While Tim Grice was giving a talk at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference earlier this month, I was heading to the Content Marketing Show in London. A day full of all things content marketing sounded, at the very least, promising.
Indeed, the CMS 2014 had everything. The talks revolved around topics such as devising successful content marketing strategies, presenting tested online PR tactics (that actually work), ideas for creating engaging visual content, success measurement methods and, indispensably, tips on how not to ridicule your brand on social media.
With the buzz around content marketing continually growing over the last couple of years, business owners and internal marketing teams have grown somewhat… suspicious. Is it truly about brands becoming publishers? Do I really have to publish fresh content all the time? How do I know if my content will be successful? Is social for everyone? How can I keep coming up with cool ideas ALL THE TIME? Well, the CMS speakers attempted to answer all these questions, with some amongst them sharing their own experiences.
Here are some key takeaways from the 15 talks I attended last Thursday:
Don’t try to be cool on social. Just be human
I think we’ll all agree that content published by brands on social media accounts for a large portion of the nonsense floating around out there these days. Stephen Waddington highlighted some cases where brands tried to behave like the “cool guys” in the social party, only to end up looking nothing short of the Lloyd Christmas of social media.
The conclusion drawn from Waddington’s talk was that brands can succeed on social media platforms, as long as they are brave, honest, and…human, meaning that empathy should form part of their social “personality” and automation should not be the norm.
Or, to put it in Waddington’s words: “Stop posting sh*t on the internet”.
Data is key in creating and measuring a content marketing campaign
Content marketing, as much as any other line of marketing, is results-driven and that means that it must be data-driven. Awesome ideas are brought to life on clients’ websites, but if the right tools are not in place, when the time to report back comes, there’s an important piece missing: substantial evidence.
Brands have relied for too long on social shares or standard key metrics from platforms like Google Analytics, when it comes to measuring their content strategies’ efficiency and success. Two speakers, Johary Rafidison and Andrew Davies, focused on the role of data in content marketing.
Rafidison pointed out that there are plenty of tools out there that can give us valuable insight into the audiences’ preferences and behaviour as well as into how a brand’s content spreads online. He then presented two of them, Gephi and CartoDB.
Davies, COO and Co-founder of Idio, gave an insightful talk on how content measurement can be taken to a higher level, combining specialised software and data acquired from other parts of a business, such as the sales or the customer services teams.
For both speakers, a data-driven content strategy is key to success, as data enables us to not only create content that our audience will like, but also to understand at a deeper level what audiences really expect from a brand. It also allows us to see whether an awareness campaign is working or not, or how the “engagement” that a campaign generated actually translated in real terms.
There is no such thing as a “boring industry” (only boring content strategies)
Jasper Martens’ talk was definitely one of the highlights of the day. With many amongst us having to devise original, engaging content strategies for companies that (theoretically) belong in the “boring” side of the entrepreneurial activity, Simply Business’ Head of Marketing and Communications detailed how the brand managed to compete against companies with far deeper pockets than their own (like moneysupermarket.com).
The answer is “by consistently creating engaging, relevant content that addresses their audience’s inner needs and is not oriented towards directly selling their products”. Content marketing it seems is way more cost effective than advertising.
Their strategy was so effective that at some point they even stopped paying for Google Ads for the main keywords in their industry.
There was another key point in Martens’ talk for me: go big. Not only when you plan a new content marketing strategy and everything looks promising. Go big after you’ve failed. Simply Business invested more heavily in content after their initial strategy had been put to the test (and had partially failed).
In content marketing, failure is not the proof that content won’t do it for you, but it is merely a sign that you need to do it better next time.
Note: Chelsea Blacker’s talk also revolved around this topic, containing some useful case studies of successfully promoting “boring” brands (or “challenging” brands, e.g. in the gambling industry) with content marketing and online PR. An approach that I found interesting was about turning internal staff into experts and publishing the content they produce on the company site, which can then give a brand the opportunity to promote them as content creators for other sites.
