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Content Marketing: Don’t Sell Your Brand, Tell Your Story

Think about how people communicate: When you meet new people at a party, who stands out? Who do you want to be friends with after talking to them? It’s the people with good stories. People want to relate, learn, laugh and be entertained. It’s how we connect with each other, like each other, learn to trust each other. The same applies when it comes to consumers and brands: no one cares what you’re selling unless you have a good story that interests them. Content marketing has emerged as a powerful medium in the digital age; a way for brands to tell their stories — to build trust and help people connect with them and their product.

Content, like any great product, has evolved to meet the needs of its consumers. Yet few people realize that these changes have made content the most important tool for marketing a brand. “Content is a broad term, but it’s the asset that brands use to communicate,” explained Michele Linn, Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute, in an interview, “Without content, how would brands communicate in this digital age?”

“At the heart of any good content is a well-told story,” said Jeremy Reed, Head of Tastemaker Development at Tastemade when we asked him about the evolution of content. “Go back more than 10 years, and many digital content strategies were centered on taking something flat on a print page and just putting it online. Effective digital strategies today start with leveraging all that’s possible with digital. Everything from embeds of third-party video to using the right social platforms, are marketing tools to grow audiences.”

For digital media professionals like Jeremy Reed — whose career began as a print journalist and progressed to breaking new ground in digital media — understanding the trajectory of content also means knowing the value of content marketing. “One of the smart things we’ve done at Tastemade is to make sure the brands don’t get in the way of a telling a good story. We guide their ability to fuel the story as way to get in front of the right audiences.”

Measure Twice, Cut Once

While crafting content is about telling a good story efficiently to a targeted audience, knowing what the audience wants and measuring how they react to your product is the best way to make that content successful and cut through the clutter of other brands and publishers. In an email interview, Rachel Globus, Sr. Social Media Strategist at E.W. Scripps Co. said it best:

“You used to package content to grab eyes on covers and front pages. Then, producers moved to accommodate the search-driven content discovery model, so we wrote for Google. Next, we developed content and wrote for social discovery, which drives us both to cover different topics and package them in a different way. Now, we’re on the cusp of a sea change as users age out of Facebook, and Twitter caps out its user base. What we’ve learned is to be agile—the trick isn’t to be good at optimizing to drive readership via the platform du jour, it’s to be good at optimizing.”

Becoming more agile with content and knowing how to optimize it are two ways experienced social media strategists like Rachel Globus find success when it comes to creating content people want to read each day. “If you’re not writing with an eye out for how your audience will discover your content, and the environment they will experience it in, you’re not in the game,” explained Globus.

A Barometer for Success

Optimization goes hand in hand with having a clear understanding of what “successful” means to the publisher or brand. You have to know your goals in order to create a successful content strategy.

Johnson & Johnson built one of the most widely viewed content platforms for new moms because they knew what moms were going to search before they did. They created an array of content suited for moms and their lifestyle, and then tracked it. From short form articles and video, to timelines, photo galleries and discussion forums, they created brand trust and quality content through  sentiment analysis and other content marketing metrics.

Michele Linn told us how her interest in content marketing was first inspired by Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter and their use of “sentiment analysis” for the site’s over 35 million readers, “I was not only a new parent at the time, but also someone trying to build my freelance business and learn about content marketing. It was something I looked at often for advice as a great case study.”

Brands like Johnson & Johnson are synonymous with the products they sell AND their consumer. This connection is no accident and should be the goal for anyone publishing content. “I think brands don’t always define what ‘quality’ or ‘success’ looks like,” said Linn. “How do they want their content marketing to ‘move the needle’ for their business? EVERYONE who is creating and distributing and measuring content needs to have a single view of what this is. Otherwise, it’s common for teams to be working towards different goals — and not feeling successful.”

What’s Next for Content

In the  future of digital content, only one thing is clear: the ways readers consume content will continue to shift. How content producers and marketers navigate these changes will determine the success of content marketing for brands and publishers. Though digital content continues to move further from the inked columns of print media and online articles of the past, its inherent purpose is the same: to tell a story.

While the appeal of a good story may not change, how it is told and shared will continue to evolve as technology advances.  From smart watches and other wearable technology, to multiscreen user experiences, the media landscape is expanding, while attention spans are shrinking. By setting measurable goals for content marketing initiatives and conducting a thorough analysis of target audiences, brands and publishers can develop content strategies that propel their business objectives. Captivating audiences by knowing what they want and where, and delivering it efficiently, is the only way to succeed. Yet this is not a two step process; careful evaluation and fine tuning will be necessary and ongoing practices in order to keep getting it right.

Knowing how and why content has changed is essential to staying ahead of the evolutionary curve in media, and ultimately, creating valuable content. To keep your content from getting lost in a sea of media, focus on that target audience, your barometer for success, and most importantly, telling a good story.