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If your industry contacts and friends have a keen interest in next-gen digital plays, they are most likely in Austin right now for the annual pilgrimage to the SXSW Interactive Festival, keeping you abreast with a constant stream of #SXSW photos and posts of all sorts.

SXSW is exciting stuff for sure, with a particular focus on our digital future. For the rest of us who are stuck in Sydney however, there is exciting stuff happening too – less future-facing and, say, more focused on the “here and now”.

I give you Content Marketing World Sydney, now in its third year and in full swing as of tomorrow for the next 3 days.

CMY Sydney seeks to inspire and guide Australian marketers, agencies and publishers alike, as well as address some of their immediate questions and hurdles with their content marketing approach.

IMO, it is also a great opportunity to reflect on what we aren’t still getting quite right, and how we compare with other parts of the world.

Finally, it’s worth clarifying that for the purpose of this piece, our focus is owned content.

How I came to learn about some disturbing facts

CMY Sydney first came to my attention as I was attending Joe Pullizi’s webinar on Epic Content Marketing: The 5 Essentials Marketers Need to Follow in 2015.

Pullizi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) – the producer of CMW Sydney –, a subject-matter expert and one of the speakers at CMW this year.

The insights gained from his webinar at the time, combined with the latest research from the CMI and ADMA, had helped me steer the strategic conversations I was having with a client in the right direction.

Specifically, as I was listening to Pullizi’s own experiences working with marketers and going through the research in detail, I discovered some unsettling facts about questionable yet widespread content marketing practices.

First, we learn that 9 out of 10 Australian marketers are using content tactics. Great. However, less than 3 out of 10 are having some kind of success with it. Disappointing.

Then, we discover that 46% of marketers are using a verbal-only strategy – just imagine how effective this approach would be in a large organization with a CMO, Corporate Affairs and Social Media teams etc. all meant to work hand in hand to the same strategic roadmap… enough said. In others words, nearly half of Australian marketers are winging it and hoping for the best their content tactics stick and deliver tangible business outcomes.

Not surprisingly, the research goes on to say that those marketers (only 37%), who do invest time and resource on developing and documenting their content marketing strategy are more effective in nearly all aspects.

Having a documented strategy *and* adhering to it is even better one might say. Yet only 4 out of 10 follow their content marketing strategy very closely i.e. share it with the right teams, review it and optimize it regularly etc. I guess this would largely depend on who owns it and champions it in the organization: only 39% admits to having a dedicated content marketing group – a key part of the problem in my view.

How Australian marketers compare with their British counterparts

Following these discoveries, I was curious to know: are content marketers in other parts of the world behaving any differently?

For this exercise, I thought I would pick the UK – one of the leading and most advanced markets when it comes to digital marketing, with content marketing a fast-growing component of it. So surely they know better, right?

8 of out 10 British marketers use content marketing and 4 out of 10 say they are effective. So marginally more effective.

When it comes to documenting their strategy and following it, alas you will be pleased (or sorry) to hear they aren’t faring much better: 51% are using a verbal only strategy (vs 46% in Australia) and only 44% of those who have it documented follow it very closely (vs 40%).

So all in all, a sorry state of affair on the strategic front on either side of the world. Yet a great opportunity for independent experts and agency types to offer to help and lead!

There are of course a number of underlying issues that explain the situation client-side. The lack of in-house specialist talent or dedicated champion are two that come to mind, and these are instances where external content experts can supplement marketers effectively. They can help in a number of valuable ways – at strategic level or across the full plan-create-test-learn cycle, for short or long periods of time.

For more on these and other fascinating insights, check out the Content Marketing in Australia 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love GoPro.

I follow them on Instagram, and regularly like and share the stunning photographs and footage you could not capture without their state-of-the art camera gear.

And so as I have been following their every Insta move intently, I couldn’t help notice that they are starting to resemble another big favourite brand of mine – Red Bull.

Here are some compelling reasons why you could be forgiven for mistaking their moves for Red Bull’s own:

A week ago I learned that GoPro had just launched their own energy drink:

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 5.18.17 PM

Then yesterday they announced the launch of their own channel on the Xbox 360 console and home entertainment system:

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 5.18.38 PM

Incidentally (or not), Red Bull has its own web TV channel and is a fully-fledged multi-platform media company too.

Now… one may rightly argue they have got something major in common: their target audience.

Both brands are not for the faint-hearted but for the adventurous and sporty types amongst us. They are particularly big on extreme sports enthusiasts. Just take a look at the 2 snapshots below of their Instagram feeds – you could easily swap images around. The one saving grace is the Red Bull branding being prominent as you scroll through the feed.

photo 1 edited

photo 2 edited

A shared target audience partly explains how their NPD efforts and marketing tactics may cross over.

GoPro is also by the very nature of its product a great source of content, with their move onto the Xbox platform the next logical step of an existing multi-channel content distribution strategy.

However, how many glaring similarities can a brand get away with before it becomes detrimental to the brand image itself? How sustainable can it be as a business strategy? If your brand stands for adventure and versatility, how could one’s perception of it as a copycat be a good thing?

In my view, to dispel any doubts in the consumers’ mind, GoPro ought to work harder on finding its own creative voice and key differentiator. That or it may face the risk of becoming uncool amongst the cool, edgy audience it is trying so hard to woo. Copycat brands have never been popular to my knowledge – if you know of one, please hit reply and share your thoughts with us. I genuinely can’t think of any as I write this.

