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Insight/ Branding & Communications

Story Time: The Rise Of Content Marketing


by Anoop Sahgal
Partner Marketing
Adobe Systems

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Despite the recent buzz, content marketing is not new. In fact, the practice--sometimes called corporate storytelling--has been around for almost a century. One of the earliest instances many experts cite is John Deere’sThe Furrow magazine, first published in 1895 and still going strong. It is published not to sell John Deere equipment, but to educate farmers about new technology and methods for becoming more successful business owners.

Fast-forward half a century: LEGO began content marketing in the 1980s and 1990s. With the advent of the Internet, the company fought off competing construction-oriented toys through dedicated microsites with plot and character explanations, online games, movies, polls and quizzes, and retail links.

Then there’s Coca-Cola, which recently launched Content 2020, a strategy designed to double the company’s business. Content 2020 involves taking a collaborative company/consumer approach to storytelling and content creation that is intended to move the company “from creative excellence to content excellence.” Some of Coca-Cola’s chief goals include provoking conversations, earning a disproportionate share of the popular culture, making the world a better place, and developing value and significance in people’s lives.

Content Marketing: Effective Across B2C And B2B
Indeed, content marketing as a core marketing discipline has long played a key role in advertising campaigns; when advertising piques interest, buyers typically want more information. Without the critical information needed to help make decisions, buyers may end up going elsewhere or relying on someone else for their informational needs. 

Content marketing involves creating and curating unique, relevant, and compelling materials that position a company as a genuine industry expert or brand deserving of loyalty. A company’s content can take many forms, including advertorials, white papers, email newsletters, blogs, webinars, Web content, and videos. It can be created by the company, its users, or even by competitors. The overall goal is to attract and retain customers and help ensure that they will not only purchase more products and services, but also become brand evangelists.

Content marketing strategies work well in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) realms. For example, a juicing appliance manufactured by Breville was featured in Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, a documentary film that tells personal stories about weight loss by consuming only vegetable and fruit juices. According to Pawan Deshpande, CEO of HiveFire, Breville was able to achieve juicer sales volumes typical of the peak holiday season during traditionally slower summer months—all driven by content.

B2B corporations are succeeding with the strategy and, in many ways, are well ahead of typical B2C approaches. This is particularly true during the awareness phase when potential customers are researching a product, category, or topic. B2B—traditionally characterized by longer sales cycles and higher price points—is fertile ground. Some of the most effective types of content for B2B companies include white papers, data sheets, and e-books that may be more technical or intellectual. Upon experiencing initial success with content marketing strategies, many B2B companies have hired journalists or experienced columnists with domain knowledge to help them increase the appetite for and influence of their corporate storytelling initiatives.

Next Page: Content-marketing challenges and five ways CMOs can overcome them.

But regardless of a company’s focus and audience, chief marketers need to keep in mind that content marketing is not a campaign-oriented activity. According to Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, one of the biggest challenges for chief marketers and the entire C-suite is the tendency to have unrealistic expectations for garnering returns over a three- to six-month period. “For many marketers and their C-level peers, a short-term campaign mentality still dominates,” Pulizzi says. “Content initiatives must be viewed as a long-term strategy for attracting and retaining customers and fueling the brand.”

Another mental and organizational hurdle is the need to take a journalistic approach and cover all aspects of a story. This includes delving into broader topics, and it even may require curating content and views from competitors. In content marketing, the practice of including dissenting opinions and perspectives is essential to engender loyalty and trust. “Your competitors and their opinions are only a Google search away, so the objective is to bring differing perspectives into the fold and talk about them transparently," Deshpande says. Don’t be afraid to curate content from your competitors. It is a leap of faith worth taking, but—make no mistake—we all know it can be unnerving.”

Five Ways To Tell A Story
With the emerging trend toward content marketing, there are several ways to start thinking and acting like a storyteller to make the most of this powerful new marketing force.

1. Publish original, fresh content that resonates with audiences.
Research what your competitors are writing. Find the right topics. Then curate the content to make it more compelling, search-optimized, relevant, and open-minded. In this type of marketing, know that your first line of competitors probably is not the product or service providers you may consider your day-to-day rivals in the sales arena, but instead the publishers generating blogs, tweeting, publishing surveys, and so on, all producing original content on your target topic.

2. Educate your organization and the C-suite that this is not a typical demand-creation activity.
Content marketing works best at the widest part of the sales funnel, during the awareness phase. The results may not be apparent for some time. Be sure to measure as you go—clicks, downloads, views, likes, and so on—to determine which content garners the most response and resonates with existing and potential customers. In content marketing, data is your friend. With it, you can know more about how customers are reacting. Leverage insights provided by data and use it as the soil in which to grow your corporation’s ideas.

3. Cultivate the required skills within your organization.
Brands need to become more nimble and agile, aligning their skill sets to the new content marketing trend, so bring in the right talent. With the right team, content marketing often can be deployed faster than the traditional, single-channel campaign approach.

4. Look toward a new marketing model and choose agencies that can serve you.
Many agencies produce stunning creative, yet they have not honed the art of storytelling. Content marketing agencies are a growing resource, and they specialize in telling stories across multiple channels, including the Web and social media. These agencies are helping to span the resource gap between campaign-based thinking and long-form storytelling and content creation.

5. Think and act like a newsroom.
Content marketing does not fit neatly within one department. Your job as a chief marketer is to bridge and leverage content marketing across traditional marketing silos. Stories are everywhere, and they must be told across mediums and channels. Keep in mind that when you have a good story, it is vital to do your best to tell it across print, social, Web, mobile, earned media, and other channels—even if the content or the creative is not as perfectly fine-tuned as it might be for an advertising campaign. When dispersing content across multiple channels, be sure to create a unified, yet multifaceted, brand experience.

For many marketers, content marketing can be a new a challenge, but those experienced in the practice say it comes with many rewards. The content marketing phenomenon, while not new, has the potential to move marketers from insight to provocation and customer action.

About Anoop Sahgal

Anoop Sahgal leads global marketing programs for Adobe's key agency and system integrator alliances. Sahgal has global experience in leadership roles that span marketing, product management, and business development in high technology, and has spent time time working in both the SI and agency worlds. Follow Sahgal on Twitter: @anoop_sahgal.