Content Marketing

Trust = Barrier to Earned Digital Media Coverage

Digital media outlets are more open these days to content supplied by PR firms. At the same time, reporters remain highly skeptical of PR professionals who they claim too often provide misleading information.

The findings come from the 2015 Media Influencers Report prepared by D S Simon, a digital video communications firm. "Communicators are missing out on significant opportunities to earn media with their content in the digital space," the report says.

More than three-quarters of producers and journalists who responded to survey questions indicate they have used video they didn't produce. Almost the same percentage expressed willingness to post links or entire videos to digital outlets affiliated with television and radio stations, newspapers, magazines and blogger sites.

"This provides an unequaled opportunity for direct communication of the entire PR or marketing message to consumers," says Doug Simon, CEO of D S Simon.

However, PR professionals need to be careful not to foul their own nest. Ninety percent of producers and reporters say they have been misled by PR professionals, with a quarter of them saying they are misled often, which means there is an underlying lack of trust. A common problem is the failure to include proper disclosures on submitted video content.

There also is a gap in taking advantage of opportunities for "brand integration," which involves combining earned and paid media in a communications channel. Simon says it is easier for marketers to go for paid media instead of scratching a little harder for ways to earn media coverage.

The voracious appetite of media for fresh or compelling content, especially video content, is what has wedged open the door for third-party submissions. TV stations simply don't have enough film crews to fill up all the time slots devoted to news, which is why, according to the report, 93 percent of them accept third-party video. More than 80 percent of website producers, 78 percent of bloggers and 73 percent of magazines follow the same practice.

While B-Roll (pre-filmed material that often serves as background) is the top source of third-party digital content for TV stations, website producers and bloggers depend on it for infographics. Virtually all media outlets use images supplied by third-parrty sources. Newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers and even radio stations will link or include entire videos on their online platforms.

The report suggests digital platform managers look for news ideas on social media. Facebook and Twitter are by far the greenest pastures for producers and reporters, but there is significant attention paid to LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.

Television producers and newspaper assignment editors are the most likely to accept a story pitch via social media, but you can get luck with radio and website editors and bloggers, too.

As barriers have crumbled between public relations, marketing and advertising, new opportunities have risen for brand integration. Simon says this is still an emerging arena in which 50 percent of the PR professionals who inquire about it are shuttled off to news outlet advertising departments.

"Improving the quality of your creative content, pitch angles and relationships with the media increases the percentage of media you earn rather than pay for," says Simon. "While brand integration has a role, earning digital media is a more credible and authentic way to communicate with your key audiences."

Tuning Content for Your Audience's Ear

Content marketing is more than blasting content through a megaphone. It involves finding out what your audience wants and giving it to them.

Content marketing is more than blasting content through a megaphone. It involves finding out what your audience wants and giving it to them.

The secret to content marketing lies in knowing your audience, not someone's formula for success.

Neil Patel, writing for ragan.com, says too many content marketing initiatives go down in flames because they follow so-called best practices rather than the clues provided from target viewers.

"Take every best practice with a grain of salt. Do the one thing that matters: Know your audience," Patel urges. "Your form, method, frequency, length, style, approach, tone, structure, images should depend on what's best for your audience."

Content marketers are discovering what ad agencies have discovered – connecting with audiences requires more than shouting through a megaphone. Writing a blog that no one reads is just as much of a misfire as producing an ad that no one believes.

The "best practices" that Patel spears aren't necessarily bad practices to adopt. Snappy headlines, brisk copy, blogs, infographics all can be effective tools. But that's what they are – tools, not ends.

One clue to what your viewers are looking for is what they click on in your website. Typically, the most clicks are for team biographies and case studies. That suggests content centered on your team members and stories about your work.

Another way to ferret out what your viewers want is to ask them. Periodic surveys can combine a little fun with serious questions. This might lead to producing content, such as an informative Ebook, that responds to interests or needs that are expressed.

Tuning into online conversations is yet another way to hear what is on the minds of your audience. Creating content that follows – or bucks – trends could be a great way to capture attention.

