The aim of content marketing is to develop and distribute relevant and useful information to retain and attract customers, yet in the clamour to produce engaging content that is editorially independent and not sales-led, the subject matter can become divorced from a company’s brand values and how it makes its money.
Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson even went so far as to blame the growing focus on content marketing for the creation of vague and generic ‘brand visions’ that have lost touch with how consumers see brands. McDonald’s, Starbucks and Barclaycard came in for particular criticism.
But there are ways to avoid this trap, in order to produce content that is both interesting and credible.
Reflect how people use the brand
Charlotte Haite, SEO and social manager at Hertz Europe, says the secret is to ensure that content focuses on what a product enables someone to do or the experiences it opens up for them. If it achieves this, then a brand’s values and the benefits of its products will be delicately conveyed.
“If Hertz’s content marketing strategy was focused purely on the cars and vans that we hire, we would run out of ideas very quickly,“ she says. “Similarly, if our content was too loosely aligned with the brand values and objectives, we might be able to come up with fantastic ideas but it would be difficult to justify the investment.”
Hertz works with digital agency Stickyeyes on a content strategy that encompasses both functional and creative content aligned to how its audiences behave.
“We want to inspire our audiences and engage them but, ultimately, we want them to hire with Hertz,” says Haite. “Our functional content reflects the way users search for our products and we know how our audiences act online. We have deployed around 7,000 pieces of content for each of our locations. They can share local advice, travel tips and points of interest. This captures highly-engaged localised search traffic.”
The company has also rolled out its ‘Hertz in 60 seconds’ videos that provide local information. This includes how to find a parking space in central London, how to pay the city’s congestion charge and how to find the best attractions in a particular area. “This content isn’t about overt sales messages, but it does help us to build brand trust with our audience.”
Instil brand values in employees
The best brands can tell a story through good content without sounding trite. To achieve this, everything a business does must chime with its values and all employees need to be clear about what these beliefs are.
“A lot of brands have not yet achieved the holy grail of ingraining their brand values so deeply into each of their employees that they are able to trust everyone to create content that not only reflects brand values, but uses them effectively to connect with customers,” says Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, managing associate in the media, brands and technology team at law firm Lewis Silkin.
He adds: “Real brand values are clear, concise and understood by everyone, inside and outside the organisation. Sometimes the sad reality is that brand values are merely a lifeless list of buzzwords, put away in a drawer and forgotten.
“When marketers appear to have lost touch with what their brands actually do, this approach is often at the root of the problem. There are other pressures on marketers too – including the insatiable appetite for more engaging and personalised content.”
Mark Cumberbatch, marketing manager at DW Fitness Clubs, accepts that keeping a brand’s core beliefs in mind whenever you devise content can be tricky. “Each time we produce content we try to think back to our core goals,” he says. “We are trying to educate and inform the public on how to get fit and live a healthy lifestyle. If we are doing that through good advice and backing this up with facts, we are doing our job properly.”
One of its brand values is ‘inspiration’, so real-life case studies featuring people who have improved their lives by interacting with the club help to get this particular message across.
“One of our most successful stories is Claire, who lost 6st by attending our Wrexham branch,” says Cumberbatch. “Although she lost the weight and got fit at one of our gyms, the message
is the inspirational story rather than the place where it happened.”
Be an authority and get the tone right
It is important from an investment perspective that marketers and brand journalists continually question the link between content and the brand’s reason for existing. A strict approach to preserving editorial integrity, for instance, can mean the subject matter fails to relate to products and services.
At interior design company Graham & Brown, ecommerce executive Stephanie Nash works with specialist online marketing agency Bring Digital.
“We don’t only think about whether our audience want to read something, but whether the content also fits with what the brand stands for,” says Nash. For example, a recent interview with designer Wayne Hemingway reinforced Graham & Brown’s design credentials.
Technology consulting business Capgemini uses the NewsCred content marketing platform and is also aware of the need to remember its own brand values when producing content. It knows that social, mobile, analytics, the cloud and the internet of things are the topics that its clients are most concerned about. Content must be relevant to these worries, but it must reflect the business’s seven core values, which include boldness, team spirit and fun.
