We now live in never-ending streams of new and interesting content. On our mobile devices, on our televisions, in our car, at work and even in the stores where we shop, there are connected and interactive screens filled with unremitting media.
And as a result of these dramatic consumer shifts, marketers are, once again, scrambling to solve their “content marketing problem”. This isn’t new, yet it feels like each marketing discipline is on an island and are building their plans from scratch.
The core challenge is that consumers hop across channels and devices constantly and as a result the purchase journey is non-linear and influenced by many factors in many different contexts. For marketers who have traditionally built channel-specific campaigns and expertise – media buyers, social media managers, email marketers, etc – transitioning to a customer-centric approach requires more than a great agency pitch and some viral videos. Our opportunity is to develop content strategies by audience segment. Then develop distribution, engagement and conversion strategies across channels and devices. Instead of the same email to all customers in the database, this looks like a banner, an email, a social post and even the website all promoting the same offer to each person in the cohort. While it’s still early days, the technology to do this well, and attribute success to drive performance optimization is emerging.
I believe that modern marketing requires these foundational components to succeed:
- Robust first party and third party data to drive action systems
- Enough media dollars
- Reach and landing page optimization technology
- Diverse and efficient content creation
- Constant consumer and market inputs
These are the foundations on which creative and strategic expertise are applied.
We once had channels where content types were segregated and where advertisers had clear formats and tactics that worked. For a long time content was solely created by journalists, musicians, filmmakers and television producers. All of which were supported by (occasionally) great advertising content. Teams of copywriters, designers and planners flourished in this environment and advertising agencies were happy and rich.
But as with all facets of our lives, digital has transformed this dominant paradigm. Hastened by blogging – the start of “social media” – digital has continually forced consumers and brands to rethink what constitutes content, who creates it, how it’s distributed and, most importantly, how it drives brand and business outcomes.
Despite the scale and speed of change, if you take a purposeful pause, you’ll see many content creation and distribution experts all around you. You just need to reframe the challenge. Your challenge isn’t – how do I create enough good content to post to Facebook and Twitter every day and drive enough likes, comments and shares. That’s a channel specific approach and it’s not working very well. Your challenge is, how do you reach and convert your key buyers?
A customer-centric approach enables us to organize our most important attributes and behaviors into key segments and then reach key audiences with consistent messages across channels. Data Management Platforms (DMPs) and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, are enabling the integration of first and third party data to reach the right people wherever they discover and engage. Running truly customer segment-driven campaigns across display, search, email and social has never been more possible.
Traditionally, marketers have looked to their ad agencies to develop their content. This was primarily short form video for broadcast and it was incredibly expensive to create. They tended to be brand-focused, aspirational or feature and benefit driven. Thirty second spots have been used in digital for a long time, mostly as pre and post roll video or in rich media units but they just aren’t built for the digital context. There’s still something off about seeing a TV commercial in your newsfeed. Ad agencies, who are built on creative and the big idea model, have had some success with viral video but their existing structures are still too expensive and time consuming to meet the always-on, always fresh expectations of social mobile consumers. Ad agencies have developed amazing copywriters but few are well-versed in the diversity of form and more journalistic formats that have gained traction online. Why didn’t the top ad agencies create BuzzFeed? I know they’re not publishers but the idea of branded snackable and sharable content was so obvious.
Marketers must push their best creative agencies to create collections of digital videos specifically developed to compel social and mobile consumers to share, engage and dive deeper.
Social media with it’s real time nature and “influence the influencers” virality has ushered-in the next golden age of PR. PR agencies have deep roots in content creation, albeit specialized around print and digital publishing, events and crisis/reputation management. Arguably, seasoned PR and comms folks have the deepest understanding of the traditional content publishing model – outside of journalists and publishers – and a keen understanding of how to capitalize on and influence trends and news cycles. Marketers should look to both PR professionals and even journalists – hire one, you won’t regret it – for key parts of their content strategy. As you map content to buyers and the buying cycle, push your best PR resources to be on top on consumer and market news and shifts and task them with quick hit, targeted content projects like YouTube response video and real time event infographics.
As you move down the funnel deeper product information become important. Inside most companies are people who are product experts and who straddle the consumer and development worlds. These people, if you can convince them to help you make content, are gold. Sometimes they are merchandisers who understand what products sell best and where, and what products the market wants next season. Sometimes they are thought leaders in your industry who know the history, the production process and where it’s all headed. Regardless, they tend to have deep knowledge of features and benefits, appealing to loyalists and nerds – every brand has nerds – and when partnered with the right marketers that can translate and get creative, can create a fantastic pipeline of compelling content to be used in lower funnel activations.
Find and build relationships with the smartest product people in your organization. Compel them to help you create a factory tour video or a “Definitive Guide” to something.
Finally, there is the vast promised land of user-generated content (UGC). Whether you’re promoting a hashtag or working with a company like Postano to develop and distribute social content around your brand, there is user-generated content relevant to your brand and customers just waiting for you to aggregate and promote. But unlike the first party content we’ve discussed earlier, third party content is particularly unwieldy and challenging to curate, manage and use to drive sustained brand and business outcomes.
Look to UGC at events, in on-premise connected screens, and even internally to inspire and motive teams and executives.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the diverse content creation resources available to you. Nor have we spent enough time on how to develop content that converts and moves key customers through their buying journey. But I hope this provoked and compelled. I hope this gets you thinking about making the shift to a more customer-focused approach to content and to thinking more broadly about sourcing the content you need.
With the proliferation of digital channels, connected screens and new devices, channel-specific marketing has quickly become outdated. Focus instead on building strength in the foundational pillars and then task your agencies and experts with compelling key buyers to take the next step, wherever you reach them.
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