If you look back at marketing trends of 2012, content marketing would definitely top that list, and for good reason. When used correctly, content marketing can be a powerful tool to engage customers and generate revenue through thoughtful and compelling content. Many companies plan to expand their content marketing efforts in 2013. This signifies a tremendous opportunity for marketers to supplement their existing expertise with content creation, curation, and amplification. But this opportunity also poses a great challenge: It requires skills that most simply don't have.
In the last five or ten years, the marketing industry has seen an influx of agencies specializing in search and social, much like we're now seeing with the emergence of specialist content marketing companies. These agencies build their content marketing expertise from the ground up and lead the pack when it comes to content innovation and thought leadership for brands. They bring together technical, editorial, and storytelling capabilities. They help their clients create content efficiently and at scale, with the help of in-house talent as well as external bloggers and influencers. They've learned how content travels and how to get it amplified and discovered by the target audience of the brand.
So why is content marketing so challenging for traditional marketers? In most cases, creative shops develop an advertising strategy that has a "big idea," or underlining message that the brand focuses on for the year, and a few campaigns that are planned and pre-scheduled. Alternatively, a successful content marketing strategy requires a shift in focus from several creative campaign "sprints" per year to an editorial-style content "marathon."
In other words, organizations need to adapt from building one big idea to weaving together a collection of small ideas for a robust, always-on creation and curation content strategy that is distributed across social and native advertising channels. Another challenge that digital agencies face is finding the right people. Great content comes from editorially minded experts, which many agencies don't currently have on staff.
And what about media-focused agencies? Most media shops are structured around three main digital skill sets: search, display, and social. The challenge in adapting to support content marketing and amplification here is threefold:
- The search team is usually tasked with bottom-of-the-funnel conversion and direct response plays, meaning the team members judge the "value" of a marketing play by how fast it drives conversions. This means they can miss the true impact of a great content marketing plan, which can include branding values like thought leadership, awareness, affinity and consideration, impact on SEO, and impact on the social strategy of the client.
- The display team's focus is usually on the middle of the funnel using pre-programmed targeted buys that are usually cost-per-impression based. Expanding the team's skill set to support content amplification, discovery, and acquisition models like cost-per-click requires a learning curve.
- The social team usually gets it the fastest, but controls a very small portion of the budget, if any, so the team's ability to push for a larger spend on content amplification might be limited. Too often the decision on budget is channel-driven and doesn't incentivize the teams to find what works and pivot budgets according to overall performance across many different key indicators such as traffic volume, engagement, effective cost, social lift, conversions, etc.
In most cases, the amplification of content via social channels (e.g., Facebook's Sponsored Stories, Promoted Tweets) should be a tactic within a comprehensive content marketing strategy, instead of the strategy itself. Other methods of amplification might include syndication deals, native content placements with publishers like Buzzfeed and Forbes, leveraging the power of content discovery platforms, or working with influencers and bloggers. All options should be weighed and considered through the lenses of efficiencies, scale, effectiveness, and cost.
Developing these skills won't be easy. It will probably require a combination of education for the existing staff and infusing a new kind of DNA into the company. The goal is to have creative content marketing folks with a knack for storytelling and narrative integrity, and media buyers with an in-depth understanding of audience development and media consumption.
Brands are realizing that content marketing is probably the biggest opportunity that the world of online advertising has to offer. They understand that audiences have shifted to new media, and they require a specific kind of expertise to develop the type of content appropriate for that shift. Are you ready to help them in their journey?
Gilad de Vries is senior vice president of strategy at Outbrain.
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