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Is Your Brand Ready for Content Marketing?

The hottest new brand trend is brand publishing, or also referred to in a less aggressive way as content marketing. Some marketing experts are declaring this is the next marketing breakthrough – to become a brand journalist, replacing the fragile main-stream media outlets. I hesitate to think that brands would be very good at replacing media in trying to portray a balanced point-of-view (even media outlets struggle with this equality). But what brands can do well is be subject experts. They have a rich understanding of their customers’ wants and needs, and often have the resources and desire to explore content that media won’t cover. The challenge is keeping focus on helping the customers and resisting the desire to sell at all opportunities.

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers authors of the 1993 best-seller The One-to-One Future predicated the internet would allow brands to build personal relationships with consumers at scale. Marketing guru Seth Godin took this idea a step forward and said brands need to move from interruption marketing to “permission marketing,” defined as anticipated, personal, and relevant. Interesting that Seth Godin’s book Permission Marketing was published over 16 years ago. In 2008, Seth Godin said that content marketing is the only marketing left. More recently he said “Real content marketing isn’t repurposed advertising, it is making something worth talking about.”

The Business Case for Content

Here are some good reasons why you should consider becoming a brand publisher:

  • A Roper (2011) survey found that 74% consumers say they prefer to get information about a company in a collection of articles, rather than an ad. They also found that 65% said that custom media helps them make better purchase decisions.
  • A study done by AdKeeper and 24/7 Real Media indicate that the average industry click through rate is less than 0.09 for online advertising. Not very good for advertisers.
  • HubSpot, experts in online inbound applications, learnt through their lead generation data of over 4,000 companies, that those companies who blogged 15 times per month get 5 times more traffic than companies that don’t blog.
  • Custom Content Council (2011) says 72% of marketers think branded content is more effective than advertising in a magazine; 69% say it is superior to direct mail and PR.
  • In a study done by AOL and Nielsen (2012), they discovered people spend more than 50% of their time online with content and an additional 30% of their time on social channels where content can be shared.
  • In a study done by Marketing Sherpa (2013), they concluded that content creation ranked as the single most effective SEO tactic by 53%.
  • Demand Metric global marketing research found that for every dollar spent, content marketing generates approximately 3 times as many leads as traditional marketing.

What is Content?

Content comes in many different formats, shapes and sizes. There is visual brand content such as videos, short video clips (Vine-like), imagery, selfies, charts, graphs and infographics. There is the written brand content such as PowerPoints, blogs, digital magazines, e-mails, text messages, articles, white papers, stories, tips, reviews, and the 140 character tweet. Last but not least, there is the audio brand content such as music, podcasts and audio clips. Depending on your audience visuals and video content can enhance your content viewership. According toSkyword articles containing relevant images gain on average 94% more total views than articles without images. Get the picture!

Content marketing is about engaging prospects and consumers with informative or entertaining content they’ll want to use or consume for its own sake, rather than pushing or interrupting them with direct sales or promotional messages.

Do Consumers Need More Content?

Every day there is about two million blog posts written, 500 million tweets shared, 1 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook including 250 million photos, 294 billion emails sent, 864,000 hours of video uploaded to YouTube, 70 million images posted to Instagram, and 18.7 million hours of streamed music on Pandora.  And oh by the way 50 million visits to PornHub, where over 216 million X-rated videos are viewed on a 24 hour period. Crazy cyber-consumption in one day.

So do we need more content? There is an unlimited appetite for great content. The trick is producing relevant, compelling and engaging content consistently, every day. Make sure you have the right channels to distribute and amplify your content to ensure you reach your audience. If you hit a home run they will reward you by ensuring everyone they know sees your content.

Best in Class

Today, there are many channels to allow brands to build time-sensitive, pertinent and quality information or solutions. Publishing is all about the scale of creation and distribution. Do you want to be a New York Times or the local weekly journal or just a trade magazine or a community newsletter? Brands that succeed do more than provide customers with what they are looking for. They make them want it! You have to build the right level of infrastructure to support the right level of content for your business and customer needs.

