TL;DR Companies should act and think as media companies because people dislike commercials and enjoy content that do not suck.

Truth in advertising

Truth in advertising

In the course of just about ten years, the logic of marketing has been turned upside down. More and more companies are looking at the prospects of thinking as, and acting as an editorial media outlet. At the same time, media companies are turning their eyes to other business prospects. Each party yearning for what the other has. Media have viewers and eyeballs that they need to monetize, and traditional business has things to sell but a severe lack of viewers.

Should I transform my marketing department to become more like a media company or is this just crazy talk? Should I fire all my writers, communicators, and art directors and hire a newsroom?

Maybe, but before you do anything, you should follow this train of thought…

The changes in the media landscape of the last decade have not exactly gone unnoticed to anyone. Media conglomerates are generally struggling. The business model is crippled by digitalisation, combined with the proliferation of new media outlets. The fact that anyone now can be their own publisher eradicates the technical monopoly that media used to have, and profited quite handsomely on for a long time.

In the beginning these new possibilities and tools was mostly harnessed by existing media and regular people, establishing media platforms of their own, most commonly as blogs. Some of them did this really well and grew into to small media empires on their own. This story is quite well documented and analysed today.

What then happened was that companies started to mimic the uprising of personal media by using the same tools, that where available with an extremely low threshold.

These factors lead to a massive infusion of content. Combine that with really fancy gadgets to consume said content with and the ability to personalise and filter out things that you’re less interested in, peoples way of consuming content changed dramatically.

The easiest way of describing the effect on the content owner and producer is that all of a sudden, things couldn’t suck.

Why we can’t have bad content and get away with it?

Today, to have any right to exist, any piece of content needs to be as good as the best in its genre. That’s because a companies need to communicate or inform is greater than the average audience interest. This leads to a breakdown in corporate commercial communication because people can choose not to engage with whatever content they produce (brochures, sales material, product websites, really cool apps that ultimately sell products etc.) and you can always find something way more interesting if you just keep scrolling.

Basically, the attention economy hit the corporate world in full effect. They are now competing on the same platform as Netflix, YouTube and Facebook, all looking for maximum attention, time and engagement for their piece of content.

So, if you are in this unfortunate position that your customers do not really care about what you’re selling – what should you communicate?

One of the great things about digital media today that you can almost certainly find a group of people interested in what you have to offer – as long as it does not suck.

Companies exist in a world where their products or services are surrounded by meta information and meta activities. Meaning, basically, that part of the value that reaches the end customers might sit somewhere else than in the actual product or service they are selling.

Finishing a deal on a car takes probably less than 30 minutes. Choosing that exact car can take months, even years. Using that car for several years includes so many activities that it’s not about the actual car.

If you believe this to be true, how and what do you choose to communicate about your product? Do you bluntly tell people to buy the car, or give them the tools to enjoy and cherish they journey before, during and after they buy it? What will create the best long-term results for your business?

This example is even more apt in financial services. The sale of a financial product takes literally two seconds to complete, but to make the right choice can take a very long time, be extremely complicated, and have tremendous effects not only on your life, but your family and business for a long period of time.

Consumers in this space are also extremely fickle about commercial messages. As a consumer, what you really want, and need actually, is someone who can care for you and support your dreams and aspirations during the entire course of your life.

From the banks perspective that can be reached by doing two things – offering personal and individual service, and secondly, by making sure that they have a sufficient amount of content to be knowledgeable, informed and inspired to act (or not act if that’s more suitable).

So, one conclusion to draw from this is that meta-information in the financial sector is just as an important service to the customer, as the actual interface where you seal the deal.

All of this boils down to a number of questions:

  1. How do you not suck at meta-information, a.k.a. content?
  2. How do you reach the audience?
  3. What is the gain for the content owner and producer?

How not to suck?

Obviously, that’s a million dollar question. But if intent not to suck, there are a number of key principles that you might not want to stray to far away from.

Not sucking means understanding what interests your audience. Understanding your audience means that you can identify a community. You “speak” directly to them, and you bring them on and in to the program and the content.

