Content marketing has proven its worth to brands over the past decade by skilfully combining data-driven storytelling with brand narratives. In a world of dialogue versus monologue, this marketing sector sits alongside native advertising and above-the-line activities in an interactive but aligned world of its own.
Now, with the maturing of emerging technologies, content marketing is set to generate additional ROI.
The best content marketing practices are well known by now – authenticity, transparency, rich content and so on – but technological advancement is pushing the sector into an exciting, often unexplored audience space.
One of the biggest challenges with producing great content has always been making sure that you meet the audience where they are. People are all wired differently though, and that singularity means that what might be interesting or compelling content for some likely won’t warrant as much as a second glance from others.
Content marketers initially rose to this challenge by producing ever more niche publications and platforms that gave people a clear signal of where they could go to pursue their particular interests. However, online niche platforms, especially in developing markets such as South Africa, aren’t always able to draw audiences large enough.
Those that have strong brands, such as design and decor publication VISI, do attract a loyal following and can sustain themselves commercially. But the trend has been toward ever-increasing generalist platforms with a wider diversity of topics and subject matter. This unfortunately means that many people need to wade through a sea of irrelevant content to find that specific article or video that’s really meant for them.
With the radical advances in machine learning over the past few years, the ability to target the most relevant content to those who would benefit most from it has provided us with a quantum leap forward in increasing audience engagement and, ultimately, ROI for clients.
Custom publications in real time
Now, instead of the focus being on getting as much content out there as possible with the hopes that your target audience will stumble on it, you are able to target specific content with pinpoint accuracy – directly to the end-user. We’ve even reached a point where we can dynamically craft custom publications for each individual in real time.
Imagine visiting your favourite general news website but instead of having to dig through multiple layers of categories and sub-categories to get to the content you want, you have your entire homepage already personalised exclusively to your own interests.
Knowing a person’s likes, dislikes, usage behaviour and browsing habits contributes to building a rich profile that can determine what content they are likely to find most interesting. You can do this without asking the user to fill out a survey or ever tell you what they want. Ever wonder why your own Netflix profile brings up such different content from when your partner logs into theirs?
By gathering discrete data points of a user’s journey through a platform – detailing what topics they engage with most, how much time they spend with certain content, how often they visit, which stories they are commenting on or have hit the like button on – you are able to infer what content recommendations to surface algorithmically.
The key to all this is data
Of course, the idea of using data for any purpose nowadays conjures up feelings of distrust and resentment for a lot of people. With all the recent revelations of how user data is being gathered and used for nefarious purposes by large corporations and the privacy concerns that raises, who can blame them?
The ability to serve up more relevant content recommendations, however, doesn’t require anyone to part with their anonymity. In the end, all you need are ones and zeros, not names or ID numbers. It’s not the data that’s the problem, it’s how some have chosen to use it.
When the programmatic smart delivery of information can be integrated into ethically run, POPI-compliant content marketing campaigns, it’s a win-win: the brand reaches the interested audience and the audience is interested. The successful marrying of storytelling with technology is a global phenomenon that’s growing in South Africa.
While many may feel that it buys into the consumer hoodwinking narrative, it’s far from that. It’s the serving of content that is emotive, authentic, transparent, engaging and appropriate – between a brand or service and their audience. And it’s definitely here to stay, with far-reaching benefits for brands and content consumers alike.
Aileen Lamb is the CEO of New Media. She has over 20 years’ experience in all aspects of media – in the UK and South Africa – and was the driving force behind the digitisation and relaunch of successful media brands including Eat Out, VISI and Woolworths TASTE. Since taking the helm, Lamb has led the transition of New Media from primarily a customer magazine publisher to a digital content marketing agency that delivers measurable ROI to a wide variety of blue-chip clients.
Hendri Lategan is the COO of Swipe iX. With key leadership roles in top online publishing, digital development and marketing agencies, Hendri has a unique understanding of the technology and digital industries. He is passionate about the future of technology and strives to push the boundaries of the digital landscape.
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