Content Marketing: Building brand loyalty and lasting relationships

2013, if you haven’t realised it as yet, by the vast amount of attention it is grabbing, is the year of Content marketing . Study after study have shown that content marketing can turn the unaware into aware, the non-engaged into advocates and web browsers into customers. It does though require effort, resources and quality creators. To be successful, content marketing relies on sharing a regular dose of quality content and producing this takes a big investment in time; not to mention being creative with it.

What Could Content Marketing do for You?

Content marketing if done well helps you and your business build relationships with customers and stakeholders. Surely, that’s what it;s all about in today’s world. A quick sale or smash and grab approach to any sort of custom or engagement will not last. Nowadays with people continually engaged with digital and social content, making sure you’re part of that connection and engagement through content will put you on the right track to success.

Build Trust, Engagement and Relationships

Content marketing can ensure you and your businesses’ reputation is visible, enhanced and supportive of relationship building. It helps those that see your content get what you and your brand stands for,  allowing relationships to be built and puts the consumer in the mindset of how you or your products and services could enrich their lives.

Anything worth having takes effort. Content marketing is no exception. It won’t guarantee overnight success, but it is sustainable, scalable and in the digital world a cost effective option. Done well, it will build trusting relationships and in turn an amount of social media advocates acting as your own business development department (for free!).

In an E-Consultancy survey on content marketing in October 2012 the value companies were placing on it, was clear to see from some key outputs.

  • Over 90% of respondents believe that content marketing will become more important over the next 12 months.

  • Nearly three quarters (73%) of digital marketers agree that ‘brands are becoming publishers’.

  • Less than half of companies have dedicated budgets (34%) or individuals dedicated (46%) to content marketing.

  • Increased engagement is the most commonly cited objective for content marketers, with 52% of in-house marketers and 58% of agency marketers listing this as one of their top three business objectives.

McDonald’s… They’re Loving it.

Researching the best content driven campaigns I read about this “Our Food – Your Questions” campaign ran by McDonald’s Canada. I especially like it because it’s totally user-centric putting them in control of the initiating and response questions as they ask McDonald’s the questions.

Launched in June, the Our Food, Your Questions  program invites any Canadian to ask any question whatsoever about McDonald’s food on a special website. To ask a question, participants must connect with either Twitter or Facebook, providing social visibility and a ripple in the pond viral effect.

mcdonalds our foodSo far, more than 16,000 questions have been asked (they are getting 350 to 450 per day), and nearly 10,000 have been answered. The program scope is only around McDonald’s food, so questions about non-food topics are directed to other resources, and some questions are of course duplicates. But there’s no dodging the tough questions, and that’s the amazing thing about this program.

It could have been easy for them to say, “It’s too risky,” but this is just the type of marketing edge McDonald’s needed. It has all the qualities attractive to today’s consumer — engagement, great customer service, offering transparency (and thus building trust) — and does so on a platform that makes sense in today’s social age.

Content Marketing Types

Once you’ve decided that content marketing is worth pursuing (which it will have to be eventually) you need a plan of action. It is often easier for bigger companies; they have an advantage to when it comes to producing editorial-style content with a budget to research, edit, produce and respond to their content campaigns.

If you’re an SME and don’t have the budget to work with a professional, it’s important to make sure that the type of content you create is playing to your strengths. Think about these content types below to see what mix might work for you.

1. Blog posts and articles

A great way to gain credibility, spark opinion and build though leadership. Whatever industry you are in, you have expertise that your audience will be interested in hearing about. A blog filled with advice, ‘how-tos’, opinions and topics related from your industry can be a brilliant way to present and share your knowledge and connect with your audience. If you have a flair for writing, blog. There’s no excuse.

2. Video Content 

Video content is the most effective way to engage and get across information. If your brand is visual or you have stuff worth showing off to the human eye, get the camera out and start sharing. YouTube and Vimeo are great platforms to connect to a new audience and it is much easier than you think to put together a professional looking video. Vine, a new smartphone app allowing you to shoot and publish 6 second videos, built your way at once or via stop motion has allowed many brands and individuals to get even more creative and social with their video content.

3. Images and infographics

Graphic images and infographics can be a great way to share tips and tricks with your fans in a n engaging and highly accessible visual way. This kind of content is often much easier to share – which is a great thing as long as people know that your company created it in the first place! Make sure you put your company name and URL in the image/infographic somewhere.

4. Social

Independently, but best integrated to the above content types, social media is a fantastic way to stay connected and inform and respond to your audiences. At an individual level it can allow you to provide excellent levels of customer service, at a more holistic level it can attract fans, improve your SEO and enhance your brand by having engaging content and the ability for content to easily attain viral context.

