You could go as far to say that content is a fundamental facet of all things digital. What’s the point of your development team making a website functional and your design team making something beautiful, if the content is just worthless words on a page?
As content marketing is so elemental, it also means that it can be hard to define. Is it more directly linked to SEO, as creating great content can result in much higher search engine rankings? Or due to its concern with generating engagement, it could be considered to be more related to social media. It’s hard to place something so vital in a nice categorised box, so how can we pin down this broadly-defined and elusive ‘content marketing’?
The number one rule of thumb is that content should be relevant and engaging, as well as produced and distributed regularly. Sure, producing fantastic content can have a really positive impact on your site’s search engine rankings, for instance, or creating conversions, but these are by-products of the main reason why you should be putting worthwhile content out there. It should be about creating content that the user will be happy to see and subsequently devour, therefore making their experience with your brand one to remember.
What does it look like, however, under different guises and how can we tailor our content marketing depending on the way in which it will be distributed?
Have you ever been on a website and not instantly known what the company does? If yes, I'm guessing you didn't go searching page after page looking for an answer; you either pressed the little red ‘X’ or went somewhere else. The copy on your pages must be informative and relevant to the page on which it appears. None of this is radically new information, but it can be productive to think about writing your website copy for a user rather than for Google. If you write with your customer in mind, it'll make the task easier and more interesting for you as it'll come more naturally.
Something that makes a valuable addition to most (if not all) websites is a blog. Use blogging to give your brand a personality and give your users new and exciting information. Flaunt your expertise and position yourself as the go-to person for whichever topic you are writing about. The existence of a blog gives you the opportunity to connect with your users on a more emotional level and also makes it easy to regularly update your website with new content. And the paragraph you've just read is an example of something I like to refer to as 'meta-blogging'...
Social media is a crucial part of any content marketing strategy and social content is only ever going to become more important. Use it as a platform to produce new content and interact with your users; tweet about the latest things happening in your industry and your business and engage with your customers. This is another great way of building upon your brand identity; Sainsbury’s, for instance, generated excitement on social media when they proved themselves to be pun-masters during an exchange with a customer. Humour is not an attribute that would be naturally associated with the brand so this demonstrates how social media platforms can be an exciting realm for you to share content that you might not get out there otherwise, with the possibility to exhibit something new about your brand. Beyond this, social media can underlie all other aspects of marketing strategies, as whatever content you produce that is not primarily on a social media platform can be shared to expand a campaign’s reach.
Producing visual content for your brand is nothing new; think billboards, posters and infographics. It is now, however, very much interlinked with social media but producing visual content and posting it on a platform, for instance, is very different way of interacting with customers as discussed in the previous paragraph. This is where I would be inclined to separate platforms for predominantly written content (Facebook and Twitter) from more visual platforms (Instagram and Pinterest), however the distinction is not so black and white. Most, if not all, marketing strategies should have an element of visual content – for example, images in a blog post (meta-blogging again!).
Some campaigns or brands leverage visual as their main way of producing content. Humans of New York, started by photographer and author Brandon Stanton, has an impressive 5.9 million followers on Instagram and almost 18 million likes on Facebook. He posts beautifully raw street portraits on social media, accompanied with a caption which tells the story of the person in the photo. The content is primarily visual and when coupled with the written content, it generates an emotional response. In 2015, Brandon started a campaign to raise money for the Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn, NY – an area with a high crime rate. The aim of the campaign was to raise enough money to send one class on a visit to Harvard over the next three years in order to show them that nothing is out of reach. The campaign raised 1418% of its $100,000 target. This shows the power of visual content and social; this entire campaign was born out of a single photograph and a caption (pictured).
Video is huge and it's getting bigger. One third of all online activity is spent watching video and 80% of users remember video ads that they have viewed in the past month (just two of many video content statistics!). Video can be a fantastic means for saying what you want in a different way. The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, has reached international fame from his '#LeanIn15' videos – 15 second videos that show how to cook up a storm in the kitchen whilst still eating clean. To reach the same objective of encouraging people to eat well, written recipes could have been posted on a website and shared via social media, but it is unlikely that this would have had the same impact. By turning a piece of content from an instructional document to a simple, fun, 15 second video, Joe Wicks amassed such a following that now he can be found everywhere. Think about how your business could translate content that may traditionally be produced and shared as written into video.
Virtual and augmented reality
VR and AR are the future. Many brands have been dipping their toes into the virtual water to test market reactions and some with great success. Land Rover hit 143% of their pre-order target with the Discovery Sport, without any of these customers having seen the tangible product. They created an AR experience that allowed customers to see the interior and exterior of the vehicle, as well as operate some features before they decided to splash the cash on a new car.
It may seem that VR and AR have a limited scope for some businesses; what if you are providing a service, not a product? How could you create a virtual experience to showcase what you can do if there is nothing physical to showcase? Watch this 360° video from The Verge, which shows an interview with Michelle Obama in VR. This shows an example of how tutorials or interviews could easily function in VR, with the worry that people may turn their attention away from the main focus of the video combated by a thumbnail which features the main action reappearing on the screen when the user is looking in another direction. There will be a way that you can make VR or AR work for your business... no excuses!
The above is nowhere near a comprehensive view of content marketing. Ultimately, a fantastic piece of content is a great little 'something' that people will reap value from. Take the Director's Cut campaign by Verve Search as an example - a ranking of the top 10 films by number of onscreen deaths. The winner? PG-rated family film Guardians of the Galaxy, of course! This was shared on social media thousands of times, generated hundreds of links from authoritative domains and even had director James Gunn tweeting about it for two hours. This is a great example of creating discussion and link-worthy content. Another good example (we like to think) is our own #Flixmas campaign, which is a challenge to find all 20 hidden festive films in a Christmas scene. The intention behind it was not self-promotion, but to create something that people would enjoy and which deserves more than a quick glance. We hope that it's something people revisit and can enjoy again and again.
A blog about content marketing could go on forever because it's such a broad topic, but I'm going to leave it there and hope that you enjoyed this whistle-stop tour around some of the things that you can do with content. If you'd like to know more, then drop us a line.