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Forget the hard sell and the dry press release. Audiences have wised up, so give them high-quality content that they can really engage with.

For anyone who’s experienced the following phrase bellowed at them across the boardroom by a senior executive “we should get into content marketing, everyone’s doing it, Coca-Cola’s doing it, BMW is doing it, Red Bull is doing it, we should be doing it too” then this is for you...

Content marketing is everyone’s favourite hot new digital marketing phrase right now, yet the truth is that while the label has grown in popularity, the notion that content marketing is anything new isn’t quite correct.

What the imaginary senior executive above doesn’t realise is that his company has actually been making content for years. It just hasn’t been called as such until recently.

The company has been creating blog posts, surveys, whitepapers and reports for the entire length of its existence. In many cases, it understands the power of content and how it can keep its existing audience happy and engaged.

However the new era of content marketing brings with it more of a tactical focus: in seeking to help audience growth, generate new leads, spread brand awareness and improve brand perception on a much larger scale.

In line with this, content marketing roles are being created and teams are being restructured across an incredibly diverse range of industries. Content marketing has become an umbrella term, one that bonds together five different disciplines – editorial, marketing, PR, SEO and social media – in order to focus on one long-term marketing strategy.

From PR churn to quality content

One of the key ingredients of successful content marketing is ‘quality’, and this is something that the current trend is helping bring more attention to, especially thanks to the impact of social media and the huge proliferation of channels it’s now possible to market across.

Previously it’s been very easy for a brand to get a Twitter or Facebook account and pump as many press releases, corporate slogans and nakedly brazen ‘buy-me’ marketing sludge down the channel as it possibly could, forgetting a number of key points:

  • It’s a channel. Traffic can, and indeed should, move both ways.
  • Nobody gives a damn what your company has to say.
  • Your company will run out of things to say.

... And it did.

Audiences soon wise up to companies offering nothing more than social updates just for the sake of it, using a dry-bones press release as the matter for broadcast. 

Companies that use social media as an engagement and sharing platform as part of a larger content marketing strategy can enjoy improved ROI, higher traffic and more positive brand awareness. 

Social doesn’t work if you don’t have the content that people want to share with one another. Content should be one (or all) of three things: entertaining, interesting or useful. If the content isn’t any of the above, then the content has no value and we won’t stake our online reputation by sharing it.

Your company might as well be pumping bilge down a pipeline and be thoroughly ignored for doing so.

The format can be anything from videos, blog posts, how-to guides, images, photography, infographics, podcasts... anything produced via any media that isn’t a simple press release or mission statement, and that can be subsequently seeded around the internet and hopefully shared by the fans or followers of your brand.

We are also seeing a move away from SEO-driven filler and keyword-stuffed content. This is content purely created in order to artificially drive traffic to a site through search engines. The curtailing of this kind of manipulative chaff is largely thanks to Google’s stringent penalisation of black hat SEO practices.

Sites guilty of certain illicit tactics are finding it much harder to rank, thanks to new changes in search algorithms. The overarching lesson in creating written content is: write for human readers, not for search engines.

This has led to a welcome change in tactics, forcing a broader scope of editorial quality and curated experiences tailored to individuals or expertly segmented audiences.

A company that knows its audience inside out and makes content that smashes through its own demographic is California-based digital camera manufacturer GoPro.

Exhilarating content for a rapt audience

GoPro is the fifth biggest brand on YouTube, according to The Touchstorm Video Index and, as only 2% of the top 5,000 YouTube channels are from brands, this is a considerable achievement.

With 1.7m subscribers to GoPro’s YouTube channel, GoPro keeps its audience entertained and engaged, on a social video platform notoriously difficult for brands to achieve success on. 

This achievement isn’t just because GoPro makes the kind of exciting, extreme sports videos that make you lose control of your bodily functions while sat at your desk. It’s also through careful community management and the creation of content that GoPro is 100% confident that its audience wants to see.

Keeping the brand message in the background, GoPro creates content that’s entertaining, unique and containing some of the most hair-raising footage ever seen in online video. 

GoPro’s audience primarily consists of photography fans (both hobbyist and expert), sports fans (both extreme and armchair), and any followers of innovative online video in general. Videos such as the terrifying ‘One-man flight through Tianmen Cave’ show how perfectly GoPro makes content to appeal to all of those specialist demographics. Of course I’m going to subscribe to this channel, I wouldn’t want to miss a thing.

The major success in GoPro’s content marketing strategy is the way it so naturally and effortlessly marries its content to its product. It’s an obvious fit. The rigorous testing of GoPro’s technology through the most breathtaking displays of human bravery, captured by the very camera that’s being marketed. 

