The Small Business Content Marketing Trends & Insights for 2013

We recently shared our thoughts on how content marketing has become something of an equalizer for small businesses (SMBs) trying to compete in the same space as larger brands with their big budgets and seemingly unlimited resources.

Rather than extract value via traditional and costly marketing channels such as display and search, sharing great content creates value for consumers and is a more effective way for SMBs to engage their audience. We’re always looking to share ways in which SMBs can better engage their audience with interesting and great quality content.

To that end, we’re excited to announce the launch of our 2013 B2B Small Business Content Marketing report produced in partnership with the Content Marketing Institute.

The Content Marketing Institute’s recent North American survey revealed some surprising insights into the differences between B2B small business marketers and their enterprise peers. For example, small business marketers use more social media platforms than their enterprise peers and are planning to increase their content marketing budgets more than their larger, enterprise peers.

You may also be surprised to know B2B small business marketers use an average of five social media platforms, whereas their enterprise peers use four; and more than half create their own in-house content despite the challenges faced with constantly producing enough content.

These insights as well as the answers to

- What goals do B2B small business marketers have for content marketing?

- How do they measure content marketing success?

- How are they tailoring their content?

- What notable characteristics of a best-in-class B2B smal business content marketer?

can all be found in our  2013 B2B Small Business Content Marketing report.

DOWNLOAD IT NOW to take a closer look at what content marketing means to SMBs and what you could be doing too!

‘Native’ Is a Means to an End

This article originally appeared on Digiday April 30, 2013

Native advertising has been the online marketing world’s shiny new object for the better part of a year. Sponsored posts, branded video and search ads could all be fairly characterized as native advertising, as could a full-page denim ad in a fashion magazine or a Coca Cola-sponsored pre-movie quiz if we stretch the definition a bit.

The problem is this: So much of the discussion around native advertising is narrowly focused on placement and less on the value of a brand’s presence for consumers. The real opportunity in native is less about sexy new placements and more about a chance to move away from the old-school model of extracting value from readers in favor of starting a conversation with them through great content.

Certainly, native units help brands address one of their major issues on publisher platforms: complementing the user experience rather than interrupting it. But that’s just one half of the equation. What about the other half – the valuable content? Technically, you don’t need a “native” unit for that. If you’re truly delivering something that is useful and interesting to consumers, the vehicle is only as important as the material.

You can read the rest of the article here on Digiday.

User Engagement Follows Good Content, Not Ads

In a recent AdAge article, Chartbeat presented interesting data about which parts of a content page receive the highest user engagement. A key take-away from their study was that the area of the page below the fold has higher engagement than many realize, higher in fact than areas of the page typically considered premium by advertisers (like top center). As a result, they conclude, marketers have been “placing value in the wrong place” by buying ad inventory where people are less engaged.

While the data Chartbeat showcases is incredibly useful, the conclusion they are drawing from it is misplaced. User engagement is not a fixed asset that designers and marketers can plan around. In fact it’s the reverse: the design and structure of the page, and especially the decision of where to feature content versus where to feature ads, dictates user engagement and has the potential to change the heatmap Chartbeat has created

I’ll provide an anecdote to help illustrate this point. When we started working with publishers at Outbrain about five years ago, the article footer area beneath the fold was basically a superfund site. Publishers were using that real estate to dump as many sponsored links and direct response offers as they could (“Lose 30 lbs with Acai Berry Diet!”, “Billionaire Predicts Financial Ruin!”, etc.) to monetize below the fold.

We came to them with a different proposition; the end of an article was the perfect place to feature additional content and help users “turn the page” to another great story. When we first launched in 2008, the click-through rate we recorded on links to additional content was about 1 percent. But over time, we saw this engagement metric rise dramatically, on some sites over 5-10 x its initial baseline.

While much of this progress was due to algorithmic advances we made in selecting what content to feature, another more subtle shift was also apparent: we were retraining users to look at that part of the page, to trust it again as an area to discover something worthwhile and interesting. We were reclaiming the land for users and making it vibrant again.

We saw evidence of this in our data. We saw that 30-40 percent of people who clicked on our content recommendations would scroll to the end of the subsequent article and then click another one, building trust in the experience and using this part of the page repeatedly for serendipitous navigation.

The lesson we learned was that the tie between user engagement and page position is not fixed – it can be molded and changed by the publisher. Publishers can breathe life into any area of their page by consistently using it for the one reason people come to their site in the first place – for reading, watching and finding great content. The opposite is of course also true. Cordoning off parts of a page for material that users find irrelevant—or worse, false and untrustworthy—is a sure way to create a barren desert that will take time to resuscitate down the road.

