Marketers are charged with the task of capturing an audience's attention in an environment where consumers have more content than ever before (and not just content -- relevant content). Readers aren't only seeking out the stories that interest them; they're relying on technology designed to serve them the content they are most apt to click. So where does this leave brands?
The good news is that marketers have more data about their target groups than ever before. As long as they can make sense of all the information available to them (no small task), this should increase their likelihood of creating content that will resonate with their audiences -- and of finding those audiences in the first place. Of course, competition for eyeballs is fierce. A projected $118.4 billion was spent on content marketing, video marketing, and social in 2013, according to eMarketer. Currently, 27 million pieces of content are shared every single day.
To manage this content flood and meet their own objectives, readers must prioritize news sources and create strategies for staying on top of the stories that matter to them. Inadvertently, many have become navel-gazers, excessively consuming content about the same issues, even at the expense of missing important stories, notes Laston Charriez, SVP of marketing for the Americas region at Western Union and a speaker at the upcoming iMedia Commerce Summit. And it's not their fault. The technology we use to consume our news is designed to serve us content we're most likely to be interested in.
Here's the real opportunity for brands: As readers so frequently read about the same thing, companies have the ability to fill in these content gaps -- to stand out by delivering relevant, valuable information consumers may not be getting elsewhere.
"There's only so much time in a day, and you miss content that falls outside the areas you've expressed your interest in," explains Charriez, who actually forces himself to download a new app every week to ensure he's engaging with diverse content. "If you think about retail's future, it's about how can you enable readers who are going deeper and deeper into their areas of interest to have information they wouldn't have had otherwise, while still being relevant."
Content is the "speed bump" that can stop a consumer in his or her tracks, he says. "Content allows you to tell a story that can hopefully change behavior. As a marketer you have to identify what kind of story, trivia, or nugget you can offer that will make the consumer stop and say, 'OK, now you're part of my consideration process.'"
The role of social and UGC
A strategic distribution strategy is key to reaching readers who are not yet interested in your brand, or even the topics relevant to your brand. When it comes to raising awareness within a new audience, perhaps nothing is more effective than social media and user-generated content.
"The Gen Ys, the digital natives, they don't trust marketers," notes Charriez. Social media allows you to "draft on your ambassadors" and grab the attention of those navel-gazers who may not notice your sponsored article but will notice their best friend's latest post or tweet. Badging works well for many retail companies, but nothing beats a good old-fashioned intentional share. And in order for a user to share content produced by a brand, it needs to be good -- really, really good.
A host of interesting companies, such as RebelMouse and Livefyre, have also emerged to help brands take control of user-generated content. These services allow companies to filter and moderate user engagement and use the good stuff for their own marketing purposes. They can even take content off social platforms and host it elsewhere, such as on a homepage.
The secret formula
At the end of the day, marketers in every industry, via every tactic, are all striving to do the same thing: prove to their audience that they'll deliver value. Charriez, who worked in marketing at Procter & Gamble for 20 years, explains that certain best practices simply transcend category. "I worked selling bread, Kiwi shoe polish, Jimmy Dean, you name it. Now I'm in financial services, and I'm telling you -- it's the same. The trust factor is even more important because you're dealing with people's money, but I mean it with all my heart -- it is the same. You have to understand the consumer better than anybody else, create amazing experiences and stories they'll want to be a part of, and never drop the ball on quality. Quality divided by price equals value, and that formula is the same in every industry."
Jacqueline Lisk is a journalist, editor, and consultant who specializes in content marketing.
"Question Mark" image via Shutterstock.