Stop predicting the death of content marketing

PR is Dead

Makes for a sexy headline, right?

Communications pros can be quick to declare the death of fields and approaches.

With the rise of digital media, marketing and PR were declared ‘dead’ on more than one occasion. Over the last decade, new technologies and communication processes have forced us to let go of traditional strategies and tactics in favor of increasingly interactive, customer-focused communication. As such, our efforts have evolved substantially, but the fields of marketing and PR remain intact.

Content marketing has emerged as an effective way to connect with our stakeholders using relevant and valuable content to drive traffic and sales. PR and marketing training sites have been abuzz identifying the best content marketing strategies, and organizations have created new positions or hired external consultants to address the growing need for good content

And yet, people are already starting to predict the demise of content marketing. That didn’t take long.

Here are a few reasons why content marketing is here for the long haul:

Content marketing has actually been around for ages. It may not have had a label, but people have been using content to elicit a call to action for years. Recently, we’ve had to step up our game to make it more interesting, funny, surprising or solution-oriented. This is largely due to the fact that audiences are inundated with so many messages – there is a greater need for content to stand out.

Good storytelling will always be important. People are always looking for good stories, funny photographs, interesting videos, etc. Whether you are a fashion company, a tech firm or a local business, your stories can make you more relatable to your followers.

Content is at the heart of social media. Your social media engine won’t run without good content. It gives your audience something to talk about and share with their networks.

The end objectives remain the same. In the end, you want people to feel connected to your brand or organization in a way that will stimulate them to choose you and share their positive experience with other people.

It’s audience-focused. If done right, content marketing is centered around your audience. They will always need information to make decisions, whether it’s buying a car, deciding where to go for dinner or choosing a charity to volunteer for. Engaging content that is focused on the needs and preferences of your target audience will help your brand thrive.

Content marketing is not a medium. VHS may no longer be around, but people still want to watch movies. You may not get the newspaper delivered to your door, but you are still check out the daily news on your smartphone. Technologies may disappear, but audiences’ thirst for stimulating information about products and services will not.

Evolution is natural. I think we need to stop predicting the ‘death’ of fields and processes. They are not extinct, just continuously evolving and taking on taking on different forms which may require new strategies and skill sets. This may be a less dramatic way of looking at things that makes for less sexy headlines, but it’s more realistic.

Content marketing is here to stay. So let’s keep doing our research, learning about our audiences, and re-inventing ourselves with the new technologies, tools and tactics that become available to us.

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Making the Case for Brand Journalism

The majority of PR and marketing pros are buzzing about brand journalism. Last week I attended a workshop hosted by

Making the case for-Brand-JournalismRagan Communications’ Mark Ragan (@MarkRaganCEO) and Jim Ylisela (@jpyjr) on The Company as Media – Your role in the age of Brand Journalism & Content Curation.

Here are just some of the insights from this workshop that can help us make the case for brand journalism in our organizations.

(1) A catalyst for integration. PR and marketing teams may have “beef” with brand journalism, because both functions think they should own it. Turning your site into a storytelling vehicle that provides content your customers actually want to read and share can have an impact on conversion. Why not use this as an opportunity for PR and marketing to collaborate more closely?

(2) Taking a balanced approach yields results. You are NOT talking about yourself; you are essentially becoming a trade publisher. Tell stories about your organization’s people and its area of expertise and pair this with content curation about the industry. Content marketing efforts should not be propaganda. Many companies hire journalists to act as internal reporters and take a more ‘unbiased’ stance and tone.

(3) Why write a news release when you could write a story? So many organizations are still tied to the news release. Some that have storytelling vehicles on their websites duplicate their efforts by using both. There is no need to do this with brand journalism. You can publish a story that resembles what a journalist would write on your site and then send a targeted pitch to your media contacts.

(4) Great content + engagement = success. Nowadays we have to make sure to get people to our site, but we also need to get our site “out there” (i.e. on social media platforms, via email, etc.) If you provide your customers with content that they find useful and interesting they will actually take the time to read it, and even comment on it or share it. By becoming a go-to source of trustworthy information you also drive them through the conversion funnel.