Top Tips

1. Put together an editorial calendar or schedule

Your content marketing strategy will be much more successful if you are consistent with it. Set yourself a target for each week, and stick to it! Assign certain days of the week for certain content activities (allowing time for research).It can be a good idea to plan ideas for content in one go and add them to an editorial calendar or schedule. Don’t forget to be flexible as the environment and your customers can be unpredictable.

2. Collaborate

Creating quality content week after week can be difficult. Think about utilising your network, lifting some of the pressure and getting help. If you have a team of staff working within your business, consider spreading the responsibility for creating content. This also allows these people to become more engaged within the company and also this may be attractive brand enhancing element as users get to know the staff, who are also content creators.

3. Stay professional and on brand

This is so important. Being silent and not engaging online is not as bad as being off brand or unprofessional online with content. When you’re updating your business’ blog, or Twitter feed or Facebook page, it can be tempting to stray outside your area of interest. Take my advice; don’t do it! It’s vital to stay professional and on brand. A good way to do this is to set out from day one what topics and interests you are going to post about. Also ask your audiences what they wish to see and hear and get them to contribute. Getting your audience writing content for you is worth it’s weight in gold.

4. Stay Humble. Stay Persistant

It’s NOT possible to be an overnight success in the digital world. Look at any successful blogger or YouTube broadcaster, and you’ll likely find that they were creating and sharing content regularly for a long time before they received success. This will also be true of you and your business. It’s important to stay motivated and keep going, even if it feels like no one is paying attention at first. A moment may arrive that gains some traction and builds momentum for you, your business and your content. Experience will help you attain higher levels of impact and increased chances of traction amongst audiences.

In Summary…

No matter how big or small your company is, you have the ability to use the principles of this marketing strategy and use it to reach out and connect to your audience. They want it, crave it and have time for it, so there’s no excuse. Find the right mix of type, resource and timing and success can be only round the corner.

It’s important to plan and research before jumping in with both feet. Before you get started it’s important to think about what kind of content will best showcase your business’ brand, and what kind of topics and interests it will be most relevant for you to cover. What have your competitor’s done? Are there examples abroad that could be mirrored or tweaked to suit your business? Taking the time to put these thoughts together in a strategy will be much more beneficial in the long run than jumping right in with both feet into writing and creating any sort of content.

Keep engaging your audience with quality, on brand and timely content, and you’ll see the benefits.

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back to basics

Taking Digital Projects “Back to Basics”

This one’s for digital project managers and those in digital marketing roles dealing with digital agencies…

Forgive my indulgence in talking about the day job but at Mammoth we’re big fans of our online tools for project management and web project collaboration. Basecamp and Onotate to name only 2 systems we use, are  used daily amongst various members of my team for various project progression and delivery requirements. Clients love these tools too, being able to have full visibility and collaborate online in a highly accessible manner. These tools along with Podio are transparent, user – friendly and helps improve efficiency and project process for a range of digital projects. But… (there’s always a but.)

Taking Online – Offline

I’ve noticed a lot recently with a few bigger projects, how effective good old – fashioned offline methods to collaborate and get sign off have proved. Of course, I’ll meet clients at key stages of any project for discussions and agreements, but often the trickiest part of any digital project is when scope documents turn into production of wire-frames, which turn into visuals; then once the client sees something close to the designed page templates, their minds are spurred into a flurry of activity, often not focussed on the objectives of the campaign, the agreed specification, the wire-frames or the agreed user experience features and user journeys. It can get all quite messy and frustrating. Some offline sessions that we have run at Mammoth have proved extremely worthwhile and indeed more efficient than Basecamp, Onotate, or any scope meeting could ever be in ticking off those key project milestones, deliverables and getting projects on track.

We’ve noticed a lot recently with a few of our bigger projects, how effective good old fashioned offline methods to collaborate and getting sign off have proven to be.

It Works…

The method employed in this example is a printed and stuck on the wall montage of site maps, user journey diagrams, cms functions and design templates, covered in ‘post it’ notes. To those with fresh, eyes it looks scary, random and impressive in pretty equal measures.

MammothBelfast  MammothBelfast  on TwitterThe key thing is though, that this approach can and does work with clients. It often achieves and leads to conversations, agreements, challenges and a combined level of understanding that emails, calls, Basecamp, Onotate, and even traditional face – to – face meetings over a specification document could never achieve.

Going forward, for the right jobs and the right clients, the “Digital Wall” that I and my team employ at Mammoth, will continue to play a key part in our project management process. I’d never dream of ditching our glossy project management tools and processes, especially for internal collaboration, but going back to basics works. Designers, developers, project managers and clients all armed with A3 paper designs, competitor websites, wireframes, pens and ‘post it’ notes is sometimes hard to beat!

