Not doing content marketing? Where’ve you been? The UK content marketing industry is worth over £۹۰۰m. “It’s a great way for marketers to become more relevant and meaningful in an age where consumers are controlling the conversation with the brand,” says Kontera co-founder Assaf Henkin. Content marketing is a multi-channel opportunity, as well as being financially efficient. “It also creates much greater loyalty than more traditional forms of marketing.”
What is it?
Put simply, content marketing means creating and sharing valuable but often free‑to-user content, whether that’s in a blog, newsletter, podcast, video, white paper, app, viral, tweet, magazine or online TV channel, to name but a few.
“The idea is that any organisation, no longer just media owners, can use content to reach their customer base, ideally in a much more authentic and long-term way than via traditional advertising,” explains Collective Content director Tony Hallett.
It’s different from a standard corporate brochure or website because it’s about telling, not selling, he explains. “The content will generally be closely related to what you sell, but – and this is critical – it is driven by editorial rather than marketing or sales content and, as such, is often expected to be journalistic in style. Because of this, it has far more resonance than PR materials, brochures or websites.”
The result, says Hallett, is that the brand offers a more personalised customer experience. And because the content can be shared, commented on and updated by the audience, it puts customers in the driving seat.
Not all content marketing is about thought leadership, points out CIM course tutor and consultant Nick Baggott. “Consumer brands may choose to use it to engage on a different level, such as to enhance their brand values or to make their messages more memorable and entertaining. Think of the T-Mobile spoof royal wedding YouTube video that achieved millions of hits and the Coca-Cola ‘Hug Me’ YouTube virals.”
Who’s doing it?
There’s nothing new about content marketing. From in-flight magazines to seatback screens and highly developed websites, airlines have long believed in content to build engagement and loyalty in their customer base. What’s changed with more recent examples is that they’re often more complex, as well as more integrated.
One example of impressive content marketing is successful blogging, says Targetinternet.com managing director Daniel Rowles. “Time Ferriss’s Four Hour Work Week blog focuses on producing original content, building advocacy and then driving book sales. His blog was used to launch his second book, which became a New York Times best-seller before it was launched due to pre-orders resulting from his content marketing.”
In the B2B space, tech companies have always been good at content marketing, says Baggott. “Microsoft has invested in training all its marketing teams in blogging strategy and this has helped it to soften its brand values and be seen as more approachable and relevant in local markets.”
Juniper Networks has also managed to build a communications strategy around Twitter, blogging and influencing bloggers, which has enabled the company to engage with its audience in a way that belies relatively small budgets compared with larger competitors, says Baggott. “This content strategy is driven by senior marketers who realise that if they are to compete effectively, they have to demonstrate that they understand their customers better.”
Meanwhile, Moneysupermarket consistently tops Google, largely thanks to content marketing. “It produces a lot of information such as how-to guides, making its offering transparent so that customers can make an educated decision,” explains content marketing specialist SEO Positive’s managing director Ben Austin. “In all its communication, Moneysupermarket never sells, there is no call to action, it just reinforces the brand so you know who they are.”
Doing it well
Transparency is the key to successful content marketing, believes SiteVisability director of strategy Kelvin Newman. “If you are disclosing who pays the bills, you’re on the right track,” he says.
Be as objective as possible, adds Hallett. “Cisco has its own newsroom, where it uses journalists working for the likes of the Wall Street Journal. And because the company recognises that the content has to be credible, if being against Cisco policies is integral to their story these journalists are encouraged to run with it.
“Intel produces a publication called IQ, with equally high standards of journalism. These companies manage to get people engaged in a way they could never achieve through advertising.”
Austin agrees. “Probably the biggest rule of all, in my opinion, is ‘never sell’. Content marketing is about informing and exciting the reader, not about selling the company, although the beauty is that if it’s done well, it becomes self-promotion.”
If you distribute poor content, you won’t see any returns, and if it’s very poor content, it can have a negative effect on your search engine algorithms, meaning that you disappear off page one of Google very quickly.”
Content marketing is about taking a different approach to communicating, says Baggott. “It is about having an ongoing strategy of content development, listening and response. Traditionally, we have created marketing collateral such as brochures and websites and, once they’re published, our work is done and we move onto the next project. But with content marketing, our focus is on generating interesting and engaging content that can be referred to at any time and be shared, commented on and updated by our audience.”