(5) Stories with impact. Your content should make your audience’s life better. It should be relevant, useful, entertaining, consistent, transparent, and targeted towards their needs.  It should practice what Mark Ragan refers to as ‘refrigerator journalism’ – so good that you want to post it on your fridge. Therefore, it should be free of jargon and corporate speak. Keep it crisp, brief and to the point – just like what you might see in your favourite magazine.

(6) The best way to showcase your expertise. Your organization’s brand journalism site is a vehicle to share the range of expertise you have that surrounds your brand. Mark and Jim use the example of Export Development Canada’s online magazine Export Wise that provides advice for Canadian exporters. The content looks like what you might see in The Economist. A brand journalism site can also be useful to your salesforce, as it allows them to easily share stories with clients or prospects.

(7) Creates brand ambassadors. Involve your employees in your brand journalism stories – they will be your best brand ambassadors. They have great stories to tell about your organization at the operational level. Content marketing begins from the inside: engage your employees and encourage them to share.

(8) Takes a strategic approach. Effective brand journalism begins with your strategy. Take a look at your objectives, resources, key messages. What are you trying to achieve? Start with a communications audit to take stock of what you are currently doing to connect with your stakeholders and how content marketing fits in. Build a content strategy, a news desk and an editorial process. Decide on which tools to use for your main site and social media. Determine how you will measure success on your brand journalism site and trace how it leads to conversion (leads, sales, relationships, etc.).

(9) Closes the gap between media sites and corporate websites. Your site doesn’t have to be dull, transactional and text-heavy. By turning it into media site, you can still provide the information and services that your audiences need, but keep them interested along the way. This means changing how we write stories and how we share on social to ensure that they are audience-centric, must-click pieces. Turn your press releases into features, convert expert evergreen interviews into blog posts and pull good stories from research and whitepapers.

Creating a good content marketing strategy and building a vehicle to carry it through is a lot of work. It requires rethinking the way organizations have done things for years and taking on a less me-centric approach to communicating your content. The workshop I attended really highlighted how brand journalism focuses less on corporate priorities and more on the audience. Often understanding that focus on the latter will benefit the former is half the battle.

Alternatives to the traditional article

It’s no secret that audiences are increasingly consuming concise, media-rich content. This tendency toward shorter bits of information means we must work harder to make our branded content more interesting. 

With the array of tools, formats, and applications available, content marketers are looking beyond the traditional article and using creative ways to tell their stories. These variations can highlight different aspects of our content and make it more intriguing and easier to repackage it for sharing across multiple channels. 

If you haven’t already started rethinking the old-school article and blog post, here are a few formats you can use to diversify the content on your website:

  • Lists. I love lists. They are easy to scan, useful, and to the point. I’m pretty sure almost any organization can use lists to deliver their content in one way or another.
  • How-to pieces. People often venture to your website to solve a problem. How-to pieces that show customers what they need step by step can efficiently meet their needs.
  • Q&A pieces. A timely Q&A with a third-party expert can add credibility to your company website and mix things up format-wise.
  • Infographics. Infographics are a great way to show stats and visually convey material that might otherwise be boring. They are also a convenient format to display a lot of info in one place.
  • Videos. Studies showthat customers are drawn to video because it transmits rich information and emotion. Short segments can liven up your page and add a human element to your content.
  • Photo and caption. Instagram. Need I say more? A photo with a caption (or hashtag) is a great way to quickly share something cool about your organization and its people. You can make it more interactive by inviting your audiences to share theirs.
  • Opinion/contributor pieces. Customers increasingly like engaging with the brands and organizations they love. Invite customers and/or third-party experts to submit pieces related to your brand. It’s a great way to get them involved and collect interesting content.
  • Storify. Including a Storify feed in your articles enables you to collect insights and quotes from your social media connections. It can showcase the social “pulse” of an event or topic that surrounds your organization.

There are lots of creative ways to convey what your organization is doing. The important thing is to consistently feed your audience’s desire for unique content and find innovative ways to tell your story. 

This post first appeared on PR Daily: http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/16436.aspx

5 reasons why Content Marketing is not a fad

Content marketing, also known as brand journalism is an emerging discipline that has exploded over the past few years thanks to digital and connective media.