One constant in content marketing that shouldn't be forgotten is the need to provide something useful. Usefulness could mean content that is entertaining, informative, relevant or eye-opening.

Another content marketing maxim is letting the form follow the function. Your content must be created, packaged and delivered so it arrives at the doorstep of your audience, whether that doorstep is a desktop, tablet or mailbox.

Many content marketing best practices have value and reflect track records of success. But Patel is right – they aren't where you start in designing an effective content marketing campaign. The place you start are the persons you want the message to end with – your audience.

The Marriage of TV Ads and Content Marketing

American Family Insurance's retro Super Bowl ad featuring Jennifer Hudson shows the power of combining paid media with online content marketing.

American Family Insurance's retro Super Bowl ad featuring Jennifer Hudson shows the power of combining paid media with online content marketing.

American Family Insurance splurged on a high-profile Super Bowl ad to launch an online campaign to encourage people to pursue their dreams fearlessly.

A singing Jennifer Hudson headlines the 60-second TV spot, which is set in a retro scene taken from the 1942 Edward Hopper painting called "Nighthawks." The ad is impressive, but what separates it from the average big-money spot is its social engagement component.

Clearly, American Family Insurance wants people to click on its website and get quotes for car or home insurance. But the website also contains a nicely designed "Dream Bank." "Every dream deserves the spotlight. Which is why DreamBank by American Family Insurance is using the biggest game of the year to give the spotlight to hardworking dreamers who have the courage to dream fearlessly."

After tripping through a section devoted to the aspiring actors who appeared in the Super Bowl ad with Hudson, you come to a section aimed at helping everyday dreamers. "Every dream starts with the dreamer," the section begins. "By understanding your strengths, motivations and fears, you can better focus on your dream and the path to get there." 

Dreamers are then led through a series of questions about what propels their dream, followed by a set of online resources, including 26 books to inspire kids to "dream bigger." Viewers are asked to sign up for updates as more content is posted.

In all, it is a worthy effort to get people's attention with an ad and then to sustain that attention online by offering something of value.

Without question, the emphasis on this project was the splashy ad. The Dream Bank is mostly a nascent idea with a trickle of content. But the concept is solid and shows the importance of interconnecting paid media and online content marketing. This is a strategy that can be pursued without a multi-million dollar advertising budget.

There are lots of ways to pique people's interest — through contests, events, direct mail, posters and storytelling — that gives them enough reason to follow-up online. The online material's job is to give a quick and positive first impression, then to offer well-packaged, accessible content that is informative and useful. 

Quality content will keep people coming back, so you get a chance at more than a one-time encounter. American Family Insurance undoubtedly hopes it can stay in touch with people who sign up as dreamers, with the hope their dreams will lead to the need for more or different insurance. Hopefully, the company will see beyond mere clicks for quotes to the possibility of building an online community centered on empowering and realizing life dreams. Being associated with that social enterprise will bring richer dividends than a few new auto insurance policies.

You know content marketing is catching on when even big-league ad agencies find ways to promote it. Just remember, you don't need a big-league ad agency to launch your own combined campaign of outreach and engagement.

Content Marketing + Savvy Promotion

Great content is hard to produce, but will go for naught without hard-headed promotion to reach the intended eyeballs of your customers or clients.

Great content is hard to produce, but will go for naught without hard-headed promotion to reach the intended eyeballs of your customers or clients.

Effective content marketing requires producing the content, then promoting it through a variety of channels. The art is knowing what to write and the science is knowing how and where to promote it, says Intel content strategist Luke Kintigh.

Like it or not, 90 percent of viewership comes from 10 percent of the content. Some pieces are winners and some just trot along for the ride. Kintigh argues for a promotional strategy of placing your bets on the winners who show the best promise of attracting clicks.

According to a story by Russell Working, writing for ragan.com. Kintigh's strategy has tripled page views of Intel's iQ online magazine over the last year.

Like many other smart brands, Intel has turned to content marketing, using the online magazine as its thought leadership platform. iQ contains a wide array of stories about how technology is transforming everything from health care to craft beer. Intel pays to promote its content.

