OPINION: Rethinking the entire marketing strategy with content

Rory Heffernan
By Rory Heffernan | 21 January 2013

It’s unlikely that you made it through 2012 without hearing the term.  It seemed to come out of nowhere, hailed as the one true way to define the voice and purpose of your business, attract new customers and expand brand reach. Wading through the varying definitions, the heart of content marketing is providing ad-free content that defines your brand’s voice and entertains or informs your audience in one way or another.

Content allows you to connect with consumers in a way that traditional marketing has not encouraged before. Genuinely interesting content has the potential to help people, be it by entertaining them, informing or educating them. Brand recognition and lead generation are naturally earned rewards for the effort, but if done well it should be your content that you are known for. In essence, buying into the world of content marketing means more than a few blog posts; it can mean a rethink of the entire marketing strategy.

What made many sit up and pay attention to the buzz-term was Coca-Cola unveiling their ‘Content 2020’ strategy, a pledge to move away from traditional advertising and focus on ‘collaborative storytelling’ and ‘liquid content’ (that is, shareable content) in order to better engage with consumer needs and in doing so, gain a “disproportionate share of popular culture”.  With this global giant stacking its chips on content marketing in such a public way, the concept became harder to dismiss.

However, Joe Pulizzi of The Content Marketing Institute, which has quickly positioned itself as the thought leader in the international content marketing field, readily admits that content marketing is nothing new. Pointing to John Deere’s magazine which has achieved a circulation of 1.5 million across 400 countries since its first issue in 1895, he argues that Coke is the latest in a long history of brands sharing stories and information with the public in order to expand business prospects.

In fact, it’s likely that many businesses are already engaging in some form of content marketing, whether they realise it or not. Red Bull established Red Bull Media House in Austria in 2007 and has been producing feature films, documentaries, music and magazines, all contributing to the brand’s almost omnipotent presence in youth and sports culture. American Express established Open Forum, an “an online community to exchange insights, get advice from experts, and build connections to help you power your small business success”. To date, the site has over 325,000 followers on Facebook and almost 200,000 on Twitter, achieved through sharing truly useful and informative resources across a range of different media.

The re-emergence of brand content as a respected marketing method over the past couple of years, and the reason that ‘content marketing’ may have been the most overused word of 2012 is a converging digital landscape. Where channels like search and social have been treated as different animals and often handled by separate departments or agencies, rich content emerges as the glue that now bands these channels together and can fuel success in the digital space.

Google has publicly stressed the importance of quality web content to high rankings, including much-publicised algorithm updates in Panda and Penguin. These changes have led to the penalising of  ‘low quality’ content and the promotion of sites that produce popular and varied ‘rich content’. Search results have also become more and more customised based on social shares and user history, with Google prioritising the type of content that individual users prefer to view and share.

At the same time, similar content can successfully fuel a brand’s social strategy, attracting and engaging new users. Generating content that will be shared outside your circle of influence is a must for any brand seeking to establish a successful presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other network. In social media, transparency and personality are crucial. New brands wishing to use social media as an acquisition channel are increasingly looking to content in order to establish themselves as an authority in their field.

In response to the growing attention and demand, content marketing services have begun to pop up in the domestic market, mostly offering copywriting and blog services. Everybody is focusing on written content and there seems to be a focus right now on frequency over quality. Storytelling still needs to be interesting.  Content should be a weave of written, video and social in order to have impact. We still need strong ideas and sharp creative.  It's a mistake to pick one medium in this space.

For that reason, strategy seems key to any content marketing plan. Not every medium (or topic) is going to be relevant for every brand. Defining the message and reason for your content is important in producing pieces that will capture attention and establish authenticity. In an industry where terms like ‘going viral’ can inform marketing decisions, content marketing appears as a much more valid method of finding a brand’s voice and genuinely meeting consumer needs.

Rory Heffernan
Content Manager
3 Twins

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