Will Content Replace Advertising?

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A spirited panel at Social Media Week in New York spelled out why marketers should stop treating content like ads and start being storytellers.

For marketers, all bets are off. It's time to think differently about customer engagement or risk crapping out.

“The game has changed. The channels have changed. That means that brands have to change,” Brian Becker, VP of content marketing for JPMorgan Chase, said during the panel “Content: A Brands Most Essential Resource” at Social Media Week in New York. Becker asserted that many companies still struggle to put consumers' wants, needs, and perspectives into the brand narrative. Content, however, allows them to do just that. “Bring the voice of the customer into your marketing,” Becker said. “That's when you sound so much more authentic.”

Some companies remained challenged to see the value of content marketing, unsure of its return on investment. “The industry is still struggling with that,” said Lindsay Nelson, global head of brand strategy at Vox Media. “Success metrics used to be page views, social shares, and time on site. But those don't work, because content takes different time and tools to consume,” Nelson explained. “[It's time to] push the industry forward and begin tracking and then collecting more reliable content metrics that are tied to business goals. Reengagement is a great new metric that illustrates a relationship. Right now we're still programmed like it's marketing in the form of television ads.”

Becker added that ROI from content marketing is rarely immediate. “Content is more of a long-term plan,” he explained. “So, ultimately, you want to measure long-term relationships, not instant gratification. Use content to connect all of the different points where someone discovers you.”

Pat Connolly, VP of branded content studio 23 Stories at Condé Nast, said one mistake that marketers continue to make is treating content like an advertisement. “Content is measurably different because ads are built for a brand, but content is built for an audience,” Connolly said. “It would be a very short-term view to say that ads are going away, because brands will always have to educate consumers on their offerings. What's really happening is the definition of ads is changing. Now, so often, it's content.”

Time and again, marketers have created content that tells the right stories but aren't positioned on the right platforms for consumers to discover these narratives. “Brands still struggle to put assets in the right place, on the right channels,” Becker said. “The winners are the ones who can be competent enough to choose the right platforms, build relationships, and respond to change.”

The panelists emphasized that the companies that are winning at content typically embrace the idea that their marketing teams are producers and distributors of stories, information, and thought leadership. “If brands want to be publishers, they have to have more of an always-on approach,” Connolly said. “[Marketers] need to compete for attention less on an ad model and move into a content model.”

It's a model that he and the rest of the panel said will, no doubt, pay off. "Brands need to be storytellers," Nelson said on a final note. "And marketers need to figure out their stories and how to tell them through content."

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