Branded content isn’t new. John Deere was publishing a magazine for farmers as far back as 1895. But it’s bigger and better than ever before. According to a survey by the Custom Content Council and ContentWise, 37 percent of the total marketing budget went to content marketing in 2013.
It took a while for some to catch on, but most brands today understand that the Internet has given rise to a new era in publishing, an era in which you need articles, videos, graphics, and a steady flow of social content to remain part of the conversation. The explosion of online branded content has now even given rise to offline publications produced by brands that want to stand out from the online hordes. (Disclosure: My own company, Chango, has been gaining some attention of late for our print magazine devoted to programmatic marketing.)
Still, for all the excitement around content marketing, brands are still struggling to demonstrate the tangible returns on sometimes very expensive content campaigns. After all, while being part of the conversation is great, at some point or another you still have to sell your products and services. So, what’s a brand to do? We asked three industry pros for their expert opinions:
Alicianne Rand, VP Marketing at NewsCred
According to Alicianne Rand, great content marketing “is both an art and a science.” You can’t tell powerful and authentic stories without creativity and empathy, but the art isn’t enough. You also need the strategy and tactics that can drive real business value.
Rand, VP Marketing at NewsCred, says that the place to begin is with great editorial. “Tell amazing stories,” Rand says. “Help to educate your audience, inspire, and entertain.” The one thing you can’t do is allow your content to come across as a promotional pitch. Rather, Rand explains, “your brand should be evident in your tone of voice, your photography and imagery style, the topics you write about, and the personality that shines through.”
Once you’ve got readers interacting with content that they genuinely love, you can begin to tailor the content to the prospect journey with a solid lead nurturing track. While this strategy is more popular with B2B companies, Rand says “it’s incredibly relevant to B2C companies as well.” Explains Rand, “It’s simple: tailor content, messaging, and advertising to individuals based on their behavior and interactions with your brand. This is what will drive people from awareness to purchase.”
Jay Baer, President, Convince & Convert
“The goal is to win attention, sales, and loyalty but sometimes those behaviors occur eventually, not right now,” says Jay Baer, President, Convince & Convert. As Baer sees it, the key to modern business success is to be okay with “eventually.” “If your content – your Youtility – is strong enough, you don’t have to insert a lot of branding and CTA opportunities inside of it,” Baer says. “You don’t have to turn your useful marketing into a Trojan horse.” Still, Baer adds that it’s critical that attention, sales, and loyalty happen at some point. For that reason, Baer recommends rigorous testing to determine the right mix of branded and unbranded content for a particular brand.
Sam Slaughter, VP Content at Contently
“At Contently we’ve found that there’s a big difference between proudly branding content and being in your face with a sales pitch,” says Sam Slaughter, VP Content. According to Slaughter, there’s nothing wrong with a brand making sure that people know it’s responsible for a story. “After all,” says Slaughter, “it doesn’t really matter how great branded content is if the brand doesn’t get credit. It’s why we named our magazine ‘Contently Quarterly,’ as opposed to something like ‘Brand Publishers Quarterly.'” Nevertheless, Slaughter says that content that’s overtly selling a brand’s products is a huge turnoff for readers and not a practice Contently endorses.
And this point seems to be the one all of our experts clearly agree on. Content that’s overtly selling a product simply isn’t a winning strategy. But, at the same time, content marketing needs to be strategic. The good news: there’s plenty of room for strategy with respect to the topics you cover, whom you deliver your content to, and when and how it gets delivered.
I wonder if John Deere worried about all of this…
This column was written by Premal Shah, VP, Strategy at Chango, a real-time marketing technology company with an advanced platform and full-service solutions for brands and agencies. Premal is responsible for leading best practices and partnership strategies across all media solutions and the Programmatic Marketing Platform (PMP).