Theory : In America, advertisers control the media. If they want their content to appear on media sites, it will.
Problems with the theory :
U.S. tech magazines have little vendor content, and it is clearly marked as ads.
Technology media websites did not have vendor content until recently .
Advertiser control of editorial content, if any, is done behind the scenes, not in the open. Why? Advertisers need editorial content to have credibility for the ads to be effective. Open influence spoils the effect. But most vendor content on tech media sites is openly ‘marked‘ as sponsored by a single vendor. They are not trying to hide their influence. Thus, vendor content is not a “control-the-media” strategy.
Theory : U.S. tech buyers want tech media sites to be as comprehensive as possible, so that they only need to get information from a few places to complete their purchase decisions. Including vendor content on media sites helps make those sites more comprehensive.
Problems with the theory:
Google. Tech buyers primarily go to Google to search for information, not to media websites (MarketingSherpa, 2008). Because Google is ‘comprehensive,’ media sites do not need to be.
Business tech buyers go way beyond media sites for tech info. On average, business tech buyers spend 3 hours a week (IDC, 2007) aggregating tech info from 5+ external sources (MarketingSherpa, 2008) before making a purchase.
Theory : Media websites are accepting vendor content because the data (web-traffic logs, surveys, event attendance) show users like much of it—especially white papers and webcasts (MarketingSherpa, 2007)
Theory Has a Good Point:
Users find vendor content “relevant” but not necessarily credible (IDC, 2007, 2008). When vendors get media companies to put their content onto media sites, the credibility of the media site “rubs off” onto the vendor content. So users often consume the content happily.
But Theory Has a Problem: Doesn’t Explain Pay-Off.
Some vendor content works harder to “persuade” than “educate,” so the media website’s credibility may suffer. Media companies need a big pay-off to offset this.
The higher a vendor’s Web content ranks in the results of a search on a search engine, the more likely it is to be clicked on—bringing potential customers to the vendor’s site.
Vendors can get themselves ranked high on search-engine searches by (a) paying for placement (e.g., buying keywords) or (b) “for free”—by getting their web content’s relevance ranked high by the search engine.
When pursuing the “free” method, informational content tends to rank higher than sales-pitch content because
Other websites are more likely to link to informational content than sales pitches (such links increase page rank).
Informational content typically uses more text and less images/video than sales content. Search engines rank pages heavily on how well their text and headings correspond to the search query, and generally can not process the word content of images and video.
By publishing content, a vendor shows “ thought leadership ”
High-tech brands typically claim to be “innovative.”
To support such claims, they need to show that they are “progressive” and “cutting-edge.”
Publishing forward-looking content is a good way to do this.
By publishing content rather than just promoting products, a vendor builds “ customer relationships ”
Most visitors to technology-vendor sites come looking for information, not to make a purchase.
Providing content starts a relationship that can lead to purchase.
Web Content Marketing’s Lead-Generation Benefit
A “lead” is generated when a vendor receives the personal contact information of someone potentially interested in the vendor’s products.
Generally, a lead is generated on the web through a visitor’s registration.
If a vendor can get its content onto a media site, though, the media site may handle the registration for the vendor ...sometimes, without the user even knowing it!
In the process of registering for some media sites’ “white paper libraries,” the “small print” gives the media site the right to share the visitor’s contact information with vendors each time a white paper is viewed.
Web Content Marketing’s Direct Response Benefit
Vendors generally do not charge any money to access their content.
But they may require the user to “register” (e.g., give personal contact information such as an e-mail address and phone number) before sharing the content.
Other vendors, though, make their content available without requiring registration.
They hope other sites will link to the content.
The more people that see the content, the more people are likely to be interested enough in the content to contact the vendor for more information. Such voluntary user-initiated contact is called “direct response.”
Vendors Get Three Extra Benefits, if Their Content Gets onto Media Sites
Increases audience for the content, for free
Vendor content first produced for vendor websites can be inexpensively reused on media sites.
Media sites often don’t charge vendor for “content” placement—unless leads are generated.
Spreads the word faster
Regular readers of tech media sites relatively likely to be “influencers” and “opinion-leaders.” Will spread word about good content.
Increases credibility of the vendor
The more credible the media site, the more credible readers will probably find the vendor content on those sites.
But “Web Content Marketing” Theory Has a Problem Too.
Theory (Summarized) : Tech media sites are accepting increasing quantities of vendor content because vendors are willing to pay so much for the aggregated “ content marketing ” benefits of such placements that media companies find it hard to turn the money down.
Problem : Accepting vendor content, while allowing it to look like editorial content, risks long-term credibility of media sites .
Problem : Fails to explain why tech media sites aren’t working together to resist vendor content more strongly.
Tech magazines have successfully forced vendor content to be marked as “advertorial” for decades. Why aren’t tech media websites as successful?
Search Engines Reduce Value of Media Brands on the Web
Over 50% of tech buyers say they turn to search engines “first” to research tech products (MarketingSherpa, 2008). 27% say they go first directly to vendors’ websites. Only a little over 10% say they go to a tech news-information website first.
Search engines do almost nothing to indicate whether the contents that rank high in a search are from a media site, vendor, or user.
In other words, instead of media content receiving the esteemed “superstructure” position that it used to earn because of its credibility, it is now forced to compete directly with the economic base’s content for search-engine rankings.
In Sum, The Explanation for Vendor Content on Media Sites Is...
Web Content Marketing + Search Engines
Web technologies are making it easy for vendor content to compete against media content.
If media doesn’t respond, search engines will make it easy for users to go directly to vendor content.