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Some time between 2010 and 2011: “We should get a Twitter account!” bellows a CEO in a boardroom after reading the term repeatedly in a broadsheet newspaper over the weekend.
“Everyone’s on Twitter, our customers are on Twitter, we should get a Twitter account, and we should Twit at customers and tell them how great we are. We don’t want to be behind the curve on this one. Not like we were when we didn’t have a website until last year," continues the imaginary ruddy-faced executive as he pontificates to a room full of lap-dogs and sycophants.
"Also we should be on Facebook... Also do people still use MySpace?”
So the company immediately got a Twitter account, and a Facebook page and a [insert name of popular social media channel here] account and it pumped as many press releases, corporate slogans and nakedly brazen ‘buy-me’ marketing bilge down the channel as it possibly could, forgetting a number of key points.
- It’s a channel. Traffic can, and indeed should, move both ways.
- Nobody gives a damn what your company has to say.
- Your company will run out of things to say.
And they did.
The companies and organisations that saw social media as another broadcast channel, soon found themselves ignored, unfollowed and running out of steam. They saw little to no improvement in traffic driven to its website and saw little improvement in conversion or ROI.
However companies that saw social media as an engagement and sharing platform, saw a vast improvement in ROI, traffic and brand awareness.
So what did these companies share that others didn’t?
They created their own content.
‘Content marketing’ seems like a rather nebulous term, and not coming from a digital marketing background myself, it also seems like a term that doesn't really mean anything. It's thanks to CEO of Droplet and guest blogger here at Econsultancy, Steffan Aquarone who gave me an understanding of what it actually implies on our digital marketing training course last week.
The companies that do well on social media, and online in general, are the ones that produce content. The type of content that people want to share with one another.
Content should be one (or all) of three things: entertaining, interesting or useful. If the content isn’t any of the above, then the content has no value and we won’t stake our online reputation by sharing it. Your company might as well be pumping bilge down a pipeline and be thoroughly ignored for it.
What the heck is content then?
Videos, blog posts, how-to-guides, images, photography, infographics, podcasts... anything produced via any media that isn't a simple press release or mission statement, that is subsequently seeded around the internet and hopefully shared by the fans or followers of your brand.
Perhaps the best way to describe content marketing is by showing examples:
Yeo Valley ploughed its entire £5m TV ad budget into a single piece of content. 2010’s rural rappers advert.
This received 1.8m YouTube views (it’s currently at 2.5m), inspired more than 200 groups pushing for it to become Christmas number one, briefly became the number one iTunes download and became Twitter’s top trending topic worldwide.
Just a glance down the YouTube comments reveals a real affection for the video, and the comments rarely even mention the fact that it’s an advert. Apart from the gentlemen who said “Imma go get ma self some "Yeo valley!" - representing! :)”
Anyone who watched, enjoyed and shared this video (bearing in mind that 2.5m people have actively chosen to watch this outside of a traditional television broadcast) will now see the yogurt on the supermarket shelves and at the very least say to themselves, “I like that video Yeo Valley made.” They may even say “I like Yeo Valley” and purchase its yogurt.
Yeah, that’s right. We make content. You’re reading it right now.
The Econsultancy blog has a hardworking team of writers, creating fresh articles (or content) on a daily basis. This isn’t just a marketing exercise, we pour our creative little hearts into these posts.
I deliberated for ages on whether or not I could get away with putting an exclamation mark after “you’re reading it right now”. Ben Davies staked his entire reputation on his post about fax machines. We’re a team with integrity, chutzpah and a passion to make the internet a better place.
Of course the marketing payoffs are immense. As Chris Lake points out in his article asking whether or not our blog generates ROI, the investment in a team who are “capable of creating laser-guided content” and who produce plenty of it leads to the following:
- Better SEO: by targeting specific keywords we want to rank for and organically adding internal links to our posts that help to prop-up other pages on the site.
- Financial savings: we don’t need to spend money on paid search or the retention of a search agency.
- Brand awareness/perception: we use the blog to “soften the tone” of the Econsultancy site. Hey, we’re an approachable, friendly bunch. Come say hello.
- Higher revenue: our blog now exceeds 1m monthly page impressions, and we direct about 5% of our readers to product pages. We help increase conversion.
- Something to talk about: producing content means we have something to chat about and promote via our social media channels.
