As time has passed, it’s become clear that economic factors have influenced editorial standards, and blurred the lines between marketers and journalists at many media outlets. Whether it be a blog, a social media post or even The Wall Street Journal, it really isn’t all that hard for the savvy to come across marketing copy or other content that has been embedded as native advertising–”editorials” that maintain the general aesthetic of the outlet they’re featured in but are placed specifically with the intent of persuading customers to make a purchase.
Dr. Mara Einstein, a professor at Queens College in New York and the author of Black Ops Advertising, is one of the growing contingent of savvy people who are catching on to this trend and with books like hers hitting the consumer market, it’s likely that the general public is going to catch on to what we–marketers, public relations professionals and the media–have been up to.
I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. In this era of decidedly decreased information asymmetry, consumers are more likely to do research in order to make informed decisions about the goods and services they pay for. While this may mean that they’ll view our marketing copy with a more skeptical eye as they become more aware of the role content marketers play in their favorite media, it also means that we have an opportunity to dramatically improve the informational value and user friendliness of the content that we produce.
Native advertising and other forms of content marketing won’t be going anywhere any time soon–but unless marketers enrich their value proposition to better serve the evolving savviness of our customers, our voices will become obsolete.
I don’t want that, and I’m sure you don’t either–so here are some best practices to keep in mind when marketing to the increasingly savvy customers of 2016 and beyond.
Think Quality Engagement
For what has surely been years at this point, “engagement” has been the word du jour in content and social media marketing circles. Thought leadership, brand strategies and the direction of the industry in general have been built around the absolutist notion of putting engagement before all other metrics when planning and measuring the value of content.
I get that. Clearly, many of us in this industry want to rack up massive numbers with the hope in mind that we’ll turn a massive amount of “likes”, “shares” and “impressions” into revenue.
While these things can certainly be valuable, I would caution marketers against focusing on those factors alone–and that’s why I was recently heartened to find that Kevin Shively at Simply Measured agreed.
Remember that when it comes to traffic and conversion, high-quality beats high quantity pretty much every time (both in the short and long term). All of the clicks, likes and shares in the world mean precious little if these engagements aren’t coming from the people who are likely to transact with your brands meaningfully.
Before you sit down to write a lick of copy, gather your data, crunch your numbers, and determine the persona of the audience you want to reach. Let that help you to decide where to target them, when, and how. Then tailor your content to them. This will help you create meaningful content that aligns your engagement strategy with your sales funnel–creating more revenue for your brand.
I don’t think there’s any denying that engagement is sine qua non in marketing. Be that as it may, it is only one of many moving parts that work together to bring true value to brands and customers.
Related: Check out our white paper, The State of Social Ads.
Think User Experience
People are smarter than public conversation sometimes gives them credit for. Many internet users are still logging in with the intent to access items that improve their work, their home, their relationships, and their lives overall. With that in mind, we have to ask ourselves: how do we contribute meaningfully to that continuous process of improvement?
“Readers want news, not fluff,” argues media studies expert Dr. Walter Brasch, while Joshua Schnell reminds us that “user experience is the key to surviving the (well deserved; my own words here) Adblockalypse.”
My argument? We should work to provide information, convenience and delight that will make consumers want to incorporate us into their routines.
The four building blocks of quality in content marketing are, in my view:
- Creativity: Your message is being conveyed in a way that engages and entertains the reader.
- Novelty: The message you’re sharing provides the reader with information they don’t already know.
- Informational Value: The information you’re sharing is highly relevant to the reader’s priorities.
- Convenience: The message includes a call to action or other element that lets readers easily implement your message into their routine.
Let me reiterate this: quality is more important than quantity. I know that there still seems to be a contingent of people who thinks softball listicles qualify as great content that’s going to move the needle. I’m not one of those people and neither is famed content marketing guru Neil Patel, who argues that content marketing takes on many forms and further posits that maybe we should consider that when deciding what kind of content to implement and when.
To put it plainly, good content marketing sells a legitimate solution and does so in a way that people like. Everything else tries to blindly engage or drive a sale. The former is not only (in my opinion) more pleasant for both the marketer and the customer, it’s also more sustainable in the long term. Rather than aggressively shilling, maybe we should consider sharing information that helps people make an informed choice and lays the groundwork for a long term relationship.
Think Long Term, Beyond Individual Marketers
I believe that every person who works in a profession shares some responsibility in managing its reputation. The choices that each of us make when we write ad copy, or prepare a press release, or deploy some tactic to drive the needle of influence all have an effect on how our industry is perceived as a whole.
Native advertising and other forms of content marketing aren’t inherently “evil”; nothing about our industry is. I don’t entertain the notion that the work I do is sleazy, either. But the reason I feel I can say so is because, at the end of the day, I make a conscious decision to treat my clients, their customers, my colleagues and the industry we represent with respect. That means deploying factual information, giving consumers experiences that are genuinely beneficial to them and aligned with their priorities, and remembering that more often than not, marketing is about advancing solutions or making consumers aware of conveniences.
Perhaps I’ve been nothing but lucky, but from my own experience I feel I can say that when you’re sharing something that’s real and that works, there’s no need to cut corners. Like the Wall Street Journal once expressed: the responsibility to use our power of influence wisely falls squarely on us.
I’m happy to answer that call and to serve my clients, customers, and the company I work for with the solutions they deserve. How about you?
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