Content is King
Quality content works as a powerful driver for attracting customers and completing sales but the benefits of superior content management reach beyond increased revenue, writes Amy Birchall
Articles about bucks' nights, online dating and football may seem like a strange way to promote an insurance brand, but that's exactly how insurance company NRMA is using content marketing to reach a new generation of Australians.
The company recently launched Live4.com.au, a website targeted at members and non-members under 40, after realising its existing publication for members, Open Road, wasn't reaching potential customers.
Interestingly, Live4's goal isn't to sell insurance. There isn't a single article about insurance on the website – though there are plenty of pieces on alcohol-free weddings, generation jobless and royal baby names. Instead, Live4 aims to attract readers by providing interesting and relevant information.
Speaking at a Publishers Australia event in Sydney in July, Kye Mackey, senior content strategist at King Content (the company which developed Live4 for NRMA), said: "NRMA is thrilled with the site because it's so popular. If people aren't aware of your brand, they're never going to be customers."
Content marketing, which counts brands such as Optus, McDonald's and Colgate among its devotees, is becoming an increasingly popular marketing tool for businesses and brands. It is inexpensive (at least compared with traditional advertising), allows for complete editorial control and its impact and return on investment are easy to measure.
Former business journalist and editor turned content marketer Kath Walters says content marketing involves creating and sharing relevant, valuable content. Making sales comes secondary to attracting customers.
"The media paradigm has changed, and businesses need to adapt," she says. "In traditional media, ownership resided with the big media organisations. Now we're seeing a democratisation of media. Companies are starting to realise they're going to have to move to that model."
Others, such as Georgina Brujic, managing director of Pacific Magazines' publishing arm Pacific+, say while content marketing has attracted a lot of attention in recent months, the concept is not new.
"Look at Good Taste magazine, which partnered with Woolworths for 17 years," Brujic said at the Publishers Australia event. "That success demonstrates the power of bringing brand and content together. "Content is a powerful sales tool, and we have to remember that's what it is."
Brujic points to online fashion retailer The Iconic as a brand that has seen positive return on investment from content marketing. The company produces a regular print magazine for customers, and Brujic says it sees a 60 per cent lift in sales when the magazine comes out.
"They've created compelling content that has resonated with their customers and their brand," she says.
The benefits of content marketing stretch further than increased revenue.Walters says it can also be used to help businesses establish themselves as leaders in their field. Law firm King & Wood Mallesons' In Competition blog is an example of what Walters describes as a company "creating leadership and owning the marketplace".
The blog focuses on changes to Australian and international competition law and covers issues such as access, authorisation and consumer protection.
"Companies that are doing content marketing well understand the publishing role. They realise they need to have a strategy, they need to have goals and they need to have editorial staff, or at least editorial rules," Walters says.
However, she warns businesses can not get away with biased or sales-driven material, as readers demand better.
"Customers are very sophisticated. They won't suck it up. If you're obviously pushing products or dissing the competition, people dismiss you. Present information that allows readers to exercise their own intelligence," she says.
"When I think of destructive content, I think of the former CEO of Energy Watch, Ben Polis, who published racist comments on Facebook and the comments became public. It was biased and unbalanced. That's how to not do content marketing."
Walters' advice for organisations looking to get started with content marketing is to start with a niche subject, as King & Wood Mallesons did with its In Competition website.
"Learn about media and think like a publisher," she says.
"Readers are pulled to content because it's trustworthy. You're creating a relationship. Develop a commercial strategy. Think through who you're speaking to and why.
"NRMA's Live4.com.au, for example, has a very clear target market: under-40s not reading Open Road and who may not yet be members. "What's your most valuable market opportunity? Start with them."
But is content marketing really a lasting trend? Walters thinks so. "It's the future of journalism. Not all journalism, but most of it … media companies – old and digital – can not thumb their noses to the concerns of the advertisers anymore," she says.
"In fact, I believe traditional media is now more vulnerable to bias for commercial gain than companies that are publishing their own content.
Here's the reason: biased content erodes your brand."If you are a media company and you publish biased stories, you devalue your media brand. But the company whose chunk of advertising revenue won them the glowing reportage keeps the reputational tarnish at arm's length."
Alex Light, director of VICE, a global, youth-oriented media brand with content partnerships with Schweppes and Intel, has also warned that, like any other emerging trend, "there are a lot of cowboys in the [content marketing] marketplace".
Speaking at the Publishers Australia event, he said: "Content marketing is the buzz word of the moment, the game du jour. Many people are offering it without a lot of expertise."