Content as Value Creation Tool


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Content marketing is all the rage. In a distracted world, where consumers are bombarded with advertising and overwhelmed by media and device choices, brands are searching for a new ways to connect—ideally over the long term. And many marketers are turning to content with varying degrees of success.
What does it mean for a brand to engage in content? What, exactly, is content anyway? What value is it to brands? Do brands have the right to compete against publishing companies? How do brands know whether or not their content is driving business results?
This whitepaper will touch on all of these topics. But, if there’s one thing to remember, one cardinal rule for brands to follow when starting a content marketing program it is this:
Content is often categorized as art or commodity, but for marketers, that misses the point. First and foremost, it needs to be thought of as a tool for driving discovery, engagement and trial. And, like all tools it has a purpose—to provide value to the consumer. On that score, content can always be optimized to provide ever more consumer value, which translates into ever more brand value.
Written by Craig J. Heimbuch—award-winning journalist and author, best-selling ghostwriter and Senior Content Strategist at Barefoot Proximity—this whitepaper provides a framework for brands looking to stand out by creating lasting, even lifelong relationships with consumers via content.

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Content as Value Creation Tool

  1. 1. content as value How content marketing can help your brandcreation tool create lifelong consumer value. FEBRUARY, 2013
  2. 2. EXECUTIVE SUMMARYContent marketing is all the rage. In a distracted world, where consumers are bombardedwith advertising and overwhelmed by media and device choices, brands are searching fora new ways to connect—ideally over the long term. And many marketers are turning tocontent with varying degrees of success.What does it mean for a brand to engage in content? What, exactly, is content anyway?What value is it to brands? Do brands have the right to compete against publishingcompanies? How do brands know whether or not their content is driving business results?This whitepaper will touch on all of these topics. But, if there’s one thing to remember, onecardinal rule for brands to follow when starting a content marketing program it is this:Content is often categorized as art or commodity, but for marketers, that misses the point.First and foremost, it needs to be thought of as a tool for driving discovery, engagement andtrial. And, like all tools it has a purpose—to provide value to the consumer. On that score,content can always be optimized to provide ever more consumer value, which translates intoever more brand value.Written by Craig J. Heimbuch—award-winning journalist and author, best-selling ghostwriterand Senior Content Strategist at Barefoot Proximity—this whitepaper provides a frameworkfor brands looking to stand out by creating lasting, even lifelong relationships withconsumers via content. 2
  3. 3. CONTENT marketingThe Path to Lasting ValueAll brands seek to connect and bond with consumers. And most brands rely heavily onadvertising to help achieve this. But has there ever been a brand that has bonded deeplywith consumers by just advertising its products’ utility? Has an ad campaign alone everdone the really hard work to create that special bond? Probably not. Sure, there are thosecampaigns that strike a deep chord with people, but in general it’s not the things a brandsays in its advertising that make the difference.Rather, it’s the qualities the brand embodies through content—which includes but certainlygoes well beyond the bounds of advertising—that create real and lasting value. And theworld we live in makes this both harder and easier to do than ever.Think about it: We live in an iPhone culture. Access to information is relativelystandardized—TV, radio, podcast, website, social media, print, etc. But the technologythat allows us to be connected makes it easy to create (you might even say )a unique experience just for yourself. We all have an iPhone—and an iPod, iPad, desktop 3
  4. 4. and laptop—but the chances that the media on any two are exactly the same is pretty slim.Such media commonality no longer exists. And herein lie challenges and opportunities.The new content paradigm requires a fresh, consumer-first approach, and content can bea key asset in developing lifelong consumer relationships in this ever-changing world. Thisis particularly so if your content seeks first and foremost to help and inspire consumers andaims to sell something second. Focus on the former and the odds of the latter happeningrise exponentially. 4
