Content marketing comes of age – part one

With an explosion of channels, audience attention has splintered, and people are bombarded by brand messages. Hence the rise of content marketing. Marketers have realised people are demanding something valuable in return for their attention and time, whether that’s a well-researched answer to a search query or an inspiring video story.

While there is undeniably still a place for great culture-defining creative, even if you’re now more likely to see that ad on your mobile than a TV screen, it’s getting harder and harder for marketers to reach consumers.

Content marketing has been incredibly successful for brands as diverse as GE and Red Bull, and it’s now very much an established part of the marketing mix. There are good and bad examples, of course, but it’s generally a long way from the old days of advertorial in newspapers and magazines. The generally dreary content, focused on the benefits of a product that paid no attention to what the audience wanted, are long gone.

It’s critical to understand the difference between native sponsored content, which is generally something made by media companies for brands – essentially renting their audience – and content marketing where brands build their own audience on their own channels such as their website and social media, and with their own magazines.

Storyation, an award-winning Australian content marketing agency that works with premium brands, has a strategic partnership with the US content marketing platform NewsCred. They talk about the “content marketing maturity curve”, the idea that there are five stages:

Five stages of the content marketing maturity curve

  1. ‘Experimental’ – you have no content strategy and publish sporadically.
  2. Tactical’ – a small team produces content but is light on measures.
  3. ‘Operational’ – content is mapped to a customer journey and the content is amplified.
  4. ‘Amplified’– a combination of owned, earned and paid media that contributes to brand revenue.
  5. ‘Differentiated’ – content is integral to a frictionless customer journey and provides new streams of revenue.

Storyation works with about 40 brands across Australia and New Zealand who believe that brand journalism is an essential part of their marketing mix including, Tourism Australia, Blackmores, and IAG. While these clients are at the upper level, many are at different stages on the curve, and as a rule, New Zealand marketers tend to be stuck in level one or two.

There are some fantastic examples of native advertising globally— (The New York Times T Brand Studio comes to mind)—and Storyation won an award in the US for content it produced for Tourism New Zealand that ran on the Robb Report website in the US, a rare example of native produced by an agency.

Locally, however, despite there being some great examples, often led by government organisations such as Tourism New Zealand, content marketing in New Zealand is still in its infancy. Just like the old days of advertorial, too many publishers are putting their B team on native advertising, in what are already stressed newsrooms.

It’s often uninspiring stuff.

Fortunately, there are the exceptions. Cassie Roma is head of content marketing for The Warehouse Group (TWG), which includes The Warehouse, Warehouse Stationery, Noel Leeming and Torpedo7. In this position, she gets to work across a plethora of brands, products, services, and people.

Regardless of brand, TWG’s content strategies are all centred on storytelling, smart targeting and a deep engagement with its customers. In this respect, context and relevance reign supreme. While this approach is hardly alchemy, it is a common-sense approach to adding value into the lives of others. But as Roma says, “without value and an inherent exchange between brands and consumers, content becomes dull background noise”.

Brand journalism specialists are perfecting the art of making calls-to-action more subtle and consumer friendly as sponsored content mimics a publication’s editorial content, matching the look, feel and function of the media format in which they appear.

Laura Lynn Johnston, content producer and editor for habitat by Resene magazine, believes that what’s really different about today’s native advertising, as opposed to traditional advertorial, is that there is first and foremost value and truth in what’s being produced.

Johnston came into the role not just with a background in writing, editing and marketing, but also with a university education in interior design. Having that unique background gives authenticity to the publication and to the Resene brand, speaking from an inherent place of knowledge and experience.

In this capacity she is able expand on the experience of Resene’s own in-house marketing, colour and sales team to bring editorial credibility to what is essentially a brand communications vehicle.

A helping hand

More and more brands are turning to brand journalism specialists like those at Storyation. Head of content, Lauren Quaintance and her co-founder, Mimi Cullen, have both worked in large media companies in New Zealand, Australia and the UK (Fairfax, News Ltd, Bauer and APN) so are all about helping brands to create content that isn’t ‘salesy’, putting the audience at the centre and giving them something of real value.

Whether Storyation is creating video or written content, journalists are always involved, so the end product is always as good as anything publishers would run on their own masthead sites.

