Content marketing has become the darling among marketers for its ability to engage customers and engender loyalty across platforms. For the first time, we’re able to contextualise their content marketing efforts in South Africa, thanks to a pioneering piece of research into the state of the industry.
When I first started tramping the streets with business partner Neal Farrell looking for clients for our fledgling little company, Narrative, in 2013, there was a lot of educating about content marketing that we needed to do. The concept was synonymous with print magazines and big budgets. And we’d get doors shut in our faces: “We don’t want a magazine,” they’d say. So we’d knock softly on the door again and show our potential clients how content marketing isn’t a magazine, it’s about telling stories… on any platform.
This was only four years ago, yet it feels like I’m telling you a story of a bygone era. So much has changed. Brands and marketers instantly recognise the concept of content marketing and are doing it across their platforms.
The power of a good story
More and more are harnessing the power of a good story to draw customers into their world, build awareness, loyalty and sales leads. So now, when we knock on doors – because you never stop knocking – we’re having conversations about the awesome work we can do telling a brand’s story, getting their customers excited about them.
We always operated on a kind of gut feeling about content marketing – where it is, where it’s going and so on. Lots of research has been done by the Content Marketing Institute in America on the state of content marketing there and in the UK and Australia. But there’s been nothing on South Africa.
So we’ve put together a report on the state of the content marketing industry on home soil based on the results of a survey we conducted with Answered Insights. Our 2017 Benchmarks and Trends Report is intended as a benchmark to measure the industry and talk to trends.
There were three key areas we wanted to provide insight into:
- Adoption – we looked at the extent to which marketers have included content marketing in their strategies
- Approach – this involved defining the content marketing tactics being employed and the kind of content that was being produced
- Effectiveness – how effective are these content marketing efforts seen to be?
The results were fascinating. Take organisations, for example. In the past many marketers were delighted to be able to hand over top-to-tail content marketing to specialist agencies and publishers. We’ve felt for a while that this has developed as content marketing has become more important in brands’ overall marketing strategies and constitutes a bigger slice of their budgetary pie.
Brands are wanting to be more involved in their storytelling. And they’re taking it seriously; 76% say they have a documented content marketing strategy. Compare it to the US: only 40% say they have this in place.
We also looked into how much marketing budget is going into content marketing. In the States the average is 26%. In South Africa its 30% of marketers who are spending 20% or more of their budget on content marketing and 61% say they intend increasing their content marketing spend in the next year.
One of the secrets to success is commitment: to have a clear vision, a documented content marketing strategy and to know what success needs to look like. The majority of marketers said they feel that their company has a clear notion of what an effective content marketing strategy achieves and believe in the efficacy of their efforts.
Prime space for storytelling
Social media is prime space for storytelling and brands are increasingly downplaying hard sales push posts in favour of soft-sell. The happy ratio is 80:20, which requires a lot of storytelling.
It’s no surprise that Facebook and Twitter are the most popular platforms. I suspect we will see this change as Instagram gains ground in South Africa – remember it grew by more than a million accounts in just seven months from November 2016 to May 2017, and it’s still very undervalued by brands in this country. Instagram has so much potential. In terms of effectiveness, Twitter lags behind Facebook, followed closely by YouTube, which speaks to the rising video trend. Video is on everyone’s lips, if you haven’t got it, you’ve got to get it.
Being able to measure efficacy is the biggest challenge marketers face. Committed content marketers have clearly defined goals which are measured against a set of metrics.
People are hungry for stories. And social media is an especially voracious platform. So we weren’t surprised to discover that producing enough variety of content is also a major challenge. It does beg the question though: Are they placing quantity over quality of content? We reworked a number of our clients’ strategies for 2017 to ensure that quality of content is one of the primary criteria. When looking to the year ahead, 68% of marketers say their number one priority will be producing enough engaging content.
Content marketing is not like summiting Everest. There are so many tricks and quick wins that brands can employ to make the most of the content they have and create fresh content quickly and affordably. You don’t need a Red Bull Extreme event to create engaging content. It may just be a phrase, a word, a picture that tells the story.
Robyn Daly is content director and co-founder of Narrative, a media agency specialising in content marketing.