Brands have always been content marketers in a sense, but with the changing digital landscape, content marketing is more important than ever. In fact, an October 2012 Econsultancy survey found that 90 percent of marketers think content marketing will become more important over the next year, though only 38 percent said they have a content strategy in place.
We define content marketing as the organization, creation and distribution of content to better connect with consumers or potential consumers. Birthed at the intersection of strategy, community and creative, “content” are those assets and experiences that, in aggregate, form the pieces of your brand’s story.
Digital branded content is a new animal. In the early days of communication, branded content fit into four buckets: Print, TV, Radio and Out of Home. Digital is different. Digital content has the power to break out of the advertising bucket, driving conversations, promoting sharing and connecting with consumers in a new way.
Content development combines creation and curation. Unlike earlier forms of advertising, digital content allows brands to parallel the behaviors of its consumers, who are creating and sharing content — with or without brands — every single day. This environment presents a huge opportunity for marketers to showcase their brand’s personality and engage people in the same way they engage each other.
The buck doesn’t stop with creation. Marketers today are tasked not only with determining what type of content to produce, but where to place the content and how to ensure it’s seen by the right people. This is a unique challenge that requires tight collaboration across community (focused on creating experiences that resonate with a unique audience) and creative (focused on creating experiences that bring to life a brand’s strategy).
This report outlines the key pillars to content marketing and advises marketers on how they can craft and execute successful content marketing programs.
Digital has changed the content game
Content marketing is important for both local and global brands, and for B2B and B2C brands. As a result of the ever-changing digital media landscape, consumers are taking a more active role in curating, sharing and self-publishing content. Digital empowers individuals with platforms from which to share, and as a result, the number of people who self-identify as Conversationalists, Creators, and Collectors (per Forrester Research) continues to grow. Brands that understand how fans experience content will better understand how to build connections and drive purchase intent.
Forrester Technographics Data (Q2 2010 v. Q3 2011)
Source: “A Global Update of Social Technographics®”, Forrester Research, Inc., September 28, 2010
Source: “Global Social Media Adoption”, Forrester Research, June 27, 2012
Here are the factors that are pushing content marketing to the forefront of brand strategy:
Consumers are creating more content. More than ever, consumers are both our biggest competitors and biggest allies when it comes to content. For several years they’ve had the tools to create content and now they’re beginning to see more than just 15 seconds of fame — memes created by consumers in a matter of minutes are often more viewed than high-budget commercials. Brands that are able to leverage consumers to create or co-create content on their behalf will hit the sweet spot.
Consumers are consuming and surfacing more content. In the past year alone, people who self-identified as “Collectors” (also described as curators or surfacers) grew an estimated 4 percent, per Forrester Research. Surfacers are becoming celebrities in their own right. In Fast Company’s 2012 list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business, Maria Popova – a self-described curator and author of “Brainpickings” – graced the list alongside entertainer Cee Lo Green. In his TEDYouth talk, “Why Videos Go Viral,” Kevin Allocca, trends manager at YouTube, points out that many videos that have spread virally are a direct result of a well-known individual sharing them. As more people assume the role of distributors, and do so in highly influential ways, it’s especially important for brands to create sharable content that gives people the opportunity to co-create.
Curation platforms are on the rise. Curation platforms are gaining prominence, providing utility by allowing people to easily collect and share content. They also provide an emotional draw, as an organized collection can serve as a cache of memorable moments. The popularity of platforms like Tumblr and Buzzfeed continues to rise and usage is soaring for more nascent platforms like Pinterest and Fab.com, too. Conversation, creation and collection are now core elements of the online experience — and consumers expect to engage with brands that understand this hybrid behavior. These sites not only satisfy changes in behavior — they also stimulate it. Built-in social elements facilitate engagement, and content discovery and customization lead to a richer, more time-intensive experience. Tumblr users spend an average of 30 minutes per day on the platform (a figure that’s on par with Facebook) and Pinterest is not far behind with 15 minutes of time spent per day on average.
Total Unique Visits (May 2011-April 2012)
Source: 360i analysis of comScore Media Metrix conducted May 2012 on data spanning May 2011 — April 2012 for the total US audience
The Key Pillars of Content Marketing
A solid content marketing strategy factors in both low and high-investment content, and extends from clever status updates, simple photos and GIFs to web series and other forms of premium branded content. Robin Sloan, a media inventor and theorist, has put forth a simple way to think about content within social media:
“Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today.”
