Organizations large and small pump out content as if there was some kind of reward for quantity. As content proliferates, users need trusted filters to sort out the rubbish from what’s worth a share of our coveted attention.
For those not familiar with the term, content marketing is the publication of communications material designed to promote a brand, usually through more oblique and subtle approaches than that of traditional “push” advertising. The essence of good content marketing is that it offers something the viewer wants, such as information or entertainment.
Content marketing can take a lot of different forms including blog posts, editorials, YouTube videos, and articles. Ideally, content marketing provides the consumer with valuable information, the publisher with content and the advertiser with a larger audience and a stronger brand. Native advertising, for example, is content integrated with a website or service in such a way that it doesn't stand out from other material presented there in terms of content, format, style or placement.
Content — a new buzzword?
What baffles me is that the Web sings praises of “content marketing” and “content strategy” as though they were new concepts or new approaches to reaching consumers. Veterans of our industry can tell you that we’ve been creating “content” long before it became the hot new buzzword.
Content marketing in bygone years was considered a "classic format”: advertorials, articles, infomercials, etc., and were developed essentially to engage consumers with brands. Today, content marketing really adopts the same basic tools to engage prospects and consumers. However, rather than “pushing” interruptive or promotional messages at consumers with direct sales messages they never asked for, today’s content marketing is more about using informative or entertaining content to “pull” and engage consumers.
Online has changed the way consumers interact with brands. We are demanding more authenticity. We look for opinions on brands and services from our peers, friends, and from requests we make for content information online. If we find material in search that answers our questions or offers up generous information that fulfills our request, we may become inclined to actually buy the product or service.
What are some leading brands doing now?
Companies are learning that they can gain trust, build rapport, and develop a loyal following with demanding consumers by consistently creating valuable content for their brands through a variety of channels that provide insights or entertainment. Many firms are bringing content creation in-house and placing it through media companies. One bold example of this is Red Bull. The brand itself has turned into a media company. Their quality and depth of content ranges from videos to skydives from space. Red Bull is also considering its media company (Red Bull Media House) to be a business unto itself—as it is now turning a profit.
In 2011, Red Bull produced a film titled The Art of Flight with hundreds of don't-try-it-in-your-dreams sequences. Red Bull’s own content arm made the film for a reported $2 million. But the real benefits came through when the film reigned atop iTune's sports, documentary, and overall movie sales charts for a week. See a clip below.
Though no other brands I know of have taken on the mandate as seriously as Red Bull, several big brand names, from American Express to Burger King, seem encouraged to consider the idea of becoming a media company. If brands start to market themselves without the help of ad agencies, this may not bode well for agencies. The landscape is changing, and agencies need to make content a core part of their business.
Not all content works
It needs to be noted here that content tends not to work in some cases especially if it’s too brand-focused or if the information provided is too complicated. Content that is too product or brand focused does not travel well digitally, whereas content that stands on its own merits as entertainment, storytelling, and education will be shared and passed along by consumers.
As for information that is too complicated, the growing trend is more towards simplicity. Consumers are shifting their preferences regarding in-depth marketing messages to ones that are simpler and quicker to read and digest. Some top brands like Apple and Google clearly value simplicity. Pinterest’s appeal is its clean, uncluttered, and minimalist aesthetic.
If you are like me, the constant barrage of online information and advertisements are turning me off. There’s just too much of it. Some of the more innovative marketers are now making efforts to tone-down the number of campaign messages and not overwhelm consumers.
An article by Forbes said it best: “There is a sense that from the hyper-connectivity of our highly-digitized lives to the bright, flashy, complicated sensory input we’re fed everyday, there is no way to continue at this pace... the most successful marketing strategies will be ones that are not only simple in nature, but promote goods and services that serve to simplify the consumer’s life, or even just their customer experience.”
What can agencies do about it?
Over my many years working in ad agencies, I have found that an agency’s lack of knowledge regarding a client’s product, brand or service, often stems from either laziness, egotism or complacency. It’s really important to know as much about the client and their products as they do themselves. It’s also important to recognize that gaining new consumer insights can lead to bigger and more powerful ideas that will give the client an advantage in the marketplace.
One client that gets it right is Coca-Cola. By providing their ad agencies with relevant, up-to-date content, they could expect more in return. Coke created a video putting their "Content 2020" advertising content strategy at the core of their mission: "All advertisers need a lot more content so that they can keep the engagement with consumers fresh and relevant, because of the 24/7 connectivity. If you’re going to be successful around the world, you have to have fat and fertile ideas at the core."
Coke mentions several examples of other brands engaging consumers through content marketing successfully. It’s worth a look.
