Storytelling at Scale

Content marketing is taking over. In 2013, 86% of B2C marketers and 91% of B2B marketers used content marketing, according to eMarketer. As more advertisers and brands embrace this tactic, we face two main challenges.

One is the issue of scaling content marketing, which is beginning to be solved through the merging of programmatic and native advertising. Remember that there’s a difference between content marketing and native advertising. A native ad is an ad that fits into the contextual environment in which it’s delivered. The delivery of ads across an ad exchange to the right person within the appropriate context makes that ad native. Native advertising pertains to more of the delivery of content marketing—not the actual message itself.

This presents a solution to getting the ‘right content at the right time’ in front of a wider audience, but that leads us to the second issue: Are we putting out the right content?

Can your content marketing drive affinity and awareness, as well as sales and revenue? When we’re creating content, what’s better to spend investment in and produce? Should your content be educational, like an infographic, or sensational, like the listacles that seem to be taking over social feeds these days?

The answer is, both. Regardless of the channel or format, if branded content provides a valuable experience to your consumer—whether that be a much needed laugh during a 3 p.m. slump or instructions on how to best swaddle a newborn—it will make a lasting impact on your target audience. In evaluating what type of content is the best to distribute, you must be mindful of what your audience wants while staying true to your brand’s core values. Here are four tips on how you can do this in an authentic, scalable way:

Don’t sell. I can’t stress this enough. For content to truly gain the trust of the user, it must add value, be unbiased and balanced, and not focused on selling. Like any news article it should inform, educate, or entertain the user. This year I hope to see more and more brands grasp this concept and move toward a content model that’s unbiased rather than brand- or product-centric.

Think in real-time. Some early adopters of content marketing got this one right—like the Oreo tweet heard ’round the world. For content marketing to work, you need to capitalize on real-time news and world events. Just look at the tactics that advertisers used as part of their extensive Super Bowl marketing campaigns. Instead of relying on just the 30-second spot, advertisers are turning to YouTube and long-form video to extend their story. In some cases they released teaser videos to lay the foundation for their 30-second commercial, followed by 10-plus-minute videos; some only released online videos and garnered as much attention as the multimillion-dollar 30-second spots. These tactics enabled advertisers to extend their story and capture the Holy Grail of marketing; they created a rich and thoroughly engaging personal experience with their customers.

The key is to align your message with a cultural moment that’s highly relevant to your brand and audience. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it won’t feel right to them.

Be transparent. Industry bodies, in the U.S. in particular, have just put out new regulations offering insight and best practices around this big marketing trend. At the core of these regulations sits one founding principle: if you’re not transparent, you will erode consumers’ trust. Being transparent means clearly stating to the consumer when content is sponsored or promoted directly by a brand. If the content is good, they won’t mind.

Embrace technology. Great advertising should engage at the individual level yet still reach the masses. Branded content takes a lot of effort to create but too often just sits online like a gas station in the desert. It’s essential to drive customers to that content. Advanced targeting technologies via ad exchanges and RTB platforms have been fully embraced by the direct response marketer, but not yet by those with branding objectives. To deliver meaningful brand engagement to the right consumer at scale, marketers will need to integrate content programs into these real-time distribution channels to ensure precise delivery to an audience that grows more fragmented by the second.

In the end, great storytelling should always be the foundation of our marketing campaigns. That’s why so many of us got into this industry—to move people with powerful words and images. New ad tech technologies allow us to continually extend our reach and connect with consumers in new ways, but that shouldn’t dissuade from making a real connection.

Sloan Gaon is CEO of PulsePoint

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