Consumerism complexity has reached a point of critical mass. Brands are struggling to cope with the changing world of media, segmentation, and marketing, just as publishers are struggling with Google's tight grip on their visibility and the decentralization of their content production teams.
Marketers have re-engineered the very meaning of customer attraction, creating buzzwords including content marketing, inbound marketing, and discovery marketing.
Marketing speak aside, the approach is the same:
- Segment your audience.
- Find out where they live and interact online.
- Serve custom content to each group via owned, earned, and paid media.
- Maintain a digital relationship with them until they buy.
- Remarket to them afterward, and convert them into a brand advocate.
The message is simple, yet the execution is challenging. Brands get it, but we’re still seeing a shotgun approach, riddled with low-quality content and a voice that screams, “Look at me, I’m special!”
Meanwhile in Googleland, Google+ has created a social bridge for Google’s products and services. More than just another social networking site, Google+ helps content producers take ownership of their public works—referred to by Google as a “digital signature.” Google+ coupled with Google Authorship signal the coming of a new era. Amit Singhal, Google's senior vice president in charge of organic search, repeatedly states that, “Google is moving from strings to things.” In his 2013 book “The New Digital Age," Google chairman Eric Schmidt says that “within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification.”
And now this year, we see Google's in-depth articles feature taking up more and more search real estate. It’s pretty obvious: Google wants to serve the right content to the right people at the right time—but, also, from the right voice.
Unfortunately, many brands are still failing to leverage or understand the value of the voice behind the content they produce and distribute. As my friend, entrepreneur Adam Toren, recently said, “Content producers are the new rock stars.” Think about names like Seth Godin, Brian Solis, and Guy Kawasaki. These people have achieved superstar status online not just because they are entrepreneurs, but also because they are revolutionary in the way they create content.
Our friends Danny Sullivan, Rand Fishkin, Joe Pulizzi, and Ann Handley share the same rock-star status in their respective categories. And, not to get too technical, if you review Google’s updated AgentRank patent from 2011, they explicitly discuss not only rewarding the identity behind content, but also basing those rewards on the category expertise of the producer.
Authorship isn’t the only contender for Google trust signals’ share of voice. During the past few years, search engine marketing professionals have rampantly speculated on what Google’s next trust signals will include. Social media is often referenced as being a trust signal in Google’s rankings. However, only Google+ gets face time in search results. If someone in your circles shares a post, chances are high that you’ll see that social share in a search result.
Contrary to popular belief, pages that are shared heavily in social media (specifically Twitter and Facebook) do not result in the increased rankings of the pages. Earlier this year Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed they do not use Facebook or Twitter signals to rank pages; however, in the same video, Cutts mentioned that they are interested in understanding more about “identities” long term, which brings us back to content authorship.
If Singhal, Schmidt, and Cutts are to be believed, then brands should consider adding expert voices behind their content--notably their community, resource, and blog content. As brands become publishers, they must align themselves with subject-matter experts because, not only is Google rewarding trusted content producers with authorship snippets in search and potentially better rankings in the very near future, but consumers also trust and follow these experts, both in the publications they read and on social media. Authoritative content producers are the new rock stars.
Welcome to the new content economy. Go forth and create your brand groupies.