Users who respond to a brand’s content will naturally gravitate to that brand in other channels and areas of commerce. I for one will definitely purchase a GoPro camera to film my next flaming-motorcycle bus jump.

If your core audience isn’t made up of social video junkies, but in fact people who enjoy a more offline approach, there are still many ways to engage them...

Traditional content, with a digital twist

As David Moth reported in February, Net-A-Porter unveiled a new print magazine, which it hoped would disrupt the old model of print publishing through new innovations such as shoppable pages.

The bi-monthly magazine, Porter, is published six times a year, with 400,000 copies of each edition made available across 60 countries.

It enables Net-A-Porter to connect magazine readers to its ecommerce store, as all of the pages can be scanned using the retailer’s mobile app. This then gives users several options, including finding an item on the ecommerce store, visiting a third-party website, or watching a video.

As with all fashion magazines, Porter’s pages are intensely advertising focused, but they are scannable and link to the individual brand’s website.

Net-A-Porter isn’t the first brand to publish an interactive magazine, however it is one of the first magazines designed and created with digital as a core feature. It also gives Net-A-Porter a new and relevant way to communicate with its audience, as the company’s own research shows that its users still buy print magazines. 

In terms of strong editorial voice and a strategic focus on helpful content, it would be remiss of me not to mention our own content marketing efforts. After all, you’re reading some of it right now. 

The power of the blog 

From massive blockbusting reports, to its regularly updated comprehensive research, to its huge array of training courses for every skill level, to our recent success with The Periodic Table of Content Marketing, Econsultancy thrives on its expertly researched and skillfully created content.

One of the main ways we drive traffic to our products is through our blog.

The Econsultancy blog has a hardworking team of writers, creating fresh articles on a daily basis. This isn’t just a marketing exercise, we pour our creative little hearts into these posts.

If you’re questioning whether or not a blog generates ROI, we can confidently say that the investment in a team who are capable of creating laser-guided content and who produce plenty of it leads to the following: 

  • Better SEO: by targeting specific keywords we want to rank for and organically adding internal links to our posts that help to prop up other pages on the site.
  • Financial savings: we don’t need to spend money on paid search or the retention of a search agency.
  • Brand awareness/perception: we use the blog to ‘soften the tone’ of the Econsultancy site. Hey, we’re an approachable, friendly bunch. Come say hello.
  • Higher revenue: our blog now exceeds 1m monthly page impressions, and we direct about 5% of our readers to product pages. We help increase conversion.
  • Something to talk about: producing content means we have something to chat about and promote via our social media channels. 

Find your audience, treat them well

If you’re a marketer sat in a boardroom, facing a similar situation to the one I mentioned at the top of this piece, the trick is to realise that content marketing is nothing to fear. 

At the very least, content gives your company something to talk about. You’re probably as tired of firing off the same boring press release as the journalists who receive it and the half-awake audience that reads it. If that’s the case, it’s definitely time to do something new and different. Something that you and your brand will be genuinely excited to publish.

It’s a crowded market out there, with more and more channels and voices adding to the noise every day. You need to provide something that your audience will actively engage with on the channels that they themselves use. Then once you’ve got them interested in you as a producer of quality content, they’ll share your content even more widely. 

Find your audience. Target them with content they actually want. Then surprise them with increasingly useful, innovative or entertaining pieces in a variety of formats. Repeat. Watch your audience grow.

This article was originally published in our Top 100 Digital Agencies 2014 Report.

For more on content marketing…

Check out these very informative articles from the Econsultancy blog:

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 25 June, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

686 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Archie Wither

Great piece, but ironic that it is then reproduced word-for-word (and with a photo that makes it look like it comes from a different author!) on www.marketingtimes.com/2014/06/the-importance-of-quality-content/

almost 2 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Archie - Thanks so much for letting us know. We're investigating right now.

almost 2 years ago

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Kevin

Great reminders about creating content that the audience does not care about, will result in low ROI. I find that sometimes organizations don't know how to overcome the challenge of not talking about themselves.

Do you have any thoughts on how a company can go from "Look at how great we are" to "Look at how great you are"?

almost 2 years ago

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Alden

Also, worth noting, you don't have a robust canonical naming scheme for the article showing up in two places. You should consider throwing a rel=canonical in there to get the right post showing up...

almost 2 years ago

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Lauren Munton

Good succinct article, but one point that's missing and often overlooked in discussions about building quality content marketing is the importance of the quality of the visual elements, whether photography, illustrations, cartoons, videos or charts.
A lot is written about words but so much more can be gained when using strong quality photography that captures and engages a reader, adding to the story.

almost 2 years ago

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