Customized digital content supplements advertising

When Bigelow Tea wanted to attract more visitors to its Web site and better engage them, it launched the Tea Talk blog and corresponding social network presence on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

“In 2006, President Cindi Bigelow saw that a blog could help her hear from customers better than advertising,” said Valorie Luther, founder of Creative Concepts, Bigelow’s social media agency.

The social media presence especially came in handy last year, when a subset of customers was outraged at the discontinuation of the Fruit and Almond Tea, and Bigelow — the person — answered.

Tea Talk has also yielded insight into tea’s distinct market segments. For example, a community of young men, ages 18 to 24, who are drinking green tea to avoid prostate cancer can discuss the health benefits on the Bigelow blog and Facebook site. In fact, Bigelow spokesman and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre has also spoken to the health benefots of the tea.

“We don’t always talk about Bigelow tea,” said Luther. “The way that you really build a blog is by reaching out to other bloggers and creating community, listening and watching what they are drawn to.”

More often, companies are putting marketing dollars into custom content rather than traditional media-supporting ads. Marketers spent an average of 29% of their budgets creating and executing custom content in 2008, according to a Junta42 survey.

However, Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association, sees custom content not replacing the traditional ad-supported and editorially vetted media outlets: “Publishers are looking at some additional ways to attract dollars, but I expect advertising will remain the significant revenue stream.”

The OPA released a study in September that found content sites are where people spend most of their online time. Content’s 40% share of Internet hours outstrips community, communication, e-commerce and search.

“Brands are building out content on their own sites because it’s only natural that they would support the trend about where consumers are spending more of their time,” said Horan. “But brands must recognize that there are significant audiences already aggregated for them through these content sites, and they have value.”

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