Did you catch the Red Bull “Art of the Can” Exhibit at the Dallas Galleria this summer? If not, you may have missed some of the most blatant next-gen advertising ever.
50 pieces of “art” either made of, or inspired by, Red Bull energy drink cans. The Art of the Can C’mon. Red Bull cans as Art? Welcome to the Golden Age of Content Marketing. And Red Bull is just the tip of the iceberg.
Proctor and Gamble has re-launched Rouge magazine and now delivers it to 11 million US households.
Kraft publishes Comida Y Familia – the largest hispanic women’s magazine in the US – and has now entered the short-film business with a series of 2-3 Minute Info-tainment Segments profiling the Oscar Meyer and Ritz brands. They’ve been playing during the previews on more than 15,000 US screens this year.
Mountain Dew launched a record label – Green Label Sound – and is now sponsoring a “Green Label Tour” this summer with the Kool Kids.
Quiksilver was ahead of the curve six years ago when the apparel company co-produced a surfing movie – remember Riding Giants? More recently, they’ve scored with the ‘Dynamite Surfing’YouTube series. Amazing stuff. Now they sponsor surfboarders, skaters and recording artists.
And of course, those of us in North Texas remember the infamous attempt by Chesapeake Energy to launch Shale TV with my friend and fellow former newscaster Tracy Rowlett. The experiment in branded TV content never got off the ground. But the vision was grand, if perhaps a little premature.
Regardless, it’s not “brand” new (pardon me), but it’s not a temporary trend either, and in fact, the whole content-as-marketing concept is now reaching a maturity that portends a shift of the tectonic plates for all advertisers, for all time. No more interruption. No more distraction and circus-barker shouting about sales and prices and product features. Branded Content is here to stay. At our agency, we call it “Organic Media” – that is, content that originates internally and not in a distant newsroom or an agency’s creative think-tank. Time to be useful and pertinent and honest and smart and resourceful and solve some pressing problems or vanish in the cluttered jungle of by-gone media. Solve your customers’ problems, answer questions, provide service and solutions, or become irrelevant.
Well, that’s fine if you are Mountain Dew or Quiksilver and you have an eight-figure ad and marketing budget. But if not? How does content marketing work for the rest of us? Great question. The answer = sorry, it’s the same path. Publish content or exit stage right. And as modern marketing guru David Meerman Scott preaches in his books and articles, everyone can and should be a publisher these days. And it doesn’t have to involve your own recording label or national art exhibit.
You need to be smart, first of all. You need to KNOW THE CUSTOMER. Listen. Watch. Pay attention. Ask the right questions. Know what keeps her up at night, tossing in bed or tapping at Google. What problem is she trying to solve? And how can you help her with a quick, affordable solution? Be the fix. Also, find out what media platforms she is most likely to use. Does she Facebook? Does she read the local paper? This is a crucial first step.
Second, you need to BE STRATEGIC. Don’t start tweeting willy-nilly or blasting out pretty marketing e-mails without a strong, identifiable plan and a purpose. Who do you want to be? What’s your strategic position? What’s the powerful tag line? Does it work? And is it WORTHY OF CONTENT MARKETING? Is it WORTHY OF PR? (Journalists may be struggling these days, but they still won’t do your marketing for you. However, if you have something useful and unique, they might want to quote you!) Find someone who can ask the really tough questions. Do the difficult work of deciding what strategic position you want to occupy among your competitors. If you’re competing on price alone, I wouldn’t waste the time and mental effort to develop a serious campaign. Generic platitudes along the lines of “We’re Just Better” or “Quality and Value” or “We Stand the Test of Time” really don’t trigger the kind of emotional response on which strong brands are built. Neither do they help solicit news media coverage. Instead, ask ‘What is the one thing we do better than anybody else?’ or ‘What is the single most powerful advantage we have?’
