The key to successful content marketing

If content marketing is all the marketing we have left, why are we wasting time creating unread, unshared noise, asks Alexandra Tselios?

Content marketing, content plans, intelligence marketing, influencer marketing – all terms I hear that cause my eyes to glaze over.

Alexandra Tselios

The digital space is noisier and more convoluted than ever, and a streamlined digital campaign is no longer as simple as placing a banner on a website and counting the CTR.

We are all acutely aware of the challenges we face when it comes to digital engagement, from banner blindness and rogue traffic to ad-blocking.

When I first launched The Big Smoke, my focus had been on quality content from writers, politicians, comedians and the like. I also wanted to monetise the site, but in my mind they were two different things.

While my journey so far has been marred by lessons, failures and awkward moments, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to stop asking “How do I monetise my site?” and to instead ask “How can the ecosystem I have created become of value to brands?”.

ThinkstockPhotos-content strategy blog illo

I learnt that while the lure of pumping out content can seem attractive, I needed to take a data-driven approach to understand the value of why that content is often overlooked and how an opportunity to develop creative and nuanced communication with great reach could be lost.

I also wanted to understand why many brands have felt disappointed with the ROI (if they received any) from huge spends with what are currently considered social media influencers.

Is it worth paying a girl with 20,000 followers to sip your coconut water? It’s why start-ups like Hypetap and other data-driven platforms are becoming more necessary than ever, and yet with that we risk data overload.

So what actually matters? The answer, it seems, depends on who you ask. The over-referenced Seth Godin said that content marketing is all the marketing we have left, and the evidence of these wasted opportunities is seen when brands produce unread, unshared noise.

I, like many, also feel bored by the commercial content being pushed out on both other publisher’s sites and a brand’s own blog when it adds no value to my life – content such as ‘The 3 shocking reasons I should drink more coffee (sponsored by XYZ coffee)’ – and can’t imagine it adds too much to an every-day reader’s life either.

content is king

Measurement & Interest

As a creative team, we realised early on that we needed to focus on producing content that had clearly defined metrics in place to measure its effectiveness. Then we’d be confident that what we could realistically bring to the table would actually matter to the brand, rather than just promising eyeballs that quite often couldn’t compete against major players.

Our content team is overseen by someone who has been the head of marketing for Proctor & Gamble in the UK, and headed up a number of major advertising agencies in Australia, so our prospective has become much more nuanced than simply ‘Can we pump out a listicle and send an invoice?’.

More often than not, the clients we deal with want metrics that are not based on mass impressions, but rather are about driving engagement (how that in itself is measured again depends on specific needs) or a call to action.

We then collectively approach the campaign with the intent to write it as the reader, and a step further, the sharer.

Any time a piece of content is about to be sent to a client for approval, the team asks themselves, honestly, “Would I click on this to read it and then would I bother sharing it?” If the answer is ‘no’, we start over.

We don’t want to just produce native content to pay the bills; we want to produce content that matters.

A recent example of working on this alongside a client would be the 2015 launch of Invigor Group’s unique price comparison app, Shopping Ninja.the big smoke beer snob dan murphys menu

Tailoring Content & Influencers

The Big Smoke worked on this campaign by running a series of articles that focused on the unique and quirky stories of the customers who would benefit the best from using the app.

We did this by using a beer snob, who set out to get the best deal for beer that he could without having to put his pants on (a bonus, for some customers apparently!). He explained his legitimate experience in making the purchase and why he felt it was a game-changer.

We then published this article, which was shared the writers network and ours, as well as paid amplification of the piece. Invigor Group told us after the campaign that the week the pieces went live they saw a 40% increase in downloads of the app while we continued to learn and measure what our readers respond well to and what they actually want to know about.

What I have learned is that our readers do want to understand what products or services make their lives better, but it has to be done with authenticity.

When we wrote a number of native content pieces for an art gallery in Sydney, we saw that not only did the pieces do well as they were entered around connectivity and brand awareness, but the client advised me that for the campaign period on The Big Smoke, 29% of their traffic was coming straight from us.

To see tangible results, and then the feedback from clients helps us navigate the digital seas so that we don’t just keep giving the same ambiguous data so many clients and brands don’t quite know what to do with.the big smoke red soul film investment screen shot

Relevance & Value

Another client we worked with was trying to raise capital for a film and wanted exposure for two reasons; to prompt interest in potential investors and to highlight the film’s trailer. Via a partnership, we used Squerb technology to track the response of our readers towards both the interview with the client, and the actual trailer being promoted.

We then distributed this article using programmatic technology to expose the interview to the target audience the client had specified, as well as programmatic site retargeting.

Following this we were able to deliver to the client not only the standard metrics of CTR’s, shares and content reach, but also nuanced opinions that gave closer insight into why the audience shared that article or responded to it.

The value around this was essentially tied back into the idea that we want to create content that tells a story, both to the reader and back to the brand, and one of the ways we can do that is through a simple reaction grid which collections opinions and reports the analytics behind the topic.

We still have so much to learn about how to give an audience what they want to consume, but what we do know is that users do not want to be ‘sold at’ or experience too much digital intrusion.

On top of this, we also need to constantly understand how advancements in both data and technology will impact our core offering in a way that works for us, rather than causes us to fall behind.storytelling - story - book -ThinkstockPhotos-476074175

Collaborative partnerships

While a challenging climate for many publishers, I feel the opportunity lies in understanding that audiences actually do want to hear about products and services, so it makes sense for writers to understand relevancy and ‘owning’ that narrative, whether it sits on a brand’s blog, or their content fits seamlessly into a publisher’s platform.

As it stands we are still a small independent publisher, but we have attempted to use this opportunity to bring in great bloggers with smaller audiences. We do this by partnering with writers who may already contribute but also have a niche blog or social media presence and can then be represented commercially as part of a bigger deal encompassing the aggregate audience of a number of websites within our ecosystem.

We have been able to see a campaign reach multiple audiences that are then overseen by measuring each channel with the metrics in mind that the particular client values – for example, is it downloads of an app or simply brand awareness (shares) that matter?

Without understanding this we would fail to measure the right way. So the opportunity to use distinctive content as a way of engaging with an audience must be part of an ever-evolving solution integrating a brand’s unique narrative.

More content does not mean more engagement. In fact, if anything, it’s simply adding to the noise. The focus, in essence, is really then about navigating that fine balance of producing valuable content without falling into click-bait techniques that result in a disappointing user experience.

Welcome to the magical world of reading!

The approach by the writers producing the content is crucial, and a marketing degree does not mean one has the ability to produce engaging content for a brand. Recently, on Mumbrella, Brian Corrigan discussed the idea that content marketing should be a move for journalists.

I entirely agree with his approach, and believe that if publishers and writers want to see sustainability then wanting to form collaborative creative relationships with the right brands is about providing value to both the advertiser and the audience.

Knowing how to write, how to engage and how to tell a story to digital natives is the way that brands are going to be able to compete alongside editorial content, and the results must speak for themselves. We can’t beat the mass traffic of other sites, but often that isn’t even what will benefit the brands campaign, nor the targeted message.

I see a new opportunity, with a shift towards changing the question around why we produce content (the answer should not be ‘to sell at someone’), to asking and determining what value we bring to the table every time we press that ‘publish’ button.

Alexandra Tselios, social commentator and founder of opinion website TheBigSmoke.com.au


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