Using Content Marketing as a Conversation (not a Commercial)

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Using Content Marketing as a Conversation (not a Commercial)

Jul 22, 2016 / By Vanessa Horwell

Content marketing sits at the intersection of advertising and editorial – and lately there are more terms than ever being used to describe it, from "native advertising" to "branded content" and more. Yet putting the most specific approaches aside, all content marketing is designed to do one thing: communicate a message between a brand and its audience without directly selling.

But to "tell not sell" isn't easy for every business. Even as the content marketing discipline continues to grow, and become ever more vital to both B2C and B2B business outcomes, many organizations have yet to figure out how to toe the line between content as conversation and content as commercial.

Every company's content marketing efforts should be creative, educational, informative, and applicable to its target audience. Further, they should share the company’s unique perspective in line with its brand identity – not just its product line. But beyond those baseline guidelines, there are many smart ways for companies to use content to share their unique insights and boost engagement without taking a heavy-handed, salesy approach.

If your business is struggling to get conversational with content while supporting your larger business goals, here are several smart approaches to try.

Jack the News: In the social-first era of media today, news travels faster than ever. And especially when breaking news related to your industry, market, or product goes public, your company always has the opportunity to enter the conversation.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean chiming in on hot-button topics; in this divisive election year especially, that can be an overly bold (and offputting) strategy. Rather, it's worth remembering that even silly news is news nonetheless – and injecting your company's input into a newsworthy moment can make a lasting and memorable impact.

One of the best examples remains a simple tweet from Arby's during the 2014 Grammy Awards, when Pharrell Williams first donned his infamous brown cowboy hat – the one reminiscent of the Arby's logo – and the fast-food brand's social media team took to Twitter to ask "Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs." Few remember who took home the awards that night, but many remember how one simple line of (non-salesy) content made Arby's the newsiest winner of the evening.

Remember What You Really Sell: No matter how your business makes money, you're selling more than just the product or service in your inventory. Pinpointing what that 'more' is for your brand is vital to cultivating an effective content marketing strategy. Once you recognize the larger impact your business makes on its customers or clients, you can customize your content to align with that bigger picture.

For example, a high-end watch brand doesn't just sell a timepiece; it sells a lifestyle that can afford that timepiece – so the brand can create and share content about luxury experiences. A medical billing company doesn't just sell claims management services; it sells greater convenience and stronger financial performance for doctors' offices – so the company can create and share content about boosting medical practice efficiency and revenue.

One company taking this approach to heart is Casper, which doesn't just sell mattresses; it sells a better night's sleep. As such, the company operates, a separately branded site devoted to exploring all things sleep (and delivering useful intel to the audience of sleepers it serves).

Get Creative (and Accept that the Line is Blurry): Especially now that video is becoming one of the most important arms of content marketing, it's growing increasingly difficult for brands to keep their content from wading into commercialized waters. But when it comes to online videos, Facebook and Snapchat video ads, video Instagram content, and more, consumers will watch branded content that clearly has an advertising bent behind it – but only if it's interesting!

Creativity is the most crucial element of making video-first content marketing work for brands, so B2C and B2B companies alike are wise to seek out smart partnerships to help them capitalize on the potential for video to go viral. One such partner is The Onion, which (despite being an early hater of the 'native advertising' revolution) has become a surprise leader in creative approaches to branded content via its Onion Labs marketing arm.

Case in point: The absurd and incredibly amusing "petting" videos The Onion produced for Allegra, the decongestant, viewable here and here. Yes, they're clearly commercials, but they're highly conversational – in part, because they speak directly to the viewer (and make the viewer ask "what the hell is going on?!"). As the lines between content and advertising continue to get blurrier and blurrier, these kinds of short, clever, mobile-friendly video approaches are poised to grow even more impactful in the years to come.

Vanessa Horwell

Vanessa Horwell
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