For many marketing leaders, any conversation of content marketing rides on the thought that it has taken brands 15-20 years to figure out that they need to be creators of content, even on the internet. Arguably, television figured that out a while ago when internet publishers were still differentiating between content and advertising as church and the state but that was a decade ago.
“All that has changed now and while that is revolutionary in some ways, people are still grappling with these changes,” observed John Batelle, Founder & CEO, NewCo in a conversation at the recently concluded two-day forum dmexco, that was taking place in Cologne, Germany.
Bringing some perspective to that line of thought, Lisa Utzschneider, Chief Revenue Officer, Yahoo remarked that the biggest change with content marketing is that brands want to tell a story, even on the online media platforms. “They want to be able to connect with consumers in a meaningful way but the punch line still is that brands want to see returns on their investment,” she said, acknowledging that ROI has rarely been a term used for ‘content’, which is also seen as ‘editorial’.
ROI matters in content marketing too
The ROI discussion in content marketing stems from the fact that while a lot of online storytelling, including on social media platforms, was not costing the brand much for a significant period of time, today the cost of these platforms have gone up. “Once that happens, and the marketer begins spending, measuring ROI is important, no matter how difficult it is. The online commerce piece has become daunting overall and marketers eventually have to sell products, so the principles of marketing will come in play, even if it is by leveraging content,” explained Mark Read, Global CEO, Wunderman.
Bringing another perspective to the discussion, Jim Stengel, President & CEO, The Jim Stengel Company pointed out, “Content has always been with us but the consumers have changed now. They don’t have tolerance for bad stories and the great storytellers are rising.”
For many players, decoding the data piece, that is critical to creating relevant and contextual content, has been hard. “And brands generally are bad in having a conversation with their consumers,” said Mr Batelle, posing the question how do companies build capability as a marketer to resolve this.
Ms Utzschneider quoted the example of Tumblr as a platform that speaks to consumers one-to-one, but does so by giving consumers the voice and enabling feedback for brands. “It is more a dialogue than just talking to the consumers,” she explained.
“Multinational companies struggle with the one-to-one dialogue, but they are beginning to understand that they have to change to be able to truly connect with their consumers. In some relationships we have with brands, we push the content without approval. More often than not, these are for brands that have clear purpose and there is clarity on what the brand hopes to achieve,” informed Mr Read.
Mr Stengel reiterated that a change in the conventional way in which brands worked was indeed needed for a faster, more agile presence. “That is how great brands are born. It’s a different way of working and thinking,” he stated.
Are brands really getting through?
The idea of brands having a point of view, and presenting it to their consumers, is in vogue right now but it is a relatively new concept. A challenge remains on how is this measured and whether these conversations are reaching the right set of audiences, in the right numbers.
Mr Read said, “Data is playing a very important role in this overall equation and much of what is finally done must be based on very strong insight. Eventually, this helps in getting the right message going to the right set of audience. That being said, I still believe the challenge with content marketing is are we getting through. Do we, as an industry, know as much as we should about these things that we are talking about?”
While Mr Read reiterated the importance of content, which in the case of companies such as WPP is to such an extent that it has invested in content platforms such as Vice to be able to get better access to content ideas and create solutions for its clients, his question opens room for a much wider discussion. Content marketing is becoming more than a buzzword for many brands today but some more work would have to be accomplished to convince the marketer on exploring more of such solutions.