There is evidence that people enjoy a series of articles versus an advertisement. In fact, 70% say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, while 60% believe it helps them make better product decisions (Roper Public Affairs). This has given rise to “content marketing”. According to The Content Marketing Institute it is “an approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
What is amazing about content marketing is the impression that it is new. Apparently, content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing their behaviour. That has been the intention of good, old plain marketing since mankind first traded.
If you look at one page advertisements from the early 20th century, content marketing was in great evidence. Marketers told stories in that space. Often these were a series of how-to’s exclaiming the benefits of a product or service. Both Heinz and Jell-O put out groundbreaking recipe books that instructed consumers how to integrate their products into meals.
Most of this long-form marketing was basically eradicated during the Mad Men era when complex ideas were oversimplified and ads focused on style over substance. Long-form marketing differs by crediting the consumer with intelligence and invites them to learn more. In this age of 140 character communications, long-form marketing has a place as an engaging disrupter.
Blogs, white papers and even websites are long-form marketing types. Yet, it is not the channel that is important, it is the content. People are not looking to be sold. They are looking for valuable content that educates and allows them to make a more informed decision. This is fantastic because marketing communications has become to clever for its own good. Ironically, creativity often obfuscates the entire effort. Marketing is about selling but too often, as David Ogilvy lamented, it is executed solely as entertainment.
Personally, I am pleased that long-form or rich content marketing is back. There are great examples out there including:
American Express OPEN Forum
Businesses of any size can learn something from the OPEN Forum posts by American Express. Posts center around leadership, customer service, marketing, and technology, and they position American Express as a true partner to business owners. It is turning into a LinkedIn of sorts.
Virgin Atlantic’s Curated Instagram Galleries
Virgin Atlantic’s blog is filled with engaging travel content including must-see sights in various cities and visually interesting galleries. The galleries are curated photos from various Instagrammers that offer quick peeks at the culture. Virgin also offers busy business travellers their “Between Meetings” blog series that looks at ways of filling the time with cool ideas.
Callaway Golf’s YouTube Channel
Callaway Golf has done something amazing on YouTube. It provides excellent content that is not salesy or promotional. They showcase videos like how to hit a bump and run and vertical centers of gravity in golf drivers. You don’t have to be a Callaway customer to benefit from this content, and next time you’re purchasing a golf club, you might just consider Callaway for their know-how and generosity.
Arcade Fire’s Fan-Sourced Gallery
One way to create content without much in-house effort is crowd-sourcing. Arcade Fire asked fans to submit their own photos of the band’s Reflektor tour, and in return, the photos could wind up on Arcade Fire’s Facebook page and website. This was a win for both the band and fans, as the website benefited from new photography, and fans could earn a spotlight on their favorite band’s online properties.
Random House’s Literary Inspiration
Random House has wonderfully embraced Pinterest. They have started several Pinterest board titles including The Literary Imbiber, What Would Jane Austen Do?, Bookish Nooks, Literary Tattoos, Literary Wedding, and Best Book Covers. Random House doesn’t write all the articles or create all the images but curating them for fans in a one-stop book-lover’s shop is a surefire win. They now have nearly 2 million Pinterest followers.
A classic example of great B2B content marketing, Intel runs a blog called IQ that’s “a peek at the outer edge of design, technology, social and big data.” The blog is largely based on content curated by employees. IQ’s editor in chief, Bryan Rhoads, says: “We developed an algorithm to curate social content in a way that leverages our employees. We want to publish what they’re sharing and what’s grabbing their attention. It’s a combination of a social algorithm, plus an employee filter that crowdsources what they are saying and sharing, and uses that as a discovery tool.”
New Belgium’s Brew Blog
Denver’s New Belgium Brewing blog showcases the brand’s adventurous, fun-loving energy. Recent posts show customer-centered events (like the Tour de Fat), food and beer pairing ideas, and fetching photography of beer fans and brewers alike. And you won’t see any long lulls of silence from New Belgium; they update their blog at least once a week, which gives readers a reason to come back and check often for updates. The approach is a crash course in how to make an audience feel connected to a brand, no matter where they are in the world.
These are cool examples and there are plenty more. Perhaps too many more. Companies have run to content marketing. Marketing Profs reported that 73% of B2B companies produced more content marketing in both 2013 and 2014. So what has been promised as a clear alternative to traditional marketing and advertising may now contributing to the clutter and white noise. Thankfully the best ideas that are well executed are standing out. Those efforts are providing relevant and valuable content and that is what consumers want.