The Biggest Misconceptions About Content Marketing According To This Industry Leader
Content is the hottest girl in town these days. No one knows this better than Mina Seetharaman. She used to be the Executive Director of Content Practice at Ogilvy and is now SVP, Global Head, Creative Strategy at The Economist Group -- so you know the woman knows what she’s talking about. Here are her two cents on content and yes, that includes the “viral” kind as well.
How has the content practice evolved in the last five years?
I think one of the biggest changes is the role of content. It used to be that content was a few blocks of text that a designer or developer used to fill in a user experience. A designer would lay out a print ad, web page, banner ad and there would be a space allocated to “content” that some writer would need to fill in. Now content and user experience are inextricable, particularly in a digital environment. Social media is meaningless without something meaningful to say; without content, social media is just an annoying person tapping you on the shoulder repeatedly to say “Hi. Remember me?” Beautiful parallax-scrolling web experiences are often just gimmicks without something substantive that’s worth exploring at their core.
This has, in turn, meant a significant change in the roles of content strategists like myself; our purview has grown significantly. Facebook doesn’t even have information architects. Content strategists work directly with technologists and creatives to flesh out user experiences. In my role at The Economist Group, on some programs I make as many UX (user experience) design decisions as I do content and platform recommendations. It puts greater demands on the role, but it also means content is more integral and less at the periphery, which to me is a good thing.
What do you see as one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to content marketing?
I think there are three, if I may.
1. Content marketing is long-form advertising. This is the view taken by lazy marketers and advertisers. I recently wrote an article about this -- good content marketing requires discipline and is often not about a product offering or a service. It is about a problem, issue or topic area that your audience cares about and where you have a right to play. It is not just talking longer about your product or service.
2. Content marketing and native advertising are the same thing. In my view, native advertising is a media placement designed to look indigenous to the page. Content marketing is the use of traditionally editorial content forms to build narrative in service of brand goals. Native advertising can be a way of distributing or driving traffic to content marketing but they are not one and the same.
3. The same metrics we use to measure banner ads are the right ones to measure the success of content. Often, especially in the B2B space, impressions or views are not nearly as important as dwell time, completion rate or repeat visits. But as media agencies are currently the brokers between publishers and clients, there is a tendency to default to traditional display ad metrics.
What's your gut reaction when people ask you for viral content?
[insert eye-roll here]. There is no such thing as “viral content,” especially not for brands. Unless you’re Nike or Coke, no brand posts a piece of content and watches the views come rolling in. It’s not a field of dreams: If you post it they will not come. Not unless you send an invitation, call them to remind them and open the door when they ring the doorbell.
There is always a trigger. Sometimes that trigger is organic: Someone tweeted “double rainbow” to Jimmy Kimmel, who then retweeted it and then the video took off. Prior to that, it had sat for months on YouTube with fewer than 200 views.
Sometimes the trigger is paid: When Chipotle launched the video “Back to the Start,” clients would show it to me and marvel at the two million views it had at the time. What they hadn’t realized is that there was a significant paid plan that included more than a million paid views delivered by Alphabird. Brands have to bake in traffic drivers into their content plans or they simply will not be successful -- unless you can get Beyoncé to appear in your video. Then you might get a million views without paid investment. But you’ll still need to get her to promote it on her social channels (See? Always a trigger).
Enabling the creation of UGC is becoming an important part of the puzzle. Who's doing it right?
UGC is really interesting to me. At first, there was this idea that UGC was going to be the way brands built relationships with their customers -- users were so engaged with expressing their opinions! They were going to tell me their hopes and dreams and I would never need to do user research again! Who needed to pay for content production? Users were going to provide it for free!! But then things took a turn. As luck would have it, not everyone is a writer and sometimes people make insane, unsubstantiated comments about things. That, as it turns out, is not the brand association that most brands want for themselves.
So we started to see people turning off or more aggressively moderating comments, and really backing away from UGC as a core to their marketing programs. In some ways, I think LinkedIn has helped bring us back around to UGC’s potential. When your comments are publicly tied to your professional persona, you are much more measured in the way you express yourself. I think this gave brands hope that UGC could be more than just the trading of insults in a public forum.
Professional communities really are key, I think. I was first introduced to Periscope by my hair stylist. Apparently, stylists have been using it since it launched to share and show off tricks of the trade and new techniques. And a variant of the professional community is the event. Increasingly, events are incorporating apps to encourage engagement between speakers and audiences, sharing thoughts on sessions, etc. Events are excellent content-generation opportunities. With the right audience, tools such as Periscope, Meerkat and Vine allow you to collect and curate more interviews and opinions than a single professional camera crew roaming an event audience.