Banner ads are dead. SEO is dead (or fighting for its life). It’s all about quality, meaningful content now.
That was the message coming from a couple of big cross media industry events late 2013. There may have been mutterings in insider, specialist circles for a while, but now the secret is out. Big time. So much so that industry insiders are talking about a “content avalanche” in 2014 – “an unprecedented flood of content” – with content marketing set to grow most out of any channel next year.
As a specialist copywriting and content agency, it’s certainly no surprise to us (see Clare’s post from the Content Marketing Show in May 2013 too). We’ve seen the transformational effect great content can have time and time again over many years. But as the emphasis on – and volume of – content grows and grows, the difference between good content and standout content is set to make or break campaigns.
What’s triggered the avalanche?
Recent research shows that 68% of consumers are annoyed by online ads – and with 0.04% click-through rate, you’re statistically more likely to drown in the bath than click on a banner ad. What’s more, with the roll out of Google Panda over the last couple of years, Google has changed the way its algorhythms work, bringing a shift away from keyword and meta data – the cornerstone of traditional SEO techniques – and a much bigger focus on quality, relevant content. Too many keywords will actually be penalised. The bottom line is that if it’s not great content, it won’t be discovered – either by Google or people wanting to share it amongst their own networks and social media channels.
“Every brand has wised up and jumped onboard the content bandwagon, commissioning, producing and disseminating content as never before,” says Joel Harrison, B2B Marketing magazine’s editor-in-chief. “In this environment, only the best content will reach its target audience – recipients are becoming more and more selective about what they consume, and content will have to work harder and harder to cut through and have resonance. In three short years, content has gone from being a differentiator for the early adopters, to an area of intense competition, where it is becoming ever more difficult to succeed. It’s no longer enough to just be doing content marketing – you have to be doing truly excellent content marketing, and continually raising your game.”
Stand out or be swamped…
So, how to stand out? It’s easy to overwhelmed by some of the immensely clever and creative content that’s already out there. But ultimately it all comes down to thinking really carefully about who your audience/ readers are and what context they’re in when they’re consuming your content. Ask yourself this at every stage of your strategy, ideas and creation process and you’re far more likely to produce memorable content that cuts through. But don’t just think literally; the more imaginative you can be, the more original and surprising your stories are, the more likely you’ll be to draw people in, make them want to shout about it and keep them coming back.
“If content is king, context is queen”
Mobile internet is set to overtake landline connections in 2014, and half the UK population will have a tablet by 2016 – so not thinking about mobile contexts and usage is a missed opportunity to connect with people on a device they have with them all day long. Email marketing statistics show a 70% open rate on mobile devices – much higher than desktop averages – so you’re missing a trick not to take this on board when coming up with content ideas.
“How do we gain and keep attention? It all boils down to the right content, in the right format, at the right time. And that means being engaging, instantaneous and shareable.”
Put yourself in your users’ shoes – waiting for their train, on the bus, killing time waiting for a friend, having a cigarette break at work, browsing in front of the TV… These snatched fragments of time can be hugely influential – so think about this when creating content to make it as meaningful as possible. There’s huge competition for attention in this space – in fact it’s now referred to as the “attention economy”. How do we gain and keep attention? It all boils down to the right content, in the right format, at the right time. And that means being engaging, instantaneous and shareable. How I want it, when I want it and where I want it.
But context is about much more than just technology and physical location. It’s also a state of mind, a need, a behaviour. If you’re selling something, think about each customer’s journey and decision-making process. For example, for a holiday company, it’s probably something like this:
DREAMING ==> LOOKING ==> BOOKING ==> PLANNING ==> EXPERIENCING ==> SHARING
So what role content can play at all of these stages to enhance their experience, stoke their fire and gently, subtly, encourage them on to the next stage?
Sell is not so swell
But be very careful. Generally people are cynical about branded content. Effective content marketing isn’t about having a selling message in every piece of content. It’s about taking your brand values and exploding these themes into quality, readable content that people will enjoy and trust, to build a community around your brand. To really work it should inform, entertain and educate (or at least two of these), be authentic and be relevant.
71% of consumers trust brands who provide useful information without trying to sell something.
Research shows that 71% of consumers trust brands who provide useful information without trying to sell something. If you must sell, then save that for the very end and make it subtle; a natural progression from the content rather than an emblazoned message that could put people off. A long-term relationship is much more valuable than a quick sales fix.
Colgate currently publishes 700 articles a month about oral hygiene. This content doesn’t plug their products, it’s just sharing knowledge and expertise acquired over more than 200 years in the toothpaste business. L’Oreal launched makeup.com – a quality online beauty magazine produced by their in-house team which consists of a number of ex-journalists and editors – but the site is not branded L’Oreal and the articles are not about selling products; it’s more about trusted content and a loyal community.
Brands are now becoming publishers, curating conversations. Red Bull has pioneered content marketing more than any other brand, blazing a trail away from traditional advertising to a content-based product, so much so that they’re a publishing company almost as much as a soft drinks company now. Its Red Bulletin is an “almost independent newspaper”.
Of course, most of us aren’t in a position to start publishing our own newspapers. But whether you’re thinking about one piece of content or 100, what really matters is the editorial approach and the trusted voice to build a meaningful community of people who actually look forward to hearing what you have to say.
>> Fed by some really insightful talks at www.crossmedialive.com
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