Digital Essays 2014: The truth about content marketing

Sarah Barry

While the term content is deliberately broad, Sarah Barry says that in all its forms it has one thing in common: value.

Call it what you will – content marketing or brand publishing – but the idea that brands can create editorial and branded content has rewritten online advertising cultural norms over the past few years.

It’s in with the ‘brave new world’ of ‘engagement’ and out with ‘interruptive’ advertising. Brands are now looking to expand their reach online and engaging their audiences in a more meaningful exchange. Advertisers can no longer simply ‘pay their way’ – instead of thrusting their message upon their audience, more creativity and communicative sophistication is required.

Today’s online consumer is a sophisticated online operator, sensitive to naked acts of sales activity. To earn the attention of today’s empowered consumer, ‘content is king’ and quality must be his queen. Quality content needs to inform, entertain, generate interest, and must ultimately result in audiences clicking that share button.

Content marketing presents an enormous challenge to brands today. This particular challenge, however, packs an incredible array of opportunities to a discerning and thoughtful content generator.

The term content is deliberately broad, but in all its forms it has one thing in common: value. To achieve the four pillars of successful content marketing (inform, entertain, generate interest, and share-worthiness), the content must offer one of two things: entertainment or utility.

Content itself isn’t anything new – it has always underpinned good communications in some form. Despite the current industry hype, content marketing isn’t new either. Brands are waking up to the need to engage with their audience through the use of relevant and targeted content marketing.

A new idea of ‘connection and engagement’ is being adopted online. Instead of pitching products and services, brands can successfully entertain or inform customers over time, to build a depth of connection, resulting in continued business and loyalty. Brands are slowly shifting from a ‘buy’ to a ‘create and connect’ mentality.

Content marketing is popular because it works. Consumers are more likely to click, share and purchase a product based on a brand’s content, rather than from its advertisements. However, filling a digital content
pipeline is a big shift for marketers as is producing enough engaging content for relevant online channels.

Successful content marketing will leave an audience feeling like they have consumed some free entertainment or information. A useful analogy might be the editorial audience experience of a feature article in a luxury cars magazine versus a run-in with a used car salesman.

What’s more, when the content is good enough, the audience will actually seek it out, and potentially even pay for it. The Lego movie is a recent example of people happily paying to watch a movie length piece of con-tent from the Lego brand.

As a discipline, content marketing is still not well understood. As with any new approach, standards need to be created to guide marketers in the pursuit of that ever-elusive (yet wholly possible) ‘quality content’.

Here are six steps to getting content up and running and keep it running smoothly.

1. Be clear on your audiences and your objectives

Content marketing is a long-term commitment requiring detailed planning and consideration, as to how to attract and retain an audience. Unlike paid advertising there is no guaranteed audience for your content. Think about what your audiences are searching for, and develop tactics to align with their behaviour and preferences. Use the range of data available from social media trends to internal site data, to identify key customer interests. It’s big data thinking but on a manageable scale.

2. Make something new

The internet is packed full of content that has been created, adapted or repurposed so standing out requires adding something unique to the mix. Be on brand but don’t be boring, and be prepared to walk away from ideas that aren’t working. Be fun and courageous. Embrace every idea.

3. Know what success looks like

With many ROI metrics to choose, measuring the success of content is complex. The list is extensive; unique visits, time on site, engagement, shares, brand lift, share of voice, to name a few.

Success looks different for each programme and is inextricably linked to the objectives that you set. Clearly understanding and defining those objectives at the beginning, is critical to establishing KPIs and the subsequent measurement against them.

4. External influencer ecosystem

Content marketing depends on social amplification. Nurture relationships with key influential content creators by giving them privileged access to events, your organisation’s people and information. Tap into all channels for influencers, including business partners, analysts, consumers and independent bloggers.

5. Continually measure results – and quickly build on successes

Constantly evaluate what type of content your audiences want both in format and topic. It is very easy to
see when a content marketing tactic is successful, as the results will display quickly in your analytics data. When you see a tactic is successful then work to develop what was intended as a single content initiative into a series, or create support content for the successful tactic. For example, turn a single video into a series, a one-page report into an eBook, or an article into a weekly column.

(Sarah Barry is GM business unit at Momentum Dubai)