On the night of the 2014 Oscars, Samsung used a single tweet to get the whole world talking.
During the show’s live broadcast, the tech giant arranged for actor Bradley Cooper to take a selfie — using a Galaxy Note 3 phone — with a gaggle of A-list celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence. DeGeneres then posted the selfie to Twitter, and it quickly went viral, generating more than 3 million retweets in 24 hours.
When the dust had settled, it was hailed as the most retweeted photo of all time, with an estimated value of between $800 million and $1 billion.
This is the power of content marketing in the digital age. And it represents a fundamental paradigm shift for brand marketing. Not only has the digital web accelerated the trend towards pull marketing — specifically, content marketing — but it’s completely democratized how information gets shared. Content is now controlled by the people that consume it.
For brands, that presents equal opportunity and challenge. Now, brands must earn the attention of customers, not force it. They need to think less about products and more about people. They have to stop interrupting people with product messages and start engaging them with relevant content.
But how do you, as a brand, create the right content? And how do you use it to stand out in an increasingly crowded and connected marketplace?
Add value to your customers’ lives
First and foremost, you need to make sure that your content, or owned media, is valuable on its own merit — meaning that it’s inherently useful, educational or entertaining for your customers.
For example, a video series with hairstyling tips created by L’Oréal would fall into the “educational” category. DeGeneres’ tweet, by contrast, would fall into the “entertaining” bucket.
The idea is to create something that people will find genuinely interesting and, as a result, will want to engage with your brand. This is a pull strategy, as opposed to the classic model of push (e.g., advertising).
Learn the art of storytelling
At its core, creating this kind of content is about telling good stories. But to serve as an effective marketing tool, your stories need to occupy the shared space between what people care about, what’s culturally relevant and what your brand stands for. They should also invite engagement with your audience in an authentic way.
Give ’em something to talk about
To cut through the clutter of the social web and earn your customers’ attention, your content must strive for amazing. Indeed, the odds are stacked against you: The chance of someone viewing your YouTube content is one in a million. The average click-through-rate is 0.09%. And the average Facebook user receives about 4,875 pieces of content every day.
In this environment, you’re not just competing with other brands for your customers’ attention. You’re competing with what your customers’ friends are talking about. You’re competing with whatever they ate last night. And you’re competing with what matters most to them in life.
Set up a publishing playbook
Creating amazing content isn’t going to help your brand if consumers don’t see it. To maximize the impact of your content marketing strategy, you need to think strategically about how, when and where you distribute your content.
That’s where converged media comes in. Thanks in large part to the social web, the traditional silos of paid, owned and earned media have collapsed. At the same time, that’s given rise to converged media, or content that falls within multiple media channels, formats and types. This sponsored content on BuzzFeed, for example, intersects paid media with owned. Or Newcastle’s faux Super Bowl campaign with Anna Kendrick took advantage of a hybrid content model. And Facebook’s announcement about its policing of “overly promotional content” shows how the lines between paid, owned and earned continue to blur.
Why does this matter? When leveraged the right way, converged media increases the visibility of your content, amplifies your touchpoints and enhances engagement with your customers.
Pick the right time and place to publish
There’s also a new model for publishing content designed to pull consumers toward your brand and keep them coming back. Created by YouTube and coined as the “Hero, Hub, Hygiene” model, it serves as a framework for the types of content to publish at particular intervals:
Strategy: Big and memorable. Super-Bowl-like moments. Designed to reach a broad audience.
Frequency: Infrequent; a few times a year
Example: Viral videos, such as Volvo’s “The Epic Split” commercial
Strategy: Regular content series. Designed to keep your core consumer engaged.
Example: A video series with several seasons, like theLEGO Blockumentary
Strategy: Topical. Relevant within an everyday context. Addresses consumers’ interests. Demonstrates brand’s expertise.
Example: How-to videos, like these created by Ford for the 2015 Escape
Adopt an editorial mindset
As Dietrich Mateschitz, founder and CEO of Red Bull, famously said, “Brands need to take the phrase ‘acting like a publisher’ literally.” In other words, you need to approach your marketing tactics through the lens of, say, a magazine editor or newspaper reporter. And you need to transform your marketing operations to function more like a content studio.
Like any good publication, that begins by knowing your audience. As a brand, you must develop an in-depth understanding of your customers and prospects — who they are, what they care about and what they need. In fact, you should know your people as well as, if not better than, your products.
Next, to become a truly customer-centric brand, your team needs to get organized around people, not products. Ford, for example, reorganized its team around customer segments (e.g., moms, millennials) instead of around its products (e.g., the Mustang), as it had historically.
In addition, you must decide, in essence, on an editorial mission. This mission should articulate your specific point of view as a publisher, reflect your unique perspective and guide the types of content you create. At the same time, it must directly speak to what your customers care about. For example, recognizing that many of its customers were avid music fans, Red Bull started posting music reviews to its website.
Know that content adds up to a brand experience
Finally, while you’re in the process of creating great content, it’s important to remember: Your stories, taken as a collective, create a complete brand experience for your customers. In practice, that means that you want to be mindful and careful about the content you create while still remaining agile as a publisher.
Brands are no longer defined by the things that they tell customers. They’re defined by all of the interactions that people have with them. Each of those little moments create a much bigger story.