Demistifying Content Marketing

Oh no. Not another piece on content marketing I hear you say!

But is content marketing genuinely a new genre of marketing or an updated form of marketing which has been rebadged for the digital age? There are indeed an endless variety of so called experts writing on the topic and even national newspapers have been recently advising brands on how to avoid what it calls the hype around content marketing.

In the researching and writing of this blog – yes it’s content – I’ve encountered a fair few of these experts and of course a number of sceptics. Phrases and buzzwords such as storytelling, brand engagement, publishing, digital marketing, editorial and more abound so let’s see if we can shed some more light on the subject.

According to The Content Marketing Association (rebranded in 2012 from the Association of Publishing Agencies) it’s the production of effective content for client brands across all disciplines including print, video, mobile and online.

A richer definition is probably content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

And, I hear you say, isn’t that what we’re all doing anyway? Yes. It is, and always has been, about ways in which we connect and communicate with an audience without the hard sell of pure advertising; ways in which we persuade them with engaging information and sometimes genuinely educational pieces that reflect well upon us and our brand.

In today’s always-on digital world, that now means ever more opportunities to engage and inform across a plethora of channels.

This may have traditionally involved the recognised disciplines of public relations and publishing with editorial content, in customer magazines for example. Take the inflight magazine. First published in 1966, KLM has the oldest inflight magazine but of course along with others is now available in tablet form.

Digital content took form first in websites and in the early days site owners often looked to syndicated content providers to provide editorial content to help persuade and engage with visitors over and above the traditional ‘sell’, most often with little thought and reference to the potential audience!

But as early as 2001, BMW broke conventions by gathering the world’s best directors to make a series of short internet films (5-10 mins each). The plot of each film is very different but they share one similarity – Clive Owen, the driver who gets hired to transport and deliver with BMW cars. They are timeless and have been heralded as great examples of early branded content aimed at brand promotion and persuasion through entertainment.

And they were effective at that – the films were featured on BMW Films website because most car buyers search for information online. This series helped BMW gain 12% increase in sales despite the bubble and 911 tragedy. The videos received more than 11 million views and motivated 2 million people to register with BMW website.

Content marketing isn’t new but with so many channels, audiences and indeed devices available to marketers we need to think more like publishers to ensure we satisfy consumer interest.