Many companies and nonprofits lack the financial resources of an Intel or a Microsoft to produce and promote compelling content. But the lessons from the big guys still apply. Good content and savvy promotion can pay dividends.

Not every piece you write will be a big hit. That doesn't mean the piece is worthless if it demonstrates your expertise or grasp of a complex situation. A piece like that only has to be read once by the right person to pay off.

Regardless whether your content is read by thousands or just a few, promotion is critical to make sure the right eyeballs see it. That's why you need to know where your customers or clients are paying attention to relevant content.

When you aren't able to produce enough content to fill an online magazine, it pays to focus on what you know and what your customers or clients need to know. Utility is the golden rule of content marketing.

Tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are no-cost ways to put some social media spin to your content. Direct email works, too. When you have something really special to share, putting a little advertising money behind it can give it an online boost.

The key takeaway – producing content is hard, but it is a fool's errand unless it is combined with hard-headed promotion so your content reaches the audience for which it is intended.

Compelling Corporate Storytelling

Microsoft Stories, "An inside look at the people, places and ideas that move us," is an excellent example of corporate storytelling.

The website looks and feels like an online magazine. It is actually a collection of corporate stories made to look like an online magazine. It is content marketing designed to give Microsoft staffers a face and Microsoft customers an entertaining experience.

The key "message" is subordinated to storytelling. Readers are engaged, not just message targets.

One of the featured stories is a profile about Kiki Wolfkill (her real name), who is in charge of the "Halo" video game, which has gone from a first-person perspective to an immersive world where players consume and create the game as they play. 

We learn through the profile, written and laid out in magazine style, that Wolfkill combines her talent as an artist with her thirst for speed as a racecar driver to stimulate her design adrenalin. By the end of the piece, you would like to talk to Wolfkill over one of her Asian fusion home-cooked meals.

A video game has gone from a game to a face. 

Other stories describe how five young technologists, who were finalists in Microsoft's Challenge for Change program, visited the Amazon, a former NFL player uses technology to battle ALS and a computer scientist splits​ his time between developing software and making wine. You even learn the Seattle Seahawks mascot doubles as a Microsoft demo whiz.

Users Become the Brand

A 60-second TV ad centers on parenthood and Apple's iPhone5s, the constant companion to monitor a child in a crib, show a toddler how to brush teeth and find a stray dog. It is an example of users becoming the brand.

The ad doesn't show off spiffy features of the smartphone; it showcases how users use it. The ad leaves parents wondering how they could live without an iPhone, not how much it costs.

This isn't a new concept for Apple, which has devoted more of its marketing mojo to benefits than features. But this ad goes further. It is a primer on how people use the iPhone. It is an ad chocked full of content, not claims.

Content marketing is already an established thrust online.  But it almost seems foreign to the basic idea and execution of TV advertising. 

As content-driven strategies have gained strength, advertising has been relegated to brand reinforcement. The Apple parenthood ad shows advertising can brim with content, too.

The ad also signals a movement toward creating connections, not desires. Snappy car ads want to lure you into a showroom, but Apple's ad brings the iPhone into your house, to address your everyday problems and challenges.

Simplicity Sells

Despite all evidence to the contrary, people resist the principle that simplicity sells. The simple truth is that it does. 

People loathe complicated instructions. They quickly abandon websites with confusing navigation. They click off YouTube videos that are too long and too boring.

With shortened attention spans and a lot of competition for mind-share, people want things simplified. It's that plain and, shall we say, simple.

American writing has become more simplified and uncluttered since Ernest Hemingway. Advertising copy and jingles, 28-minute sitcoms and mobile devices all have contributed to the trend of compressing a lot into a little space.

Brevity has gone from a virtue to a necessity. Simplicity helps determine the winner in the binary world of "click on" or "click off."

Yet many people, including PR professionals, continue to insist on "telling the whole story." They miss the point that you have to get people interested in the first line of the story before you earn the opportunity to tell more.