Third, BE CREATIVE. If you’re not a writer, but you’ve discovered that your typical customer reads blogs and a company blog fits into your budget (what’s it cost, again?) – then HIRE A WRITER! Find someone who can tap into your corporate braintrust and interpret the know-how for the layman. Find someone who’s writing you enjoy and who’s written about your industry. Give away (some of) your secret sauce. Where? Well, online first. Realize that as soon as you launch a website, you’re basically in the content marketing business. Meerman Scott preaches (and I’m para-phrasing) ‘great content is what BRANDS A RELEVANT ORGANIZATION and DRIVES ACTION’. If your website is fun and engaging and pertinent, then your company is viewed the same. If your website is stale and flat, then…. well, you get it. (Be sure to include some call to action online. How will a visitor to your website be asked to take an action that initiates the sales cycle? How can you add them to a mailing list or capture the e-mail address?)
These days, some of us just are NOT readers. Fine, then how about video? (Yes, as a former TV news guy, it’s my preferred format…) Why not post a quick interview with the CEO or a few satisfied customers? How about a virtual tour of your factory or warehouse? Why not let web browsers see how proud you are of the people you employ? And if you don’t own a little Kodak Zi8 or High-Def Flip Camera – then HIRE A VIDEOGRAPHER! It’s really not terribly expensive. Again, find someone who’s previous work you appreciate. Ask about the day-rate for shooting and (additionally) for editing. Ask about the format, and remember to ask your web-master about an appropriate video format. The finished product has to be compatible with your website. Still, it’s not a big deal.
Fourth, THINK LIKE A JOURNALIST! What kind of interesting, useful content would you like to read about your industry, product or cause? Can you sponsor an on-line poll? (Check our Survey Monkey or Constant Contact.) Can you interview an industry or association leader and write up a summary? Can you offer a ‘behind-the-scenes’ snapshot of one of your major projects – and how you tackled a particularly tough job? Can you offer advice on going ‘green’? What are some pertinent thoughts on customer service? Or warranties? Or a recent trade show you attended? Keep it short. Most of us don’t want to be bogged down reading multiple pages. Highlight the key points. Summarize. Offer references. Valuable websites. Tips. Hints. Insider stuff.
Fifth, ENGAGE. Frightening as it seems, the branding equation is no longer a one-way street. If you’re not involved in a dialogue with your client or customer, rest assured that someone else is. Probably one of your competitors. Allow public commentary of your blog and photos and YouTube Channel (don’t have a YouTube Channel yet? Then STOP reading this blog post and GET ONE NOW! Anything with your corporate name, if it’s still available.) Try to elicit a response on your website or any social media platform. If you just ‘don’t have the time’ for the Facebook fan page, then find someone in your organization who does, or simply make it part of his or her job description. Yes, it’s that important now. Think of it as you might consider a community garden. Yes, it takes some time to weed and fertilize and water. But imagine the beans and carrots and peppers you’ll grow! And who knows? You might just meet a neighbor. The internet magnifies the networking possibilities almost infinitely.
Another opportunity to engage is to think like Red Bull and sponsor something. How about a local lecture series? (Post the video!) Or a live concert? (Post the video!) Or a community service project? (Sure, post the video!) Maybe you can’t publish a glossy news-style magazine, but what sort of stylish e-mail newsletter can you send out? If you’re not a graphic designer, fine. HIRE A GRAPHIC DESIGNER to organize your ramblings once a month and then blast out the product to your mailing list.
Or maybe you hire the freelance videographer to come in once a month and videotape something interesting and worthwhile for your website. Or you hire a freelance still photographer to shoot your service project, or maybe to capture a ‘day in the life’ of one of your best employees. Or maybe you sponsor a kid’s contest to write speeches on a topic that pertains to your industry. And then videotape the winner giving her speech and – again – post the video on your website.
I know, it’s often a Time v. Money question for the small business-owner or entrepreneur. Publishing new content on the website or sponsoring a concert are often the LAST item on the to-do list. But old advertising is stepping aside.