  5. 5. CONTENT AS TOOLDefining content is both simple and complex. Literally, it’s the words, pictures, videosor sounds that your user experiences when they come to your platform. That’s the easydefinition. The harder one doesn’t so much describe content, but the opportunity it affords,which is a more difficult to speak to so succinctly, but necessary to cover.The content opportunity for marketers begins at a very important intersection where aperson’s desire for specific knowledge, insight and experiences meets a brand’s abilityto serve them up. That service—and it is a service—is rendered through expertise, voice,format, function and genuine authority, all of which make content valuable.You have probably heard brands, agencies and media companies talk about content andnoticed some differences between those who create it and those who procure it. The formerviews content as art. The latter as a commodity. The former believes they are creatingsomething of lasting aesthetic value. The latter believes they are buying words in bulk,much the same way that a company buys paperclips.Both points of view are sort of right, and sort of wrong. More to the point, they’re bothmissing the point.Digital content can be art or commodity, but it’s better thought ofas a tool. And this tool’s primary purpose is to create valuefor the consumer and the brand through a conversionof some sort, be that from uninterested to Contentinterested, from unregistered to registered, from IS A TOOLno purchase to purchase. As such, with the Depending on host of circumstances, contentright approach regarding performance, the may or may not be art. It may or may not be adigital content tool can, like most tools, commodity. But it most definitely is a tool andbe calibrated, refined and optimized should be thought of that way. Contentto create more value for both the is a value creation tool.consumer and the brand. 5
  6. 6. ContentIS A CHOICEUnlike traditional push marketing—TV, radio, printand online ad campaigns—the effectiveness ofcontent begins and ends with consumer choice.In order for content to be impactful, contentneeds to be relevant to her life, it needs tohelp her, be about her, entertain her orprovide insight into her life. THE MUTUAL EXCHANGE OF VALUE The Internet was created for communication, but it spawned a mass proliferation of choices, overwhelming most with the range of options. (It is estimated that the amount of information created from the beginning of civilization to 2003 is now created every three days online.) The economy has moved from one based on goods and services to something else entirely. An information economy, which is really an attention economy. And it’s a buyer’s market, not a seller’s, as is evidenced by the millions of websites, blogs, videos, news outlets and lifestyle sites all multiplying faster than Tribbles of Star Trek lore. Information of virtually any and all types is but a Google search, a link or a ‘liked’ item away. But what if reaching consumers wasn’t just about having a product to sell and trying to find the right size, placement and creative approach for a banner ad? What if it were about taking what you know about your consumers—their lives, passions, interests, curiosities and problems—and serving their needs? What if brands focused on developing lifelong relationships based on a mutual exchange of value? 6
  7. 7. What if it were about taking what you know about your consumers— their lives, passions, interests, curiosities and problems... These are the right questions for those intrigued by content marketing to be asking. For marketers, content is, or at least should be, a service for consumers, not a ploy. Content wins when it moves beyond the aforementioned metaphor of an intersection to one of a traffic circle, where a mutual exchange of value between the consumer and the brand spins in something of an always-fluid, harmonious cycle. Don’t forget the foundational belief underlying this entire whitepaper: content has, or at least should have, a ton of value for the consumer, which means that they’re willing to give something in exchange. It’s worth noting that approximately 60% of all shared content has a specific brand message in it. Brands clearly aren’t an impediment to content value. To the contrary.Content IS A Consumers derive value from the information,CONVERSATION entertainment and community that a brand provides through its content. In turn,What you publish is what you say, but like any good brands derive value from consumerconversation, the most important thing you can do is actions, whether those be onlisten. A content program needs a solid plan for collecting the platform (registering andand studying analytics and user input. Those learnings providing data), on socialshould be used to optimize existing content and influence media (championing afuture creation. And your analytics strategy should be brand) or, of course,mapped to your desired business results. If you want action at the digital ormore sales - and who doesn’t - what consumer actions brick-and-mortar storecan be measured and mapped to your path to purchase? shelf (purchase).At Barefoot Proximity, we call this analytical strategyContent Efficacy. 7
