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July 25, 2014

The 6 questions every brand should consider before making the leap into content marketing

We’ve always believed in the power of great content, but embarking on a full-scale rolling content strategy is a big move and not to be taken lightly. Our Creative Director Callum McGeoch thinks there are 6 questions every aspiring brand publisher and marketing director should ask themselves before making the leap into content.

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At Livity we’ve been banging the drum for quality engaging, entertaining, useful original content ever since persuading Lambeth Council to bundle all its youth messages into a single, sustained youth co-created entertainment title – Live Magazine – nearly twelve years ago. Soon after that we helped Talk To Frank, PlayStation, MySpace and Three mobile collaborate with Channel 4 on the world’s first multi-platform interactive TV drama. And ever since, alongside our more traditional campaigns, we’ve consulted on, devised or delivered rolling digital content and brand publishing strategies for Penguin Books, Barclays, Fabric, BAFTA, Public Health England, Network Rail, O2 and many others.

But we also know that it isn’t the right path for everyone. Kicking off a long-term content strategy requires substantial investment and commitment and, in most cases, a completely new set of behaviours, skills and processes.

So before you start you better be pretty sure it’s the right thing to be doing, and that you’ve got the conditions in place you need to succeed. Ask yourself these six questions….

1. What’s your motive?

Did you feel a bit left out when everyone at that conference was talking about their exciting new brand YouTube channels? Has the PR team not had much joy getting people to talk about your brand so you might as well have a crack at doing it yourself? Hoping it will save you a fortune in ad spend this year? Got a bit of under-spend to play with? Looking for a flashy way to launch something? Need to double sales before the end of Q4? Are you new in-post and want to make a name for yourself as soon as possible?

If it’s any of the above then think of a better reason or walk away now.

But if you’ve got mid- to long-term objectives to grow market share, change attitudes and behaviour, sustain and deepen brand awareness and affinity, develop an engaged community or open up innovative new digital sales channels then the sooner you can start producing punchy, entertaining, relevant, regular, shareable, responsive, topical original content the better.

2. Do your stakeholders have balls of steel?

Growing your own audience around content is a long game. Dipping your toes to test the water is only going to return a false negative result. You’ve got to jump in with both feet and be prepared to wait a year or more before you start to feel any warm fuzzy return on your investment. Getting you board to greenlight your masterplan is just the first challenge. Keeping their faith in the strategy 3, 6, 9 months down the line will be even harder. Be sure they know what they’re in for and have the nerve to see it through.

3. Can you get the whole company on side?

You’re also going to need the confidence and support of as many other people as possible, both to help shape the strategy and implement it. To ‘Think Like A Publisher’ and start behaving like one too it won’t just be cash, crew and kit you need, but a company-wide culture change as well.

Departments that have previously had little to do with each other will have to start talking daily and everyone needs to take the editorial mindset into their role and start reporting back from the frontline. They don’t just need to know about it or support it, they need to really get it.

4. Are you really that interesting?

If your instinctive answer is ‘Hell yeah!’, then put yourself in your target audience’s shoes for a moment, take a long hard look at yourself and ask the question again. If the answer is still the same, then congratulations, you probably work in entertainment, fashion or sport. If your answer is a definite ‘No’ then chances are you’re being a bit hard on yourself, and maybe not looking in the right places.

Draw a Venn with everything your target audience chooses to read about, watch, listen to, talk about or share on one side, and all the topics that your brand could be qualified to talk about or associate itself with (allow yourself to be fairly creative and tangential here), on the other. If the overlap is almost non existent then maybe stick to buying your way in front of other publishers’ audiences than killing yourself trying to earn your own. If there is plenty you have in common then, why haven’t you started telling all those stories already?

5. Do you have hidden talents?

So you’ve made the decision, persuaded the board, secured the budget and are all set to push the start button. But before you post your Content Director job ad or start figuring out how to let go of all those media buyers, PRs and campaign managers that you’re not going to need any more, take a good look at what talent you’ve already got close to home.

You know that guy Tom in research? No? Well he’s been writing his hilarious gig review blog for years now. And Lucy in accounts’ baking tips have got thousands of subscribers on youtube. Between them they know as much as about optimum blog post lengths, keywords, subscription drivers and the best upload time to catch ABC1 mums as anyone.

An internal skills and interests audit will reveal these hidden gems, renew their enthusiasm for work and make every member of your organisation feel like you are genuinely interested in them and make them interested in how they can evolve to support this new way of working.

6. Do your media buyers know how to play in this space?

The final hurdle, and in many ways, the final frontier of content marketing. Many a well-considered, well-crafted content strategy has been scuppered by a lack of mutual understanding, communication or collaboration between the guys who are trying to earn and own an audience, and those who are brilliant at buying their way into other media owners’ audiences.

The most successful content marketers (Hello Red Bull, Yo Nike) are at their best when earned and paid are working in harmony – using media budgets to enhance (eg talent deals, channel collaborations) and amplify (sponsored results, paid distribution) their content, not advertise it. Show, don’t tell.

If you have any inkling this might be a challenge, address it as early as you can. Get your content people and your media agency bods to sit down, listen to each other, learn from each other and hatch a joined-up plan together. Get it right and the impact on your business could be game-changing.

A version of this article was originally published on Contagious.com