Digital channels, social media networks, mobile platforms and apps have dramatically transformed the media landscape.
Brands are struggling to connect with their audience using traditional marketing techniques. As consumers, we are bombarded with thousands of promotional messages each day. And yet we continue to expect brands and publishers to engage with us directly.
In order to save marketing, brands need to begin to think and act like publishers, putting promotional messages and interruption techniques aside and seek to connect with their audience through stories they love.
Few brands have been successful with content marketing. Many lack the cultural courage to reject the business intuition to talk about oneself – to promote the brand on banners, billboards and baseball stadiums.
As one senior marketer recently told me, “the business [executives] asks for things you know won’t work. But in order to gain their trust you have to give them what they asked for. And then take the trust you’ve built and try to educate them on what will work.”
The Content Marketing Institute reported that 90 percent of businesses are using content marketing and still less than half have a strategy defined for their content. And while a majority of businesses (73 percent according to CMI) have now put someone in charge of content marketing, most have no authority to manage content like a strategic asset. Instead they are handed a small amount of money and tasked with building an entire content marketing campaign.
For many companies, content marketing is still a tactical solution to a tactical problem.
Need a thought leadership website? That’s content marketing. Someone wants an interactive e-book? That’s content marketing. Want a viral video? Of course you do. That’s content marketing. How about a native ad? That’s content marketing, too.
The challenge goes well beyond cultural shifts that need time and attrition to resolve. Brands today lack the people, process and technology to produce great content at scale.
It is not enough to create great content. It is not enough to publish great content. Content needs to become the fuel that lights the fire of regular and consistent conversation with your customers of tomorrow. And that requires scale – the ability to reach escape velocity.
Content needs to become institutionalized within the strategic marketing budget process.
Are Banner Ads Still Important?
“Banners are dead. Can we please kill the banner?”
This is a statement I overheard at a recent conference on content marketing. “Every dollar spent on banner advertising is wasted,” the attendee continued.
And while consumers overwhelmingly reject banners (and millennials have been shown to completely ignore them) digital banner ad sales were up last year by more than 10%.
Why are brands throwing good money after a marketing technique that is so bad?
I think part of the answer lies in the shift still taking place from print to digital. As brands shift their dollars to online, social and mobile platforms, banners are the easy tactic. Creative agencies can design and produce them at scale and programmatic platforms and media buyers can easily insert them, so we are seeing a race to the bottom where the inventory is getting sold at lower and lower prices. Publishers are seeing lower revenues, brands are seeing less effectiveness and consumers just keep getting pissed off.
So while the shift from print to digital might be causing this short term bump in banner ad revenues, the real shift is happening from paid to earned to owned.
Brands are using their paid media budgets to test new forms of advertising with social platforms, sponsored content, and native ads. More recently, brands like Unilever and GE have even begun shifting their spend further into “owned” media.
And for this, they have a short-term tactical problem: content.
Integrated Digital Media
Today’s consumer is active on the web, in social media, via their mobile devices. And when they want to interact with a brand, they expect to see that brand on the channels they use.
Advertising across all the possible consumer touch points is simply not viable or sustainable for any brand, so businesses need to earn their way onto platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and more. And then they need to find a way to bring them back into the brand experience. Consumers have to want to go there.
Leading brands are looking to “shout louder than they spend” as GE’s Beth Comstock has explained in their move to an integrated digital approach. Integrated digital marketing maximizes the effect of digital spend by focusing on quality content (owned) that gets amplified through social (earned) and some (paid) promotion.
To be effective, brands cannot rely on one platform, technique or approach. Creating content at this kind of scale requires investment, strategy and people – all working together on common platforms with defined processes.
What are the key factors for content marketing success?
In order to be effective with content marketing, brands need to understand the criteria for success. When these are not in place, it increases the risk of the program failing.
- Clear, measurable and attainable objectives
- A well-defined target audience
- An internal program owner accountable for success
- Understanding of the current and desired customer journey (and the gap between the two, if one exists)
- Ability to scale quality content to meet audience needs at each stage of the buyer’s journey
- Full editorial control
- Openness and flexibility to shift methods based on KPIs and reporting insights
- Open, consistent communication between the program owner, internal stakeholders and external partners on milestones, expectations, progress, issues and gaps
- Resources for analysis and testing new ideas
Just Give It To Them
At some point, this comes down to the simple idea of just giving your customers what they want.
The content marketing opportunity is so clear to me that I bet my career on it. I know many brands are struggling to realize the potential of content marketing and brand publishing.
But with a little courage to make the right changes in budget, people and strategy, along with an understanding of the key success factors and risks to content marketing success, I know we will make it. And it will be fun.
Helping to create marketing that people might actually love? I’m in.