By Nick James

Now that ‘everyone is a publisher’ content creation is in danger of becoming a commodity, and the lines between marketing and journalism are blurring. Although the purist might argue that ‘branded’ content is just advertising in disguise it needn’t be if it’s created in the right way.

None of this however is new. In the early days of radio, brands such as Procter & Gamble not only sponsored but also produced radio dramas aimed predominantly at the ‘stay-at-home’ house wife to help them sell soaps, medicines, foods and other household goods. These so-called soap operas were the original branded content and it’s no surprise therefore that P&G are still at the forefront of branded content creation.

P&G’s digital content strategy is well thought out and well executed with informational websites aimed at filling gaps that traditional media businesses have missed. To give them the best chance of success with this holy trinity of content, community and commerce, P&G teamed up with NBC’s digital arm rather than doing it themselves or going to an agency. This means not only that well-known names from traditional media outlets contribute daily articles, blogs, expert Q&A’s, photo and video galleries, how-to guides, quizzes and polls, but also means that the danger of it looking like a ‘vanity project’ is reduced.

Publishers and broadcasters used to take pride in the fact that there was clear blue water between editorial and advertising — often captioned with the word ‘advertorial’ — now with the ‘brand as publisher’ it’s often up to the reader to distinguish the difference themselves. Many brands now have dedicated editorial teams who carefully manage the intersection of technology, journalism and advertising, and in some cases, like P&G, they team up with media owners who are used to rigorous editorial processes rather than just ‘creating content’.

While it is true that quality content drives social media engagement and powers SEO, whether it is on a PC or laptop, smartphone or tablet, consumers are not only becoming more media savvy but they also have a voice and the ability to share. If they think they are being targeted by ads they will quickly be turned off. If, however, they are being entertained or informed in this always connected world the brand can stand-out and also build a strong relationship with its customers.

The one thing that everyone involved in creating and distributing content needs to pay attention to is ‘authenticity’ - crass, contrived or crap just won’t cut it. Brands need to know what their customers care about, what they’re interested in and then create or even curate content that teaches them something, solves a problem, entertains them or even inspires them. Once you’ve created compelling content the next challenge is to get people to read it, watch it, comment on it, share it or ‘like’ it. This becomes a lot easier if you are working with a media owner or publisher that already has a connected audience and some heavyweight sharers.

A content marketing strategy needs to have amplification tactics in place to make sure that it reaches the target audience. This will undoubtedly include social channels such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, but it should also include partnerships, media relationships and ‘search’. As with all business activities ‘content marketing’ needs to be linked to business goals — in some cases these will be short term goals such as lead generation, or in bound marketing. In others they will be longer term and include customer retention, increased awareness or behavioural change.

Despite the temptation of seemingly instant gratification you shouldn’t think of ‘content’ solely as link bait or social media fuel — although if executed correctly it will tick those boxes and therefore increase overall visibility — your content strategy is too important to be put in a silo it should be put at the heart of your business!

Of course not everyone has the budgets of a P&G or a Red Bull but that doesn’t mean that processes shouldn’t be adopted that are more akin to a publishing house than a marketing department. So in a nutshell; create content that gives something to your customers, be authentic and amplify it to the right audience.

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