Content marketing: why brands are becoming publishers
The big buzzword in the marketing Page Design Hub world right now is ‘Content Marketing.’ Intelligence marketing thought leadership, advertorials, infomercials… all these standard marketing formats were developed to meet business goals – sales, conversions, brand engagement – by adopting an essentially editorial approach. Content marketing, in its many forms, adopts the same basic mechanism today.
Content marketing is about engaging prospects and consumers with informative or entertaining content they’ll want to use or consume for its sake, rather than pushing or interrupting them with direct sales or promotional messages. Of course, that’s not to say that this isn’t a commercial activity – just that the consumer has changed, and so must the way we market to them.
You may have heard it nefariously operating under various names: Custom publishing, custom media, customer media, customer publishing, private media, branded content, corporate media, corporate publishing, corporate journalism, and branded media. However, it all boils down to the same thing: creating engaging content that attracts, engages, and builds a relationship with an audience that may purchase in time.
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As with any marketing practice – the definitions of content marketing are manifold and expensive – however, Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, sums up the ethos as Your customers don’t care about you, your products, your services… they care about themselves, their wants and their needs. Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they pay attention to you”.
Regardless of the moniker du jour – content marketing represents a massive shift in thinking for brands who have historically placed great stock against the interruptive marketing of yore. Traditionally, brands – in a bid to capture attention – have interrupted consumers to talk about their product; when you’re reading a magazine – you see an ad; if you’re watching TV – you see a commercial; when you’re online – you get a pop-up.
Each of these interruptions is an unsolicited marketing message from a brand that you may or may not give two hoots about. 30 years ago, market research firm Yankelovich estimated that the typical city-dweller was subject to 2,000 of these marketing messages a day. When Yankelovich revisited the study in 2008, this number had grown to 5,000.
Consumer research continually highlights that most of this marketing message is irrelevant to their current interests and needs. More importantly, each of us now has increasing control over what marketing we receive from brands; we can opt-out of telemarketing and direct-mail; unsubscribe from email; skip TV ads, and so forth. The antidote to this has been for brands to seek ‘permission’ to gain consumers’ attention. And what better way to gain permission to get someone’s attention than when they are looking for you. Or at least something you can help with.
CONTENT MARKETING BY NUMBERS
States that demonstrate the commercial advantages of editorial-led marketing – and business’ uptake of the approach – are not hard to come by:
- the average cost to generate a lead through inbound marketing ($143) is about half the average for outbound marketing ($373)
- two-thirds of consumers say the information provided by content marketing helps them make better purchase decisions; more than a half say they are more willing to buy another product from a company that provides them with content marketing (Custom Content Council)
- B2B companies that blog only 1-2 times a month generate 70 percent more leads than those that don’t blog at all, while companies that increase blogging from 3-5 times a month to 6-8 times a month almost double their leads (Hubspot)
- ‘interesting content’ is cited as one of the top 3 reasons people follow brands on social media (Content+)
- $118.4 billion will be spent on content marketing, video marketing, and social media by the end of 2013 (eMarketer)
- 78% of CMOs think custom content is the future of marketing (Yahoo)
Visual content marketing tactics such as video, imagery, and infographics have a big role to play here too. According to a survey of global marketing decision-marketers by cypress, the use of video as a content marketing tactic has risen from 52% to 70% year on year in 2013. Articles containing relevant images gain, on average, 94 percent total views than articles without images, according to Skyword. And both tweets and Facebook posts with images have significantly higher user engagement rates than those without.
MEETING THE CHALLENGES OF CONTENT MARKETING
So everyone’s a publisher now. What could go wrong?
For one thing, marketers struggle to find the skills and resources to plan, create and sustain all the content they now need to produce. This is especially true in b2b, where products and services are often complex, lead times can run into years, and content often has to go through a multiple stakeholder sign-off process. The biggest challenge in b2b in 2013 is producing enough content, according to a recent Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs report. The key here is to focus not on creating individual pieces of commercial content but on putting in place a content marketing strategy that helps you embed a publishing operation in your organization.
