It goes by many names: branded content, custom publishing, and content marketing. Cheap and ubiquitous web technology has become fuel for a rising trend of businesses becoming publishers and brands becoming media companies. Through content creation, brands can engage directly with an audience rather than relying on intermediary media channels.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, an organization that provides research and education on content marketing, “93% of marketing professionals create, or plan to create content marketing as part of their overall programs in the next year.” Money is being slurped away from print advertising (44% of marketers have decreased their print ad budgets over the last three years) and put in large part toward social media and custom publishing (70% have increased their social media. Publishing budgets over the last 3 years), according to CMI.
Blogging, tweeting and posting not only generate brand awareness and buzz, they also build links, which are like gold to Google’s ranking algorithm. In short, content marketing is the new SEO.
How should your business or brand think about its content marketing strategy? Take some tips from the following companies.
When personal finance start up Mint launched in 2006, it was quickly thrown into competition with web startups like Wesabe, and established juggernauts like Quicken. Three years later, the company is a market leader in online personal finance and sold to Intuit for $170 million.
Mint owes much of its user adoption and brand success to its aggressively intelligent content strategy. Unlike the half-hearted, months-between-updates blogs that most businesses keep, Mint’s blog “MintLife” was a core part of the company’s operation.
Mint dedicated significant resources to its blog, including a full time editorial staff and a slew of freelance contributors. It invested time in social news sites like Reddit and Digg, and after months of seeing consistent, quality Mint content, readers in those communities began trusting Mint as high quality, reliable, and cool to share. Eventually, those users turned into Mint customers, even advocating Mint in their personal networks.
News and tips posts, link roundups, slideshows, videos, and Infographics were all key components in Mint’s content strategy, and they were held to a strict editorial standard. By establishing itself as a smart resource that was easy and accessible to the financially curious, Mint was able to leverage its content credibility to convert readers into buyers of its actual product.
Mint is consistently lauded as a pioneer in successful blog content marketing. Big takeaways for attaining Mint-like success include the following:
- Dedicate resources to content (whether paying outsourced/contributed writers or in-house editors).
- Enforce high quality editorial standards on all content types (writing, illustration, and video).
- Share content smartly through social channels.
- Remember consistency and patience in building up an audience.
Makers of the marketing software platform HubSpot know the value of good content for inbound marketing. HubSpot cofounder Dharmesh Shah anecdotally said that his customers who blog regularly average about six times more inbound leads than those who don’t.
It makes sense that HubSpot itself does a lot of content marketing. They produce case studies, videos, podcasts, webinars, and eBooks’ for their audience, educating them about their industry. All of that education helps HubSpot customers use the platform more effectively, but it also scoops new users out of seemingly thin air with every piece of content it publishes to the blogosphere.
HubSpot has over 4,000 customers. Their primary customer acquisition method: inbound leads from content marketing.
Here’s what the rest of us can take away from Hubspot’s content marketing:
- Produce content with the goal of being seen as a “thought leader” rather than simply for the sake of having large quantities of content.
- Publish diverse types of content, and don’t confine yourself to a single effort.
- Don’t just produce content about yourself; create content that’s helpful to your audience.
3. American Express
When did credit card companies start turning into media companies? It’s been happening for years, but American Express has done a bang-up job of turning its business and money expertise into actionable content for entrepreneurs — an influential subset of Amex’s total user market — with OpenForum.com.
Open Forum offers tools for small businesses, many of which have tie-ins with Amex products, but the site is also dedicated to hosting insightful and engaging content about the many facets of running a business. Useful content is produced by publishers like Inc. Magazine (as well as Mashable), and hosted on OpenForum.com, while other articles are created by in-house Open Forum writers. It’s a hybrid advertising/guest blogging/in-house editorial operation, and it’s fostering a community around the topic of running a business. All of the conversations and content in the community live under the American Express flag.
Lessons from Open Forum’s content marketing include the following:
- Get trusted contributors to publish guest content on your properties.
- Develop a community of users around a topic (rather than around your brand), and let your brand be the host of the community.
- Don’t neglect original content authored by you. (You want to be the host and an expert).
Omnipresent publishing tools and Internet culture have made branded content more than a possibility for web businesses; they’ve made it a necessity. Whereas five years ago your business needed to have a website in order to exist, soon your company’s survival may depend on your ability to be an effective publisher.
Aside from Mint, HubSpot, and American Express, many other companies have had great success with content marketing. Whose branded content have you liked (or disliked)?