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Opportunities & Challenges in Content Marketing

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You want to see traffic to your brand’s website grow and you want new customers to engage with your business online. But how do you make it happen? John Ring offers some handy tips.

Many brands have discovered that one of the most effective methods of connecting with their audience is by providing content that interests them. Indeed content marketing has also shown to be 62% cheaper than traditional marketing methods.

According to a recent Brandwatch report, around 76% of B2B brands maintain a social media presence and those accounts are surprisingly popular. B2B brands using Twitter have an average of more than 47,000 followers while on Facebook they have more than 200,000 page likes. With an audience eagerly awaiting their latest posts, it’s no surprise that more brands are embracing content marketing as an effective, cost efficient way to build and maintain that vital connection with their audience.

One place where content marketing is starting to do very well is in the world of traditional publishing. Media outlets such as The Irish Times and the Irish Independent have begun to compete with media agencies by creating ‘branded content’ which they view as growth drivers as their printed advertising revenues continue to fall.

Branded content is not without its critics, however. Many in the news industry believe that it confuses readers by blurring the distinction between news and advertising. But done well, branded content can create stories that capture and hold audience attention while maintaining the same production values as any newspaper or TV story.

Productions of this quality require considerable support infrastructure. T Brand Studio, the brand marketing unit of The New York Times, employs 110 people and generates 18% of the publisher’s total digital advertising revenue. Sebastian Tomich, VP of Advertising, has said that publishers are taking more agency-like roles because in today’s market they can no longer control access to audiences as they did in the past. “Brand advertisers don’t need publishers’ audiences the way they used to; they can get that anywhere,” he says.

Why create quality content?

The need for quality content is the greatest challenge facing B2B content marketing today. Content isn’t an end in itself; it is used to drive exposure, leads and ultimately company revenue.

How successful are today’s marketers at accomplishing that goal? If we judge from their own assessment, the answer has to be ‘not very’. According to a recent IDG Connect survey, just 30% of marketers consider themselves to be ‘effective’, a figure which is down from 38% in 2014.

IDG notes that “86% of buyers say content is neither useful, relevant, nor aligned with needs of people in the buying decision.” If that’s the case, we need to ask how can we improve content to make it more relevant? How can we align it better to the needs of the reader?”

In 2016 research published by Harvard Business Review highlighted exactly what buyers are looking for in their content. The researchers discovered that buyers want to learn something new but it must be something that is actionable. It must be something that leads to a change in behaviour. In-depth, informative content on its own isn’t enough. Buyers want information they can use.

Human emotions also play an important role. Research conducted by CEB Marketing Leadership Council discovered that on average, B2B brands are significantly more emotionally connected to their audience than B2C brands.

That might seem surprising at first. Emotion is more usually associated with B2C marketing but when we consider the environment in which most business decisions are made, it makes sense. B2B buyers spend large sums on their purchases. A wrong choice can have serious career implications for all involved. Remember IBM’s slogan from the 1980s? It remains a brilliant example of emotional marketing. “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”

B2B buyers like the safe option. They like to feel that their decision isn’t going to backfire and cost them their job. Emotions matter in B2B content marketing. It is having the right mix of actionable facts combined with the emotional drive to take action that gets results.

Whether you are creating content in a B2B or a B2C environment, there will always be challenges to overcome. One of the more significant of these is understanding the difference between producing great content and getting that content in front of the right audience. Successful content marketing always has two distinct elements -creation and promotion.

An individual or agency that is great at one of these isn’t automatically right for the other. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the same person can handle both. They are different skillsets. Another mistake to avoid is assuming that organic promotion alone is enough.

Organic promotion requires you to have a large following to start with. It’s difficult for your content to spread organically without that initial following so it’s advisable to explore some paid options as well of which there are many. Outbrain and Taboola anyone?

If you don’t have the resources to manage all of your content marketing in-house, it makes sense to hire an agency to help. But how do you know what to look for in an agency? The first thing you want to check is how they measure performance. A good agency will always follow the “Attract, Convert and Engage” content model. This provides the greatest value as it is intended to align most closely with business goals.

Don’t rush your decision; take some time to understand how the agency works, and what type of clients they generally have. You must be comfortable working with them, and they with you. Be clear about your goals and resources at the outset. Mutual understanding is the key to fostering a successful company-agency relationship.

There are many examples of brands using great content marketing. One of the biggest shifts recently has been the introduction of Facebook Live, offering brands the opportunity to connect with their audience live. Software company SAP made good use of this recently conducting a series of live shows where the audience could comment during the show.

More traditional content marketing success can be seen in the growth of any number of companies on the back of a stream of great content. Blogs, infographics, visual articles, data visualisations, slideshows and videos all help to get results. Whatever your goals for content marketing, focus on actionable value for the end user rather than trying to sell your brand too hard and over time you will achieve success.

John Ring is managing director of Tinderpoint

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ February Issue 2017)© to order back issues please call 016611660