Values Over Volume

Advertising can be faulted for failing to state a product's value proposition. But ads also can fail to speak to the hearts of consumers about values.

Digital media has created headaches for advertising executives. Content marketing has confounded them. But in some ways, the revolution in technology has released advertising from its own boundaries.

People don't "believe" advertising, so it makes little sense to pound away at your value proposition. Even Wal-Mart has shifted its advertising from a bouncing yellow ball knocking over price tags on its shelves to ads featuring customers "discovering" they can buy what they need at a lower cost than a competitor store. Same message, but very different context.

In a blog post published by ragan.com, Chad Cipoletti argues that sometimes it is better for advertising to sell values than products. He cites the 1988 Nike ad showing 80-year-old Walt Stack on his daily run. As he crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, Stack says, "I run 17 miles every morning. People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime. I leave them in my locker." 

Going Viral Versus Going Long

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for many content generators is a post that goes viral. That's great, but a better goal is to supply content that a growing group of loyal viewers can't wait to see.

In a recent forum, copywriters and videographers were asked to solve the riddle of how to make a post go viral. Many of the answers were surprising.

"Don't focus on making your posts go viral," counseled one writer. "Viral is short-lived and unsustainable. Focus instead on hitting singles and doubles. Strive to put out great content consistently and become known for that."

Another writer echoed those thoughts:  "To me, blog posts going viral shouldn't be a goal. If a blog post goes big, great…but my goal is to reach my core, niche audience on a consistent basis. Bloggers get so focused on page views and unique visitors, when the real metrics should be to get and keep subscribers and work those subscribers into revenue-generating paths to purchase." 

Turning a Target Audience into a Persona

You are well advised to understand what makes your target audience tick. But connecting with your intended audience requires talking to them as people, not targets.

The advice we give is to identify your customer persona, even creating an image of who they are, what they look like and where they hang out.

If you use digital devices, you are aware that data miners are digging for information about you to customize the ads and opportunities they present to you. There is nothing wrong with that, but it isn't a substitute for a content marketing approach that digs deeper.

One of the most important places to start in the conversion of a target audience into a customer persona is examining why a customer would care about your product or service. What problem in their lives does it solve? How would it make life easier or more convenient for them? Why would they choose your product over other alternatives?

Wrestling with these questions, which requires more than a statistical assessment of website clicks, is what generates a customer persona.

Animate Presentations to Simulate Videos

Even though video is easier to produce today than ever, it still scares off a lot of content managers. A clever and convenient alternative is the animated presentation.

Designing visually arresting electronic presentations is less complicated to master than producing good video content. And if you set out to design the presentation to simulate a video, you can achieve surprisingly effective results. 

Here are some basic tips: 

Create a storyboard

You will design your best electronic presentations if you start with a storyboard, just like video producers. The storyboard is a visual tool that forces you to show what you mean, not just type in a bunch of bullet points. Storyboards don't need to rise to a high art form. Stick figures and scribbles serve the purpose just as well of how to advance the story in your presentation. When you design the presentation, the storyboard will serve as a guide for what visuals and text you will need.

Think like a video producer

Most times you design a presentation to deliver yourself. But in this case, think like a producer and design a presentation that will be on its own. That means making sure your slides tell a story, not just list points. It also can mean adding a voice-over to move along the narrative. Because electronic presentations can handle rich-media, include audio and short video clips to your arsenal of potential storytelling techniques.

Design slides that are scenes

Presentation slides can linger for several minutes while someone talks, but that won't hold a viewer's attention in a video-like format. You need to design slides in the same way directors use cuts to sustain interest and surprise the eyes of viewers. This usually involves thinking of a slide as a short scene in the progression of a story as opposed to a key message with sub-points. How you design the scene determines the success of each slide.

'Transparency Is a Mindset'

"Leveling with your customers or stakeholders isn't exceptional or special. It's just good business.""Transparency is a mindset, not a strategy," writes blogger Stan Smith. We agree.

In his "pushing social" blog, Smith says, "Your readers deserve to hear it straight. They didn't sign up for spin or false bravado."