Content marketing requires a shift in company culture, budgets, and strategy, because the battle for attention is becoming more difficult and competitive than it currently is.
Content has to stand on its own merits
Consumers crave content that’s meaningful and interesting, and we will see more and more brands being eager to deliver it. Marketers also need to redefine their approach to customers by shifting their brand or product away from the typical “I” approach toward an approach that says this is all about “you”—the customer. Brand content has to be searchable and shareable and stand on its own merits. Brands need to move from “interruption marketing to permission marketing”—a phrase created by marketing guru Seth Godin.
Recent research on the subject tells us that two-thirds of consumers say the information provided by content marketing “helps them make better purchase decisions”; more than a half say they are more willing to buy another product from a company that provides them with content marketing.
HubSpot, an all-in-one marketing software company that helps organizations attract leads and convert them into customers, is a pioneer in inbound marketing. Their new market research data shows that more content means more leads for brands.
They recently crunched the lead generation numbers for over 4000 companies, and the results, at least from a marketing perspective, make quite a compelling case that "more is better" when it comes to content creation. In the case of blogs, landing pages, and indexed pages which are all critical pieces of the inbound marketing methodologies, data showed that companies that created more, generated more leads and traffic back in return.
Interesting content is cited as one of the top reasons people follow brands on social media, and, according to Yahoo research, 78 per cent of CMOs think custom content is the future of marketing. But what happens when everyone becomes a content publisher? Are we creating a content bubble? Are we in danger of creating a situation where the number of content creators outnumbers the market of potential consumers of that content?
It’s looking that way. Each and every day there are over two million log posts written, and 30 billion pieces of content per month are shared on the web by Facebook alone. And Twitter reports that every 60 seconds, 278,000 tweets are sent out by users.
Julie Fleischer, director of media and consumer engagement at Kraft Foods says: “The consumer attention span is about the size of a gnat right now. We move on to the next thing super, super quickly. So it’s really important to be topical and relevant. At the same time, our industry has been going down this real-time marketing train. We’re all trying to be more and more real-time, which tends to be, in large measure, sort of chasing whatever is happening and trying to attach yourself to it, which might be topical but not relevant to your brand. So I think it’s the push-pull of, ‘How do I remain agile enough to be topical but at the same time staying relevant and true to what it is you’re trying to communicate and build for our brand?’”
Most of the content being sent out is of poor-quality—like 90 per cent percent of advertising we see today. There’s simply too much of it and most of it is bad stuff. If you are determined to create content for your brand or service, make sure your output isn’t adding more junk to the heap of content landfill. You have to focus on quality rather than quantity. Produce fewer pieces of content, but ones that are rich enough to be reused in different channels, and can generate a great deal of user response, which can itself seed more content ideas.
Content receives top marks for ROI
Content marketing has climbed to the top of the list of importance in terms of emerging digital trends, named as a top priority for 2013 by 39 per cent of CMO respondents. That’s an increase of 34 per cent over 2012.
According to eMarketer, “In an environment in which consumers’ attention is increasingly fragmented, social-media excitement is beginning to wane, as content marketing gains ground.”
A report on Digital Trends for 2013, from Econsultancy and Adobe, states that “marketers are quickly seizing on the importance of channeling more of their resources to content marketing to capture interest and engagement”.
If you find yourself interested in engaging consumers with content marketing, here’s what you do.
First, consider your approach. Lee Odden, a top ranked online marketer, believes successful creative content marketing strategies can be broken down into three distinct phases:
- Discover: How does your audience find content?
- Consume: What type of media helps you optimize for that experience?
- Act: What will inspire your audience to take action? How do you want people to feel when they consume content? People act on emotion.
Second, invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants and that will add value to your positioning in the market. Don’t try to do it yourself—especially if you are not a writer or have writers on staff. Your content marketing could get left behind for absence of the right content strategy and creativity team. You need to formally designate an idea person—someone for whom creativity is the number one priority. The idea person would be responsible for developing and filtering creative concepts for content creation and distribution. So it’s best outsourced to your agency, or to another skilled professional. Make sure you have someone who knows how to write solid content with informative tips and insights.
According to Odden, brand journalists and SEO writers have their strengths, but the ability to make great creative leaps is not usually part of their job descriptions. He believes it is important to look to those traditional creative talents, the conceptually oriented ad agency copywriters and art directors who can bring some big-picture thinking to your content creation efforts.
As I noted at the beginning of this blog post, I don’t like much of the content I see. I’m sure the same holds true for most consumers. But when the content is great, I’m hooked!
Remember, every article you publish and every resource you share has your name on it. It is your brand. If you truly believe content marketing should be part of your marketing plan, invest in it. Put your brand in the hands of capable creators, not cheap, anonymous ones.