Content Marketing has become a major part of the marketing landscape, seeing a steady rise in usage over the last number of years.
In 2017, 39% of companies were expecting to increase their content marketing spend, with 45% keeping it the same, according to a PointVisible survey.
But does it work?
In this article, we will pose the question of whether or not content marketing is a good choice for your business.
To start, we must look at the reasons why people have turned to content marketing.
A 2015 Sprkd study found that 70% of consumers preferred to learn about a company from an article rather than an advertisement.
The same study found that companies who use blogs get 55% more site visitors and 97% more backlinks.
So we can see the value of content marketing in terms of site traffic alone. But it can be important in other ways.
A study released earlier this year by PageFair shows that 600 million devices have some form of ad-blocking turned on.
This means that if your spend is solely in display advertising online, a vast number of users, up to 25% in some markets, will not be aware of your ad.
Why then, do19% of marketers say the strategy doesn’t work at all? And why are 46% not completely sold on it?
Writing for Forbes, Mike Templeman made the argument that content marketing doesn’t work because of a lack of commitment by brands to quality.
Simply put, content marketing doesn’t work because it needs two attributes to be successful, a long-term commitment and high-quality content. And both of these requirements have high demands in terms of time and effort. Because of this, they are often ignored in an attempt to make content marketing more scalable and easier to deploy.
“Content marketing requires time and effort. And these are two things that are usually in short supply in most growing companies.”
Reacting to the Ascend2/Vidyard study, Jacqueline Gay, Digital Marketing & Communications Manager for international company Quincy Compressor, told Convince and Convert that the results were surprising.
“We know as well as any company that content marketing isn’t the easiest thing to jump right into, but if we can do it, surely other industries can find success with it, too.”
The same survey found one common thread between the vast majority of those who said that content marketing was very effective – 94% of them outsourced at least some of the content marketing distribution.
When faced wit those figures, it can be difficult to see why marketers would side with 35% of colleagues and truly buy in to content marketing.
Having just run a conference called “Publish or Perish”, Coughlan’s cards are fully on the table on the effectiveness of content marketing.
Oddly enough, he reinforces his point by referencing British soap opera Coronation Street.
“First and foremost is what I call the Corrie Fallacy.
Marketing professionals, advertisers and brands have done a much better job in keeping up to speed with digital than they're usually given credit for – but they've missed a wider trend emerging with the proliferation of publishing. In short, there's more content available to the average consumer than there ever was before. This content abundance leads to content fatigue, which in turn leads us to be highly selective about where we exert our energy.
"As a result, social feeds become a marketplace whereby time, attention and cognitive energy are precious commodities and are traded very carefully by users who – without even realising it – have become incredibly selective about what they consume."
This trade-off used to work very differently, which leads me to the Corrie Fallacy – 10 years ago, a brand would buy a 30-second slot in Coronation Street, and people would watch it as part of a trade-off: I'll take your brand message on the basis that if I hang around for a few minutes, I'll get a pay-off in the form of content. Same goes for newspapers, radio, etc etc. That trade-off only works in an environment where content is sufficiently rare or difficult-to-access to make it viable. On social, however, it's just not the case – with so many other pieces of content to choose from, users will maximise their cognitive economy by moving straight past the brand-centric message to something that offers them something in return, or offers them value. Value-provision is something that publishers are incredibly good at providing – a publisher gets nothing out of creating content that doesn't offer value to an audience – whereas brands tend to be a bit more self-focused, and haven't quite got the hang of this yet.
“Content offers a way around this, by instilling value into the brand message – creating something that's of genuine value to the audience, allowing them to bypass their finely tuned filter systems.”
Coughlan refers to his methods as content creation and says that some marketers forget that content is about audiences. The content must, at its most basic, be engaging enough for an audience to be willing to read or listen or watch.
After you’ve come up with that, you can start to think about converting that audience into sales. But, he cautions, the trade-off has to be with good, audience-driven content.
We use a model called The Honeytrap, where we use non-product broad-target content pieces to define an interest set as a custom audience, then retarget that audience with either sales messages or more product-focused (but still value-led) content.
For instance, if you were running a business that sold clothes to people over 6'4", you might run entertainment-led content around the experiences endured by tall folks – a 21 Struggles Everyone Has Endured... style piece.
“You might then create a custom audience on FB, for instance, that includes everyone who engaged with that piece... and use that custom audience to send sales messages, fashion tips for tall people, discount codes, or other commercially-led content.“
While some may be unsure of its effectiveness, there are examples of content marketing all over the web.
American Express has long been seen as the gold standard for brand content marketing.
Its OpenForum site and blog offers small businesses practical advice and help. By 2010, according to Fast Company, it was attracting over one million monthly users and had added over 11,000 small businesses to its database.
Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, SVP of Partnerships & Business Development for American Express OPEN, told the site the keys to its success were building off a target market’s need and knowing that an immediate ROI wasn’t a long-term strategy.
Hotel chain Marriott operates in an extremely competitive sector – travel publishing – but aims to become a leading producer of travel content in its own right, having launched a content creation studio.
To that end, its series of Two Bellmen short films have been viewed millions of times and gained viral notoriety.
Headspace, a popular meditation app runs an incredibly popular blog – The Orange Dot – which offers users advice on relationships, careers, anxiety and stress – all of which can be addressed by meditation in part. The blog is a perfect example of building content that is directed at your audience and not just about your brand.
With many marketers not seeing the ROI on content marketing, it could be easy to think that its time has passed or that it is simply a tool used by big brands to pump up their image.
But that is the wrong way of looking at things, says Aidan Coughlan. He says that brands need to realise the importance of content marketing quickly.
In other words, publish or perish.
“Those who think content marketing is just a load of brand-building fluff have mixed it up with publishing, or just content creation. It runs a lot deeper than that... and the sooner brands twig that, the better for them.”
With spending on content due to increase and the number of ad-blocking web users showing no sign of slowing down, the importance of not just doing content, but doing it well, has never been greater.
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