Smith is offering advice to bloggers, but the same advice applies to all content marketing or crisis communication. Honesty isn't a strategy; it is a mindset. You either level with customers and stakeholders or try to negotiate the truth.

Southwest Airlines is facing that challenge today of explaining why the pilot of its Flight 4013 landed Sunday night in the Taney County Airport instead of its intended destination, the airport in Branson, Missouri. 

Discovering the Amazing Corporate Story

Telling genuine stories about exceptional service and product quality is a way to woo customers.Most companies have moved on from the corporate line to the corporate story, but they still fail to connect with customers and clients because their words don't ring genuine.

Toeing the corporate line faded into disuse because customers and employees increasingly blew off rote recitation of claims that seemed more spun than truthful. It is harder in the digital age to pull the wool over someone's eyes than it is to be unmasked as a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Corporate storytelling can be more compelling because people like to listen to stories, a habit formed since early childhood. But customers can tell the difference between real stories and fairy tales. If the corporate story doesn't match the real corporate persona, then the story turns to pixie dust.

The irony is that most companies have good stories to tell. Their problem is failing to look for them.

Many corporate employees, acting on their own or with encouragement from their managers, do the right thing by customers and often go above and beyond what is expected. Telling those stories puts a personal face on a company and speaks to its core values.

The Discipline of the Editorial Calendar

Content marketing involves generating or curating content. It requires disciplined maintenance of an editorial calendar to keep the content flowing on schedule. 

In advertising campaigns, you approve TV or radio spots or newspaper display ads, then rely on someone in the ad agency to buy the time and space. You just send a check.

Content marketing is more of a contact sport. You have to develop content that is relevant and useful for your target audience and make sure you produce the content when it is timely.

It does little good to publish a blog about how to make pumpkin pancakes in March.

The role of an editorial calendar is to help you keep track of important dates and planned content. The editorial calendar should show who is responsible for generating what content and when it is due. 

Effective editorial calendars also incorporate the deadlines of the publications and blogs you are pitching. Magazines, for example, have their own editorial calendars, which include deadlines and procedures for accepting pitches and actual content.

The editorial calendar can be an efficient and handy way to keep track of key reporters, editors and bloggers and their contact information. It might even remind you to make contacts with your media targets that don’t involve a pitch to establish or deepen your relationships.

Tapping into Puppy Love

People love puppies, which is why so many of them show up in ads and marketing content. They are animal celebrities.If you want to attract audience eyeballs, put a puppy in your ad or marketing content. Puppies sell.

Who but the most rabid anti-dog person can resist the flappable, fur-flying action of a puppy. Mankind has spent so much time with dogs at their side or feet, we have infused their faces with human expressions of endless love and loyalty. Even pictures of abused dogs break our heart.

Keep track of the number of dogs (and the occasional cat) that appear in the ads you watch. Of course they show up in dog food ads, but they are also there for cleaning, baby and human food products. They sell tacos. They look adorable wearing outrageous fashions. They appear in go-vegetarian campaigns. They are used to sell reliable Subarus.

Content with a Purpose

Content marketing is in many cases replacing advertising. However, content marketing must follow the example of advertising and provide a clear call to action to customers and clients.

While advertising tries to reach customers by sheer repetition of a simple message, content marketing seeks to convince by the reliable presence of valuable information. Websites and social media become information portals where customers can find tips and advice they trust.

But content marketing cannot slip into the role of librarian or simply serve as a magazine rack. The point of content marketing is to draw customers toward your product and service. Content marketers must integrate calls to action in the information they provide — and make it easy for customers to try out or purchase their products and services.

This can range from easy-to-find phone numbers to offers of free products or consultations. You can invite website viewers to watch a video demo and promote it on your Facebook page. You can feature a trial version of a product or showcase a how-to guide. You can couple a white paper with a coupon.

As the name implies, content marketing means selling your product through content. To be effective, you need both the content and the sales pitch. This demands intelligent website design. Content must be prominently displayed. So must your call to action.