Red Bull is a great example of a brand that when above and beyond selling a beverage and became a publishing media outlet. James O’Brien of Mashable’ssays “Red Bull is a publishing empire that also happens to sell a beverage.” As a matter of fact, Red Bull’s publishing is another revenue stream for the company. Their content is all about adventure, extreme sports and fast-paced fun. No surprise their content focus mirrors the essence of their brand. Today, Red Bull has over 4.4 million YouTube followers, 43 million ‘likes’ on Facebook and 2 million followers on Twitter. Then of course there is the Red Bull TV which has over 156 shows, 85 live events and 1,118 episodes and countless viewers.

So Red Bull is the extreme example, which isn’t realistic for most brands. B2B companies like General Electric, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, and Deloitte have mastered the role of content with a library full of valuable information that is educational, informative, and relevant to their brand and target audiences. Hubspot has a great article that showcases 10 Exceptional B2B Content Marketing Examples.

How to Become a Content Publisher

Not unlike an advertising campaign or publishing a magazine, you need to start with a strategy that clearly defines goals and objectives, key target audiences, key messages, theme, budget and success measurements. Take baby steps, first look at converting existing printed material with some editing to compliment the right channels. Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications states “Brands need to master telling their stories indirectly. It’s about the brand, but the focus is always about the audience.” Building an editorial department of journalists that understand your brand isn’t a small task. But once you start publishing you have to continue to feed the beast day-in and day-out with quality content. Be realistic about how you will maintain the investment in resources and time to reach your goals.

Home Depot is a good example of creating useful educational content for the do-it-yourselfer by providing tips and advice without blatantly selling their products. They have 1,067 timeless, how-to videos posted on their YouTube channel.

How to Measure Success

Here some simple questions and tips to determine the success of your content publishing:

  • Have you turned your content into a valuable asset that supports your business objective?  Check out the 100 page YouTube & Google Playbook on how to build great content.
  • Are you able to publish new content consistently – daily or weekly? Build a calendar with the 3H content rules: Hygiene, Hub and Hero
  • Are you producing meaningful and useful content for all customers? Utilize various measurement tools and determine who’s consuming your content (followers & subscribers), and what are they doing with it (likes, sharing, retweeting, favorites, links, comments, etc.).
  • Is the content building on your brand’s vision and voice? Are you learning what content works or doesn’t work? Look at the content that is the most successful and determine why. Check out Buzzsumo to see what are the hot topics and if you can capitalize on any trends.
  • Are your metrics continually improving? Compare yourself against your competition and best in class. Do you have a loyal and growing following? Track your Klout score.

To succeed in a cluttered branded world, you need an army – or better yet, you need to support an army of followers. If you can give them content to solve their problems, inspire their dreams or provide them with a smile, they will reward you by sharing your wisdom. You must always provide extra value to guarantee engagement. Genuine content will always outperform glitz and selling content. Share your expertise and passion, it will be appreciated.

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Best Seller – Brand Storytelling

We all live for a great story. A story that we can retell that has suspense, adversity and a great ending. Humanity has been built on stories. Since the beginning of time, storytelling was the only way to transfer knowledge and inspire people to move forward. The first written story was the The Epic of Gilgamesh an epic poem dating back to 2100 BC written on 12 clay tablets. Today, there are over 129,864,880 books in the entire world according to Google’s advanced algorithm – unfortunately I can’t say I’ve read them all – yet.

Storytelling is the hottest and newest branding tool on the market. But in reality it is the oldest and most enduring element of human civilization. Except, we no longer sit around a smoky fire pit wearing stinky and somewhat revealing leather gear, while the storyteller points at the holographic on the cave wall. Today, we have progressed to boring PowerPoints and uncomfortable three piece suits.

Joh Hamm’s article Why Agencies and Brands Need to Embrace True Storytelling says “Stories are how we pass on our accumulated wisdom, beliefs and values. They are the process through which we describe and explain the world around us, and our role and purpose in it. Audiences have always known this and asked for stories—they’ve never asked for content.”

Storytelling is Best Seller on Social

It seems that social media has given new life to storytelling. For brands, attracting consumers with captivating, engaging stories that are significant and meaningful is a new competitive edge.  If all employees could tell the company’s brand story (promise) with passion and emotionally-charged, descriptive language using no facts and figures you wouldn’t need advertising.  Susan Gunelius’s article How to write brand stories that builds emotional connections on Forbes website states “Stories are the perfect catalyst to building brand loyalty and brand value. When you can develop an emotional connection between consumers and your brand, your brand’s power will grow exponentially.”

