Content marketing may be one of the fastest-growing movements in the marketing world, but there's still some ambiguity in regard to what exactly it entails. A common definition usually involves the creation and distribution of authentic content to engage and influence consumers, but as we'll see, you don't always need to create content to be a content marketer, and it's not necessarily the first step in content marketing.
Here we will debunk five of the most common myths and try to set the record straight for marketers looking ahead to their 2014 content marketing plans.
Myth No. 1: Content marketing is a euphemism for "advertorial"
First, let's do away with another pervasive myth in order to tackle the advertorial myth -- that consumers are inherently mistrustful of brands. In fact, 71 percent of consumers trust brands that provide useful information without trying to sell them something, so right off the bat, marketers should understand that when wielded thoughtfully, the right kind of content can put them in the good graces of the masses.
Advertorials are facsimiles of editorial that exist almost exclusively to advertise (hence the "advert" in "advertorial") a product and its benefits, so that rules them out as a form of content that consumers trust. The brand alternative? Content that exists to educate, entertain, or otherwise provide value to consumers, not take it from them -- the foundation of modern content marketing.
The folks behind GE's Datalandia video campaign understand the difference. Their winking take on the effect of big data turns what is usually an imposing topic among marketers and depicts it in a friendlier, more entertaining fashion, as the fictional (and miniature) town of Datalandia seeks to rid its vampire population with weapons like shared networks and analytics. The Datalandia "success story" provides a humorous take on the importance of big data without ever mentioning GE, its services, or its products. Generating thought awareness and entertainment value at the same time? Content marketing at its finest.
Myth No. 2: Creating content is the hard part
In the words of Derek Halpern, founder of the online marketing strategy company Social Triggers Inc., "Successful content marketing is 20 percent creation and 80 percent promotion."
Creating the content first and figuring out where it should go later sounds like a surefire way to waste time and resources. Marketers should instead consider starting with a distribution strategy that answers a number of key questions:
- Who is the intended audience?
- Where do they congregate online?
- What is their native activity in those channels? Is it primarily to browse images? Watch videos? Read the news?
- How engaged are they on those platforms? Do they typically spend two minutes or 20 minutes of their day on said platform?
- What kind of content can I create that is native to those platforms?
B2C and B2B companies will have different goals with respect to intended audience, which means greater emphasis on certain channels over others. For example, a B2B company with a longer sales cycle might find the audience and patterns of engagement on LinkedIn more fertile ground for branded articles than Facebook's audience.
But it's important for marketers to test these assumptions and let the data tell them where their audience is, while at the same time promoting their content through cross-platform channels like search and paid discovery.
Lastly, every marketer should equip herself with best practices for making the most of her content. These might include partnering strategically with other content providers who can bring the scale or audience needed, or even simply re-tweeting or linking back to relevant content as both a value-add for her audience and another means of increased visibility.
Myth No. 3: You have to produce content to be a content marketer
Audiences have increasingly turned to curated platforms as their go-to sources of news and entertainment: their filters for making sense of the world around them (Twitter has arguably replaced traditional media outlets as the "best" source of news online). Brands can now become these filters for audiences, leveraging the art of curation for brand engagement, and in fact some of the most active content marketers don't actually produce much content themselves, for at least two excellent reasons:
Brands shouldn't just seek to be publishers -- they should seek to wield the influence of publishers. At a time when 2 million blog posts are published every day, providing a clear destination where the daily noise has been filtered to reveal stories of interest is one way to do that. Recently, forward-thinking brands like Intel (iQ) have become those destinations, giving audiences a reason to come back for more in favor of one-off interactions. Curating content in this manner says as much about your brand as owned or earned media does. Leveraging the equity of other content sources and inspiring a reason to return to your domain are two ways a brand can pull audiences into orbit and influence them to stay there.
If nothing else, curation is a scalable, cost-effective way to test content on your audience. Eschewing the pain and expense of creating content that doesn't work, curating from other sources, and tracking engagement can then inform the rest of your content strategy -- that goes not only for which categories resonate but which formats resonate as well. Is your audience drawn to videos over articles? Interviews over how-tos? Tools like Scribit, NewsCred, and OpenTopic can help answer these questions as you plot your owned content strategy.
Curation can, of course, take on different meanings in different channels. Crowdsourcing, re-tweeting, and re-blogging are social forms of curation. Leveraging guest bloggers or other professional networks of content producers like Contently is another manifestation. It's a balancing act where the more content that is available, the better.
Myth No. 4: Content marketing is for big B2C brands
While content marketing is often erroneously associated with B2C brands, plenty of B2B marketers are finding success in this realm. In fact, according to a recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 44 percent of B2B brands already have a content marketing strategy in place. B2B content marketing allows brands to create awareness, develop leads, and convert prospects.
A great example of this is Xerox's recent "Get Optimistic" campaign, in which the company partnered with Forbes to publish a business strategy magazine called "Chief Optimist." The magazine, which contains a mixture of intriguing feature articles and original, brand-oriented content drove more than 300 percent more readership over previous email campaigns and $1.3 billion in pipeline revenue. That's right -- $1.3 billion.
Myth No. 5: Content marketing has no ROI
Don't tell non-profits that Change.org and charity: water are two organizations crafting compelling, often multimedia content experiences designed to inspire action. Both have seen success drawing audiences to the content with effective headlines, and by providing clearly delineated opportunities for audiences to convert to donors, oftentimes in the same page view.
On the B2C front, personal assistant app Springpad demonstrates an effective strategy for driving app downloads and influencing how much the app is then used. Of the many challenges facing mobile marketers, two of them are standing out from the more than 800,000 apps in the market, and being used more than once. By promoting the content created with the app (called "Notebooks"), Springpad is able to show off the app's dynamic functionality and how it can be used to assist daily life. To close the loop, Springpad embeds a link to its iTunes page within the content experience, a clever way of solving limited discovery options that plague the app ecosystem.
Targeting your goals with the right content and distribution strategy is a valuable skill: one that sets up campaigns for success rather than disappointment. Engagement may be a "soft" metric, but without it, conversions and increased sales will remain remote outcomes. Tracking indicators like bounce rates, time spent, and page views per session are the first signals that your content is resonating with audiences at all.
As content marketing evolves, a brand is in the great position to lead its respective categories and the industry as a whole with innovative strategies and applications of its content. It starts with moving beyond what you think you know about content and how audiences interact with it, as well as taking risks to distinguish your brand from an increasingly crowded field.
Tom Foran is the CRO at Outbrain.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.