The common consensus at NewsCred’s Content Marketing Summit on Thursday was that marketing is changing, and older, tried-and-true tactics aren’t going to work anymore. Marketers who don’t come to this realization soon, presenters said, will be left in the dust.
Content in the right context is the new black, as long as its purpose is to entertain, inform, or be useful. That’s the type of content that gets passed around. On the other hand, when was the last time anyone shared a banner ad?
“It’s the end of direct–banners have been terrible for 18 years,” said Jon Steinberg, president of BuzzFeed. “If you’re even debating something is terrible, that means it’s terrible.”
BuzzFeed, an online publisher with 80 million unique visitors per month, has no place for banner ads on the site. The company monetizes its digital presence with sponsored content. Clients include big names such as GE, Virgin Mobile, Starbucks, and Taco Bell. The industry average for banner ad click-through rates is at about 0.2 percent, while sponsored posts on BuzzFeed are seeing click-throughs twice that, Steinberg said.
Rishi Dave, Dell’s executive director of online marketing, echoed Steinberg’s sentiment about display advertising. “Banner ads are dead,” he said. “It’s all about native content and ads.”
Dell’s online marketing strategy is indicative of where the industry is headed. According to Dave, content is a bigger deal in B2B than many would think. Dell is a demand-gen marketer on the enterprise side, where digital has changed the way buyers buy. Today’s buyer is completely self-driven. In fact, in B2B buyers are 57 percent through their journey before ever engaging with the brand. It used to be all about sales, he said: Salespeople played golf with customers, figured out their pain points, and mapped solutions to fit the needs. Enter the self-nurtured customer.
Rather than let these buyers do random research on the Web, Dell caters to them by providing all the content they need during their buyer’s journey, Dave said. As a result, Dell is actually capturing leads on content, which makes the job of sales easier, he added.
“The velocity of leads from content is faster than any other lead we get,” Dave said. “The majority of new contacts in our marketing database come through our content marketing lead machine. People who never knew that Dell does anything but sell end up [with] our content, and all of sudden realize we have all these other products and services. Our thinking is the faster we run this engine, the more leads we will get.”
Dell takes a mixed approach to content, where the majority is created by the company and the rest is aggregated, recycled, co-created, and user-generated. All of this content has two common goals: to drive loyalty and acquisition.
Linda Boff, executive director, global brand marketing, at General Electric, also spoke at the NewsCred event. GE has made a name for itself with work it has done with BuzzFeed, on its own blogs, and on platforms such as Vine and Instagram.
“We were founded by Thomas Edison, We have inventing at our core. It is key to who we are,” Boff said. “When you ask people about GE,, they say it’s a big, multinational company. And we are, with operations in 160 countries and $16 billion in profits. But that’s not the face we want people to know in social and in content.”
GE employs 45,000 engineers and has 40,000 patents. And that’s what the company wants to communicate through its content: a company with a legacy of tech and innovation. Boff explained the company's seven principles to guide its content strategy: The first is that the media is the message. Next, think like a publisher. Third is forget about eyeballs and worry about reaching the right people who share your passions. Next, make sure whatever you're putting out there is in the right context. Fifth is owning moments, or finding those golden moments when a brand can be a part of the conversation in a relevant way. Sixth is the idea that products are marketing, so don’t ever include the hard sell in content. And last is that the company needs to go beyond integration to coherence.
“In terms of metrics and measuring success, we don’t look at page views,” Boff said. “That’s kind of dopey. Engagement rates are more important. We’re at the point where we’ve figured out our cost-per-engagement rate. If we spend $1 for social, we typically get about $1.50 back.”
For its part, American Express has been in the content marketing game before Facebook made it off campus, according to Scott Roen, the company’s vice president of digital marketing and innovation. AmEx’s Open Forum content hub was launched in 2007; at the time, the financial company didn’t realize its potential.
“We know that 60 percent of small businesses fail within the first four years,” Roen said. “So we’ve always been committed to help small-business owners succeed. We used to have these events, called 'Inside The Entrepreneur’s Mind,' where we would get big names like Seth Godin to share best practice tips. And we always had a packed room. We decided we wanted to scale this by bringing it online, and that was the beginning of the Open Forum.”
From 2007 until 2008, the site grew mostly organically. Then the economy plummeted. Yet while AmEx was figuring out a way to deal, the Open Forum was growing. The numbers were skyrocketing, Roen said.
The company decided to up the ante on Open Forum. I partnered with big names including Guy Kawasaki, Dan Schawbel, Henry Blodget, Jane Applegate, Adam Ostrow, and Penelope Trunk to contribute to the site.
“I always get the ROI question,” Roen said. “How do you justify this? My answer is reciprocal altruism works. The notion is if you give something away without expecting something in return, you get so much back. That’s what we’ve found, and the payback has been tremendous.”
Although GE, BuzzFeed, AmEx, and Dell are very different companies, their execs all agreed on a few best practices for content marketing. The first is stay on brand. Don’t get into conversations that aren’t relevant to your brand and what it stands for. Consumers can smell phoniness from a block away and, with social media, are sure to call you out. The next is make sure your content is shareable. Great content has social hooks, Steinberg said.
Finally, take risks. If GE’s Boff didn’t let her young employee experiment with Instagram, for example, then consumers would never have seen the human side of GE.