Organizations like Coca-Cola, HSBC and Whole Foods are becoming publishers in their own right and engaging with their target audiences by creating and sharing rich content through their owned channels.

As with most trends, there is a tendency to question whether content marketing is a temporary PR craze or a genuine shift in what really drives customer interest.

Here are a few customer-focused reasons why content marketing is here to stay:

  1. People enjoy stories. It’s in our DNA – we want to hear interesting, funny and engaging stories about the brands and organizations we like. In fact, we often appreciate good stories even if we are not fans or users of a particular product or service. Content marketing favors storytelling. It allows brands to find interesting angles surrounding their offerings and share them with their target customers.
  2. There is too much noise.  Audiences are inundated with messages and sales pitches. Using a brand journalism approach is less aggressive. Instead of flooding customers with facts and figures about your brand, it gives you an outlet to share valuable or entertaining content that resembles what one might see in their favourite newspaper.
  3. Audiences want to engage and share. Content marketing has staying power because it is in line with the natural human tendency to learn, question and converse. If you create cool content for your customers, they’ll share it with their friends on social media and become broadcasting towers for your brand.
  4. Consumers associate positively with organizations that produce custom content. According to the Custom Content Council 61% of consumers feel better about, and are more likely to purchase from a company that delivers custom content. Also, 78% of consumers believe that organizations that produce such content are making an effort to build good relationships (source: TMG Custom Media).
  5. People want to make informed decisions. Content marketing can be used to showcase your product or service by providing customers with useful information, stories and anecdotes related to it. Sharing links, videos, best practices, third-party recommendations and curated content about your brand provides customers with the juice they need to make an informed decision.

Bottom line: content marketing is not going anywhere. As long as organizations continue to listen to and engage with their audiences, evaluate their content strategy and adjust accordingly, this is one trend that will stick around for the long haul.

A version of this article also appeared on PR Daily.

Brand Journalism: Is Porter the New Vogue?

The new Porter magazine ‘powered’ by luxury retailer Net-a-Porter takes fashion content marketing to a whole new level. Launched only a few weeks ago during New York fashion week, the high-end publication is already being touted as serious competition for fashion bible, Vogue. The retailer’s move to produce such a vehicle underscores the central role content is taking in its e-commerce machine.

A glossy print-first magazine, Porter has all the bells and whistles of a traditional fashion catalogue, only the styles showcased across its pages are shoppable on Net-a-Porter.com, and even on third party websites. The magazine’s online version makes it simple to point and click to purchase featured products.

Make no mistake – Porter is not a shopping catalogue, but a true content marketing vehicle. With over 65% editorial content, the 284 page publication avoids the hard-sell, using a barely there reminder at the bottom of each page to invite readers to “Shop Porter with the Net-a-Porter app”. The free app can also be used to scan any page of the mag, but any other calls-to-action are ever so subtle.

Why would Net-a-Porter decide to go with a print version?  Well, because research shows that women actually like to leaf through traditional magazines, even as they make their purchases online. The content in the first issue stays true to its theme, “A celebration of incredible women” and includes articles on everything from fashion and style, to health and travel. Its pages are lined with lavish advertisements, beautiful photography and rich content, and the cover story is an intimate look at the world of supermodel, Gisele Bündchen.

It doesn’t end there. Porter further establishes itself as a brand publisher by showcasing views by designers Manolo Blahnik and Victoria Beckham, a piece on whether mystery still exists in a world where social media prevails, and a story on photojournalist Lynsey Addario, who was kidnapped in Lybia in 2011.

Net-a-Porter is creating this type of content to engage its core audience – “women on the move”.

“We are also a media group. And we love print,” said Natalie Massenet, Net-a-Porter Group Founder in Tweet on the company’s Twitter page. Her proclamation supports the trend of brands as publishers, and the Group’s move to produce such a vehicle emphasizes the importance of reaching customers through rich content that speaks to them and gives them the opportunity to engage across multiple platforms.

It will be interesting to see the impact Porter will have on customer engagement and sales. Dubbed as the first truly global fashion title, the magazine will be published six times per year, with print runs of 400,000 copies and distribution in 60 countries. If subsequent issues match the first one, Porter will definitely prove to be a worthy rival for established fashion titles.