By Simon Penson.
We live in a world of interruption. Despite all the encouraging words spoken by the world’s marketers promising to move away from the crack cocaine of push advertising, we’ve failed.
Huge improvements in targeting have certainly helped improve advertisement direction and delivery. But the reality is that focus has, for too long, remained on what adtech can deliver, rather than what the audience wants. Adblockers are a cast iron testament to this belief.
It’s a bold statement, but one that proves true as we continue looking for the next tech fix rather than making big bets on owning audiences for the longer term.
The problem is return on investment. It has always been much more simple to model returns from paid media than anything in the owned and earned space.
Why the numbers don’t stack up
So few get it right when it comes to making a success of owned audiences and we need only to look at one place to understand why that is the case.
From a digital perspective, serious investment in content is a relatively new phenomenon; ask a brand how much they spent on it prior to 2012 and the answer will be ‘little’. Of course, that has changed dramatically in the last few years, and while this must be seen as a massive positive step in improving user experience the issue now lies in what content is being created and how it is being delivered.
Taking a paid approach to earned and owned
For many brands, the plan has seemingly been to take the same strategic mentality: borrow from media, buy into content and throw a ‘campaign’ approach at the problem.
And while content produced in this way, often with budget behind it, works as a ‘big bang’ hit, the problem is that it ends up producing the same effect as paid activity – audience rental not ownership.
If you create a plan based on delivering campaign after campaign you will undoubtedly experience periods of increased reach and engagement. But, the problem is that value can quickly die away if your overall content experience is not enticing enough to keep them coming back for more. There is no glue to stick it all together.
It’s here, in the understanding of pure play content strategy, where the real value and opportunity lies.
The missing piece of the puzzle
Here we can see a campaign-led strategy and there are exposed holes in the plan. While we have plenty of activity going on in both our owned and earned channels, the issue is what goes on between launches. Where do those people go during those periods of inactivity and how do we keep them engaged when there is no central content hub to pull them into?
This kind of approach is something we see often, especially from larger brands with budgets that allow for more creative content campaigns to be run regularly.
Here’s why it doesn’t yield positive ROI:
As human beings, we like variety; to keep us hooked, content delivery needs to reflect this. Campaigns need to be designed as part of a whole, becoming a ‘peak’ content moment rather than the ‘only’ content moment so it pulls in new audience back to the Constant Content activity going on at the centre of brand activity.
You see it in the way magazines are organised – starting with an initial section of often short form content before you then hit a feature of four pages or more. This is done to ensure we keep turning the pages, experiencing that variation as we do so.
This is something I like to call Content Flow and it’s a great strategic tool to help ensure you design your overall strategy in the right way.
The approach to strategy
The key to doing so is very simple and it focuses the mind on the creation of a content framework that enables you to produce lots of high quality regular content and the ideas that flow from it. This is what I call the Constant Content Plan.
The right way to approach the content planning phase is to create a process that supports the building up of layers of different content types, like in the diagram below:
In this example, you can see how we intersperse the bigger campaigns with lots of owned content, often creating a blog and resources section that gives the new visitor something to explore and come back to. Without it they simply float back out into the content abyss and onto someone else’s radar.
That consistent delivery, and the audience retention it creates, comes from the smaller content pieces, or the glue that sticks together the strategy in its entirety. ‘Smaller’ doesn’t mean lower quality however, and investing lots of time through the ideation phase for these ideas is critical to success.
Creating smaller ideas
To do this well and create that Constant Content strategy, a great place to start is by looking at the ideas magazines use. For example, these are the regular content types you often find in the best-crafted titles:
What I’ve learnt
Advice piece from a heavy-hitter. Can sometimes be expanded to what I learnt in my 20s, 30s and 40s.
The dual interview
Get two people together for an interview. Write an intro as to why they’re there, and then transcribe their chat. Bingo: unique content.
Have you ever/what do you think of…?
Pose a question and ask 10 people for their responses. Good reactive content to a particular event that might pertain to one of our clients.
Cash for questions
Get an interviewee or expert and pose them a series of questions that have been posed from real-life members of the public.
A day in the life
What it says on the tin. An in-depth look at the working day of someone of interest.
Person vs person debate
Start with a question or subject matter, get two people, put it to them and record the results.
Master ‘X’ in five minutes
A short ‘how to’ can be delivered in pictorial or video format.
This style of regular series content lends itself well to online strategy too. By running these regularly, you create variety but also the stickiness required to keep the audience coming back.
And of course, with such variation, it also allows you to create better newsletters, social strategies and even inbound marketing plans, maximizing that return on investment.
In addition to entertaining pieces, the strategy allows for informative content; in doing so, it gives your brand the opportunity to build subject trust and authority as well as capturing key opportunities in the purchase funnel, such as Micro Moments, Answer Boxes and Pain Points. This combination of informative and entertaining output ensures you are front and centre when your customer does then eventually fall into the purchase funnel.
You can learn more about how this process works by using an online toolkit which contains the tools and templates you need to ensure your output joins the dots to maximize reach, engagement and ‘stickiness’.
By Simon Penson
Simon Penson is founder and CEO of marketing agency Zazzle Media.