Brands are diving enthusiastically into content marketing, but many don't fully understand it and are doing it ineffectively, according to speakers at a recent conference on the topic.
Brands need to rethink their approaches and beliefs about content marketing, restructure their organizations and practices to accommodate the discipline, and find new ways to measure and judge the return on their content-based efforts, said the experts and audience at NewsCred's annual Content Marketing Summit, held September 18th, in New York.
Today’s consumer is “always on,” which represents a huge challenge for marketers, but one that opens up great opportunities for content marketing, said Michael Brenner, head of strategy for NewsCred, a content platform. However, he warned, “it’s no longer ‘Buy my sh-t.’”
Sixty to 70 percent of content produced goes unused, said Brenner. That’s especially troubling in light of research that shows 80 percent of CEOs are dissatisfied with their CMOs. “Marketing has a marketing problem,” he said.
Marketers need a thoughtful, planned approach to content, built on telling stories that resonate with consumer needs and attitudes, but yet remain true to the brand’s message. That’s easier said than done, many speakers warned.
Dan Sanborn, VP of entertainment marketing at Diageo, criticized marketers who “write a large check” for sponsorships without keeping track of how the content fits in with the brand. Content has to start by “listening and understanding your consumers and what will resonate with them,” he said.
“A lot of people think they’re putting out stories, but it’s really a lot of junky content,” said Dustee Jenkins, VP of public relations and social media at Target. “We have to tell really great, layered narratives.” She noted that the retailer is willing to tackle tough, important issues in its content efforts —as it did when addressing the recent shopper data breach, or the controversy over banning gun-law opponents from bringing firearms into its stores. Target has a content hub called A Bullseye View.
“Authenticity” was a frequently used word, but the speakers acknowledged that marketers struggle with the concept and focus on making sure the brand image is featured prominently in their content, rather than allowing the association to grow out it naturally.
Content marketing can be a strategic asset to a brand, if done right, said Gurdeep Dhillon, VP of marketing at SAP. “It is our job as content marketers to set expectations…that content is what’s going to be the differentiator,” in marketing efforts, he said. “The atomic content of marketing is content.”
Marketers will have to upend the creative and planning process within their corporate organizations, and their advertising agencies will need to reshape creative teams to be more nimble and platform-neutral. Platforms “are just pipes,” said NewsCred’s Brenner. What matters is telling the right stories at the right moment of the consumer journey, he said.
The real-time aspect of content marketing is a minefield to many marketers, said some speakers. Stacy Minero, head of content planning at Twitter, sketched out a plan to “win the moment” in content marketing. It starts with planning for what’s predictable by mapping social media conversations, figuring out what consumers opt-in for, and building response templates. For example, Minero noted that pet-food brand Purina has a “moments studio” that picks up pet-related conversations, including the frequent one about wanting to get a puppy.
Marketers should aim for “repeatable brilliance” by creating concepts that can be serialized, Minero said. She set out examples such as Lowe’s FixinSix Vine video series, where the home improvement retailer offers six-second fixes to common problems, such as removing a stripped screw.
Marketers need to understand the “cultural calendar” around their brand and be prepared to engage consumers around those events relevant to the brand, said Diageo’s Sanborn.
“This is really moving from reacting to real-time, to planning to be reactive,” Minero said.
Planning to be spontaneous is the hardest thing for marketers, said Minero. It requires extensive pre-planning, running scenarios, building a network of creative, and active listening.
“At the end of the day, you have to change the structure,” said Sharon Leath, director of integrated marketing content for Dr. Pepper. She noted that, initially, she was dealing with a traditionally structured marketing team that included content, but now has a 13-person content marketing team, including three people handling Dr. Pepper content.
“At a very macro level, one of the problems we have is that people outside of marketing don’t get it,” said Oliver Roll, VP of global corporate communications at software company VMware. Marketers must teach a course on “the art and science of content marketing,” he said: “Our goal is for us to make stakeholders say ‘yes, we get it.’”
Unfortunately, he said, marketing is still working in silos, which makes it hard to demonstrate the ROI of content marketing. There needs to be “change in how we think and how we work,” he said.
Leadership needs to buy into content efforts, said many of the speakers. Target’s Jenkins noted that the retailer’s marketing efforts have enlisted C-suite participants, including the new CEO, Brian Cornell. That leadership participation is necessary to give the efforts credibility, she said.
Agency executives also agreed their structures have to change to adapt to the workflows of content marketing.
Agency creatives traditionally think of the idea, then try to figure out what medium works for it, but that process has to be upended, said David Lang, chief content officer of MindShare. Creatives now have to choose the channel where the brand can best reach the consumer at the right point of the customer journey and then “the channel infuses the content,” he said.
The old creative team of copywriter and art director running advertising through weeks-long approval processes is not applicable to this real-time digital content environment, said Vin Farrell, global chief content officer of Havas Worldwide. Agency teams will have to be set up, depending on the assignment, the platform, and media being orchestrated for the effort, so they can create and move faster, he explained.
“It’s not a four-person band any more, it’s a jazz ensemble,” improvising on a theme, he said. “We’re in the middle of a maker revolution.”
Encouraging employee advocates is one way to recruit brand-centric and authentic storytellers, said Tim Washer, executive producer of rich media marketing for tech company Cisco. He noted while working with IBM, he launched a social media campaign called “This is where I work,” which asked employees around the world to submit videos about their home base.
“We were able to find out who could tell a story,” he said. Later, marketers were able to go back to those same employees for more content.
Marketers and their creative agencies will also need to find new metrics and processes to track consumers across their journeys and nail down credible ROI from marketing efforts. That could then translate to the whole of marketing, as content becomes a more ubiquitous part of the overall marketing plan.
“What we do in digital content will be foundational,” said John Bell, VP of enterprise digital marketing at insurer Travelers. He noted that he recently ran a training session for all marketing communications staff that was based in content-marketing work.
The ROI discussion has become more central to content conversations, as more marketers devote growing portions of their budget to content marketing, said speakers. Bell noted that Travelers has done a lot of work defining key performance indicators and checks them weekly.
“You can absolutely show ROI in content marketing,” said Shafqat Islam, CEO of NewsCred. NewsCred announced a number of enhancements to its platform, aimed at helping marketers track the consumer journey and ROI.
The process is complicated because the path to purchase is not a straight line anymore, thanks to omnichannel communications. Many content platforms today can push content to the right channels, but can’t always tell if they’re pushing the content to the right people, Islam said.
The ROI question is a key one. As NewsCred’s Brenner noted, it is a rarity when a marketer, such as Kraft’s content director Julie Fleisher, can tell him her content efforts have four times better ROI than her regular ad spending.
“Setting the bar of success” is the big challenge for content marketers, said VMware’s Roll. “The more we can set up those benchmarks…that’s what we have to do.” As more marketers experiment with benchmarking, they will come up with more specific metrics to find how individuals are consuming content and track them along the customer journey, he noted.
But for now, content marketing remains a work in progress, said speakers.
“This space is definitely not for the fainthearted,” said Diageo’s Sanborn.
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