Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase, “Content makes poor men rich”. While the American founding father’s grand statement referred to the loftier realms of happiness and satisfaction, he may have been shocked to know how eerily his comments have echoed in advertising trends well over 200 years later. Content marketing has helped build the profile of some of Britain’s strongest companies and, to some, seems like the philosophers’ stone that will turn the basest brand into gold.
There’s no doubt using media and publishing content to draw in consumers has firmly bedded into the minds of marketeers and their clients, becoming one of the most significant strings to an ad exec’s bow. “Appetite for content marketing is growing very fast at the moment,” comments Clare Hill, managing directer of the Content Marketing Agency (CMA), the industry body representing the sector. “It’s been identified as one of the fastest-growing media channels, aside from internet display advertising.”
Of course, this is evidence of something that needs little corroboration. Few people can have failed to notice how brand promotion has adopted an increasingly polychromatic palette in the last decade. “The traditional techniques worked fine in the offline environment – that is, in a non-interactive media environment,” explains Alan Boyce, managing director of content marketing business Axonn. But with the shift toward what was then clunkily dubbed Web 2.0, users began interacting with the web in a different way and the efficacy of static advertising began to come under question. He continues: “It became an interactive medium, where people expect to be treated as equal partners in dialogue rather than as a passive audience.”
But despite the connotations that often come with the word ‘content’, this conversation isn’t only taking place online. “Content marketing is channel neutral,” remarks Hill. “More than half of our industry is still print focused.” While much of the adoption of the technique has been a response to changing habits online, it has been firmly bedded down in print for some time. Branded content plays a huge role in the UK’s print industry, attracting the most significant investment the sector sees. Hill continues: “The biggest distributed titles in the UK are Tesco Magazine and Asda Magazine; Waitrose Kitchen grew more last period than any other magazine.”
So it’s hard to deny content is big business and it’s easy to see why any company would be quick to jump on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, marketing techniques are rarely that straightforward. As with search engine optimisation and social media management before it, content marketing has been used and abused by those looking to make a quick buck or put a plaster over the cracks in their brand. Those expecting to be able to just throw content at the consumer and see what sticks are likely to be severely disappointed.
“It’s something that’s continually posed to me: ‘Well, you’re just throwing stuff out there,’” remarks Simon Baldwin, retail expert and director of Mall-to-Mobile, a scheme from the marketing solution provider Destination CMS. “The vast majority of people just pour stuff out at the top of the tree and expect some to filter down; that’s not how it should happen.”
One approach is to leave your content to the experts. Mall-to-Mobile evolved out of Destination CMS’s experiences setting up websites and handing over content management to retail outlets lock stock. All too quickly, approximately 90% of enterprises would grind to a halt. “It was for a whole raft of reasons,” Baldwin explains. “It was lack of skill base, lack of time, lack of resource, lack of everything.” Realising that many of the shopping centres they were working with didn’t have the resources to maintain a consistent content strategy, Destination CMS made the decision to invest in delivering the service itself. “We’ve put our staff on the ground – they visit the retailers, they capture the information, they share that with our PR team who then run everything for the client.”
But for those who are wanting more of a handle on their content, there are some specific areas that are worth looking at. At the core of Mall-to-Mobile’s offering is what it terms its five ‘content keys’: news, events, fun, offers and trends. Baldwin says: “Around those content keys, we manage all of our clients’ digital and social media content seven days a week.”
However, even the best laid plans can go astray. No marketing is going to run itself, no matter how much you may want it to. “It’s not a question of ‘build it and they will come’,” explains Boyce. “It’s about seeing where they’re going and building something on the way.”
Obviously, this is where analytics separate the wheat from the chaff. Regardless of channel, it’s usually possible to track the returns your marketing is offering and assess what’s working and what isn’t. Given it has been using content marketing for the best part of two decades, The CMA’s Hill feels the grocery sector demonstrates just how measurable and trackable the medium can be. “With Nectar, Sainsbury’s can identify, as a result of their content-marketing strategy for the Little ones baby and toddler club, that the content strategy delivered 500,000 Little ones members,” she comments.
In many ways, content marketing is no different from other disciplines. “One could assume that, because content marketing involves a matter of creativity that it defies rational analysis or planning; I don’t think that’s true,” says Boyce. In fact, rather than being a promotional panacea, content only works when backed by a clear strategy. Taking time to target content is thus the best way to engage and retain the consumer.
Unlocking ops with the Mall-to-Mobile content keys
Whether straight from a retailer, local to an area or information about a specific charity or organisation, this is any news relevant to an enterprise’s chosen demographic.
Covering specific events and dates of relevance to your audience; an example Baldwin gives is the journey of the Olympic Torch in 2012, which helped Mall-to-Mobile plug into the local communities through which the torch passed.
This is where the light-hearted stuff comes in. Shareable content that makes people laugh or smile, that entertains people and makes them want to keep coming back. Often, inexplicably, it involves cats.
Not limited to your twofers and BOGOFs, offers include anything that is drawing something special to the attention of the consumer, including new products or services.
Rather than just covering Twitter’s top hashtags, this is about talking up anything at the current moment that might be brand new, exciting or creating a bit of a buzz in the wider community.
Ikea Family Live
Intended to add a local dimension to Ikea’s global brand and form a close connection with its customers, Ikea Family Live shares design ideas from its Ikea Family club members, making use of one of its best resources to bring a personal touch to its content. As the proud winners of Customer Magazine of the Year at last year’s PPA Awards and owners of a content site that has clocked up more than 270,000 unique visitors, it seems Ikea’s strategy has paid off. The 400% increase in traffic this has contributed to ikea.com is just the icing on the cake.