EMEA marketing director at Symantec Andrew Ford adds that marketers must always be sure they are putting together a sophisticated set of content items that relate to the brand story and purpose. “If the consumer isn’t going to be interested enough to stick with it – I recently heard that on Facebook you have 2.5 seconds to interest a consumer before they move on – you have to ask yourself, is it worth the effort?”
What it costs
Content marketing is a hugely effective investment compared with bought media, says Newman. “To use an analogy, it’s like investing in a house rather than renting.”
Costs are infinitely variable, he says. “At one end, you’ve got Red Bull and a man jumping out of space, and at the other you have a small firm of accountants blogging with a few spare hours in their schedule.”
If you can find the right content producers, outsourcing can be a good option, particularly if you need skills that may not exist in the business, such as publishing, video production or graphic design. “Also consider freelance finder sites such as Elance.com, which can be cost effective. But run small test projects to find the right providers if you can, and be very clear about what you want before you start,” says Rowles.
Outsourcing can certainly be less risky than investing in new staff. The very reason there are so many agencies managing and curating content is because it’s hard work – and, if done incorrectly, a company can do immense and lasting damage to its brand. If you do use an agency, it’s wise to ensure they can help you scale a content marketing plan, as well as measure its effectiveness in terms of customer engagement and loyalty.
All that said, Baggott points out that in-house marketers should remain at the heart of any content marketing relating to “thought leadership”: “An agency or freelancer will never understand your brand in the same way that an employee would. PR agencies can help you by suggesting relevant topics to talk about and monitoring comments and coverage, but it should be written by your experts.”
Does it work?
Like any marketing, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. To help ensure you fall into the former camp, avoid a scattergun approach and define the objectives of creating the content, advises Browser Media director Joe Friedlein.
One of the biggest benefits of online content marketing, he says, is that it is highly measurable. Indeed, measurement can range from the more traditional activity oriented measurement (view time, dwell time, clicks) all the way to post-click measurements such as time on site, form filling and purchases. Using surveys and more in-depth studies, brands can also measure attitude shifts and perception. Measure from the outset, he suggests, then learn and adapt over time.
But while there are many ways to capture metrics and show numbers, there is a real art to how you report meaning, says Summersault Communications director Simon Chappell. “You need to ensure you present numbers that tell a meaningful story and help the project team learn and develop their work.”
Some people aren’t even sure this is possible. “It’s very hard to measure branded content in terms of ROI,” says TMW content editor James Aufenast. “It’s easy enough to measure clicks and comments, but the ultimate question of whether engagement equals opening the wallet has not been cracked. That’s always been the case with straight advertising, but because of its campaign nature, it’s easier to see spikes in sales against activity bursts. Content marketing is always on, so what changes? That has to be looked at on a long term basis and the Internet Advertising Bureau is currently working on some research in this area.”
Is your branded content a must-read?
You want to increase long term brand engagement, so you:
(a) Invest in a costly outdoor advertising campaign to grab people’s attention and become an immediate talking point.
(b) Update your company website and consult PR agencies about your next move.
(c) Research examples of successful branded content such as magazines, YouTube virals and blogs. Then choose the channels that would best suit your brand and budget.
You have launched a brand magazine, so you:
(a) Fill it with images of your product and positive customer reviews to boost sales.
(b) Make a detailed plan for future content, but always play it safe – scoops can be left to the tabloids.
(c) Invest in a team with strong journalistic skills to ensure interesting, high quality editorial-style content that will enhance your brand’s profile.
You need to promote your branded content so you decide to:
(a) Sit back and let the new branded content promote itself – it ate a large chunk of your marketing budget so it should register immediately with customers.
(b) Promote it daily via social media networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
(c) Constantly look out for ways to develop and enhance your content and present it in different formats such as white papers, e-books and webinars. You believe that the creative approach works best when it comes to branded content.
You need to become more open to the possibilities of branded content and forget about the hard sell. Do some research on brands that have been successful in this area.
While you understand the advantages of quality branded content, you need to stop playing it safe. Fresh, orginal and compelling content keeps people interested and promotes long term brand engagement.
Keep up the good work. You understand the potential of branded content and are on the look out for new ways to innovate content. This means you are on your way to ensuring your customers’ long-term engagement with your brand.