Studies indicate many business fumble the ball by not providing quality, original content and, when they do, failing to combine it with effective calls to action. They have static websites. Valuable content, if available, is buried. Calls to action are either invisible or overdone. 

A Third Way for the Media

What if a media outlet's advertising staff consisted of writers, photographers and graphic designers who produced custom content for clients that ran in clearly designated, but parallel tracks to the outlet's news content?

Far-fetched? In a digital world that rewards content marketing, it may already be a reality, which traditional media have been slow to embrace.

Bill Momary, writing for NetNewsCheck, says traditional media may be off track trying to find ways to monetize their news content. What they should do instead, he suggests, is gear up to help advertisers tell their stories through content marketing published in conjunction with news content.

That could involve advertising departments hiring writers, photographers, videographers and graphic designers to generate compelling content that tells a story about new products or improved customer service. 

The idea splinters the image, held by old-time reporters and editors like me, that news and advertising staffs work in parallel, but separate universes. In the new model hinted at by Momary, the separation would remain, but the skill sets of the news and marketing content generators would be almost identical. Staff on both sides of the newsroom "Iron Curtain" would be looking for fresh, inviting and informative stories to entice readers.

What these new online publications would look like isn't pictured in Momary's blog, but you could imagine a blending not unlike what you see evolving in social media sites. Except in the case of online news outlets, there would be a built-in acceptance of seeing news and marketing content side by side, unlike on Facebook, which may have spoiled a generation of original users by making its platform available for free. 

Case Study of 'Show Me' Content

Two Portland teenagers want to engage young people on the issue of climate change by building a sustainable house and documenting the steps they take to lessen its carbon footprint. They want to show how everyone can make a difference on what the teens believe is the biggest issue facing their generation.

It is a perfect example of "show me" content.

Forest, 18, and Augest, 15, Endicott say they have secured a land donation for the house and have turned to Kickstarter to raise $395,000 to build it and document what they call an "EcoJuggernaut" journey to "uncover truths behind global warming and discover the actions that can deliver the greatest impact for solving it."

Describing themselves as "tenacious teens," they promise their Kickstarter investors a "front seat" on their "epic adventure to discover what it will take to stop global warming, and how the younger generation can lead the effort to actually reverse the current trends causing it." You also get a free T-shirt.

Forest and Augest say they will "research and investigate sustainable claims in their effort to discover for themselves, along with the audience, what sustainable technology, designs and simple steps can turn our buildings into energy preservers and generators." They will "apply what they discover with hands-on construction, by building a real home from the ground up, capable of producing more energy than it uses."

The Endicotts promise to "weed out greenwashing and eco-placeboes that too often take us down a road to nowhere." They also pledge to make the EcoJuggernaut "edgy, fun, suspenseful, hard-hitting, adventurous, inspiring, mind blowing, engaging, relevant and always real." A reality show with substance.

Curating Your Own Content

Scrambling to create original content is challenging. You can ease the burden by curating your own content and repackaging and refining it in new, useful ways to your target audiences.Content creation can be a demanding chore. One way to cope with the challenge is to repackage your best content.

We recently combed through our blogs, which are dutifully freshened at least weekly, and were startled at the gems we discovered. We offered advice, shared case studies and provided insights as valuable today as when the blogs were originally written.

Instead of letting them gather digital dust, we've decided to resurrect, repackage and repurpose our best blogs into one or more e-books.

Think of it as curating your own content.

Giving Consumers Help, Not Hype

Wary consumers don't want hype. They want brands that help them solve problems and offer relevant, useful and profound experiences.For consumers, it's no longer enough to have brand identity or a clever ad campaign. Consumers are attracted to brands that solve problems, answer questions or provide useful service. Online marketing guru Jay Baer calls them brands with "youtility." 

Baer says marketing today is harder than ever before. "The challenges faced by major brands are substantial — and getting bigger," he writes in a guest blog for IBM. "Successful marketing has been more difficult, as consumers are adrift in a sea of invitation, with companies of every size, shape and description trying to reach them through an always expanding nexus of media, both traditional and newfangled." 

As a result, consumers are "weary and wary of message and mechanism."