Of course, having a clue about who they are helps. But do not be do concerned with detailing target groups based on demography or psychological factors, as you would in the old ATL-BTL marketing paradigm. If you focus on finding behaviours and places where your community reside, great content will find its way to the right people with tactics, patience and perseverance. On the downside, you might reach people who are not that interested, but on the upside, you might reach people extremely interested in your content (but not easily identified as you target group).

People are not that easy to label these days and the marginal cost for one additional viewer is close to zero. Keep your doors open and let the content flow.

You can’t, under any circumstances sell anything. If you have commercial ambitions – the content cannot be the sales material, the commercial messages can be placed around it, and by placing it in ways where it will support decision-making, i.e. close to and within sales funnels.

You need to tell stories that people can relate to and that are relevant in their lives. Because of this I’ll argue that an editorial approach to content is more likely to succeed than a strictly commercial.

Daddy, please read me some branded content

Daddy, please read me some branded content

The more independent you can be, the more trust, confidence and affinity will be formed between audience and the producer. In the end this leads to greater engagement, more followers and viewers and greater opportunities to monetize. Content that sucks is worth zero and cannot be monetized, in any way. Editorial content that doesn’t suck can have great reach outside your own domains, and be placed in tactical ways where it can make help and support your users.

How do you reach the audience?

If you have a strictly editorial approach, your editorial staff is not associated or directly dependent on the owner. If this is the case, there are great opportunities to reach your viewers on other platforms than you own.

As we know, media is in a state of breakdown. Every penny spent on content adds to the total cost of running the business. On the revenue side you have ads. Every penny you add to your cost, means less profit (or a bigger loss). If you cant raise the revenue you’ll have to lower the cost.

If you can supply some of that content a fruitful partnership can be formed. Most content marketing initiatives don’t come this far in their independence and can’t, because of that get distribution in other editorial spaces.

The second route to distribution is by leveraging the audience you have on your own channels and meeting places. Most large companies in the B2C-space have substantial traffic to their digital hubs.

This traffic is largely wasted on meaningless marketing with a CTR of 0,1% or less, and engagement so low its truly depressing, leading customers to actively trying to make their visits as short as humanly possible.

The ultimate reach would be if you could have distribution within established media channels, as well as a visible and steadfast distribution on your own channels. To connect with your audience and communities, you’d be using social media as an additional distribution form.

All these channels would have some kind of lead in to the mothership. The SEO-effects will come as very positive side effect to your endeavours. Exactly how, please advise your local SEO-expert.

What is the gain for the content owner and producer?

Branded journalism, content marketing and similar buzz lingo is probably more successful from the buyers perspective because you have control, which means that it is easily digestible and decided upon in the boardroom. The actual effect is doubtful and more than anything leads to a breakdown in trust between the producer, the brand and its customers. It’s dishonest because there is always a catch, and something that is to marketed and sold.

If you can provide a service and supply the best possible content within your field, that complements the click-driven, antagonistic journalism out there today, you have great possibilities to reach your audience and at the same time gain respect and a long term following for your content.

On an overall level you can achieve three major advantages with this way of working.

A substantially differentiating approach on how you “talk” to your audience and, ultimately customers leading to a desired repositioning of your brand. Your customers will begin to view your relationship as a partnership, rather than a salesperson to customer relationship. Content that does not suck, within the parameters of your industry or business will, engage, inform, educate and drive final sales of your products and services depending on how you place it and distribute it.

Knowledge driven businesses can also find new ways of leveraging the competence and expertise that otherwise does not come to optimal use. By finding outlets for people to share their knowledge, it becomes used and utilised to the end-customers benefit.

You can “monetize” your content by working hands on with placement and distribution. It’s about identifying valuable sales tracks and sales funnels, and matching the right places and areas to support with the right content.

To summarize;

To be successful, you need to be relevant and produce equally good or better material than what your key audience could find anywhere else.

You compete with everyone for your audience attention.

Media can be your partner and you can help each other.

You can’t suck. Be as good as you can.

Best of luck on the levelled playing field!