15 July 2013

Build Your Audience, Don't Buy it With Advertorials

Content marketing done well can ensure a brand doesn’t just end up in conversations, but leads the discussion.
Pioneers like General Electric and Coca Cola get it, investing heavily in great content to enlighten or entertain audiences. Not piecemeal targeting, but creating media brands that last.

Everybody is getting into the content game these days, even traditional media outlets. Marketers are spending more than 10% of their budgets on content marketing, according to an Ad Age survey, and more than half plan to spend more this year.

As with all marketing ideas, you expect to see a return on investment at some point. So what’s the most effective content marketing strategy to build and sustain an audience for your brand?

It must start with the audience, giving hyper-connected consumers what they crave: knowledge. Something of substance that they can use, ponder or laugh about. Content that seamlessly fits into their social conversation. 

Building a media brand means more than just one piece of great storytelling. To create lasting, measurable impact, the brand must remain part of the conversation.

Whether it’s an interview with LED inventor and GE physicist Nick Holonyak that generated broad pickup at other outlets, or an infographic on the top electric car cities that became a popular link for other sites, GE stays connected to its audience and reach new ones.

It’s understandable that media outlets are experimenting with native advertising, writing and publishing articles about a client’s brand or agenda. It’s just not likely to be that effective, at least not as a long-term marketing strategy.

Even as a one-time ad spend, it’s probably a wash, at best. A recent survey by market research firm Ask Your Target Market found that only 7% of people who noticed ads that tried to look like the content around them thought they were very effective. 43% found them either not very or not at all effective.

Sponsored content also carries some risk for the media outlets and marketers. There’s still a stigma attached to advertorials, a point underscored by The Atlantic’s decision to label native ads more prominently after the backlash it faced over its sponsored post by the Church of Scientology.

The riskiness of this strategy was borne out by research firm MediaBix’s recent study, which found two-thirds of respondents surveyed said ads attempting to appear as content either negatively impacted or had no impact on their perception of the brand.

But what’s most problematic is the one-off nature of sponsored content. The brand gets 800 words’ worth of information across to a single audience, once. Then what?

While “media placement” can be appealing, marketers should look further than single stories if they want to engage an audience in an enduring way. A content platform enables brands to become part of a media conversation that is always on. Unfiltered brand journalism is the most effective way to transfer knowledge to targeted audiences, cultivate loyalty and deliver measurable results.

The content must be credible and transparent to establish a brand as a trusted source of information. By unearthing stories that personify a brand, companies can make people more knowledgeable and engaged. When people know more about you, they tend to like you. 

Just ask Coke. The 125-year-old brand recently embraced content marketing as a way to continue its tradition of storytelling, seeking to develop deeper emotional ties with its audience. Stories about consumers in India and Pakistan sharing a simulcasted moment over a Coke, or about a specially designed Coke can that can literally be split in two and shared, are now being widely shared by visitors to the company’s site.

Because content marketing is building an audience, it drives social and media engagement. Likes, shares and pickups mean that “media placement” is accomplished after all. Most importantly, you can verify that you’re reaching the right audiences by measuring visits, social activity and comments.

Investing well in content can build an audience that lasts. 

​By: Alexander Jutkowitz, Chief Global Strategist