The Importance of a “Digital Centric” Approach to Your Brand

This post is a summary of a recent blog I wrote for Smart Insights on how a brand strategy must consider and ensure a “Digital Centric” approach to the brand creation and ongoing activities.

In 2013, more than any other year; website(s), search marketing, mobile content, social media, rich media, e-commerce, email marketing and their interaction, all have to be carefully considered in a brand building process.

Key Brand Factors

1. Customer

In a branding process it all starts with the customer; considering a number of factors from age to gender to disposable income, through to their estimated frequency of purchase.

The demographics will have a digital footprint, It is vital to determine what these customers will search for, what devices they will be using and when and which social networks, websites and apps they engage with, how often, and when.

Offline, a brand’s connection with customers will deliver an experience good or bad. For example in retail, a customer can call to get a location and opening hours, drive to the location, walk into a store or warehouse, access the checkout, purchase effectively and leave safely and securely.

Online branding should deliver the same experience that you wish to deliver for your customers; including accessibility. There is though a long way to go for this to be taken as the norm.

In a recent survey only 18% of brands surveyed admitted to being “seriously” committed to delivering the best possible online user experience (UX). More reading on this statistic via a recent Feb 2013 report is available via e-consultancy.

2. Identity

For some, this is their understanding of where branding starts and finishes. Of course, we know there is much more, but it is true that it is what instantly connects customers with brands. It can create interest, curiosity, affinity and connections.

A hugely important factor to consider when it comes to identity is naming. In Digital Marketing this impacts most on search.

Another key factor is how the brand stands out in a multi – platform crowded experience. Our bookmarks, web apps on our browser, image results for search and also our mobile app icons and more, should make everyone think about how the identity performs and connects with the audience.

Facebook is a great example of how it’s distinctive “Blue F” and like “thumbs up” icon works well alongside or in isolation to the Facebook logo making it perfect for a multi – platform approach.

fACEBOOK THUMBS UP Facebook logo Facebook

 3. Competitors

From searching online, to sampling apps, to experiencing website UX and subscribing to their emails, competitor analysis is more open and accessible than ever before.

More than ever before, insight can be gained to learn what they offer, how they communicate, what experiences they have and where they focus customer and product attention.

All brands have to be aware that they are being watched, Prices are being matched, tweets are being scanned, and websites are being trawled through so as brands can  begin to gain a competitive advantage.

4. Messaging

Key messages to support the product, service or customer value are essentially what add weight to an identity and enable consumers to “get it” in a few seconds.

Tesco’s key ‘brand driver’ is simple; “Every Little Helps”. This means different things to different people, but Tesco strive through digital, to make shopping easier, more helpful, and personalised and more rewarding through its content, features, rewards, mobile apps, personalised offers and multi – channel shopping experiences.

“Every Little Helps”, suits perfectly.tescoonline

Sky’s key message is “Believe in Better”. Sky do, over all the home entertainment and connectivity providers, have best in class solutions and the user experience it always seems is largely ahead than their competitors. Sky online products just feel right. I believe their products and user interface is “better” and I also have noticed  their belief in being better has led to them being first for key innovations such as their “Sky Go” app.

5. Location

When developing a brand project, location is a key factor. With online, location becomes important because the business is not in total control of its audience and their location.

A key element to online branding with regards to location is the fact that if a business is selling online across various countries then it MUST invest in a commitment to at least consider the impact of language, culture – centric online advertising and importantly also be able to deliver on shipping timelines which customers expect.

Location, as part of brand awareness and engagement has also become much more of a factor with the use of smartphones. Location based apps to help customers on the go find a business, buy using their mobile, share etc are adding value to the brand. A great example of a brand investing successfully in digital brand strategies per location is Starbucks.  Read More about Starbucks’ digitally aligned strategy here

6. Product

In branding processes, products are considered in terms of their key messaging and top level display in line with the brand image and positioning of the company. If a brand is positioned as having unique or ‘competitor busting’ attributes then what digital media allows is the opportunity to show this like never before with features such as:

  • Video content
  • Interactive personalisation
  • Sharing facilities
  • Augmented reality
  • Real time configuration

A great personalised online brand product experience comes courtesy of Nike. Nike ID  This fits Nike’s highly personalised and user -connected brand experience which offers personal and complementary products such as Nike + and Nike Fuel.

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7. People

How people in an organisation understand and deliver the brand are central to making the brand work. Online, people still remain an important element to the brand on a number of levels. Customers may see, hear and read about key members of the team; customers may wish to check the history or find out more about a person they met to ‘suss them out’ further.

