Finding ROI in content marketing
by Herman Manson (@marklives) Eve Williams (@everewilliams) is Managing Director of UK based content agency Cedar (@cedarcontent). The agency also has offices in Shanghai, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Cedar is especially well known for publishing High Life for British Airways, Real Food for Tesco (the UK’s largest food title) and Do Not Disturb for Best Western.
Last year Williams was selected to the Media Week 30 Under 30 – an accolade that recognises ‘the next generation of talent in the industry.’ She was the only winner from the content marketing industry.
Williams will be speaking at Content 2013, the content marketing conference taking place on the 25th and 26th February 2013 at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, on content marketing in the retail space, dissecting how international brands are using content marketing.
How has content marketing evolved over the past five years?
Eve Williams: It’s still early days in the evolution of content [marketing]. The big bang which created the content marketing universe probably only happened five years ago [contract publishing of course is much older – Ed]. I expect a social media meteor collided with an array of digital electrons, print protons and mobile neutrons. (Please bear with me on the cosmological metaphor – I’m in content marketing rather than astrophysics for a reason.)
In those five formative years though, there have probably been 5 key reasons why content has been able to evolve and prosper, rather than just fade into the marketing black hole (I’ll leave the extended metaphor here I think):
- Advances in technology have opened up new ways for brands to curate content, and even more ways for audiences to access it. The explosion of tablet devices and wifi in our worlds has meant that information is only ever one click away, and if you are the brand who can provide that more quickly or simply than anyone else, you’ve got a significant head start.
- Traditional marketing strategies using above the line activity was no longer cutting it for consumers. They wanted something more from the brand, and a reason to remain loyal. Content offered the perfect opportunity to tell the brand’s story. Simultaneously brands have recognised the enormous opportunity open to them if they can nurture their owned media portfolios.
- Consumers are now simply more responsive to content. There’s a different attitude to free and branded content because consumers are seeing more quality examples of it. This has had a definite snowball effect meaning that consumers are more readily turning away from traditional paid for and newsstand content. This means the doors have been opened for other brands to enter the space.
- Social media has also enabled brands to create dialogues with consumers like never before. As long as it’s an interesting conversation, consumers will engage.
- And importantly marketers have found a way to make content useful and relevant to their audience. Branded content is no longer about simply selling the brand, it’s now about providing relevant services and advice to the consumer.
And we’ve only just entered the enlightenment. So here’s to a long and prosperous evolution in the content marketing universe.
When deciding which channels are appropriate for the content of each of your clients what do you look to base your selection on?
Williams: You always have to start by putting the audience first. What kind of content is going to be most useful to them – videos, articles, blogs? What kind of channels do they use – mobile, web, magazines, tablets, social media? And where do they want to access the content – at home, work, on the go? Once you understand this you can align it to the objectives of the brand. That enables you to create a plan tailored to the consumers specifically. If you have a very broad target audience you may need to broaden out the channel mix.
When you’ve established which channels you’ll be using, you need to consider how they’ll be joining up. An effective content strategy relies on a very complimentary approach to each of the channels. How are they driving traffic to each other? How are they providing extra information? And most importantly how they are enabling you to track audience behaviour and therefore judge effectiveness? The best kind of content strategy shouldn’t have a channel mix that is set in stone. It should be fine-tuned over time to ensure that all the channels are being leveraged most effectively.
Williams: The shape of our business has evolved considerably over the last few years. We see billings associated with a broader range of channels and the skills base of our staff has evolved similarly. Clients are increasingly experimenting with digital channels and we have certainly seen growth in the last few years. However the growth in digital certainly isn’t indirectly proportional to any decline in print. There is still a significant commitment to print. While we can still prove that print drives a strong ROI, the brands we work with will continue to invest in. There is understandably an appetite to explore the varying successes of digital channels as consumers become more responsive to content on web, mobile and tablet. If we look at our client portfolios though, the key trend is in having very channel neutral content programmes. We now see more clients integrating content across multiple platforms rather than any serious migration from one to another.
Tablet mags – flash in the pan or are they only getting started?
Williams: When a new technology or means of communication comes on to the scene, there’s often a tendency to consider what it will replace. However it’s good to remember that the TV didn’t replace the cinema, the magazine didn’t make newspapers redundant, and internet on mobile phones didn’t signal the end of the desktop computer. And there’s no reason to think that the emergence of tablets are going to do the same.
In short consumers are able to consume more. Particularly when that ‘more’ makes their life easier, simpler, and fundamentally makes information more accessible. Tablets give consumers a new way of accessing, consolidating and saving the content they most want. Plus it can give them new experiences from the content including interactive links, video, and a social dialogue so they can see what their friends and other consumers have enjoyed. There are frequent reports about the increase in double and triple screening behaviour; this only goes to support the fact that consumers can just deal with more content.
Nothing suggests that the growing popularity of tablets will supplant an interest in media like magazines. As is stands tablet and print still present very different user experiences; the first much practical and the latter more emotional. People talk about the ‘sit up’ nature of digital content like laptops and tablets, and the ‘sit back’ nature of magazines allowing consumers to relax with the content. The portability of the tablet blurs the lines slightly. But it will only be when the toddlers of today grow up, who have known tablets all their lives, that we’ll know whether these emotional connotations will persist.
In addition to these more philosophical questions about the role of tablets in our lives, there are certain practical reasons why it’s difficult to see them as flash in the pan. For brands, tablets offer the opportunity to significantly extend the reach of the content distributed. For advertisers, it’s even possible to start targeting their ads to the relevant audiences reading the tablet mags. And for consumers, it’s possible to personalise the kind of content they want to receive.
However it’s just as easy for brands and content providers to not make the most of these opportunities, which tablets uniquely present. And therefore neglect the potential they offer to advertisers, brands and consumers. So the moral of the story, again, is to tailor the content to the channel and make it as useful and relevant to the consumer as possible.
Augmented Reality still feels seems a bit gimmicky. How do you see it evolve down the line?
Williams: Augmented reality is considered by many as the content marketer’s new toy. For some it’s just a novelty adding another level experience, but without necessarily any real benefit for the audience. For some though, it presents a genuinely unique opportunity to join up the standard analog experience of print to the interactive experience of digital all with just the mobile phone in their pocket.
If used right, it’ll instantly transform readers into customers by allowing them to buy products off the pages; it’ll turn novices into experts by giving them videos of the skills based content; and it’ll turn promiscuous shoppers into loyalists by giving them a reason to return to the brand. If it’s done wrong though, and the augment reality offers little more than an extra animation on the page, readers might even become critics, let down by a disappointing experience delivered by the brand.
Content is expensive – how do you manage content costs while maintaining quality?
Williams: I prefer to think that content is valuable rather than expensive! With the right measurement mechanics in place, it’s now possible to show that content can have a great ROI. We help our clients to become effective and profitable media owners. This is a new way of thinking for many clients, but once they appreciate the size of the opportunity, they realise they can open up a whole new world of potential for their business. For some brands, it’s possible to make the content pay for itself through advertising funding. It’s often a very focused target audience with great measurement mechanics in place, which is exactly what advertisers are desperate for. However for some the expenditure on content can be justified simply by the incremental sales it returns.
Whatever way you slice it though, you have to maintain the quality of the content. If you let this drop, you’ll also lose its potential to deliver profit and start to fund itself. It’s a false economy to scrimp on the quality of content. After all, what will you be saying about the quality of your brand, product, or service, if you can’t even communicate about your brand assets in a quality way.
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