. It shines by presenting the high-level stuff in one unified context. With that nailed down, each individual element is free to do its thing without obsessive, time-consuming micromanagement.

Content strategy from Sookio

This is just one campaign we liked, one we spotted on the internet from among thousands of great (and not-so-great) examples of content marketing. We see them all, and we’re taking notes.

Best of all, we can do it for you. Contact Sookio today and let’s talk about the cohesive, distinctive story your organisation deserves.