If you follow the world of advertising and marketing, you know that it’s the biggest innovation since the iPhone.
From Then to Now
But content marketing isn’t really new—many brands have been creating original content for as long as there has been advertising.
In the roaring 20s, door-to-door salesmen would produce pamphlets for their prospects, both to inform and entertain.
In the 40s, soap operas were, of course, a result of needing to sell to housewives, sponsored by Procter & Gamble.
“Custom publishing” emerged in the 80s and 90s with branded sponsored magazines from everyone from Barbie to American Express.
In the Internet age, content marketing is more important than ever, but with more focus on the content and even less on the marketing.
Product information can now be discovered online within seconds, it doesn’t have to be a part of an ad.
As well, Millennials (those born in the 80s and 90s), and consumers, in general, are bombarded with much more advertising, and content marketing, than ever.
This means the bar for entertainment in content marketing, and marketing in general, has been raised.
Feel the Target, BE the Target
In earlier eras it was often enough to push out a brand’s message in a repackaged form, ideally with a bit of content around it.
Today, in such a saturated market for consumer attention, content marketing only succeeds if a brand truly understands their target segment, puts themselves in their customers’ shoes, and asks questions beyond the direct spectrum of the brand.
For example, if I were a consumer of my product, what would be the top 10 blogs that I read? Would I check these publications daily? Weekly? Monthly? Why do I read these blogs? What am I hoping to get from them?
It’s no longer about content marketing for the sake of content marketing. If you’re a brand competing in this space, make sure it’s relevant and interesting to your target audience.
More Than Just a Customer
Brands that execute successful content marketing don’t just write about the product or service, they write about things that are relevant to the product.
These brands treat followers and consumers like readers or an audience, instead of just, well, customers.
Two well-known brands that do this particularly well are Redbull and GoPro.
Redbull doesn’t market Redbull, it markets extreme sports.
GoPro doesn’t sell GoPro, it sells capturing awesome moments, big or small.
Community is the Key to Content Marketing
People want to belong to a community, and the point of community-driven content is to create one by gathering people who live a similar lifestyle and allowing them to interact with one another.
Followers don’t need even more articles telling you how great a product or service is or how it works.
We’ve moved past that.
Now, it’s sponsored editorial and guests writing or talking about things that might not even mention the product’s name in it, but simply the lifestyle surrounding it.
For example, Birchbox is a company that delivers personalized beauty and grooming samples to one’s doorsteps.
They built a “content community” that serves as a hub for ideas and inspiration (shameless plug, my company, Tidal Labs, powers it).
The content includes written and video posts ranging from how to get rid of dark circles with bright red-orange lipstick, toothbrush beauty hacks, to “get ready with me” by popular vloggers.
All related content, but none with the direct (key word: “direct”) intention to sell you Birchbox.
Room for Improvement: Post-content Creation
As to where the content is distributed, brands are leaning towards what I call the “jellyfish” approach where consumers are encountering the “tentacles,” or content, in many different places, their Instagram feed, Facebook wall, blogs they follow, shows they watch.
This brings me back to my point of understanding consumers, their lifestyles, and knowing the blogs or sites they visit.
But it’s important to not push content out blindly, different content works on different channels or networks; Instagram is much more personal than LinkedIn. Vimeo is more professional than YouTube.
As well, you have to carefully track what content works where, and where you have the most engagement.
Many brands are finding that content hubs on their owned sites build a deeper connection than via social channels.
There are many tools that make it easy to build owned content destination sites, oversee contribution, distribute content, and track performance.
You’ll need to do this to measure the return-on-investment of your efforts, and continue improving on them ongoing.
Always keep in mind that content may have indirect brand-building affinity value that is harder to quantify than other marketing channels.
As the field has evolved from purely informational content to organic, life-style oriented content over the years, I’m curious, how do you feel about content marketing? Are there certain brands that execute it particularly well? Do you think it’s effective?