People are responsible for the online brand delivery because a digital brand communication strategy is nothing without content. Businesses must ask these people related questions:

  • Do I have the resource to communicate online?
  • Does my online content style match my messaging and tone of voice?
  • What channels do I use to enable efficient customer service?
  • I have a team of content writers online how do I ensure consistency?
  • Will my staff’s personal and business related online activity strengthen or harm my brand?

In Conclusion…

Branding and brands simply are not successful in 2013 without ensuring digital is central to how they are communicated, advertised, consumed and shared. By taking into account the key factors mentioned in this article and ensuring there is a strategy that considers the right digital mix in support of the brand position, businesses can strengthen their online position in the marketplace and thrive in the digital world.

View the full article on Online branding: a digital-centric approach to developing brands here.

ad age digital 2012

My Experience at “Ad Age Digital” 2012

A few weeks ago I jumped on a plane across the Atlantic to New York to go to one of the highlights of the 2012 Digital Marketing Event Calendar; Ad Age Digital 2012. This 3 day event was where marketing, technology and media combined; where the biggest brands meet the most innovative start-ups and the new technologies that are transforming business.

In terms of key things to take away from the event, yes there were business cards, mints, pens, goodie packs and insight into some fast moving Digital Technology on the way. Above all of these things though, the one thing that really resonated with me as a marketer and creative thinker was that technology and innovation mean nothing alone. Of course they open up new possibilities and ways to distribute and engage with content, BUT without a strong brand, a story, and an audience that will connect with these things and share it, technology is simply an engine without fuel.

The Online Advertising Game is Changing

Digital advertising is a beast of an industry across desktop, mobile and apps. It has for a decade or more and still is being been sold, viewed and clicked on a massive scale in largely a (from the advertisers perspective) “You are on a digital platform that my ads are on, and you fit a demographic that says you might click, so I’m okay with that…” model.

One of the key aspects of the conference talked about by many speakers such as David Karp, CEO of Tumblr and Tim Ellis, CMO of Activision, was that to consumers of digital, which is basically everyone, content is what matters to us most. They talked about how there was much more activity and engagement on content driven ads for instance off the back of articles, after exposure to the brand in context to a video clip or social mention. In short it told us that users have a “Tell me something that interests and connects me to you, and then ask me to engage further, and I just might…” approach.

It’s no longer enough to have a social presence and not have content that emotionally connects with your audiences.

It really remains to be seen how long traditional online advertising will be around for. The signs aren’t good. People engage with brands and their stories and this is the traffic builder and driver behind connection to their audiences. That’s how the Nike, Old Spice and Starbuck’s of this world do it. They invest in brand and content; content that connects with their audiences and that encourages their customer’s to become brand advocates online and offline.

Emotional Media: A New Name for Social Media

So we all know that social media, along with mobile is a leading growth area in digital marketing right now. If you aren’t visible on social networks, you’re going a long way to becoming invisible, full stop. This event reinforced that fact. One of the resonating things that I was left with from the event was that social and digital engagement is increasingly emotional. It makes sense if you think about it but you have to keep reminding yourself about it when looking at digital strategies.

It’s no longer enough to have a social presence and not have content that emotionally connects with your audiences. There’s too much choice; if you don’t give audiences what they need to satisfy them emotionally, you can forget it. The internet used to be a task based platform, a place to get stuff done and find things out. Not any more…

Jonah Peretti founder and CEO of social-focused news site Buzzfeed put it brilliantly in his keynote at the event:

“Marketers and media companies need to tap into their emotional sides to understand what works. But first, they need to get beyond their bad habits formed by the portal-and-search era… We started thinking it’s a game or an algorithm when really it’s about humans and what we want to share and making things that are worth sharing,” he said.

If I saw this on my Facebook wall would I click it, would I have an emotion, would I laugh and then would I want to share it with other people. And when I share it with other people would it make me look like I’m a good person or look smart or would it make me look a jerk?

“Understanding the social web doesn’t mean [just] being smart. Too often we’ll sit in a conference room and brainstorm the smartest strategy and try to find the smartest person to figure out how to get stuff to work on Facebook and Twitter.”

“Instead it’s about “looking at a piece of content and saying, ‘If I saw this on my Facebook wall would I click it, would I have an emotion, would I laugh and then would I want to share it with other people. And when I share it with other people would it make me look like I’m a good person or look smart or would it make me look a jerk?” That is so true; every interaction in the social web is emotional on so many direct and indirect levels. That makes a social marketer’s job a very difficult one indeed.

So Finally…

Ultimately it was a great event and certainly I am aware now more than ever, that digital media and strategies will not fully realise their potential without a strong brand focus, a brand story to tell, time spent investing in content and making emotional connections that people will engage with, advocate and share.