Close to seven million people have viewed the of Coco Chanel’s story on YouTube. A story about transforming women’s fashions, and the transformation of a woman who build the CHANEL empire.

We all know it’s much easier said than done.  Recently, Colleen HendersonPresident of Perfect Pitch Consulting coached forty of my team members in how to write a good story. Everyone struggled to write one emotional sentence of what we do for our customers. It isn’t easy writing compelling and inspiring brand stories. If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

Start the Story with Why

The best brand stories are aimed to get the audience to care by answering their question “why?” Many successful brands only talk about the “why” and less about the facts.  Neil Patel writer for Forbes says when someone is “interested in your brand’s story, they feel connected in a powerful way. This feeling of connection then turns them into customers.”

Toms shoes uses storytelling to convince thousands of people and customers to go a day without shoes with their annual “One Day without Shoes” campaign to raise awareness of the millions of children around the world who have no shoes.

The campaign is actually on right now until May 21. If you Instagram your bare feet with the hashtag #withoutshoes they will give a new pair of shoes to a child in need. Check out my lovely toes at #withoutshoes.

Jonah Sachs author of Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future says “It’s critical for brands to shift from messaging to storytelling. After all, a brand is nothing more than an ongoing story – a set of meaningful emotional experiences – unfolding between itself and its audiences.”

So what makes a good story or story-selling? A brand DNA is all about where it came from and how it got to where it is today. But a great story needs conflict. Dove’s Real Beauty “You’re more beautiful than you think” campaign is a great example.

All good stories has the following elements: introduction to set the stage, a protagonist (the hero) an antagonist (the villain), a conflict, a climax, a resolution, and a reason why the audience should care. Better yet, you can follow Aristotle’sSeven Golden Rules of Storytelling: plot, character, theme, speech (or dialog), chorus (or music), decor and spectacle. Ideally you want to make the customer the hero but in some circumstance you want to make your brand the hero.

Don’t Mix Facts with a Good Story

Facts actually make people more sceptical on what they are seeing and hearing.  Researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not correcting misinformation, but doing the complete opposite, make misinformation even stronger. We often base our opinions on our beliefs, which don’t always mesh with facts, so we chose the facts that best fit our beliefs.

Do you remember the Oscar winning movie Sidways? It was a movie set in California’s of two men on a week-long road trip in the wine region of Santa Barbara. Throughout the movie the lead actor Paul Giamatti, a wine aficionada, declared his love for Pinot Noir and his distaste for Merlot. The movie led to a strong upswing in the sales of Pinot Noir and a drop in Merlot.  Facts can be questioned and rationalized, but when a beloved character that people can empathize with endorses a product or brand, follower goes along with no questions asked. Just ask Playboy model and actress, Jenny McCarthy about her crusade against vaccinations.

Final Chapter

Today, we are inundated with information loaded with facts and figures. Benefit statements, promises, testimonials, demonstrations, research and new scientific evidence. A story well told that is authentic, relevant, engaging and human can cut through the clutter and noise.

One of the great storytellers was the late Steve Jobs because he informed, inspired and entertained. He always stuck to the rule of three. He understood the power of “3”. Not exceed the list of 3 nor going below 3 things.  He also made sure his stories always had a hero and a villain; most times it was the competition. He also made sure he was prepared. His delivered flawlessly but to do so he practices until it looked effortless.  And finally, he always left the audience with something inspiring like he did with the introduction of the iPhone where he said, “I didn’t sleep a wink last night. I’ve been so excited about today…There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ We’ve always tried to do that at Apple since the very, very beginning. And we always will.”

Successful brands tell the story of who they are, not only the people behind the brand, but also how their customers connect to their products in ways that give them the ability to do more with their life. Stories that inspire passion in life and illustrate the why and how behind the what and where.

Seth Godin reminds us, “Great stories agree with our worldview. The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes [them] feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.”

Henderson suggests that everyone should have three stories ready to be given at any moment. 1. What brand do I represent? 2. Who am I? 3. Who have I helped? Each story should be engaging and well-crafted. No longer than 90 seconds and well-rehearsed.

I leave you with Steve Jobs commencement address to the 2005 graduation class at Stanford University where he tells three touching stories. “Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.”