Just as branded content is emerging as one of the more reliable and credible forms of journalism, it’s evolving yet again into the next big thing: conversation marketing, writes Adelle Horler.
Everyone’s a publisher today. We’ve fallen in love with documenting our lives in public, on multiple platforms. Jaw-dropping activities like walking the dog or going for a coffee only become real once we’ve tweeted, blogged or posted on Facebook. And they only have value, if we’re honest, once someone’s liked or commented.
Which means there’s a great deal of content out there, and not all of it is pretty. Publishing guru Dr Samir ‘Mr Magazine’ Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Centre at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media, bemoans the scarcity of content curation in today’s content-crazy world. And speaking at Media24 recently, he pointed out that blogs in the United States have an average of 1.2 readers – which would probably be the writer and sometimes his mum.
The fact that there’s so much content out there competing for our attention has been a boon for custom publishing or, to use its more current name, content marketing. Branded content has long been regarded as ‘proper’ journalism’s slightly embarrassing younger sibling, the one that sells herself on the side and is little more than thinly veiled advertising.
And maybe custom publishing was like that in the beginning but it changed a long time ago. Content marketing – giving readers information they want, rather shoving an advert at them – can only work if it uses the same high standards as consumer journalism.
In fact it must work even harder, since it’s publishing with an agenda – it must give readers valuable content they want to receive, while still making them feel positive towards the brand.
To successfully capture people’s attention above the noise, branded content must be excellent. And that’s why it’s emerging as one of the more reliable and credible kinds of content – precisely because there is money behind it.
For example, if you’re going online to figure out how to make the perfect risotto, what are you going to trust more, a dodgy, handheld YouTube video filmed in a random kitchen, or the slick step-by-step version on the Woolworths TASTE magazine site?
Or someone’s personal blog on what happens during a tummy tuck, or a post from a plastic surgeon on the Mediclinic Info Hub?
Ackermans is an interesting example. Like most retailers, it has content on its site. But unlike many retailers in its segment, the blog goes way beyond fashion tips and how to wear its merchandise.
This brand has done exhaustive research into its market and knows that many customers have limited access to information resources. So, Ackermans offers advice and useful content covering all the facets of their customers’ lives – not just what to wear, but also everything from parenting and baby care to how to save money on data or be a savvier financial consumer. They’re using content to entrench their position as a trustworthy and dependable presence in their customers’ lives.
But nothing stays still for very long, and just as consumers are becoming comfortable with brands giving them content, they’re beginning to want more.
It’s no longer enough for a brand to broadcast its message to consumers, no matter how valuable, credible and beautifully crafted the content.
Since the power to publish is now in everyone’s hands, consumers will increasingly only listen to brands if they feel they’re being listened to in return.
Which is why the industry is moving on, and we’re all about to see many column inches devoted to content marketing’s next big thing – conversation marketing.
It’s like the lonely girl in a terribly pretty dress waiting for someone to ask her to dance. Unless she goes out there and chats to people, she’s dancing on her own.
Or, says Bridget McCarney, New Media Publishing’s quirky managing director, conversation marketing is like dating. “Marketing is incredibly simple, but a lot of people spend a lot of time over-complicating and over-hyping it,” she says. “It’s a lot like dating – to stand out from the competition, you need to grab people’s attention.
“But then marketing became content marketing and suddenly everyone was a storyteller. Everybody had a story to tell about his or her product. In dating terms, it’s like someone talking endlessly about themselves. Content marketing is a one-sided interaction,” says McCarney.
“The perfect date? We actually have a conversation. I share information, you share information and we end up having an engagement. So, the future of marketing isn’t content marketing – it is conversation marketing. And the place to create that conversation is on digital platforms.”
New Media Publishing believes so strongly that conversation marketing is where branded journalism is headed, that they launched digital agency Dialogue.co.za to take it further.
“Of course, consumers have already been talking to brands, using humble tools like surveys and experiential events,” says Tank , Dialogue’s new general manager. “But I’m not sure brands have always listened, let alone acted on the information.
“Do that at your peril these days, though. Word of mouth remains one of the more powerful marketing tools, both positive and negative. And since there are so many ways consumers can get the word out these days, one bad experience with your brand is no longer heard only by that person’s barman or hairdresser. So, brands not only need to engage with consumers and potential consumers but they need to listen as well. And the digital space is perfect for these conversations.
“But, much like real-world conversations, some will be boring and others will be interesting. What remains absolutely crucial then, is that these conversations must seeded with well-crafted and engaging content, so that they’re not only more credible than the general chatter on the internet, they’re also more valuable and compelling conversations to have.”
Adelle Horler is group head of content at New Media Publishing.
IMAGE: New Media Publishing website
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