In between mentions of Big Data, RTB and the “Confession Bear” meme, Content Marketing seems to be getting a lot of ink in our industry. You may call it “branded content” or “sponsored content” or “Hidden Advertising”. Whatever. It doesn’t matter.
The name’s not important.
The discipline is.
So what exactly is the discipline?
Simply put, Content Marketing is the act of creating content that consumers want to see opposed to ads that they have to see. That content can include everything from an individual blog post to a 12 episode reality TV show and all the white papers, Vine videos, Slideshare decks and infographics in between.
Every brand should be a media property. Here’s why:
After the financial roller coaster of the past few years, consumers have returned to simplicity and actively seek value. They want steak over sizzle. Substance over style. Yup, you worked hard to get an MBA so you could study consumer behaviour patterns and consumers are opting to define their brand relationships with Janet Jackson lyrics. “What have you done for me lately?”
Consumers want value and a consistent supply of relevant content can provide it. Luckily, it doesn’t need the Super Bowl to do it, either.
The rise of the niche interests.
Most of us have unique interests that trump the lowest-common denominator content of traditional media outlets. If you love quilting, there used to be very little that could feed your passion so you tuned into what everyone else was watching or reading. Now you can watch a quilting web show, read a quilting blog, and participate with others in quilting hangouts on Google+. If you love quilting, you can fill your day with quilting.
The availability of niche content has created an alternate media consumption universe.
Consumers used to vote with their wallets. Now they vote with their time. After years of being fed content, consumers can now choose to geek out on what they love. Often, brands (and what they stand for) can qualify for the admiration if they’re memorable enough to cut through. Remember: You’re not competing against your direct competitor for time. You’re competing against cat videos.
Naturally, none of this would be possible if brands had to enlist a full crew, an Avid suite, a Flame artist and a team of nerds to code it. Production and post production are both cheaper than ever, as are the methods of distribution. Want to be Rupert Murdoch? You’re a Macbook Air and a WordPress template away from doing it. Brands can be media properties because ANYONE can be a media property.
Owning is better than renting.
Every brand wants to control the direct customer relationship but that’s increasingly difficult when you’re renting space to show an ad opposed to owning the space on your own platform with your own content. You can deliver exactly what your customers are looking for and you can control their journey down the sales funnel by keeping them in your ecosystem. You can rent a condo but you should own your relationships.
So. What do you do?
Some brands are a little too eager to pound their chests. “Here’s our product! Have you tried it?! Have you got our coupon?!!” Ugh. Nobody wants to be pitch slapped.
Brands have to elevate the conversation to what people want to interact with. That’s rarely achieved by talking exclusively about your products and all the low-salt, low-calorie, high fibre versions they come in. You might think it’s interesting but the consumer has a new Tumblr called “Hot Dogs or Legs” that they’d rather check out.
That being said, it’s not just randomly generated cool stuff either. It has to be strategically relevant to the brand and its customers. So how do you do that?
Find your Brand Belief.
Your Brand Belief is the first critical step in designing your content marketing strategy. Do it and you’ll actually have something to talk about. Don’t do it and you’ll be left to repurpose your list of ingredients as a blog post.
Not surprisingly, the brand belief is a statement that communicates what your brand believes in. What do you stand for? It’s not about saving money and it’s not about selling more product. It’s about values.
We think these are the brand beliefs that define some respected brands.
We believe that your life can be more exhilarating.
We believe that we can make the world a healthier place.
We believe that the right information can help you be a more successful person.
We believe that communities should look out for each other.
What does your brand believe?
The 4Cs of Content Marketing
You have your brand belief. Now what?
Consume all the media that supports your Brand Belief, regardless of whether its from your category or not. Blogs, old movies, magazine articles, Instagram feeds…use every type of content you can. Consume it daily. Be a leader by following others.
Along the consumption path, you’ll discover some pieces of content worthy of sharing with your community. Will you tweet about it? Will you deploy a newsletter with the best of? However you share it, share it. And don’t forget to track insights and trends gathered along the way.
At some point, you have to create something original that clearly articulates or supports your Brand Belief. It could be a full length feature film or it could be a pencil sketch that you fax to your 10 best clients. Only you and the consumer segmentation research you commissioned know exactly what it is. Be professional about it. Make an editorial calendar for the next quarter and stick to it.
The true value of content marketing is adding value so that – wait for it – they’ll eventually buy your product. Nobody likes to be pitch slapped but no one likes going bankrupt either. All of your content and social activities have to be connected so they build community, generate real engagement and actually lead to a sale. It doesn’t just have to work. It has to work together.
Ron Tite is the CEO of The Tite Group, a content marketing agency in Toronto. His first book, “Everyone’s an Artist (or at least they should be)” will be published by Harper Collins in June, 2014.
This article first appeared in Media Digest.