One of Storyation’s Australian clients, NRMA Insurance, has been particularly effective at this. NRMA was trailing competitors for share of engagement on social media and set themselves an ambitious goal to go from 11th to a consistent place within the top three.

NRMA knew they needed to elevate their messaging from product- led content and developed a brand platform around ‘help’, tasking Storyation with finding and telling stories of people committing selfless acts of help. A team of journalists, documentary makers and social experts spent 38 days covering 33,533km to source and capture wide-ranging stories of people from the brink of death, to saving thousands of lives.

Using a combination of paid and owned media, the content strategy took NRMA to the number one spot in the insurance category for social share of engagement. The brand now dominates the market in Australia with 58.59 percent of the total engagement actions on social.

The success of the campaign has had a flow-on effect on earned media leading to a series of 60-second spots on the prime time Today Show.

Storyation works with almost 40 brands across Australia and New Zealand and firmly believe that brand journalism is an essential part of their marketing mix. Quaintance does, however, feel that content marketing in New Zealand is still in its infancy. The Storyation​ team is split across the two countries and while Quaintance is a Wellingtonian, in her mind New Zealand is lagging behind Australia in content marketing, while Australia is still some way behind the US.

“Many New Zealand marketers are still operating without a documented content strategy that identifies a clear approach to paid, owned and earned channels,” she says.

“While I understand that there are benefits on just getting started on content production, ultimately the insights you get from those early attempts should feed into a content strategy that defines the audience need you can meet, the gap in the market your content can fill, and sets the right kind of measures to ensure you’ll get business results.”

As a former writer for North & South and editor of Metro magazine, Quaintance is a journalist, so she thinks brands need to use journalists to make content audiences want to consume. But this is not just a matter of grabbing the nearest freelancer and hoping the content will actually deliver results.

Storyation pairs staff editors with strategists who can help them identify how they can create content that will resonate with a target audience. The company draws on a network of more than 400 freelance writers, photographers and videographers to ensure that the right specialist content creator is matched with the right job.

Maximum impact

Anthem is a successful PR agency that prides itself on grappling with clients’ tricky issues and coming up with creative and bespoke communications solutions to help solve business problems. One of its core agency strategies is referred to as COPE – Create Once Publish Everywhere. This works exceptionally well when there is a key message that an organisation needs to communicate, which they can tailor to the different channels – earned, paid, owned and shared.

By strategically layering and leveraging channels, Anthem achieves maximum impact to drive their clients’ business goals. “Regardless of which content strategy you adopt,” says managing director Jane Sweeney, “amplification is key – ensuring your content hits as many of the right channels as possible to maximise audience engagement.”

A recent example of this would be Anthem successfully engaging business decision-makers in the Auckland transport scene (a very elusive audience) on behalf of Fullers 360, through a content strategy that combined earned and owned media. Identifying Fullers’ stakeholders and the similarities that existed between them informed the kind of content Anthem needed to produce and the channels it needed to reach key stakeholders.

Creative from the Fullers campaign

The Fullers’ story was told through animation, infographics and marketing collateral which were tailored to their stakeholders’ interests and seeded through various channels, i.e. an event for stakeholders, the Fullers’ website and social channels.

The interesting aspect of this particular piece of work was the cut through and engagement achieved with the target audience, purely through owned and earned channels.

Not all stories have a sufficiently strong news hook to be picked up as earned media, but they are still newsworthy, so often, brand stories are told through partners that can reach the desired audiences.

Sponsored content, paid media in the form of advertising, advertorials and native advertising are effective approaches to amplifying earned media and work effectively as an integrated approach.

While native advertising, advertorials and pure advertising drive brand awareness, sponsored content, earned and shared media enables the telling of the brand narrative in a way that is authentic and compelling.

Building awareness of Contact’s new brand proposition as New Zealand’s ‘human energy company’ is a perfect example of the effectiveness of an integrated approach. The narrative around a new suite of products tailored to customers with different needs, including those facing financial hardship, was told via earned media channels; thought leadership pieces were shared via owned channels; and visibility was maximised via out-of-home media and paid radio advertising. By strategically leveraging a range of channels, Anthem managed to achieve maximum impact.

This piece was originally published in the 2019 Media Issue of NZ Marketing magazine. To get a print copy, subscribe here.

About Author

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Graham Medcalf is a freelance writer and owner of Red Advertising.

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