Fellow marketers, it’s time to get some clarity on whether it is worth spending time and money on this content marketing thing everyone is talking about. Late last month, Outbrain & the Asia Content Marketing Association (ACMA) hosted a Content Conversations Meetup in Singapore which focused on understanding if content marketing lives up to the hype.
The meetup included over 60 industry professionals who heard some thoughts from four experienced industry professionals – Don Anderson, Head of Digital Integration for Fleishman-Hillard was our moderator; Olivier Legrand, LinkedIn’s Head of Marketing Solutions, Asia Pacific & Japan; Chris Pile, Founder of digital agency The Farm; and Andrew Knott, Vice President of Media & Digital at McDonald’s. I thought it would be useful to share some of the insights that I took out of that session.
1. Content Marketing is certainly not NEW!
So before we worked out whether it was “the emperor’s new clothes”, we agreed that content marketing is not NEW. Some conflicting views came from the speakers on the world’s oldest and best content marketers – Chris put the Catholic Church up there with the use of the Bible. Andrew Knott reminded us that the Koran had been printed over 3 billion times and probably takes the crown. To avoid getting into a theological debate, I personally like the example of the John Deere Furrow Magazine.
John Deere launched this content marketing initiative (pretty sure they didn’t call it that then) in 1895 to provide great content about rural life and farming and in doing so, added value to its relationships with its customers. It now has a circulation of 1.5 million in 40 countries and 12 languages!
So we agreed content marketing is not new. The NEW thing about it is that more and more people are moving their media diet online and in doing so, they enable technology to burst through barriers to entry (i.e., content acceptance, talent and technology) for brands to get into the publishing game.
And indeed, we see lots of brands getting into the game. Olivier from LinkedIn shared some great statistics from eMarketer around the use of content marketing by marketers today. In 2012, content marketing was the leading tactic for 18.9% of marketers worldwide, but this year, that percentage has grown to 34.8%. Game on.
2. Brands need to stop shouting about themselves.
We now live in a 24/7 world of digital experiences where the self-educating consumer is empowered by search, conversations are driven by social media and the economy is increasingly becoming powered by mobile. Search, social and mobile have redefined the landscape for marketers today, who are quickly realizing that in most cases their audiences have already formed perceptions about the brand, before that brand gets an opportunity to share their perspective.
Realizing that they get eliminated in the early stages of their audience’s consideration in the purchase decision-making process, it’s understandable that brands’ knee-jerk reaction is to talk and shout about themselves.
But it will do us good to keep in mind that the power play between brands and consumers has always resided with consumers in every stage of the customer lifecycle. So forget about you and think about what your audience values and how you deliver that to them. Chris from The Farm had a simple expression of this in his presentation.
So if you deliver experiences that people value, they will share. Content sharing becomes powerful when there is social proof. And social proof is about people – not brands – sharing that content.
Using content to tell your brand stories should be so much subtler than what we are used to in advertising. Focus on adding value for your audience by being informative and entertaining first, and then you will have a much better chance of getting their attention. This then gives you the opportunity to talk about yourself down the track.
3. It is about the journey, not just the destination.
Closely aligned to the point above is remembering that your potential customers are not in purchase mode, all of the time. In fact, Olivier from LinkedIn shared some data that suggests that your audience is typically 60% into its purchase journey before any one at your business gets the opportunity to influence them directly.
I love the simplicity of this work by Avinash Kaushikn from Google who splits the customer journey into 3 key stages: See. Think. Do.
Whatever model you use, the point is that there are more people in the early stages of a relationship with a brand than in the BUY (or DO) stage. So why do most discussions on digital marketing so quickly head towards a direct response outcome? If brands don’t influence the buyer earlier in the process then there is a chance that most buyers will never push the door open to their store. Content marketing is the opportunity to capture the buyers attention in that information phase.
While content can be used as a very effective DR tool, my view is that its power is more in its ability to build a brand online. Connect with people in the early stages of their journey by adding value and then, be in a position to cut through the noise as people walk towards making a purchase. You need to build intent before you can harvest it. This is an area that Outbrain’s content discovery platform excels in. Our personalized recommendations on over 100k premium publisher sites around the world can expose your content to an audience that will find it interesting.
Chris from The Farm takes this journey approach one step further by suggesting that brands map different types of content against the different stages of the customer lifecycle. Blogs may be the platform to use when targeting potential customers who are in the initial exploration phase, but in the post-purchase phase, customers may find more value from other types of content, for example, product tutorials on YouTube or on the brand’s website.
4. Tell great stories that connect.
I mentioned earlier that there were some candid remarks shared at Content Conversations about how the world’s major religions are probably the best content marketers out there. I couldn’t agree more. If there were a single common element between most religions, it would be the element of storytelling.
Storytelling has been around for as long as language has existed. People love to tell and share stories, and the most compelling stories appeal to people the world over, regardless of geography, culture, age, gender or language.
Great storytellers make complex issues seem so simple and we saw a great example of that on display from Andrew Knott of McDonalds as he walked us through his thinking on the topic. Andrew reminded us that stories that connect with people will inspire them to think, feel and react with the brand, and move the business.
I loved his reminder that it is not just the “content”, but HOW the story is told that is crucial. He asked us whether we thought Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech would still be remembered by the world if he had used PowerPoint or Slideshare to get his message across.
There are many brands today that tell stories that moves us and makes us feel and think. My current personal favorite that was also shared by Andrew at the Meetup is the recent “Real Beauty Sketches” work by Dove. If you have not seen it, please check it out here.
Andrew left us with a challenge: as we head into the next year-end meeting to talk about marketing strategies for 2014, don’t ask for “viral content”. Instead, demand great stories. Great advice Andrew.
All up, I think it was the collective opinion of the speakers and attendees that Content Marketing is real, powerful and here to stay. Now, we need to work out how best to apply this new-but-old practice into our respective businesses in a way that delivers results. More about that topic in upcoming Content Conversation Meetups If you are not already part of the Meetup group, please sign up here.
If you want to hear more about how Outbrain can help you get results from your content marketing in Asia, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me directly or through our team email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you’re ready to start attracting an engaged audience to your content now, you can start by signing up here.
This article was written by Anthony Hearne, Regional Director of Outbrain Southeast Asia & India.