AVOIDING INFLATING THE CONTENT BUBBLE
Another challenge – in a world where everyone from contract publishers to SEO agencies to creative shops is rebadging as a content marketing agency – is the content bubble. In the content economy, we’re in danger of creating a situation where the number of content creators outnumbers the market of the potential consumer of that content. Two million blog posts are written each day, 30 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook each month, and 278,000 tweets are sent every minute. As The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker wrote recently about his decision to rest his weekly column:
So to make sure your output isn’t just adding to the steaming heap of a content landfill, it’s vital to focus on quality rather than quantity. Look to produce fewer pieces of content, but ones with legs – ideas that are rich enough to be reused in different channels, can make a whole series rather than a single execution and can generate lots of user response, which can itself send more content ideas.
And if it’s not realistic to create, look to curate. Platforms like SlideShare, visual.ly, and Pinterest facilitate the sharing and curating of relevant content. As content proliferates, users need to be trusted filters to help them sort out what’s worth a share of their highly-coveted attention.
The 5 Ss of marketable content
You need to put in place the skills, resources, and processes to make sure that your content is…
Searchable: Search engines reward sites that deliver regularly refreshed content of high editorial quality. Whether it’s for education or entertainment, your content needs to deliver both quality and impact.
Shareable: As well as the benefits of gaining peer approval for your content, the social shares it attracts will also boost its search rankings.
Supportive: You can project yourself as an authentic brand that’s generous with its expertise by anticipating users’ questions and telling them things they didn’t know. But first, you have to make sure you understand your users’ information needs.
Specialist: Your content must come from within your information niche – the intersection between your domain expertise and your users’ content needs and interests.
Sustainable: You need a publishing process in place that allows you to generate ideas, populate an editorial calendar, and create relevant, effective content on a sustainable basis.
TOWARDS A CONTENT MARKETING STRATEGY
To create engaging, shareable, search-friendly content on a sustainable basis, you need a publishing plan that addresses key questions like these:
Goals and audience
- What are the goals for your content? How do these support your overall business goals?
- Who is creating content for? What are our audience’s content needs?
- What do we want our content to focus on? What are our messaging priorities?
Production and distribution
- What’s a realistic frequency for the creation and publishing of new content?
- What content channels can we use? How can we rank their importance regarding our goals and our audiences?
- Where can we source content? What internal resources do we have? How much of our content creation needs to be outsourced?
- Who are our subject matter experts? Do they have time to create content, or are there other ways we could share gather their insights (e.g., by interviews)?
- How can we make our content go further? Do we have existing content assets that could be reused?
- What’s our quality control and governance process? Ideas and creation
- Can we break the content down into thematic areas and content types?
- What content do we create for which channel?
- Howe, do we segment content by an audience?
- What are the seasonal triggers and opportunities for our content? How can we make sure we are set up to respond to ad-hoc local content opportunities?
- How can we measure the effectiveness of our content? Of all the available metrics, which ones are most relevant to us? Which metrics can we technically support? And how can we use metric data to improve content over time?
Content marketing has emerged then to reach people who are continually looking for information, entertainment, or help. Brands can use content marketing to pull people who aren’t necessarily interested in a specific product but instead meet a need-state behind the product purchase.
There are many standout examples of content marketing. These include L’Oreal, which has Makeup.com – a site that talks about style and beauty issues without overtly pushing L’Oreal’s product line; General Mills offers dieting advice and tips at Tablespoon.com; Red Bull has created Red Bulletin – a high-octane magazine for thrill-seekers and sports fanatics; American Express has created Open Forum – a portal of helpful articles which cover issues faced by small business owners.
In none of these examples are the brands explicitly saying buy this, buy that, buy now? Rather, they publish and distribute content that engages and attracts customers and prospects and enables their lifestyles. It is lifestyle-centric rather than product-centric.
For sure, forward-thinking major brands have been doing content marketing for decades. One famous example is the Michelin Guide, originally written in 1900 by Michelin tire founders and brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin; the original publication consisted of 35,000 free guides that included practical information, travel tips, and maps fuel and service stations. Since then, these guides have been used by warring soldiers and tourists alike and have grown to considerable prestige as an authority in destination travel and restaurant suggestions.
However, it is the rate, ubiquity, and variety of content marketing – especially online – that has shown them how far content marketing as a practice has come. We are increasingly living in a world where content is king and a great way to steal and hold attention. Because you have chosen to read this article – you have elected to concentrate your interest here, rather than elsewhere. There is no doubt the information we read impacts what we think, what we do – and most importantly for a brand – what we buy. And this is why brands are now rushing to become publishers.