Product brochures. Newsletters. Fan clubs. Film strips. Advertorials. Annual reports. Direct mail.
Marketers have been creating content in all sorts of media in all kinds of channels since the beginning. But now that virtually every brand, manufacturer, service, and product you can think of is online (and likely runs its own Web site), content has blown wide open. Almost anyone involved in any type of online business can no longer hope to survive without a solid content strategy.
In other words, if you're a marketer, you're also a publisher. It's high time you realized it and began to leverage a myriad of digital content opportunities.
The High End, a.k.a. the Seinfeld School
Most readers are doubtless familiar with the high end of marketing/advertising content. I'm tempted to call it the Seinfeld School, given Jerry Seinfeld's involvement with the most conspicuous examples of this genre, from American Express' Seinfeld/Superman Webisodes of a few years back to the just-launched spots featuring Seinfeld and the somewhat less charismatic Bill Gates that purport to promote Microsoft (a wait-and-see goal if there ever was one).
Another standout, albeit Jerry-less, example of this are the long-running Mac/PC spots. Sure, some are televised, but far more appear on Apple's Web site, where they're avidly followed by fans.
Seinfeld is hardly Microsoft's first foray into episodic online advertising. Sync My Music, plugging Redmond's Sync, follows two girls on a cross-country road trip (one assumes Daddy's credit card is involved, what with gas prices and all). In pursuing a music career, they encounter real-world indie bands, clubs, and venues in cities across America.
Leverage Digital Assets
You needn't have a Hollywood-sized budget to create compelling advercontent. Spore, Electronic Arts' avidly awaited game that launched last week, features a fairly long animated film on its home page that explains the rather complicated game. No one had to put in the call to Creative Artists do pull this off -- the images are all pulled from actual game play.
OK, so sometimes you do have to make a small investment, say, in a digital video camera. Cast your marketing guy in the lead role, and you've got a campaign tantamount to Blendtec's breakout Will It Blend series of common objects being devoured by a powerful blender. Launched on YouTube, the series became popular enough to warrant its own Web site and even a product line; you can now buy the first 50 episodes of the series!
Launch a Magazine. Heck, Launch a Whole Network!
Why buy media when you can roll your own? That's how big brands are thinking. Unquestionably, the most ambitious (if not altogether successful) example of this school of thought is Budweiser's entertainment play, Bud.tv. It features a couple dozen shows, some of which stand alone, others of which contain Budweiser content or branding. No disclosure required, of course, as the whole thing lives on a Bud domain. Think of it as the online equivalent of a Disney or Warner Bros. theme park. You know the rides and merchandise are selling you something, but few people care about the church-and-state divide on branded territory.
A similar strategy is the rush of baby-related info online. Sure, brands like Johnson & Johnson can (and do) buy media and place ads on third-party Web sites. But that doesn't stop them from creating branded baby destinations. In Johnson & Johnson's case, it's Baby.com. Huggies runs Huggies Happy Baby. Both are full-blown content sites, almost indistinguishable from a parenting mag from a Hearst, an iVillage, or similar publishing pure play.
Running only slightly more modestly on a blog platform, American Express' Open Forum is a full-blown site for small-business owners. You'd hardly even notice the small banners touting the Gold Card amidst editorial, much of it bearing bylines from the likes of "Battelle" and "Kawasaki."
Not Just for the Mighty
And no, you don't have to be a major global brand to get in on this game. I'm impressed with a campaign my friend Sally Falkow created for a line of sports bras, in which they were put to the bounce test. The campaign is living on e-commerce sites, on YouTube, and in multiple media outlets as educational and informative content.
Or consider Woot.com, one of the fastest-growing e-commerce sites on the Web, almost wholly due to its creative-almost-to-a-fault use of content. This is a realm where no boilerplate manufacturer's description will do. Instead, on a daily basis, a product receives the full-on copy treatment. This week, a gizmo's product page began thusly:
And that was just for starters. Woot has hundreds of thousands of addicted devotees who are as interested in the trademark out-there creative content as the products they promote.
Strong, well thought-out and executed content strategies create rewards for marketers. They go viral. They attract community. They can blow out SEO (define) to epic proportions. Rather than a company's Web page showing up in organic results, content can generate page after page of relevant results.
Content addresses long purchase cycles and sales that require more education (think pharma or automotive). It creates PR opportunities, not just in bouncy-bra categories but also in the reams written about various Webisode campaigns of the past few years (not to mention one-offs like Dove's Real Beauty blockbuster).
Content goes local, as well as in a CGM (define) direction, on directories such as Angie's List, Citysearch, and Yelp and on e-commerce sites like Amazon. Breakout content goes mega viral. Coke-Mentos, anyone?
As an editor/marketer hybrid, I may have some bias here, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of a marketing problem that couldn't be tackled head-on with a solid content strategy.
Rebecca is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.
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Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.
March 19, 2014