Read Content marketing comes of age – part one here.
All in the story
Back at The Warehouse Group, Roma is unfamiliar with the term ‘brand journalism specialist’ but what she is certain of is that the best content creators are people who are natural-born storytellers.
“Think about the campaigns and brands that you love the most,” she says.
“They’re the ones with stories you’re able to understand and tell back to your friends without skipping a beat. They inspire something within you, they connect with something deep inside of you, and the tap into an essence of your own self-understanding.”
As a content strategist, creative, and professional storyteller, Roma has spent her entire career studying the ways in which brand communications and content marketing can add value to the lives of others.
“From little hacks in copywriting through to understanding native photography, supported by niche social platforms – it all matters,” she says.
“The best people marketers can work with are those who understand other people, and who can then extrapolate strategic iterations and decisions around the when/where/why/what/how a brand communicates. Magic unicorn people who can balance brand comms, crisis management, community building, and down-and-dirty retail, are the folks you want on side.”
Also, the best people to help marketers are the people who ask a lot of questions. “I find there’s often a weaponisation of ‘not knowing’ in marketing these days,” Roma contends. “Where we think numbers and big data will speak for us at all times. But it’s those smart marketers who ask ‘why?’ and who dig deeper to find true insights that are really making a mark in our beautiful corner of the world.”
The current trend is for New Zealand marketers to turn to content marketing companies or integrated PR agencies to craft content for their organisation. With content an increasingly significant component of the marketing mix, PR companies are increasingly becoming content creators, but many are turning to publishers to create the sponsored content for their clients.
Most publishers are coming to the party with the best they can, based on what agency and brand partners ask them to deliver. However, no matter how pure the intention of the publisher, if a brand doesn’t embrace the story-telling approach and resorts to product benefit promotions, then publishers really have their hands tied.
“The best examples I’ve seen of publishers and brands working together have been stories that are immersive, interactive, interesting, and have true journalistic integrity behind them,” Roma says.
“When creative waters become muddied by traditional marketing metrics inserting themselves into stories, so withers actual inspiration on the value vine.”
A few years ago, the Columbia Journalism Review said that in the future we might reflect on native advertising as a “quaint evolutionary step” as brands embrace content marketing. But are consumers buying into the flood of content or do they believe marketers take them as gullible, while they are not? Are readers feeling like they’re gaining some valuable knowledge rather than being sold to?
There have been some spectacular failures. Many companies are guilty of abusing the sponsored content medium to flagrantly advertise their wares, and instead of engaging readers, merely annoy them.
One example is a company approaching sponsored content in all the wrong ways= by running a diary report in The Guardian penned by a brand ambassador. In the diary, the brand ambassador referred to the company name in at least 10 sentences out of 23 – the sponsored content was so obvious that it only worked to switch off readers.
Quaintance thinks it really depends on the quality, whether the marketer has lazily resorted to promoting the benefits of their product or if they’ve actually put the audience at the centre of the conversation and created something that informs, inspires or entertains.
Sponsored content is definitely on the rise and it will continue to do so, given the continued fragmentation of the media landscape. The increasing dominance by a few major publishers including Facebook, and with larger companies increasingly creating their own publishing platforms, paid content will continue to dominate.
There is transparency with sponsored content and readers generally appreciate this. If the content is well crafted and the audience well considered in terms of being trustworthy, substantiated and backed by independent research, audiences tend to engage with the content. According to research conducted by Clutch—a B2B research, ratings and reviews company— in 2018, 82 percent of people have purchased a product or service as a result of being served up content marketing or content published online by a business. Additionally, nearly 90 percent of people are confident in their ability to identify business content online as content marketing. The results point to the fact that sponsored content is really working for consumers.
Publications such as The Spinoff, Mindfood, Stuff and NZ Herald, are doing excellent branded content. The stories are informative, entertaining and emotionally engaging. The format in which content is produced is also becoming a real consideration, such as via video, social, infographics, etc. It’s about telling stories in different ways that engage and reach different audiences.
Increasingly publishers see the benefit of including journalists early in the conversation with agencies. No journalist likes being told what to write so agencies, like Anthem, find inviting them into the campaign before it’s fully formed allows them to find angles and come up with ideas that suit their interests or audience.
“The best at this,” Anthem’s Sweeney says, “are Tangible Media [now ICG Media), Bauer Media and MediaWorks. They know their readers and viewers better than we do, so we get them to find ways to work with our clients that’s authentic and useful to their own readers and viewers.”
Marketers need to think about how they can help publishers make deeper and more powerful connections with consumers.
“We love to help our clients make this happen,” Sweeney says. “In terms of an agency like ours, we are agnostic in terms of channel and as communications specialists we understand the nuances of which levers to pull, when and why, because we have a full understanding of our clients’ business and audiences. As a result, we are best placed to identify what content engages those audiences and where and how they consume it, which informs the overall strategy for leveraging paid, earned and owned channels.
Lessons to learn
There are many lessons to be learned in the area of content marketing. The first is, “don’t believe your own hype,” advises Roma. “If a campaign you’re launching was being launched by a competitor, would you pay attention to it? If the answer is ‘no’ then you need to go back to the drawing board. Mixing and drinking your own Kool Aid is the quickest way to creating an endless stream of non impactful content. Go for quality over quantity.”
The second lesson is, “aim for effectiveness over efficiency at all times”. Again, Roma has some advice: “We are bloody good at implementing efficiency models to our spreadsheets, our meetings, our conversations – everything. But, efficiency does not an effective marketer make. If you’re spending your time creating content or ads that don’t need to be created in the first place, look for opportunities to dial up effectiveness in your content and lean in hard. If you’re spending too much time on creating and resourcing for creative placements sans return, don’t dial up efficiency. Stop doing what’s inefficient.”
Finally, “clear is kind”. When communicating with customers, internal stakeholders, or anyone who might have a hand in your content marketing journey – be super clear with what you’re hoping to achieve and why. When you have a single source of truth to turn to when explaining the purpose of your content, it’s much easier to bring everyone along for the proverbial journey.
Companies doing sponsored content well, engage their audiences through cleverly curated stories that feature engaging images, headlines that spark curiosity and content that blends seamlessly with the editorial that surrounds it. Auckland Zoo, for example, has been running compelling articles in The Spinoff of late, where they successfully covered off all the basics, to create compelling content.
Sponsored content is here to stay, so the sooner New Zealand marketers build their expertise in this area the better. Publishers are willing, consumers are waiting, and brands need to tell their stories.
An interesting time awaits.