I was there when Dave Trott, author of the forthcoming Predatory Thinking, addressed the Content Marketing Association’s summit in November last year and he inspired me to do two things: speak my mind and write a book. So, firstly let me say that I hate jargon. I consider it professional bullying at worst and laziness at best. I shall try to avoid using it in this article, although that could be tricky as cross-platform content marketing is my specialist subject. (The book’s out in November.)
In the marketing world of late, it has felt like the lunatics have taken over the asylum. With the proliferation of communication channels – or platforms as these lunatics insist we call them – marketing has become increasingly about the science, and less about the art of communication.
Social media ‘gurus’ and digital techies have become responsible for telling us how to communicate with our audiences. It’s a bit like letting your kids choose the movie, just because you don’t know how to work the machine. But sanity is being restored and the powers that be at Google have recognised that it’s the quality of the content we serve up that really matters. Hallelujah!
Last year I had the honour of being a judge at the CMA’s international awards. My category was best cross-platform content marketing solution, B2C. As part of the judging process I had the privilege of seeing some amazing work by some of the best agencies in the world. At the same time, I discovered that even some of my fellow professionals aren’t entirely sure what cross-platform content marketing is.
Putting a printed magazine on line using a page-turning device, including a QR code, tweeting out a link, posting an image of the magazine on Facebook or even Pinterest doesn’t make it a cross-platform solution. So what does?
Cross-platform means covering all the bases, not just online but offline as well; most people still live in the real world, at least most of the time.
And to be successful, you must ensure that those bases are consistently covered with appropriate, creative, audience-focused quality content.
The four Cs of cross-platform marketing: Content
At the risk of repeating myself, quality content is a must. But, before you all run out and employ the poor journalists who lost their jobs when everyone thought print had died, not so fast. Journalists are not marketers. At the end of the day, marketing is about generating sales or advocacy, ideally both.
People aren’t stupid and you’ll fool no one by professing independence. And to the DIYers out there, yes I know everyone can write, but they can’t craft quality content. Everyone can cook, but there are very few Michelin-starred chefs. I for one have no plans to start charging people to enjoy my cottage pie à la Mags.
Quality content must be at the heart of every marketing solution, but the platform you use to deliver your message is also important. A lot of content marketing agencies will claim to be platform agnostic. I think this is a mistake. Platforms are important – you need to be present on the same platforms as those used by the people you are trying to communicate with, and the platforms they use can help to inform you about context.
This is where most people lose the plot. Context is about where your audience is when you deliver your message and what they might be doing. You’ll hear a lot of talk about adaptive (some say responsive) design from those digital techies, but while that is great, that’s content distribution mechanics, not content marketing.
The secret to great content marketing is to focus on what’s important – the content.
No one wants to read War and Peace on their mobile, nor are they in a position to watch a cinematic masterpiece – that’s what a smart TV or desktop is for. You need to produce content that’s appropriate for the platform. Short, snappy and to the point for mobiles; long, lingering and lovely to look at in printed literature and “whizz bang wowsers” online. You need to create headlines, trailers, news in brief, or NIBs as they call them in the newsrooms, as well as flowing prose.
And without wanting to state the obvious, if you’re going to use all the amazing technology now available, use it well. I’ll never forget the frenzy of excitement I felt the first time I bought a printed magazine proclaiming to have employed augmented reality using the Zappar app. Having spent around five minutes downloading said app, I pointed my phone at the magazine cover and waited. Finally, the cover girl moved, pointed at the headlines I’d already read and told me what I already knew. I felt cheated, as though the magazine had stolen my precious time. So do it right or don’t do it at all.
You have something to say, but why should anyone listen and why should they believe you? People are cynical; they don’t trust anyone, so how can you change that? By being consistent. Just like people, brands and companies have personalities – often built at great cost in time and money. You can blow it with one ill-advised tweet.
Trustworthy people are consistent in the way they behave, and you should be too. If you are a traditional, luxury brand, pitching up on a social media platform using slang expressions, or worse, poor grammar, can only damage you. If you’re a pipe-and-slippers sort of brand no one expects you to release a video of the chief executive in a Gangnam-Style musical number. People expect standards from you – don’t disappoint them.
This doesn’t mean you should say and do exactly the same things wherever you are. People behave differently in different environments and with different people. So should you.
And finally, be creative. If you want your message to be heard, you’re going to have to stand out from the crowd. True content marketing experts use cutting-edge creativity to set their clients apart.
So there you have it. Successful cross-platform content marketing is about saying the right thing, in the right way, to the right people, in the right place, at the right time, in your very own, unique way to get them to buy, or recommend, your stuff.
All this Marketing Malarkey by Mags Walker will be out in November 2013.
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