The Faces of Content Marketing at Babbel


The brands succeeding with content marketing today are the ones with a clear understanding of the role that content can play in building brand awareness, driving traffic, generating leads, and ultimately converting these leads into long-term paying customers. One brand that consistently demonstrates it knows what it’s doing in this space is Babbel.

Babbel offers an online method for language learning that makes learning a new language easy, with the goal of getting the learner conversational quickly. And since Babbel is an online company, it makes sense that their marketing is tightly focused on digital opportunities for customer acquisition. Accordingly, they employ a wide variety of digital channels to reach potential customers, including SEM, email, direct display and content.

However, it’s Babbel’s dedication to content that sets them apart. A team of 16 people are tasked with producing a steady stream of humorous yet meaningful content for their online magazine, which is published in seven languages. Their often-lighthearted content is intended to entertain whilst subtly providing consumers with language learning tips from the Babbel didactics team, as well as information about how Babbel teaches languages.

Here’s one recent example of Babbel bringing content to life. Earlier this year, Edward Wood, Head of Content Marketing at Babbel, overheard two of his colleagues shooting the breeze in Québécois. One was English, the other German, so he asked himself why weren’t they speaking English?

The reason, he discovered, was simple – they’re passionate polyglots, people who love playing with language. So Edward focused in on the idea of playing with language: he and two other colleagues challenged themselves to learn French…in just one week! The content that emerged from this experiment is a content marketers dream: it’s educational, fun and humanizes their brand nicely.

And what’s the result of this commitment to content? Thousands and thousands of leads per month! I sat down with Edward to learn more about the thinking behind their success with content marketing.

What role does content play in your overall marketing strategy at Babbel?

Content Marketing plays a number of roles at Babbel, some of which we’ve only just started developing. Firstly, it’s important to note that Content Marketing falls under the umbrella of Performance Marketing, along with the more traditional channels like SEM, Affiliate and Display Marketing. We are expected to justify spend in exactly the same way, and we work towards the same KPIs.

We distribute widely through Content Discovery networks, but we also focus on increasing traffic through Organic Search and Social, as well as through Paid Social and Partnerships. The scope of Content continues to broaden – we now produce and refactor content especially for certain platforms, and we’re also increasingly using it to engage and reengage our users. As our approach and purpose evolve, so must our content. For example, Content which is designed for user reengagement may be more didactic in nature than content designed to attract new users.

How did you decide to humanize the brand with people’s stories?

At Babbel, we have a Didactics department consisting of over 100 highly-qualified linguists and language teachers. They are responsible for building the courses, and they are one of the things which really distinguish us from other online language learning companies. As such, we would obviously like to give them voice through our marketing.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is through videos and articles, and through their distribution over social networks. Knowledge of languages implies a deep knowledge of the world we live in. Furthermore, the stories of movement, whether from one country to the next or one language to the next – are a joy to document. It was an easy decision to adopt this focus.

Ultimately you want people downloading and subscribing to Babbel, but what other metrics are driving your content marketing efforts?

We did a presentation a while back at a Content Marketing conference called, “Content Marketing: How to Measure Anything”.  This title was a little overblown and sensational – it’s Content, after all – but it’s a genuine aspiration of ours. We attach a value to every article we write, analyzing the number of people who register, download and purchase courses from different combinations of distribution channel and article type.

We adjust headlines to match reach the highest possible CTR without sacrificing click-to-lead, and we optimize metatexts to improve clicks on organic shares, so as to ultimately increase organic traffic on the site. We also look at the effect of Content in the multi-touch world, and the impact of embedded media (YouTube, Instagram) on our social following across the different networks. Every month we review performance from a different angle in our month review.

How have you experimented in the content space? Have you tried video, SnapChat etc.?

We’re constantly micro-innovating, and as we add people to the team we gain possibilities and opportunities to expand to further networks. Video is a staple of our strategy, but we tend to see little sense in jumping on the latest craze. SnapChat may enter our portfolio of channels relatively soon, but it normally makes sense for us to wait for the platform to mature a little first.

LinkedIn isn’t as trendy, but if I were offered the two, I’d choose a presence there than SnapChat as I think we’d reach a more interested, attentive audience. Furthermore, a great benefit of platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is the fact that they offer embeddable media, so if you have a blog or magazine, you can cross-pollinate channels. This functionality tends to come in later as social platforms mature.

Given the popularity of your case study content marketing, will content take a greater focus next year, will this come at the cost of investing elsewhere, and do you see the day where content will be more important than strategies of yesteryear (display, search etc.)?

Numbers-wise, we’re up there already. For us, Content is already a mature and established channel with a predictable return. This is an achievement and still relatively unusual within the digital marketing space. It’s also an incredible base for the addition of further subchannels which could then become channels, whether that be holding live events, operate ever more like an established digital media company, or building up further inter-company collaborations.

As for whether it’s more important – it depends on how one views channels like Search and Display. Traditionally, Search and Display are based on high CPC, high conversion rate. Content is based on low CPC (high CTR, less focused targeting, more traffic) and low conversion rate. There’s no reason why Display can’t be used in this way – we’re just talking paid rectangles on the internet, after all. And innovations like dynamic search ads could mean we can use our more verbose content as landing pages for searchers. For me, the unique strength of content marketing is that it blurs the boundaries between traditionally siloed channels, and creates a beautiful, powerful mess.