The Contemporary Playbook for Content Marketing

November 12, 2019

By David Germano

sesame/Getty Images

Content marketing has been on a roller coaster ride over the last 10 years as its prominence, application, successes and failings have mainstreamed. The practice of content marketing is certainly not new — not even adolescent. Marketers’ practice of creating valuable content for their audiences has been around for decades, well before the phrase “content marketing” became the official vernacular used to represent this marketing methodology.

However, as technology continues to dramatically influence all aspects of marketing, it is dramatically influencing content marketing as well. Across a host of B2B and B2C categories, from industries with long sales cycles to fast moving consumer packaged goods (FMCG), a common theme has developed.

Brands with the best overall experiences are winning because they are establishing stronger relationships with their customers. But while superior customer experience has become a fundamental and ubiquitous business strategy, it’s critical to further understand the driving force behind this.

Technology has ushered in the subscription era and big data continues to accelerate marketing’s journey into this new frontier. Subscription is comprised of three main components: permission, preference and connection. All of which contribute to a relatively higher level of attention, something that has become critically important across the entire communications industry, including marketing communications. One could argue that a brand’s level of attention has become the determining factor in its market value. It’s either premium or commodity — there is no in-between.

 

Content Marketing’s Updated Playbook

Content marketers need look no further for their new playbook than what has been playing out in both the news and digital entertainment industries over the last few years.

The newspaper industry has been in decline for decades now, but The New York Times, the Washington Post, and a few others have successfully restored sustainable health to their balance sheets by focusing on higher quality content to drive direct monetization with their readers. And the streaming content war is raging as Disney, Netflix and Apple, among others, are upping the ante in their investments in differentiated, quality content, all focused on claiming a disproportionate, and likely exclusive share of the OTT subscriber audience.

These content-driven businesses offer content marketers a simple playbook for effectively operationalizing their content marketing programs.

This content marketing playbook is comprised of four critical and symbiotic focus areas:

  1. Establishing and maintaining direct connection with the audience
  2. Processing of real-time, proprietary streams of intelligence
  3. Continuous improvement of operational agility
  4. Continuous improvement of content quality

Regardless of the category a content marketer operates in, these four tenants collectively represent the key to achieving and sustaining results toward marketing KPIs and, more importantly, establishing competitive advantage with content marketing.

 

The Push for Direct Connection

Technology and the onset of IoT (the Internet of Things) continue to play disruptor, providing audiences access to a growing, overwhelming volume of information. Bombarded by options, audiences of all types will continue to streamline choices, deciding where to maximize attention by eliminating what is deemed irrelevant.

This isn’t just Hulu or Netflix. This is the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, NFL or EPL, Amazon or Costco, Harry’s or Gillette, IBM or Accenture, Blue Apron or HelloFresh, Sherwin-Williams or Behr, Olay or Moon Juice. The list of battlegrounds is endless.

Within each of these examples is a battle for direct connection and ultimately loyalty. Direct connection can be achieved in many ways, including mobile apps, personalize web experiences including eCommerce, email programs and even magazine subscriptions, but is fundamentally defined by establishing an ability to continually deliver content directly to the audience. They each illustrate that brands must offer greater value, often in the form of quality content as the core of customer experience, to secure direct connection, and more importantly, to protect against being completely cut off from their core audiences, either by competitors or other third party owned media channels, including social and search.

 

Know More About Your Customers, Now

Data has become the most precious commodity on the planet. In virtually every aspect of our lives, we’re striving to know and process more. Data has never been more important to marketing. While some data is usually better than none at all, data quality now has a hierarchy.

Most marketers utilizing data to inform their decisions do so via syndicated data, or data relating to the marketer’s audience but collected by third parties. The problem with syndicated data is that it is also available to competitors.

In the current competitive business environment, the most valuable data is both proprietary and recent, enabling brands to expedite the enhancement and personalization of customer experiences.

Quality content coupled with direct connection plays a central role in facilitating proprietary data collection. Indeed, effective content marketing’s ultimate prize is exclusive and real-time access to audience data. Look no further than Apple’s recent announcements around their intent to invest heavily in content.

Recency and exclusivity in audience intelligence is a function of relationship management. Therefore, an investment in quality content is ultimately an investment in proprietary data. This tenant will continue to increase in importance as the looming California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) further constrains current data collection practices, driving up the value of personally identifiable information (PII).

 

Marketing, At The Speed of Digital

Perhaps technology’s most significant influence has been reconditioning audiences to expect an on-demand experience, everywhere. It wasn’t really that long ago that the entire marketing innovation planning cycle took 12–18 months from inception to deployment. That timeline has quickly become obsolete in business.

With direct connection and access to proprietary data, content marketers must re-organize themselves to be able to process data and react in near real-time. This requires content marketers to personalize experiences, creating far more niche content tailored to specific audience preferences. Content marketers must implement agile processes, enabling data to be analyzed and activated in the form of quality content within even greater relevancy.

Content marketing challenges most marketers because it ultimately requires a nichification in communications planning and production. Direct connection facilitates access to personalized intelligence, requiring content marketers to decrease the size and consequently increase the number of customer segments, which in turn requires content marketers to seek new tools and skillsets to support complex ‘newsroom’ operations. This is what is driving the growth in marketing technology adoption and of companies like Salesforce.

 

Content Isn’t King, Quality Content Is

Content marketers’ abilities to constantly drive quality improvements in their content productions has become the central driving force behind the entirety of this new playbook. It’s key to establishing direct connection. And it’s key to mining fresh, personalized data. However, most content marketers are still in the development stage of simply working to produce more content for more channels. More is ultimately an ineffective strategy. Just ask Netflix.

In many cases, content marketers have had to retrench, going back to the drawing board as a rather one-dimensional focus on just producing content hasn’t yielded results. Often, an effective retrench lies in narrowing the focus of content marketing to one segment, or niche audience, and looking to deploy and manage to the entire playbook, just on a smaller scale. Get this right on a local level first and look to scale that across other niche audiences.

Content marketing will continue to mainstream to the point where it will be de facto marketing communications. Some would argue it already has. Regardless, the playbook for success relies in marketers embracing these four tenants.

David Germano is president of and chief content officer at Magnetic Content Studios.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


You must be logged in to submit a comment.