Capgemini vice-president of group branding Emmanuel Lochon says: “Brand values are incredibly important for Capgemini and are essentially the guide through which every project, including branded content, is designed. It’s very easy in the quest for comments, shares or downloads to forget this.
“We want our seven values to show through the choice of content that we curate. For example, we share points of view that reflect the boldness of digital disruption, and personal development articles to uphold our values of team spirit and fun.”
Do not lose focus on core areas
Fashion brand Net-A-Porter has always invested heavily in content that displays its values. It wants to be seen as a world-class and sophisticated brand. Group publisher at the Net-A-Porter Group Rachel Reavley, says the editorial must never be too broad because the brand’s content must always reflect high-end luxury. “If the content is authentic and relevant, that reflects our brand. Consumers are savvier about content these days and you cannot just shoehorn in brand references,” she explains.
Net-A-Porter has a creative solutions team to implement this strategy. Reavley cites the Johnnie Walker campaign run by the Net-A-Porter’s men’s brand Mr Porter, where the team created a multi-touchpoint partnership to support the launch of a Johnnie Walker Blue Label short film The Gentleman’s Wager, starring Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini. The aim was to connect with Mr Porter’s affluent and sophisticated customers.
There is an argument that some marketers need to be more confident when talking about what their businesses actually do when devising content.
Chris Waters, co-founder of Inn Style, a business-to-business brand that has developed an online booking and management system for hotels, says there can be an unnecessary disconnect between the content and the product. He believes this is often because the brand owner has decided that its products are not interesting enough to talk about.
“As a hotel booking system, we know we’re not going to set the average heart racing. But we can attract interest and get clicks without losing relevance by sharing photos and stories from
some of the great accommodations that use our system. Customer-generated content certainly works for us,” he says.
Content creation has always been about storytelling. Every brand should know its narrative and how to convey it effectively to its target audience.
Patrick Albano, EMEA vice-president of advertising solutions at Yahoo, says content marketing is always an opportunity to engage with consumers beyond the product, but what is ultimately being sold must always be considered.
“The shift in content marketing has been tough for brands to keep up with,” he says. “How people react with brands through social media has made it more difficult to tell a story to those customers who bring the most value to the business.”
Albano cites the work Yahoo has created with tourist brand Visit Britain as a good example of how content can be underpinned by brand values. He says the subject matter is not about
promoting short-term sales but ensuring the content generates a story around how people perceive Britain, so they might visit in the future.
“We convey the heritage and history but modernise the message with content around things like Dr Who. This resonates with people on social media and they share and re-blog the content,” he says.
Insurance company LV= is also taking a long-term view about linking content to products and brand ethics.
Digital content manager Daniel Connolly, who worked with ratings and reviews service provider Reevoo to devise a content marketing strategy, says content creation must be about developing a long-term relationship with customers and not focus solely on business metrics.
“For this to happen you need to get to know your customers, their interests and what motivates them,” he says. “If you can tie this into your brand values and what use your company can provide to your customers, you will establish a longer, more valuable relationship than a drive for a one-off product purchase.”
Ultimately, brands require a clear strategy to ensure that their content marketing engages and entertains their audience while also adding value and telling a story. If this is done well, it will remind existing and potential customers in a refined and understated way of why they should interact with the brand and why they should buy its products and services
Creating credible news content
Robert Mead, marketing manager at global courier services company Parcel2Go, says it is too easy to fall into the trap of just discussing your own business or to go the other way and provide content that is completely removed from what your brand does.
“We take news regarding online sales statistics and package delivery and comment on them in a way that establishes us as an industry leader,” he says. “People will see that we know what we are talking about and this becomes our extremely subtle sales message.”
Mead says it’s important to provide something different. “If people want breaking news, they’ll go to a newspaper or to the BBC. That’s why we try to offer an alternative viewpoint that gets people thinking.”
The company’s position in the industry allows it can take an objective stance that is backed up by data and statistics.
“Our recent news pieces have discussed how many high street stores have made a big push with their online shopping, and how this directly affects package delivery,” he says. “This approach means people will come to us for news that they can trust because it is from a voice of reason within the industry.”
Mead says many businesses focus too much on devising great campaigns and often forget how it relates to their business and what they are trying to achieve.
“You could create something that generates an astronomical amount of shares on social media, but if it doesn’t bring you any additional sales it has not done a good job.”