  8. 8. Content IS CURRENCY Content is the best means of getting as close as possible to consumers by providing non-product value to their lives. A brand’s expertise in areas beyond the shelf can provide value beyond product claims. It is value given to the consumer with the hope that she will appreciate it—and pass it on to her friends.Content MarketersvS Brands as PublishersTime was, publishing was defined by the person in control of the printing press, the onewho bought ink by the barrel and paper by the forest. It was Guttenberg’s gift to Hearst andPulitzer. But Steve Jobs and Bill Gates took it away by putting the printing press in everypocket, every messenger bag and on every desktop in the world. It’s a natural thought formarketers—afraid of declining shares in the attention economy—to pursue the “Brands asPublishers” model.However, few brands truly manage to do this well. One notable exception is AmericanExpress and their highly regarded Food + Wine and Travel + Leisure magazines. But mostbrands that pursue a publishing model find it to be beyond their budgets and, frankly, theirabilities, too, without some rather sweeping changes. It also distracts from their primarybusiness objectives.This is why the content marketer model is, generally speaking, more inviting and promisingfor a broader range of brands. Content marketers, like any other marketers worth their salt,tie their activities to KPI’s related to the core business. How will starting a company blog or 8
  9. 9. content marketing platform enhance our database, create deeper consumer engagement ormove more pallets? Those are the questions you should ask at the start. Not whether or notyou should try to compete with the glossy magazines speaking to your key demographic.Content marketing isn’t about trying to duplicate a traditional publishing experience,it’s about creating a user experience that engenders trust, that serves a consumer’s needfor information and satisfies her curiosity in such a way that she bonds with your brand.It’s about having the right information presented in the right way at the right time.And it’s about creating an experience that encourages discovery and exploration,which enhances value for her. Participation and OptimizationPublishers value exposure, content marketers value participation and conversion. It’s not enough toknow that your content is enlightening users, but encouraging them to take action – sharing,returning,opting-in and, ultimately, purchasing. This is why optimization for content marketers is so vital. It’snot enough to press “publish” in your Content Management System. In fact, your only part of theway through the process when you do push that button. The real work begins by measuring the levelof participation and conversion that piece of content is causing and optimizing against those desiredactions. If the first step is conception and creation, the second step publishing, steps three to fiveare related to analysis and optimization. 9
  10. 10. ContentIS A PROCESSThere’s no such thing as a perfect piece of content. That’sthe whole idea. So long as the consumer relationship canbe strengthened, the ability of content to bolster thatrelationship can be improved. It requires always-onanalysis, constant optimization, and diligence incontinuing to find meaningful opportunitiesto create value for her. CONTENT IS NOT A CAMPAIGN Obviously, relying only on the perfect ad campaign to build this new, sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship is problematic. Not only are campaigns fickle in terms of length of duration, but they are designed to pique curiosity, not satisfy it. Once a consumer has tried a product, or decided not to, then what? What additional value can they gain from the campaign? Content is not—and should not—be made subject to such temporary limitations. Content, the always-on, always-searchable currency of the attention economy creates an always- on opportunity to move from speech to conversation, from the hard sell to the often more effective softer sell. “The moment of truth” for any campaign is often defined by store-shelf decisions, when a potential consumer becomes a customer. But the moment of truth for content often happens much earlier—and far away from the store shelf. It happens in the Google search bar, on a Facebook feed, a Twitter timeline, a Pinterest board or in an e-mail from a friend with a link embedded. 10
  11. 11. Success in content is not wholly determined by the number of cases you sell—though thatis certainly important—but in the number of consumer needs, questions or curiosities youidentify and deliver against. Take care of the latter and the former will take care of itself—perhaps even for a lifetime. 11
  12. 12. SUSTAINABILITY NOT VIRALITYWhile the desire and wish of every marketer, the virality of content is rarely, if ever, trulypredictable. It is not something that can be planned for with certainty or manufactured withcomplete confidence. Virality is more result than strategy. For instance, Judson Laippley hadnot even planned on filming his appearance at a university before his “Evolution of Dance”video skyrocketed him to fame. He was an inspirational comedian, doing just anothercollege gig. It was students who filmed it and, after the show, asked if he would mind if theyput the video up on YouTube. Half a billion or so views later and the Toledo-based speakeris still riding that accidental wave. Yet, he’s still asked for his “secrets” of the viral video.He has none. No one really does.Virality is as much a content strategy as lightning is an effective means of illuminatingyour living room. Smart brands understand this. Smart brands also understand that agood content strategy is about consistency and service. Search authority—organic searchauthority—is derived from many factors, but one of the most important is how recentlyand regularly content is published. Good content marketing is marked by consistency.Can users reliably check the platform and find something new? Or do they find the samecontent time and again? Be consistent and aim to provide daily value, rather than goingfor the occasional big splash. 12
