A lesson in content marketing from the boxed-meal industry

Like most families with two working parents and multiple little kids, dinner is a nightmare at our house.  Before kids, and then again before miniDivo, we did enjoy subscribing to those dinner boxes, like Plated and Blue Apron.  Sometimes it felt like there was a lot of prep/chopping, but the food was pretty good.  And I liked not having half a bulb of ginger left over and nothing to do with it.

The other day I idly checked their websites out to see what was new.  I was hoping that maybe they had a new service where for $8/plate, someone showed up at my house with a hot dinner that was already cooked.  Just kidding.  But I wanted to see what was new, and I thought maybe I’d get a few kits for some weekend cooking.

What I found was a near-perfect lesson in content marketing.

Content marketing is closely related to “inbound” marketing; the idea that you put good content out there to attract an audience that is looking for those things.  Since you provide valuable information to that audience, they respect you as an expert and look to you when they are ready to purchase.

Let’s take a look at what each company tells me about the food.

First up, Plated.

Plated wants me to sign up right away.  I don’t have a lot of choices on their website and it seems like to get any information I need to “join” or at least enter my info.







I can see pictures of the weekly options.

Weekly menu






I can see what ingredients are in the weekly recipes.








I can get nutritional info (although that’s in the help section.)

Nutrition Info







But I can’t get an actual recipe.  Unless I am a subscriber.

Lost recipe card




Blue Apron is the opposite of this.  When I get to the site, I am educated about the system and the food.






I can see the menu for the week.

Weekly Menu




And choose a specific dish to learn more about.






But here’s where their online strategies diverge.  Blue Apron is an open book.  Not only can I see the ingredients,


but I can also get the entire recipe – the instructions, help on my technique, advice on how to execute it, and what tools I need in my kitchen.







In short, Blue Apron is making all their recipe information public – I don’t have to sign up for their service or even give them my information to get access to it.  Not only are they going to give me the recipe, but they’re also going to offer me help in how to cook, show me videos on technique, and let me read other users’ comments about how to make each dish.  In contrast, Plated has a completely opposite strategy – I can’t get much information at all without signing up.  I need to be a paying customer to see their recipes.

It’s hard to say if this difference is based on a difference in marketing strategy or a difference in actual company strategy.  That is, do Plated and Blue Apron each think that they have the best way to acquire customers for a similar product?  Or do they each perceive their unique value proposition as something different: For Plated, do they see it as the recipes, while Blue Apron sees it as (for example) their supply chain.

I’m not sure I can answer that as an outsider.

As a customer, it’s a vastly different experience to browse their websites.  Plated (which I have ordered from in the past) feels less friendly.  And there’s more mystery around their product – the recipe itself and the ingredients are the product.  They’re betting that the images of their food, and how they position it (they have gourmet “chef’s table” choices, for example) will make it appealing enough to purchase.

By contrast, Blue Apron feels more accessible – it feels more like they’re there to let me browse a lot more about their products, even what it would be like to use them.  They’re betting, of course, that I eventually decide the recipes, tips, techniques, and suggestions are good enough that I will want to make them at home.  And that I’ll find their delivery of the ingredients appealing.

It’s an interesting twist not just on content marketing, but also on a freemium model.  You could look at it as the recipes being free, but you pay if you want the actual food delivered.

Either way, it’s an great look at content marketing – and the power it can have in customer acquisition.



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