There is an almost universal understanding these days that content marketing matters. But as popular as the idea of content marketing has become, debates over how to actually implement it still cloud corporate and creative strategies.
Forming lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with media. Measuring return on investment. Reaching consumers in a part of the world with astronomically high rates of adblocking. With these big issues in mind, 16 marketers from leading brands and media organizations in Asia sat down in Singapore on March 5th to discuss the current state of content marketing and where we might be headed.
Seeing the full spectrum of content marketing
Few other strategies seem to have required as much demystifying as content marketing. Over the past five to 10 years, marketers have had to adapt to both rapid changes in technology and consumer behaviour, and for a while many struggled to keep up. Mia Trinephi, head of corporate segment, brand & communications, APAC at BNP Paribas confirms as much.
“I used to spend a lot of time explaining to people — internally — what content marketing is,” she says. “It’s been a journey. More and more marketers are starting to understand what that journey looks like. [Now] you don’t push a product, you have a conversation.”
But there has not exactly been a paradigm shift, either. Conversations and content cannot be measured as clearly as the sale of a product, which can make it hard for marketers to report back to the corporate decision-makers. Not to mention content marketing itself can take on several guises.
“For a publisher, obviously content marketing will be their commercial model. For brands, it’s sometimes just cutting through traditional advertising and growing top-of-funnel interests for a specific segment,” says James Keady, director of digital engagement at Citi. “Content marketing means different things to different people.”
According to Josh Stinchcomb, Dow Jones' global chief revenue officer, it can even mean events, co-creation, or sponsorship. “Content marketing needs to start with an audience understanding. Find where you have a true, compelling story to tell. Then there’s a ton of options for how you do that other than pure, disruptive media,” he says.
Including, for example, the annual design awards that Lexus hosts in Milan, or the physical spaces the brand has launched in New York and Tokyo. By telling core brand stories about craftsmanship and design, these alternative formats have, in a sense, become kinds of content marketing.
“Our challenge is to help people get under the skin of our Lexus brand,” notes Christopher Taylor, general manager, brand and communications, APAC, Lexus. “[But] you have to engage on their terms. What resonates with them, what are their passion points, how do they consume media, what do they want to consume, where?”
The power and potential of media partnerships
Effectiveness in content marketing requires reach, and many brands have turned to major media to amplify it. But Marta Grutka, head of marketing services, corporate and institutional banking, commercial and private banking at Standard Chartered Bank admits that some of her past partnerships with media have brought new challenges to light in the current landscape. Namely, finding ways to develop integrated relationships based on creativity, quality, and consistency.
But success boils down to communication. “We partner with media so we can tap into their audience, and so there must be a certain tone and style that their readers like. We don’t want to take over that tone,” says Sirinate Meenakul, vice president, marketing luxury brands, AccorHotels Asia-Pacific.
“It takes a leap of faith and trust,” adds Taylor. “To let go is a really hard thing to do as a marketer.”
On the media side, the challenges of partnerships circle back to managing client expectations. “We’re not doing anyone a service when we engage on these campaign-like timelines for branded content. ‘Here’s an RFP, you have 48 hours, make some videos and push it out’,” says Stinchcomb. “On both sides of the table, it really needs to be fewer [but] bigger partners. We need to free ourselves from the churn of the brief.”
Data, attribution, and AI
Technology is changing everything, not just content marketing. But while distribution channels are evolving almost as fast as consumer habits, measurement tools remain behind the curve. “Maybe with the exception of online retail and travel, most big brands don’t have the sophisticated attribution models to support content marketing,” says Keady.
“The other big metric is reach and awareness,” he continues. “But I don’t think most companies are set up with a multi-touch model to support what could be a very effective campaign.”
Many brands have fallen into the trap of believing quantity matters most, too. “There’s content and there’s context,” says Karen Ngui, managing director & head, group strategic marketing & comms, DBS Bank. “It’s about working with a partner to hone certain messages and finding ways to get that message out instead of producing 'x' pieces of content.”
Grutka agrees. “Are we creating content so that it can be measured? We already know there’s too much content out there. ‘Always on campaign’ doesn’t necessarily mean an article every day,” she says. “How do we keep looking and challenging our assumptions of what’s valuable?”
One solution might be leveraging data from media partners or working together to produce more specified data. “We’re fortunate to have insightful, first-party data that can really help our clients target the audiences they wish to reach. But it’s certainly a partnership. Collaboration gets the best results,” says Nicole Bales, director APAC, client solutions and custom content at The Wall Street Journal.
Collaboration between people will be critical as technology changes how content is made and consumed. For example, Lexus recently aired a TV commercial written by AI. But, says Stinchcomb, “with the fact that people are so immersed in tech all the time, they crave a real-life experience, and that drives consumer interest. And, ironically, because people create so much content and share experiences, for marketers, it gives legs to [content marketing] it didn’t used to have.”