Stock refers to the bigger ideas: the posts that take more than just a few minutes to create. Flow is the daily engagement-focused content that’s meant to drive conversation and keep people interested over time. A balanced strategy complete with stock and flow requires curating and creating content, distributing that content and constantly optimizing for success. The following section explains the roles of creation and curation within a content strategy.
I. Content Development
Content development can be segmented into two buckets: creation and curation. Creation involves the proprietary content your brand produces itself — the assets you contribute to the broader social conversation. Curation reflects the pieces of social culture that your brand pulls into its own storyline — those pre-existing elements that resonate with your audience, your brand or both. Together, creation and curation form the core of content development.
Regardless of budgets, content creation is still an important part of content marketing. After all, without creation there would be no curation. Paying attention to what your fans share or find interesting can help to inform the creation of stock. Instead of investing a large amount of money into a seemingly random topic, brands can test the waters within community and graduate content using the content pyramid below.
By incorporating a feedback loop, brands are able to build off of smaller successes to help ensure larger success. When National Car Rental, a client of 360i, asked people what they did in traffic jams and saw that “Listen to music” was the most common response, they crowdsourced a playlist from fans and posted it with Songza.
Oreo’s Daily Twist is a great example of the pyramid in action. Each day for 100 days, Oreo posted commentary on cultural happenings through visuals made from Oreos themselves. Each piece of content on its own would likely be considered flow: a piece of content that’s interesting but only for a few days. By creating a content series, Oreo graduated into stock content. Some of the twists were interactive, which could be considered hero or even superhero content. And the final Daily Twist was decided upon by fans through a live event in Times Square.
The chart above shows how flow can graduate into stock, using Oreo’s Daily Twist program as an example of this evolution in action.
Some other examples of successful brand creation efforts include K SWISS’ partnership with Kenny Powers to create bespoke content that borrowed cultural relevance to attract a new audience, and 360i client Dentyne, which leveraged interests of the socially addicted to inform their Split2Fit Shorts.
Marketers have stolen this term from the museum/gallery world and now apply it across the board. Traditionally, when a gallery owner curates an exhibit, they determine a theme, sift through a large amount of work and figure out which pieces fit within the theme, and then provide a description of the work, often tying it back to the larger theme. When people or brands curate content online, they’re often following the same process. They’re consuming content that they didn’t create themselves, thinking about which pieces are relevant to their audience or to their own personal brand and sharing that content with their friends and followers, often with their own comments about the content attached to it.
For individuals, curating content helps build their online identity. For brands, curating content can be used to borrow cultural relevance and to inform the daily flow. By curating content, brands can show their expertise through others. For example, the American Express Open Forum Tumblr was created for small business owners to better learn about social media marketing. Instead of writing articles themselves, Amex curates relevant content from around the web, contextualizing it through their brand voice. Coca-Cola is also curating content with its Happiness Is Tumblr.
Understanding your audience is critical to successful curation, as you will need to reconcile what interests your fans with which types of content align with your brand’s identity. Because brands don’t consume content like people do, it’s much more difficult to understand what’s relevant and interesting to fans and followers of brands. However, tools are popping up that can help. From dedicated curation engines like Percolate to broader social listening tools like Radian 6 or Sysomos, platforms are starting to cater to curation needs.
For brands, bringing creation and curation together in a seamless fashion means developing a content marketing framework. This will help all stakeholders align on meaningful content topics (creation) and sources (curation). For practical tips for creating this framework, see the Recommendations section at the end of this report.
IV. Syndication & Distribution
Beyond creating quality content, it’s critical to ensure that the right people see it. Media used to be scarce and traditional media still is to some extent, but the proliferation of digital media has made achieving share of voice hard. Now, you can put your content anywhere and everywhere. These are the things you should be paying attention to:
Paid Media. Paid media matters, especially with stock content that you’ve invested in. For each social platform, investigate the promotional opportunities that could help to surface the content your brand has created. Beyond traditional ad units, consider using digital word of mouth or content seeding partners like 7th Chamber or Unruly. Most content seeding partners will not only guarantee views within your target, but help with SEO optimization, providing recommendations on titles, tags and descriptions.