  13. 13. QUALITY VS QUANTITYThe question that always comes up when brand managers decide to pursue a contentmarketing strategy is this: How much content do we need?There are no hard rules as it relates to content volume. There is no formula that statesX-number of pieces of content published everyday = Y conversion rate. Every contentstrategy has to conform to the realities of budget, platform limitations and expectations.But here are a few guidelines to follow:• More content is better, provided that the content gets consumed and shared• A lot of content does not necessarily mean better engagement• Regularity of publishing is more important than quantity – it’s better to publish one piece every day than to upload 500 new pieces of content every other monthThere is an interesting relationship between quality and quantity when it comes to contentand this relationship may serve as a guiding principle when establishing your content model.Quality and quantity are both critical factors. You can develop strong audiences and deepengagement by focusing on one above the other, though ignoring either oneis problematic.The Huffington Post, for instance, is oneof the internet’s largest and most well-trafficked sites. Every day thousands ofarticles, videos, slideshows and other contentare uploaded by bloggers, media outlets andall manner of content producers. Every day, theHuffington Post publishes content of every stripefor every conceivable consumer. And, as such, itis able to serve the interests, needs and curiosities 13
  14. 14. of nearly anyone who visits. The Huffington Post creates connection and value by volume. In order to continue to grow, the site must add more and more perspectives and voices, inputs and outputs. From a publisher’s perspective, The Huffington Post is an incredible success. It reaches millions of screens every month. But is their high-volume, shotgun approach the right one for content marketers? Probably not. Content marketers need to create a specific experience for users in order to drive business results. In this respect, content marketers have more to learn from bloggers like Ree Drummond, “The Pioneer Woman.” Drummond, a Utah-based home, garden and cooking writer hasRee Drummond, The Pioneer Woman built a content brand. Her straightforward, tough-yet-artful approach to serving her audience is proof positive that quality can drive engagement better than quantity, and that engagement will drive additional reach. Drummond has more than 500,000 engaged, active users who have connected with her content—because it satisfies their interests and curiosities. Consumers know what they will get when they visit the Pioneer Woman and, because of that, they visit often. She doesn’t overwhelm with quantity, but puts a premium on quality and consistency. Her regularity and focus on quality are as much a part of her content brand has what she’s writing and talking about. When it comes to the quantity vs. quality argument, brands should not be afraid to start small. Produce as much content every day as you can, while stand for maintaining high standards of quality and consistency. Grow from there. Focus on engagement over traffic volume. That’s how brand content becomes more valuable to the audience and the audience engagement becomes something Have a point of view, a way of viewing the world that more valuable to the brand. comes through in your content. Show your audience that you understand what’s important to them. It’s counter-intuitive, especially for brandmarketers who want to get the widest possible consumer base, but important. A singular point-of-view does not always mean a singular voice, a single author or single topic covered. It’s about having an equity, something readers/viewers/users can identify with. The mistake is not risking alienation of some users by having a point- of-view, but of not connecting with any because you don’t. 14
  15. 15. CONTENT DARWINISM™If the substance of content is designed to provide value to consumers, the actions taken bythose same consumers is the source of the value derived by brands. It’s sometimes difficultto quantify the intrinsic value of content to the consumer. That’s because it’s often moreabout a feeling, a notion that resonates with, or perhaps even changes, one’s “inner map,”than an immediate action. Nonetheless, brands still have an opportunity to understand andmaximize the value of content through measurement.Traffic and page views are the most-often cited units of measurement when it comes tocontent. How many people are coming to your platform? How many pages are they lookingat? But, if you are a brand mounting a content marketing initiative, these two metrics alonedon’t give you a clear enough understanding of your efforts’ value.For instance, let’s say your platform publishes 50 articles in a month. They are writtenbased on your editorial guidelines, but are of various formats, by various authors workingfor various media networks and blogs. Overall, site traffic is pretty strong, but you sense itcould be better.If you are looking at traffic and page views, you’re able to see which articles are driving thehighest percentage of both. But what does that really tell you? Just that they were read 15
