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Content marketing a ‘slow burn’, as creators question if brands can be ‘authentic’

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9l-r) Tim Burrowes; Tim Buesing; Chris Collacot; Lucy Sutton; Micha Schwing

There remain too many “vanity metrics” around content marketing while one strategist admitted it is hard for brands to come across as authentic during a panel discussion yesterday.

During the event, organised by Mumbrella and Getty Images, brands were told they must set out their objectives more clearly but were warned they should not expect overnight success in terms of sales.

Questions were also raised over whether brands, through content marketing, could come across as “authentic” or whether it was just a shallow attempt to increase revenue.

Lucy Sutton, content strategist at King Content, said: “I don’t know if it’s my cynical journalistic background but I find myself cynical that a brand can be authentic. It’s tricky because at the end of the day everyone is trying to sell something. We are all trying to get something out of someone and I don’t know whether it’s possible for a brand to overcome that.”

She described a content marketing strategy as a “slow burn” and urged brands to know what they want to achieve. “You cannot switch on content marketing and get leads at your door the next day. It’s a slow burn, it’s long, slow relationship building,” she said.

Asked what return on investment brands were looking for, Sutton said: “There’s a lot of vanity metrics, looking at traffic, likes and shares. What we get people to think about is ROO – return on objective. What exactly are you trying to achieve? Are you just trying to get eyeballs? Are you trying to have a meaningful conversation? If so, and the comments section on your website is empty then that’s a pretty good indication that you are failing.”

She also rejected the notion that it was possible to have a content marketing “campaign”, insisting the word should be “struck from the vocabulary”, adding King Content staff operate an “always-on” mentality and “keep on planning”.

“When brands come to us asking us to develop a campaign we say no, sorry, that’s not what we do,” she said.

But Tim Buesing, creative director at digital agency Reactive, described an always-on approach as “dangerous” in that it “creates a massive expectation” with the client.

He also rejected the notion that brands could redirect their entire budget into content marketing at the exclusion of other forms of marketing. While Getty Images content strategy global director Micha Schwing argued that such a strategy could work “because people spend so much time on those platforms”, Buesing insisted “there is much room for other things”, including retail marketing and TV.

“There are many mechanisms that work together,” he said, citing Coles as an example where “sometime you just have to tell people the bread is on offer”.

Sutton however said vast amounts of content could be provided for the cost of one 15-second a TV commercial. “It’s insane how much money people are paying to put an ad in front of people who are probably not watching anyway,” she said. “With content marketing you can be sure that people are looking because you have metrics and measurements to figure out what is working rather than hope someone is watching the TV.”

Schwing told the panel that too many brands are overlooking visual content – which is often the key driver for sharing –  and rarely features in initial discussions with clients. “Visuals grab the attention and humans are more likely to share pictures than text,” she said. “I’d be happy if visuals were even mentioned in the first conversation. It’s a missed opportunity and is often one of the last things that brands think about. But consumers really connect with visual content.”

She also disagreed with Sutton’s view that brands struggle to be authentic, arguing it is easier to get authenticity through content marketing than a national commercial. “You can be more truthful and playful with content marketing because often it flies a bit under the radar whereas a mainstream campaign is very public,” Schwing said.

The panel also debated whether brands could use content marketing to challenge stereotypes, change perceptions and take risks.

Chris Collacott, senior content marketing automation strategist for Deloitte Digital, said that in the B to B environment in particular, companies are “switching on to the fact that diversity is good business”.

“From an internal perspective it helps to disrupt patterns of thinking and it explores new options for clients in general,” he said. “Typically clients are more likely to resonate and respond to a company that is embracing diversity. From a content marketing perspective you are starting to see an emergence of that”

Buesing said marketers are increasingly “very open” to the discussion of diversity, explaining that a recent meeting with an FMCG “in the kitchen environment” discussed the type of family it wanted to portray “whether a patchwork family, single parents or ethnically diverse”.

“It’s getting easier and easier to talk about this. But in contrast to the US, I still find that our visual measurement in Australia is lagging from the reality,” he said.

But Sutton suggested it remained difficult for many brands as challenging stereotypes could seem “inauthentic if they were not practicing what they were preaching.”

“If they are talking about strong women in leadership and the brand has no women on the board, it’s a little tricky to get into that conversation if they are not inclusive as a brand. It’s almost like opening that door would be dangerous and put the microscope on them,” she said.

Steve Jones

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