Content marketing has been the new buzzword since it exploded in the 2000s. But even well before that, there has been a subtle shift in how brands use content and channels to communicate with customers to drive a stronger relationship between brand and corporate reputation.
Take the example of Jell-O in 1902, which placed content in the Ladies Home Journal. This content was trailblazing – free booklets of “best-seller” recipes demonstrating how to use this new product in desserts. They targeted their ideal buyers – housewives – with content they found useful and which would translate into sales.
Radio took off in the 1920s, and Procter & Gamble (P&G) invented the radio soap opera in 1933 when it sponsored a radio serial drama. P&G bought advertising space to advertise its soap products before, during and after the drama. Again, the show was listened to by its ideal buyer demographic – women – and led to increased sales.
This convergence trajectory, on which marketing and communications industries have been on, manifested well before the Internet became a thing. But it won’t be wrong to say that the term ‘content marketing’ has well and truly been unleashed during the digital age. Brands have been adapting to dramatic shifts in consumer behaviour since the rise of digital media channels such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.
Content marketing has become the method during reputation building that is used to translate buyer prospects into loyal customers. And it has been a lasting trend for some time now.
Plainly said, today, smart content leads to sales. Sustainably so, of course, and therein lies the opportunity for the combined user-focused industries of marketing and communications to produce gripping and authentic content that resonates with users.
Consistent content evolving
Examples of clever marketing techniques executed on new media channels are plentiful. But only as recently as 1989 was the term Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) coined. Brands had a need to focus their advertising efforts across several different promotional methods. They discovered that when they integrated communication efforts across multiple marketing platforms, each individual brand message reinforced the others.
To achieve consistency, businesses had to establish a strong and common thread brand identity across all of their marketing communications. They dived deeper into what they wanted to say and also how they wanted to say it. Businesses were identifying their brand persona, voice, tone and style that could be used to tie together the message seen in a print advertisement with that of a radio advertisement, or the message seen on a television spot with that of direct-mail flyer.
This unified method translated into several other disciplines such as PR, events and direct marketing with the goal of leveraging their strengths and dovetailing marketing efforts. This would later become known as brand storytelling.
Next came the digital revolution. The 1990s gave birth to the Internet, which was followed by the explosion of social media and blogging to cement the rise of digital even further in the mid– to late 2000s. As the scope of broadband increased, so did the rise of visual storytelling through video, infographics and images thereafter.
What’s next on the content horizon? Artificial intelligence through machine learning and virtual and augmented reality technology are already showing potential for solving human issues. Virtual assistants on our smart devices help us navigate travelling in countries where you don’t understand the local language or it can be the source of product information, or predict your favourite music. Machine learning algorithms can predict human behaviour, for example fitness trackers that harvest health data and make suggestions on adjusting diet or fitness regimes.
Content marketing disguised as copywriting?
Let’s talk about the strategy of content marketing. You might have wondered whether content marketing is simply copywriting used on different channels? And where does brand storytelling come in?
Content marketing is so much more than merely just the words. An easy definition of content marketing is “expert writing to position your brand as leader in the field”.
Forbes Magazine defines it as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action”.
Content marketing uses blogs, podcasts, video and social media sites as a vehicle. On the other hand, the art of copywriting is responsible for creating the VALUE of content. It is the writing of magnetic headlines and blogs, persuasive landing pages and product descriptions, conversion-driven emails, engaging social media content, dispelling listicles and compelling thoughts owned by brands.
In smart content strategies, the two work together to create and share valuable (there is that word again!) free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. In an age where authenticity and sustainability are undeniable, brand storytelling is the glue that will hold content marketing together.
Creating content for consumers to engage with on their own platforms shows their expertise and authority on the subject. According to lead generator SnapApp, 70% of marketers are creating more content today than they were a year ago. WordPress reports its users produce over 70.5 million new blog posts a month.
And it’s effective. According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less. Businesses that publish 16 or more pieces of content a month get almost 3.5 times more traffic than those that publish 4 articles or less. It may take 3-6 months to start seeing results but the impact has a longer shelf-life than many other marketing methods.
Content compelling audiences
Content marketing itself will gain even more prominence in 2020 and beyond. Over here at Hatch headquarters, we have a front view to the large audiences that are out there for almost every topic under the sun.
But there is an equal amount of businesses and brands competing for their attention, which is why we, as content creators, need to be ever mindful of the fact that we need the right formulae and strategies to stand out and stay on top of trends to bring value to our clients’ audience base.
More evolutions are sure to follow, if the past decade is any indication. The communications environment will increasingly demand businesses, communicators and marketers alike to re-evaluate the convergence and rise of new media to keep the conversation between brands and users free-flowing and relevant.
In the coming years, a ton of energy will be spent on harvesting and perfecting human intelligence. Those brands that generate, own and analyse human behavioural data to better their offering will be successful at captivating their audiences. Those communicators who can bind brand and audience together with compelling content will be successful at trailblazing onwards through the digital revolution and beyond.
By Sunet Schoonees, Account Director at Hatch Communication