There is a very positive message in this learning for advertisers, too, in that they can actively participate in the ecosystem that drives and molds user behavior. The rise of digital content marketing, including brands’ growing sophistication in creating, curating and aggregating world class content, allows them to work side by side with publishers to produce value for both parties in the right way– by producing value for the end user. At the end of the day, the opportunity for marketers is much larger than simply locating user engagement on a heatmap and placing a banner there – it’s the ability to create that user engagement themselves, through the production and amplification of content those users will love.

Creating A Marketing Strategy That Stands The Test Of Time

 

We are living in a time of constant change. And the pace of change is constantly increasing. Trying to reach consumers in this environment is becoming more and more difficult. As marketers, you face channel fragmentation, micro segmentation of audiences and the decline of attention spans. With so many changes on the horizon, how are you supposed to create yearly marketing plans? How do you plan in an environment that is so hard to predict? As it turns out, you can be both dynamic and agile while having a sustainable, long-term strategy. You just need to change your approach to planning from the core. Increasingly, the key to this is to focusing on themes that can be expressed through content.

Content Over Campaigns

My experience working with some of the largest and most successful brands in the world has taught me that they all have something in common. They’re not thinking about the next campaign, which often means working hard leading up to a launch and subsequently throwing it all away once the launch is over. They make sure that they have a center of gravity that pulls everything together – and it’s usually all about content.

Let’s take Redbull for example. Their theme is “Redbull gives you wings.” If they were focused purely on campaigns, they would never have spent four years planning to send a man to jump from space. They look at their lighthouse – their theme – and if an activation makes sense in its light, they do it. They also plan carefully how an activation, in the “online” or “offline” world, will generate content – owned as well as earned. That jump resulted in over eight million people watching the live online broadcast for nearly four hours. It also generated a whole lot of earned media like this piece in “Forbes”.

For Redbull, marketing is all about great content driven by their overarching theme.  The vast majority of the content on their site has nothing to do with their products. It’s all about the events they produce and news that’s relevant to their audience. The content is delivered through their website and online syndication partners, on TV and in print.

Their print magazine theRedBulletin is one of the largest distribution paid magazines in the world with over 3 million subscribers.  Redbull’s content is so good that they launched a media division, RedBull Media House, that is selling (!!) its content to media houses. Getting paid for product placement? Think of that as an ROI goal of the marketing budget.

American Express OPEN is another great example of a brand that’s theme driven. Theirs is “Powering Small Business Success.” In that light, it makes sense for them to do initiatives like “Small Business Saturday” every year. It also explains why they invest so much in OpenForum.com – a place where SMB owners can get great advice from the likes of Guy Kawasaki and Richard Branson and become part of a vibrant community. They’re not trying to hit you over the head with their message. They’re focused on providing great value in line with their theme.

And what about Kraft? For them, content isn’t just a tactic. It’s the strategy that powers all of their marketing – online and offline. Did you know they own one of the most popular subscription cooking magazines, “Food & Family”? And what about one of the most successful food apps, iFood? Owned by Kraft as well. So it’s no big surprise they also have one of the most successful recipe sites in the world in KraftRecipes.com. The site features more than 30,000 recipes, 20,000 of which were submitted by the vibrant community that surrounds it.

Optimizing and Measuring Engagement

When your marketing strategy is driven by a theme, you’re more likely to create great content and ultimately, provide true value to consumers. Then you’ll discover something profound. All of your marketing initiatives across all channels will seamlessly plug into it. Former strategies like SEO, paid search, earned social, paid social, content amplification, CRM and even display will suddenly become just tactics – working together to drive discoverability and engagement with your content. You can now take all of these tactics, no matter what the buying mechanism – CPC, CPM, CPV or CPA – and create a common measurement unit that’s focused on engagement.

Each engagement indicator (a page view, a download of a white paper, a print of a recipe, time on site, downloads, CRM subscription, bounce rate) will have its own dollar value or simply a relative value in comparison with other KPIs. Let’s say you assign a whitepaper a value of 100 points. Now you can take all other engagement options and reference them relative to this number. For example, how much is engagement with your thought leadership video worth? 20? Great. Now what about a page view of an article? Let’s say 5. Now you can take all your different engagement indicators and evaluate the total value of engagement, and optimize any engagement acquisition tactics with a goal to increase your total engagement worth.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, good marketers will always be pushing the envelope and experimenting with new trends and strategies. But keeping everything tied to a theme that’s core to your brand and drives everything you do will help keep your marketing strategy cohesive and focused – just like the big guys do.

See the original post on Business2Community.
Image courtesy via Flickr/Creative Commons .