Owned Media. Cross-promoting content using existing channels helps you reach an audience that’s already opted into your communications — and therefore are much more likely to share or pass along your content.
Earned Media. Successful content is content that people want to share. Content that is culturally relevant and appropriate for the platform will help boost your spreadability factor. For example, to match a content type already popular on Tumblr, Calvin Klein recently translated its spring 2013 looks into animated GIFs.
When it comes to syndication, marketers have multiple platforms at their disposal, each with their own strengths for specific types of content. Beyond traditional paid, owned and earned media, consider using content seeding partners to amplify the reach and engagement of your content.
For more on how paid, owned and earned media can work together, see 360i’s Paid & Earned Media: Building an Integrated Strategy POV.
The final pillar in a content marketing strategy is optimization. Unlike traditional content, the work is not over once it goes live. Instead, it’s important to monitor the conversations happening about your brand and your content by using real-time feedback and community management. Community managers and strategists should work hand in hand when it comes to implementing changes based on insights. Technologies like Expion (strategic partner with 360i) can help automate content optimization and encourage a better dialogue between these teams.
Brands can build in a feedback loop to optimize success. Depending on the content you’re creating or curating, you’ll want to determine which metrics you’ll measure. If you’re releasing a visual on Facebook, you may want to track metrics like impressions, shares, likes and comments, but on Tumblr you might look at page views, likes or re-blogs. Use previously created content to set benchmarks so you understand how content is performing. After determining which metrics will be measured, consider how frequently you can update content and graduate or replicate the types of content that perform well.
Get to know to your community and your target audience. It’s much easier to join existing conversations than to create your own. Social listening can provide insight as to what’s working for specific brand communities as well as understanding around larger trends — and this knowledge can extend beyond what people are saying. There’s also an opportunity to use listening to analyze the visual content that consumers interact with and share, including photos and videos.
Ask your community manager to share insights on a regular basis: Which content is working well? Which content isn’t performing as expected?
Consider a social listening partnership to better understand your target audience and their interests outside of your communities, including non-direct competitors like media properties.
II. Build a team
Content marketing teams aren’t always made up of traditional creatives. Successful teams have people who understand the brand/product, people who understand the community or distribution platforms and people who can actually bring the content to life.
Explore a content marketing team with representation from community managers, content strategists, copywriters, data visualizers, editors, designers, producers, product evangelists, etc. Ensure that all parties help inform and align on the content framework.
When developing a content framework, create a schedule that pre-determines the frequency of content curation and creation across channels. Whenever possible, build in cultural relevance — is there an ongoing meme to tap into? How will you tailor content for your audience?
Create a syndication & distribution plan. Don’t be afraid to embrace multiple platforms — different platforms are better suited for different kinds of content. Build in paid, owned and earned media and consider using a content seeding partner to ensure your content is seen by the right people.
III. Be nimble
Set the stage from the start that the core team involved will need to respond quickly. With diminishing cultural latency, the amount of time content stays relevant is much shorter and more brands are being challenged to create content on the fly.
Create a simplified approval process for content that needs a quick turnaround.
Be willing to make exceptions. Discuss with your core team what’s acceptable (and what’s not) before releasing content — but don’t limit yourself too much.
Consider using paid media reactively. If content is starting to take off, media can amplify reach and increase potential engagement.
IV. Measure and showcase your success
Determine and track key measurement statistics of how people are engaging with your content.
High engagement: Number of comments (on blog posts & Facebook updates), Retweets with comments, number of blog posts written about the brand or branded content, shares on Facebook
Medium engagement: Re-tweets, views of content
Low engagement: Likes, Follows, Impressions
Set responsibilities for team members on how knowledge will be fed back into the system.
Create success benchmarks based on content you or your competitors have created or shared.
Graduate high-performing content and use community insights to inform future content.
Successful brands will take on the challenges of great content marketing, even as it evolves over the coming years. We expect that brands will continue to compete with media properties for eyeballs. Having an in-depth knowledge of what’s trending for consumers will be more important than ever and will help ensure content created is culturally relevant. Technology will continue to advance, helping brands with creation, curation, distribution and measurement.
When brands understand content marketing, they can expect to see both an increase in engagement and an impact on their bottom line.
By Rosie Siman, Senior Strategist at 360i