The erstwhile Australian lager brand has pushed content marketing to the next level by commissioning new episodes of much loved, and long dormant, television programmes.
In 2010, Alan Partridge made the following announcement:
My groundbreaking radio segment, Mid Morning Matters, will now be accessible to a potential audience of billions via the World Wide Web (www).
The further statement that:
It has taken Foster's to help realise my dream of joining the information superhighway is a damning indictment of established broadcasters.
This may ostensibly read as a joke, but probably says a lot more about the current state of traditional television commissioning then it lets on.
Six episodes were produced and distributed online, via YouTube and hosted on the Foster’s Funny website.
This arguably led to Steve Coogan rekindling an affection for the rather albatross-like character, and going on to produce further online episodes and this year’s feature film Alpha Papa.
As Alan would say himself: “I feel I have… had and are… bounced… bouncing back”.
In 2011 Foster’s brought back The Fast Show, with an almost full line-up of original cast members and most recently Vic and Bob have gone back to doing what they do best for the lager’s comedy channel.
This commissioning of content produced by UK comedy legends achieves many things:
It provides entertainment: first and foremost. It’s all quality stuff too, the Mid Morning Matters shows from Partridge are hilarious.
It’s online: therefore it’s very easy to share through any social means.
Positive brand perception: Foster’s doesn’t shoehorn it’s presence awkwardly into the content itself; there’s a brief logo at the beginning, and if you’re on the Foster’s website there’s obviously the branding around it. However, the shows themselves are free from advertorial. Viewers would definitely be turned off by more brazen attempts at promotion. What it does is create an affection for the brand in the consumer.
I no longer think of Foster’s as the mediocre lager that trades on offensive stereotypes for laughs, I now think of them as the company that gave some of my comedy heroes from the nineties a brand new outlet.
Artistic satisfaction: I would also argue that the other upshot from this is a certain amount of artistic freedom afforded to the individuals involved. Coogan and the rest of the Partridge team are hugely successful writers, directors and performers in their own right, same with most of The Fast Show and Vic & Bob. They don’t need to align themselves with a brand in order to gain any more exposure.
Maybe now though, with traditional channels possibly closed to them, it’s a chance for artists to get material out in the open, and on their own terms. I might be wrong about how much interference there is from the commissioning brand, but from what is evidenced in the videos themselves, the quality is high and consistent, and speaks of a satisfied production team.
As discussed in Monica Savut’s article Coca-Cola’s storytelling: three lessons on content marketing, the company has gone from being declared 'creatively bankrupt' by a chief exec in 2004 to being named creative marketer of the year at Cannes in 2013.
Coca-Cola initiated a goal to ‘kill the press release’, halving the number generated by the end of 2013, and eradicating them entirely by 2015. Instead Coca-Cola tries to create engaging content to deliver its messages.
How about quality control? Surely it would be difficult to get the balance between corporate message and entertaining, shareable content right? The company uses a checklist to determine if a piece of content is worthwhile.
- Does it answer the ‘why should I care test?’
- Does it surprise you?
- Does it have universal appeal?
- Does it generate interest?
As discussed in last week’s post 10 excellent video embedded landing pages, Coca-Cola’s homepage currently displays two opportunities to watch video content. One of them is an amusing and certainly off-the-wall piece of advertising.
The other is a seven-minute, high budget, short film produced by Ridley Scott.
Coca-Cola is covering all bases here. One video for the visitor that wants a quick chuckle, and one for the visitor who expects a lot more. The shorter video currently has 300,000 views on YouTube, whereas the longer narrative tale has 2m.
There’s much to learn from Coca-Cola’s content marketing strategy, so please read the original article for more info.
At the very least, content gives your company something to talk about. If you’re tired of firing off the same boring press release to whichever journalists will listen and parrot your dry copy to an audience of half-opened ears, then for goodness sake do something new and different.
It’s a crowded market out there, with more and more channels and voices adding to the noise everyday. It’s not enough to have a high-budget advert placed strategically on prime-time television, you need to provide something that an audience will actively engage with online through sharing. And that audience are only going to do that if your content is entertaining, engaging or useful.
For more information on content marketing, check out these 70+ content marketing best practice tips and six case studies that prove the power of content marketing.
Further reading for beginners
During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too.
The following related articles should help clear up a few things…