The Netflix Effect on Content Marketing


 

It’s been nearly impossible to consume any kind of media in the last few weeks without hearing about Netflix’s new original series “House of Cards.” With a massive budget and 13 episodes that were released simultaneously to enable binge viewing, the David Fincher-directed series has everyone talking about what it means for the future of the TV industry.

What hasn’t been discussed is what this move means for content marketers. Yes, you read that correctly. Netflix’s strategy has some important lessons for the content marketing industry. As a company with plenty to lose and an all-too-recent history of spoiling its goodwill with a once fiercely loyal subscriber base, Netflix has plenty on the line. And it all begins with how successful they are at engaging their customers.

AIM HIGH

Hulu, Amazon, Vudu and iTunes may be streaming rivals to Netflix, but television titans HBO and Showtime are the established leaders in subscription-based premium content and Netflix’s ultimate targets. In order to compete, Netflix has to develop and sustain the kind of experience worthy of “the golden age of television,” which the aforementioned networks are leading in. Judging by theoverwhelmingly positive response to “House of Cards,” Netflix aced the exam.

If you produce content, either as a brand or publisher, you’re not just competing with similarly positioned players for eyeballs. You are competing with the biggest platforms in digital — the Facebooks and Twitters of the world.

Look to the companies consistently producing great content and use that as inspiration. Use your unique voice and expertise to tell great stories in appealing packages — whether you produce videos, photos, editorial, blogs or long form content. It’s tempting to cut corners and skimp on quality in the chase for eyeballs, especially if you’re new to content marketing, but sabotaging yourself early with less-than-stellar content can reduce internal buy-in and stamp out support for your content-marketing plan.

ADAPT WITH THE AUDIENCE

Netflix is acutely aware of its subscribers’ binge-viewing behavior and elected to honor it with the release of all 13 episodes of “House of Cards” at once. Engaging your audience in the manner they like to be engaged is a smart long-term strategy, even at the expense of short-term gains.

As you consider new ways of distributing your content — the oft-overlooked “marketing” side of the content marketing equation — make sure it’s native to consumer habits. There are a number of working examples to consider, from native advertising to content discovery platforms. If your target audience is reading articles on a publisher site, engage them with your own articles. If they’re looking at a Facebook feed, engage them with a sponsored post. In each instance the audience is interacting with your content in the context of their normal habits.

ENGAGEMENT MATTERS

Netflix could easily have created a great show and then followed the linear programming model of releasing one episode each week. Surely this would have incentivized longer subscriptions (for those signing up for the one-month trial just to check out the show) and inspired week-to-week buzz.

Instead, Netflix made it extremely easy for users to watch more “House of Cards” while they were already in content-consumption mode. Making all 13 chapters available is one thing, enabling auto-play after each one is another (if you’re like me, the next chapter started automatically while you debated whether to stop for the evening). If Netflix is only marginally interested in the short-term gains “House of Cards” could provide – namely, a lift in new subscriptions — it’s because they’re cultivating a far more valuable asset: a hyper-engaged audience.

Such an audience is less likely to relinquish their subscription after having a great experience, even if they intended to quit at the end of a one-month trial. They’re also more likely to evangelize and rave to their friends.

Marketers pay heed: audiences hyper-engaged with your content can provide ample opportunity to convert them to loyal customers and, ultimately, brand ambassadors further down the sales funnel.

TRACK AND OPTIMIZE

In many ways, “House of Cards” may be a test to see just how engaged the Netflix audience is. As their content offering grows and more subscribers come to their platform, their insight will deepen and they may yet find an optimal solution to deliver their content.

It’s taken shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Friday Night Lights” years of linear programming, great reviews and word-of-mouth to reach wider audiences. It wasn’t until they were made available on streaming providers like Netflix that audiences really started flocking to them. Waiting for “House of Cards” to become another legacy show on Netflix might very well have robbed Netflix of the deeper insight they were after. Is the binge-viewing phenomenon the result of months and years of hype, or can a quality new show made to order enjoy equally great results? Netflix’s reluctance to release the numbers on how many people watch “House of Cards” indicates a willingness to wait and find out.

Tracking audience engagement is crucial to figuring out what’s working and what isn’t so you can optimize your strategy. Set benchmarks that cohere with your goals. Is your goal to increase brand awareness? Deliver a bigger audience for advertisers? Get people to use your app? To use a baseball metaphor, you don’t have to hit a home run every time if you can string together some singles.

The new model that Netflix has introduced to the market is not unlike content marketing in its infancy. The same debate over engagement, revenue and ROI should all sound familiar. The fact is, it takes time and learning to develop successful new strategies for growing digital media, but if you’re going to start, put your best foot forward. With “House of Cards,” Netflix has done just that.

Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon for Netflix.
 
This post originally appeared on TechCrunch, you can read and comment on the original story here.