Nick Cohen, managing partner and head of content at MediaCom, said the recent hype around content marketing means the industry is “on the cusp of an inflection point” in terms of consumer “content blindness” and that the popularity of the discipline means marketers are now starting to question the value of it.
While there may be risks involved, there are five key tips marketers can take on board to stand out above the wave of branded content and draw true business value from the discipline.
Don’t staff your content team with marketers
Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of the companies currently using content marketing are using internal sources to do so, according to a study from market research company TNS. Just 37 per cent of brands are using freelance journalists to do so.
An often repeated adage in the content marketing sphere is that “brands need to become publishers”, but The Economist’s senior vice president and global head of digital and content strategy Nick Blunden said the opposite is true.
He said: “It’s about marketers getting better at creating content with a consistent narrative in the context that creates a conversation around brand stories. They don’t need to be a publisher, they just need to understand how content does that strategically.”
The type of people who best understand that tend not to be marketers. Coca-Cola, for example, is set to dramatically increase its investment in production and with the likes of fashion designers and technology companies who sit outside of the marketing agency world.
Fujitsu, meanwhile, took on the services of contract publishing agency Seven to relaunch its I-CIO global magazine as a digital product last month. Its vice president of brand and marketing communications Guy Daniels said he chose outside help due to “editorial credibility” that could not be replicated by a marketer.
Invest for the long term. Don’t think of content marketing as a campaign
Brands who succeed at content marketing are those who commit to the discipline over a long term period, not just a quarter. Red Bull was often pointed to during the event as the “masters” of this approach because they started small but gradually built up their content reputation and now have earned a right for the brand to have a voice in different spaces – from adventure sports to the edge of space.
The ROI benefits from content marketing also manifest themselves over time. Cohen said: “If you just do a single [push] you won’t get anything like the SEO benefits and brand recall than if you work in the same space over a prolonged period. It doesn’t have to be expensive, you can engage in an area of passion and people’s interests and have a clear territory that your brand is associated with without spending a lot of money, cost doesn’t need to be a barrier”
Facebook’s UK creative strategist Alastair Cotterill said brands should be able to draw comparisons between their content strategies and the TV series Friends – where their audiences can get a lot from single posts but over time they start to build a narrative and character arcs.
Decide what you are measuring and who you are targeting from the outset
Brands should be clear upfront what objectives they are looking to achieve from their content marketing strategies.
Cohen said: “If you’re going for softer metrics, like brand preference, then some of those traditional forms of branded entertainment come into their own. But if you want hard sales leads, click throughs, ROI, then I think a different kind of content is the thing to do…those kind of ROI metrics come from content linked to SEO and CRM. The real win is to get both working together. A great content idea at the heart does both the perception and engagement jobs while at the same time have that nice link through to sell.”
Going after the big numbers isn’t the point, either. Vice Media’s UK managing director Matt O’Mara said premium content, not going viral, is what’s important, or in other words, creative storytelling over algorithms.
Ross Sleight, COO of mobile agency Somo, concurred. Referring to the Pareto principle (the 80-20 rule that suggests 20 per cent of your customers generate 80 per cent of your profit), he said rather than continuing to be an industry “obsessed with volume”, content marketers should instead look to engage a smaller number of loyalists who will provide more value.
Don’t think of content purely as a consumption mechanism. Think about content’s utility
When many people think about content marketing they think of videos or sponsored feature articles in newspapers – but many wouldn’t think of taxi app Hailo as belonging to the discipline, for example.
Somo’s Sleight said: “There’s a trend in mobile at the moment that utility is trumping content…but if you can create new stories, create jump off points about utility and particularly the user interface you use to access the content, you’re set up for success.
Retailers in particular, can use mobile to augment the shopper experience, merging commerce with context. Sleight also pointed to Chase Bank, which recently allowed customers to deposit cheques by taking a photo of their mobile phone and then extended this utility to content by showcasing the feature in its Superbowl ad.
Relinquish control. Test. And test again.
The type of content that has proven to resonate most with consumers, such as Trinity Mirror’s UsVsTh3m website, comes from small, growth-hacker style teams who are willing to fail, but fail fast – something many brands, particularly those with investors, aren’t willing to recreate.
Martin Belam, creator of UsVsTh3m and founder of digital consultancy Emblem, said: “A lot of people talk about the best success stories as small teams, given permission to test and trial things. A lot of people worship that, think it’s amazing and then set their business up exactly the opposite and wonder why they’re not having the same success.”
It is easy to continue with legacy projects just because the CEO is a fan, or due to internal stakeholder commitments, but brands make every attempt to treat their content like a “stock market”, according to the former director of the rapid response team for President Obama’s re-election campaign Matthew McGregor (now political director at Blue State Digital).
From the simplest subject line in an email, to the most aesthetically-pleasing videos and images, almost everything was AB tested on the hoof during the campaign by an eight-person strong digital analytics team, McGregor said. He recalled how one email line – “I will be outspent” – which referred to how Mitt Romney would be spending more on his campaign than Obama, raised $2.1m more than the worst-performing test (of 17) – a line that in a focus group could have come across as weak, defensive or defeatist.