Content marketing is a widely embraced tactic, yet businesses of all sizes lack confidence in their strategies—and rightfully so. Fewer than 40 percent of marketers are effective with their content marketing, according to Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 benchmark study.
The Content Marketing Institute discovered that companies that stuck to a documented content strategy were more likely to report favorable results. But there’s more to content marketing than that. We rounded up content marketing leaders with extensive publisher and client experience, including two of Mediaplanet’s brightest minds, to compile this leadership panel. Read on to learn about tips, trends and experts’ take on the content marketing measurement issue.
1. What are your best tips for launching an effective content marketing campaign?
Luciana: Before you decide what you’re going to say, you have to listen. We spend a lot of time in the research phase, reading industry newsletters, listening to thought leaders in the space and talking to clients to try to understand the message that needs to be communicated today. Interests and focuses change year-to-year, month-to-month, day-to-day, and you need to make sure you are always actively listening to ensure that your campaign covers topics that are relevant to your audience now.
Mary Kate: You need both engaging content and a well thought-through distribution strategy to launch an effective campaign. Building great content without thinking about an audience development strategy is only half the equation.
Janel: Figure out the advertisers’ metrics for success. I always ask our clients a lot of questions, including if they have done this before. If they have, that’s a good sign because they probably understand that content marketing is not necessarily a direct-response medium, although it can be. If they haven’t, I educate them about what content marketing is typically used for and what sort of objectives it can drive, such as brand awareness and thought leadership. So set the right expectations and define your key metrics. (Check out question three for more on metrics.)
CJ: Ask for help! Unless you are well-versed in content marketing, bring your ideas to someone who has experience creating this type of campaign. Whether you ask a colleague, a friend or an external service, you are more likely to succeed if you discuss it with someone who has been there before.
Julia: I define an effective content marketing campaign as one that people find genuinely interesting, and one that makes them think more favorably of the sponsoring brand. To achieve this, brands need to deliver content that offers audiences value—content that is informative, entertaining or both. So my biggest tip is for brands to approach creating content the way a journalist does. Find the interesting or untold story, tell it well and honestly and get it in front of the right audiences. Don’t try to hide brand messaging. Be upfront about the connection between the brand or product and the story, but don’t make the brand or product the point of the piece unless it’s genuinely interesting.
2. What trends have you observed in content marketing lately? What do you expect we'll see more of this year?
CJ: All over the world, content marketing has become such a mainstream product, with brands and publishers alike focused on producing great content. I think the next step in its evolution is that clients and agencies will spend more time selecting the third-party channels they choose for distribution. With all major publishers offering content-based native solutions, there is an opportunity for advertisers to realize, “Our content will be most effective in a context that is more aligned with our business.” Take a logistics company as an example; why should they distribute a content marketing campaign on a general news platform when they could find specific publishing platforms that are targeting the logistics-industry?
Julia: I’ve noticed a lot of mixed media and mixed medium. Campaigns are mixing copy, .gifs, infographics, charts, images, videos and livestreams, and when that is done well it can create a very cool, immersive story. But there is also nothing wrong with a pure and simple content campaign made up of just copy. Not every campaign needs to incorporate so many bells and whistles. It depends on the audience and the platform.
Mary Kate: Video is on the rise, and more branded entertainment is being created in the content marketing space. We'll also see more native advertising as publishers work to show more viewability for their advertisers. When digital media began, advertising was positioned at the outskirts of web pages, unlike most other media, where advertising is embedded within the content—TV commercials and print ads are embedded within the content, for example. Digital ads’ poor placement helped contribute to banner blindness, so now the industry is working to offer a more effective model—ads that are integrated more seamlessly within the web content. This native placement helps ensure audiences actually see and engage with the marketing message, and I predict we’ll continue to see advertisers and publishers embracing the strategy.
Janel: Years ago, editorial departments were very wary of content marketing. They didn’t want anything to do with it. Now I am noticing that our editorial team is really collaborating with us. They are more involved and demonstrate more flexibility and open mindedness about paid content and how it can be done well. I think we’ll see more of this and continue to see more high-end publishers embrace content marketing products.
Luciana: We’re seeing brands embrace the idea of influencer marketing and the power of getting the message out through unique sources. More and more companies are realizing that they don’t have to communicate their message on their own; they can partner with individuals who have impactful reach in a targeted audience and saturation in specific industries. This extension of trust has brought a lot of value to the industry.
3. There's a lot of talk about how to effectively measure the success of a content marketing campaign. What key metrics do you use? What is the purpose of content marketing, and why is it so popular and effective?
Mary Kate: Content marketing is typically used to move the needle on top-of-the-funnel metrics such as awareness, perception, etc., as opposed to conversion. The thing that makes content marketing so exciting for advertisers is the fact that their audience will be an active participant in their brand. They choose to click, read or push play, as opposed to being a passive viewer of commercial content.
Luciana: Our biggest measurement focus is engagement, and we’re happy to see that more and more companies are following suit. While we’ll always look at CTR, we’re more interested in things like time spent on page, comments, shares, etc. We are also moving in the direction of measuring attention analytics, including things like active dwell time on page and scroll depth, to look for trends in our best-performing content. Our goal is to use all of this data to advise our clients. We believe that quantity is only meaningful if you have quality, so we seek to bring relevant, engaging content that inspires our readers to take meaningful action.
CJ: It is a question we are working with internally at the moment, and that Luciana addressed well. The entire content marketing industry is trying to find the best set of measurement metrics. What everyone, including Mediaplanet, agrees on is that content marketing should focus on engagement rather than direct response. Regardless of metrics, content marketers are seeing the positive effects that result from educating and helping a consumer by providing interesting and relevant information—which is something quite different from the one-way advertising communication that we have all gotten so good at simply ignoring.
Julia: Quartz measures campaigns using the industry standards but focuses on whatever measurements make the most sense for the client’s objectives. The purpose of content marketing is to engage with audiences emotionally by giving them interesting content that aligns with some principle or area of focus for a brand. It is popular and effective when done well because it drives a level of respect from a reader. Through quality content, a reader can better understand a brand’s principles. They appreciate and respect that the brand is delivering solid content, not just advertising.
Janel: It really is tricky. We are moving much more towards engagement metrics such as how long the reader was on the page and how many engaged readers we got. But you’re still going to encounter advertisers who are more focused on CTR, so you have to work with them to set the right expectations, and also work with your team to figure out if there’s anything more you can do to achieve the advertiser’s objectives.
Advertisers have always been interested in being involved in content. They want to be written about! Content has always been king. No one visits a media site to read an ad — they want to read content. It’s interesting that now advertisers have this unique opportunity to be a part of quality content. It’s certainly part of the reason why content marketing is so popular and effective.