What is your content marketing strategy? This is an increasingly pertinent question for brands as the explosion in owned and social media channels has sparked a major shift in how companies interact with customers.
A radical shift in marketing budgets is occurring as companies increase investment in content to ‘feed the beast’ of these new, hungry, digital channels. But this brings with it certain challenges. How can a brand provide a continual supply of fresh content such as videos, images, tweets, Facebook updates, blogs, newsletters, whitepapers, testimonials, case studies, mobile apps, e-magazines, podcasts, gaming, infographics and more? Which of these are the most effective at engaging with a target audience? And does content really improve the bottom line?
Ogilvy Public Relations and Campaign Asia-Pacific decided to find out. From 10 May to 12 June, 218 online surveys were conducted with client-side marketing and communications professionals from across the Asia-Pacific region. Respondents came from a range of sectors and more than 80 per cent of them were marketing managers or above. The survey’s main objective was to understand the current state of content marketing in brands. The survey defined content marketing as the practice of creating and publishing content in any media channel.
The results were fascinating. Marketers believe that content marketing will become increasingly important in the next 12 months. Just over half (53 per cent) of respondents already have a content marketing strategy in place, with a further 41 per cent saying they thought they probably needed to have one, but it was not in place yet. Only six per cent said they did not need one.
The budget allocated to content marketing is also set to increase in the coming year, as brands become more sophisticated in its use. There will also be a shift from creating content on a brand’s own sites to a greater focus on external, and more visual, social media channels. But a key barrier to the adoption of content marketing is the ability to measure its impact. “In this experimental phase with content for many marketers, the major challenge is assessing the effectiveness of a content strategy and how to connect it to overall business objectives,” says Marion McDonald, MD of strategy and measurement at Ogilvy Public Relations
Here are some of the survey’s key findings:
Who is using content?
More than half of the survey sample (53 per cent) said they have a content strategy, and the vast majority of those who did not have a strategy (41 per cent), were considering implementing one.
Currently, 41 per cent of respondents allocate less than 10 per cent of their total marketing budget on content, and 37 per cent allocate 10 to 30 per cent. But this was expected to rise in the following 12 months, to 43 per cent allocating 10 to 30 per cent, and a further 20 per cent allocating up to 50 per cent. But while 40 per cent of PR budgets are spent on content over traditional PR, very few respondents say they spend even 30 per cent of their overall marketing budget on content.
Content creation tends to focus on a brand’s own website (74 per cent). Perhaps not surprisingly, this was followed by very established social media sites Facebook (50 per cent) and Twitter (33 per cent). But this was expected to change in the coming 12 months, with significant interest in more visual-focused sites such as photo-sharing sites (Pinterest, Instagram) and YouTube.
Why are brands using content?
The most important objective for a content strategy was to help improve brand reputation, followed closely by strengthening relationships with existing customers. Generating new leads and prompting sales also came high on the list.
“It is clear the public relations industry is investing in content ahead of other marketing disciplines,” says McDonald. “However we have a disconnect between reputation and relationship objectives and how we’re actually measuring content’s impact. Our commitment is to help PR clients develop content that moves from creative and popularity experiments to become a real, proven revenue generator.”
Dan Sloan, editor in chief of Nissan’s Global Media Centre, says there is an opportunity for brands that create interesting stories and content to take advantage of a reduction of resources in traditional media outlets, as well as the newer digital channels. “Brand storytelling has become a mantra for corporates and creative agencies, but efforts also come at a time when traditional media have thinner resources to report and online bloggers and pages need content flow to keep them from becoming static.”
How to create the right content strategy
Around 65 per cent of respondents say they want to better understand how to develop an effective content strategy. PR agencies were identified as among the first specialists to call when considering how to develop content, behind digital agencies and ahead of integrated agencies. Respondents said the main advantages of a public relations agency was their ability to drive brand messaging and reputation (80 per cent), their ability to create greater engagement with a target audience or stakeholders (67 per cent) and their storytelling skills (64 per cent).
Dell’s regional marketing director Prashant Agarwal says: “We follow an 80-20 rule while managing content; 80 per cent of the content should be entertaining, education or informative, while 20 per cent is product or transaction orientated. We develop a variety of content, including quizzes, games, videos, whitepapers and infographics. But typically photos, videos and interactive posts enjoy the highest engagement rate on Facebook, while content on technology and industry updates are very popular on Google+ and LinkedIn.”
Sloan says the quality of content is key to success in this new form of ‘do it yourself’ journalism by brands. “Proactive engagement will pay for itself if the quality level is high enough. We have intentionally hired former journalists, including myself, to try to keep the self-satisfaction to a minimum and the ‘so what’ level high.” A successful content strategy is not just about sending out self-promoting materials. “We must be part of the news-making and sharing process. We won’t do this at the expense of our brands, but we have covered issues such as the high yen and the island dispute between China and Japan. These topics may be taboo for some firms, but we’ve found that by joining the conversation and reflecting real-world events, we have established ‘street cred’ and viewers return,” says Sloan.
How to measure it
The survey reveals a major gap between the use of content marketing and the ability to connect it to business results; 57 per cent of marketers report that an inability to connect it to business results is a barrier to greater use of content.
Measuring content’s effectiveness is marketers’ top priority (70 per cent), but only 13 per cent claim they are “very confident” in their ability to connect content to sales results. A further 68 per cent say they lack tools and methods to link content to business results. Over half say they are unable to measure effectiveness of content. Among the few who feel they can, the top two measures were web traffic and social media following, highlighting that ‘soft’ measures, not hard business results are used.
“Content marketing is primarily used by APAC marketers to improve reputation and strengthen stakeholder relationships, yet these were not in the top three measured metrics, despite being cited as the major objectives,” says McDonald.
Agarwal adds: “The question of business value and ROI becomes even more significant if you consider that only one per cent of people online are in the purchasing mode. The key is how you keep the other 99 per cent engaged. We found that customers who engage with companies over social media, spend 20 to 40 per cent more with those companies than other customers.”
The search for talent
Finding the right staff to produce content is another issue for marketers, with a ‘lack of people to manage content’ cited as the major barrier to greater adoption. A third of respondents had hired people to manage content and another third planned to hire content specialists in the next year. Nissan, for example, has around 12 editorial staff in Yokohama with experience in traditional media such as Bloomberg, CNN, Time Magazine, Reuters, the BBC and a five-person team in North America.
Both Sloan and Agarwal believe companies should be using their existing staff as a content resource, as long as they are trained properly. “The best ideas about possible content or stories usually come from inside, and making those individuals part of the process builds bridges and begets better projects ahead,” says Sloan.
But this needs to be done in a controlled manner. As Agarwal points out, “Organisations typically struggle with helping employees channel their interest in social media into clear programmes within the company. We have tackled this head on by offering extensive training; 10,000 employees go through various modules in our Social Media and Communities University to increase their understanding of the power, guardrails, policies and capabilities of working with social media.”
Getting approval from above is also crucial to the success of content, because interesting stories require access. “Corporates, and particularly Japanese corporates, are known for not opening doors to external media and Nissan’s Media Centre plan only works if tales can be told, requiring R&D and manufacturing to allow filming and interviews in what are often restricted environments,” says Sloan.
The future of content marketing
As Ogilvy’s McDonald says, “Content has to become more visual as marketers move from reliance on their own website (which 74 per cent focus on now) to video and photo platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest which drew greatest interest over the next year.” This may require new skills on teams and a different approach to content creation.
Greater differentiation between digital channels will also change what content needs to be produced. “Given that customers behave differently on different social media platforms, organisations are likely to move to a customised or targeted-content strategy for different platforms, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Agarwal.