Think, act and write like a journalist (just don’t drink like one, too)
My past experiences working as a journalist and editor have helped me immensely in this profession. It’s no wonder that Steve Masters’ (from Red Rocket Media) talk about taking a journalistic approach to content marketing had me reminiscing of my days as a reporter.
By now, most of you have probably heard that brands need to become publishers in order to widen their audiences and boost their online visibility. As a statement this one usually doesn’t cause any remarks or comments from the people in the company, probably because it is considered only natural the way Google has evolved.
But what does it mean? How can, let’s say, an SEO expert, who can probably type thousands of lines of HTML code but not even one line in English that makes sense (let alone intrigue audiences and generate engagement), become a content marketer?
Well, Steve discussed the importance of sniffing out an angle for your content and focused on the use of interviews as part of a brand’s content, giving some practical tips on how to conduct a successful interview.
Let me add to this that just saying that brands must become “publishers” in the online era is nothing more than an empty statement (most of the time). Brands, primarily, need to think like publishers, meaning that thorough research of their audiences and their topics must be at the heart of their content marketing strategies. It means that content can no longer consist of 300 words that are more boring than the Yellow Pages. It means that the goal is not to produce content for the sake of it, but to produce content that users will “buy”. And this is tough.
It also means that content marketers will probably end up competing with journalists in the alcohol levels in their blood, but that’s a whole different blog post.
It’s all been said before. Or not?
For everyone working in marketing, there is one word that accompanies their every thought and idea: “originality”. Many ideas have made us yell “Eureka!” while driving or cooking or lying in bed (we can become a bit obsessive, that’s the truth), only to realise upon the triumphant announcement to the team that… it’s been done before. By many others. Devastating.
Tanglewood’s Ralph Goldberg spoke about video marketing and how archetypes can be used to produce an effective video marketing campaign. Essentially, Goldberg explained how the main narratives have remained the same throughout the centuries; the hero’s journey contains the same milestones in Homer’s Odyssey and in Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Does this mean we can no longer tell an original story, because someone else has probably already beaten us to it? Categorically not. It means that we can use the stories and the archetypes that (most) people will recognise and identify with, in order to tell a story that will engage our audience. But we can also give it a twist, placing our own unique mark on it, if we want to create something that will stand a chance of really making a difference.
Creativity doesn’t come knocking on your door
It is usually the case that in content marketing conferences, speakers and attendees get too absorbed by diving into best tactics and strategies, focusing on results or sharing case studies, so that we all forget one thing: how do you trigger creativity?
Lisa Myers, founder and CEO of Verve Search, talked about how a manager can inspire his creative team and help them keep the creative juices flowing. Methods include anything from playing with Legos to high-fives. The point here is not to go to one’s team on Monday with bags full of LEGO (and I’m sure I won’t start high-fiving any of my team-mates, sorry Lisa). The takeaway is that people working in the creative industries need to maintain high levels of creativity in order to perform well. And that is difficult.
People in different niches might think that we get paid to “sit on Facebook and browse funny websites all day” (yes, I’ve heard it before as a job description of what I do). The bitter truth is that if we don’t make time for the funny-website-browsing-thing then we won’t be able to perform our duties; creativity can be a b*tch and that means that you have to work pretty hard to make her stick with you.
So, remember that, although the schedule in marketing departments or agencies is usually pretty hectic, you need to make time for your team. It’s up to you to decide what you do with this time; if your team needs more time to browse on the internet, that’s fine. And so is putting a pool table in a room, playing with LEGO, organising team activities or challenges (but not high-fives).
All in all…
The Content Marketing Show 2014 didn’t fail me in any aspect. Its main success lies in the fact that it included presentations to appeal to its diverse audience (delegates from digital agencies and in-house marketing departments, writers and business owners) and I hope that everyone walked away having learnt something new – or, at least, having found some inspiration to carry on with content marketing.
If you want to find out more about the speakers or their presentations, the presentation decks have now been uploaded to the site here.
As always, don’t hesitate to contact Branded3 with any questions regarding the Content Marketing Show 2014 or content marketing.