  16. 16. or shared more. These are both positive DARWINISMthings, for sure, but they don’t give you thebest sense of the bigger picture. If you haveestablished deeper analytical criteria—criteriathat match to desired business results—you IN ACTION While serving as editor-in-chief of digitalmight notice that the most visited, read or platform, our search and optimization teamshared article was not, in fact, the most believed we had an opportunity to do well with a story on the topic of maintaining avaluable. Perhaps the twelfth most popular career during tough economic times, So Iarticle leads to a greater proportion of direct assigned a story titled “10 Ways to Keep Your Job in a Down Economy,” and published itsales and the number eight story was shared high expectations.with greater frequency than any of the seven I was frustrated by the lackluster results.above it. Looking for an answer, we turned to the data. It showed that, on our site, negatively worded headlines earned a greater percentage ofSo start with your business results. Sales are organic click-through than positively wordedobvious, but if the content is part of an eCRM ones. So, we changed the headline to “10 Ways to Not Lose Your Job in a Downprogram, opt-ins, sign-ups and referrals can Economy.” We saw an instant, thoughbe just as valuable. What are the consumer incremental, gain in search traffic.behaviors that are indicative of these desired Still not satisfied, we studied the data evenresults? Simply reading an article may have harder and found that odd-numbered lists had a higher percentage of click-throughsome value, but a consumer sharing that than even-numbered ones (perhaps becausearticle with her Facebook friends is an explicit odd-numbered lists seem more authoritative and less formulaic). So we added a ‘way’endorsement of its value. Site visits are good, and changed the headline once again tobut repeat visits are better, and opt-ins are “11 Ways to Not Lose Your Job in a Downbetter still. Site exits generally aren’t good, Economy.” This tweaking resulted in traffic well beyond our initial expectations for thebut they sure can be when a consumer is piece.exiting your site to visit your brand’s social The lessons here are clear: Getting the mostplatform or an e-commerce venue. out of your content means vigilance beyond publishing a piece and simply hoping for the best. And a lock-step relationship betweenIn short, brands should also have a clear idea your editorial team and your analytics teamof the behaviors they hope the content will will definitely pay dividends.inspire—and a means of measuring thosebehaviors. 16
  17. 17. We, at Barefoot Proximity, call this Content Darwinism. It’s based on the idea that the content that works the hardest to drive specific results—the content with the greatest efficacy—should influence other content decisions and planning. A survival of the fittest mentality, ensures that your platform’s content is always evolving, always improving. By mapping micro (pageviews) and macro (opt-in, social following, etc..) conversions affiliated with each step along the path to purchase to individual pieces of content, we are able, thanks to our handy-dandy algorithm, to understand the business value of different pieces of content to the brands we serve. For example, we can understand what content on a site is working the hardest to drive discovery, engagement and closing conversions and optimize not only our content mix, but the consumer journey on the content path to purchase. Perhaps even more importantly, we can see what content is not working or is hurting conversion and remove it. And the only way we can do this is by matching the value of content to the business value for the brand.A Lesson in problem. But then the Panda update was released.Vigilance: As a result, content farm articles dropped precipitously in Google’s search ranks. (One content farm saw its downstream trafficThe Panda Update decline 40% within a month and a half of the Panda update.) The content farms’ outputIf constant maintenance and optimization became less valuable to the consumer (itof your content sounds like an expensive was harder to find) and less valuable to thehassle, consider the costs of not being brand (it wasn’t pulling consumers to theirawake at the switch. In April 2011, Google platforms).released its Panda update, which, amongother things, sought to curtail the authority The lesson? Good content is not just aboutgiven to content, created by “content farms.” proper syntax and grammar. Good contentThese are broad networks of loosely affiliated on the web is that which has the best chancecontent creators who sold inexpensive of being found, admired and shared, and thiscontent to brands and publishers. requires some degree of originality versus an avalanche of the same old content foundTheir content was inexpensive because in countless other places. Being vigilant init was being duplicated on sites across understanding search trends in the contentthe internet. Again, this seemed to those marketplace is not only important, butpurchasing and selling this duplicative also vital to protecting the health of yourcontent like a low-cost solution to a content investment in content. 17