As a further test, I did a quick search on Google scanning for any public outcry over what strikes me as a lack of creativity. And I saw that AdWeek did very recently touch on this topic. Their article title was a give-away: GoPro’s Super Bowl ad looks a lot like Red Bull, Circa 2012.

GoPro may be forgiven for wanting to share some of the limelight on the Stratos jump – the footage was captured with their cameras after all. It’s just that the Stratos jump has been done to death. Also, their Super Bowl TV ad is heavily, well, Red Bull-branded. Enough said.

 

 

Brands across multiple categories are increasingly investing into content marketing. Yet, for the vast majority, their efforts are more often than not met with mixed results. I have been looking into why that is.

The learning curve appears to be steep on a number of levels still for most advertisers.

First, content creation remains an art that simply most haven’t mastered yet, with only few brands having become experts at it, at both a strategic and executional levels (Red Bull is famously one of them).

Many need guidance on how to develop a content strategy in the first place, including advice on how to identify what content will resonate best with their target audience, how to achieve content relevance and stickiness whilst staying on brand, or where and how often to publish their content for maximum reach.

The prevalent state of play was summed up recently in the UK Outbrain survey: it revealed that whilst 93% of client-side marketers expected content marketing to become more important, only 38% had a strategy in place.

So whilst the intention to get serious about brand content is there, how to go about it is where the problem lies more often than not.

Additionally, the resource advertisers are prepared to commit may not be adequate – the dollars may be insufficient or the investment strategy short lived, with strategic, creative and editorial skills poorly represented.

Overall, the trial-and-error approach prevails, with a great deal of debate around who should own the content creation process: the brand (and within the organization, which team: marketing? social media?), the creative agency, publishers, content distribution platforms or a combination of all 4?

As the approach takes time to fine tune, and the brand learns what content works and doesn’t work over time, the lack of an immediate ROI makes the business case for continuous investment hard to defend in most organisations.

As I was reading about Virgin Mobile’s own journey and its test & learn approach, one particular comment piqued my attention: “The obvious risk, as with all brand content, is it does nothing for the brand” the article says.

An argument that Virgin Mobile’s head of brand marketing Ron Faris refutes however by saying that the company has data that proves that “creating fun content people actually like helps improve people’s perception of the brand — and the likeliness that they will then listen to its sales pitch”. Faris goes on saying “The more content they see the more they’re willing to consider us. You have to be more patient than with display advertising.”

I agree. Brand content is no fast way to your consumers’ hearts (and wallets); but a slow-burn approach to guiding them down the purchase path. Its sales impact builds up over time as it primarily drives awareness and consideration.

Where to from there then?

Listed below are the key learnings from my investigations to date on what to expect with brand content marketing, what works and what doesn’t:

#1 – Have a clear content owner and champion within your organization (e.g. your marketing team or social media team), who will become the guardian of your content strategy and give all your content across multiple channels a single-minded focus.

#2 – If new to content marketing and/or lacking the in-house strategic, creative or editorial skills, partner up with your creative agency on defining the content strategy that best aligns with your corporate and marketing objectives.

#3 – Let your creative and media agencies assist with setting up content partnerships with publishers. Publishers may be vying for your attention (and budgets) and approach you direct. Best you let your agencies broker the deal on your behalf: they will research publishers (incl. their audience demographics, quality and relevance of content being offered, engagement levels etc.), evaluate how well their offering matches up to your corporate and marketing objectives and work out the anticipated ROI for you.

#4 – Have a content plan. Some of the content may be organic or created in real-time in response to topical events or issues as they arise. Some of it should be planned for in advance through the development of an editorial calendar.

#5 – Create content that your audience wants to consume. Is your content entertaining (e.g. high adrenaline extreme sports content for Red Bull fans)? Is it genuinely useful to your audience (e.g. American Express’s Open Forum provides small businesses with content they want and need)? If the answer to either question is no, then drop the idea.

#7 – Be brave: have a point of view. This will help reinforce your USP. Patagonia, the outdoor apparel company, does this very well.

#8– Where your content lives depends on the target audience and the audience reach you are aiming for ultimately. It may be seeded on the social web (e.g. Red Bull YouTube channel), live in a dedicated destination (e.g. Virgin Mobile Feed), be embedded within a publisher site (e.g. Virgin Mobile on BuzzFeed), or a combination of all.

#9 – Your advertising itself can be a source of brand content – a great example of this is the TVC developed by Wieden + Kennedy for UK mobile network provider Three that went viral at the start of the year – a fine example of how content can entertain.

#10 – Or your brand content may become your advertising – Carlsberg does this very well as it started turning to its fans and the wider public to create its ATL advertising. Famously, its biker stunt ad has successfully helped reposition the beer as the reward for an act of courage (in line with its new 2011 strategy and tagline “That calls for a Carlsberg”). The results were impressive: 11 million views on YouTube within 8 months of the launch, Facebook shares in excess of 1.5 million, 364K mentions on Twitter and free publicity in more than 900 blogs, 150 news sites, numerous TV shows, newspapers and magazines with a 98% brand attribution (source: mashable). All of these led to a 4.3% increase in sales volumes in the 6 months following the campaign launch according to Carlsberg.

#11 – Arm yourself with patience and be willing to test, learn and optimise.

This list is by no means exhaustive; just a good starting point in my view. It will no doubt evolve over time as we all become more “content-savvy”, and roles and responsibilities change as the content production and publishing industries mature.

For now, don’t hesitate to let me know of any more must-have’s from your point of view we ought to add to our list!

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