  18. 18. OptimizeEverythingA data-centric approach to content goes beyond knowingwhat content is resonating with consumers. Your contentanalytics plan should include device and time-of-dayinsights to help answer key questionsabout whatcontent is making an impact, when and on whatscreen? Optimization is an on-goingprocess, not an end-state. The content Sourcing Conundrum If you are responsible for developing your brand or scale content marketing program, chances are pretty good that you’ve been on calls with publishers, media networks and platforms, all of which promise that they’ll make the whole content puzzle a no-brainer for you. Sit back and relax, they’ll tell you, they’ll take care of it all. But can they really? And how do you know? A traditional publisher may boast 12 million page views a month. So might a digital media network and a content creator network. And they may all be telling the truth. What they may not reveal is that those millions of page views take very different shapes and forms. The traditional publisher may be getting those page views across a couple hundred magazine sites around the world. The digital media network may have 5,000 sites in North America alone in its ranks. And the content creator network may be getting page views on its content distributed across hundreds, or even thousands, of sites. How do you, as the brand’s content manager, know which will provide the best solution for your platform? The simple answer is: You don’t. And there are problems with trying to apply publishing, media and network measures of success to a content marketing program. Chief among those problems is that simply having page views on other platforms does not ensure success on yours. 18
  19. 19. Brands have a unique opportunity to level the playing field—between content types, content vendors and content creators—by redefining the value of content. No longer do content marketing results need to be compared on publishers’ terms (traffic and page views, mostly). Success in content marketing can now be determined by the success of the content in driving business results­ sales, opt-ins, renewals, trials…whatever your business seeks — to achieve. And when the brand determines the measurement criteria, then the content formats, creators and vendors all compete to deliver results for the brand based upon tangible actions taken by consumers. If content efficacy on a brand platform is defined as content’s ability to achieve business goals, the Content Darwinism model affords marketers the opportunity to create competition among partners to see who can create the most value. In the lush and varied world of content, only the fittest will survive. More to the point, only the fittest should survive. 7 Things to Take Away1. Use your understanding of her problems, her concerns, her interests and curiosities to guide your strategy. Look for potential intersections and seek to provide her value beyond your product offering.2. Learn from her actions what content is most valuable to her and optimize toward creating yet more value.3. Turn that intersection of her needs and your offering into a virtuous, harmonious circle of mutual appreciation.4. Set the terms of value without falling subject to those dictated by publishers and media networks with different measurements of success.5. Focus on creating a unique experience for the user, not on replicating (poorly done) ones she can get elsewhere.6. Remember that content creation and evaluation is a process that can always be improved.7. Target consistency, and don’t get sidetracked by virality. 19
  20. 20. LESSONS LEARNEDContent marketing is not a fad. It’s a way for brands to create lasting, even lifelong,relationships with consumers based upon the mutual exchange of value. It’s here for good.And it’s only getting more popular. In research done in August 2012, content thoughtleaders Outbrain and Econsultancy found that 92% of in-house brand marketers and 71%of agencies and consultants already have or are planning a content marketing program.But, like a lot of big opportunities, success will be had by those who embrace thechallenge and experiment without losing sight of what’s most important, namely therelationship you must build and nurture with consumers.In an age when content is the currency of the attention economy, some things have notchanged. The brands people will find the most valuable are the ones that help them makebetter sense of their worlds and find more enjoyment within them.About the Author CRAIG HEIMBUCH is the Senior Content Strategist at Barefoot Proximity. An award-winning journalist and author and best-selling ghostwriter, he leads content strategy for large-scale eCRM programs around the world. Contact Craig o: 513.618.0635 m: 513.545.0366 @cheimbuch 20