It Comes Down to the Content

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a New York Women In Communications panel around the hot topic of content marketing. Lori Greene, senior partner and content director at Maxus, moderated the discussion that included Alexa Christon, head of Global Media Development for GE; Georgia Galanoudis, managing director at Meredith Xcelerated Marketing, and Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich, a managing partner and president of Editorial Operations at Masthead Media Company. These women each come at this topic from different angles, which made for a robust dialogue about the rise of content marketing and how to use it strategically.

The content must be authentic.
You wouldn’t visit our website for recipes, movie reviews, or fashion advice (though we do have some opinions on what to wear to interviews!). The audience will absorb content that is in line with the brand’s expertise, but we will all grow suspicious of a source that claims to know a little about a lot. Ilkovich said to ask yourself the question, “What will we believe you are the master in?” Let the answer inform the substance of your content, and aim to go deeper rather than broader.

The content must be consistent.
A question was posed to the panel regarding the ideal frequency of posting and the general agreement was that there is no hard and fast rule. However, whatever rhythm you determine to be manageable and effective for your company should be kept consistent. Greene reminded that if you pour money and resources into a big campaign, have a plan for what will come next. Those viral events that drive traffic to what you are doing must be followed by further communications that will sustain the attention. Consistency applies to the voice of your brand as well. Galanoudis described an infographic they have at Meredith that uses your goals and specific audience among other factors to determine four overarching things that your brand will always be or sound like. For example, the voice will always be authoritative, or curious, or frank. These will serve as firm guidelines from thereon, and if a certain piece of content doesn’t fall under all four rules, it should not be distributed.

The content should have a reason to exist.

With the buzz around content marketing right now, many leaders want their brand to contribute to the discussion without necessarily having anything to say. Just because a medium exists doesn’t mean your voice belongs there. Go where your audience is. It is a good thing that senior level executives are recognizing the potential power of this kind of storytelling, but there must be a thoughtfulness and intentionality behind the work in order cut through the noise. This doesn’t mean every piece should aim to push a product or attract new business. Christon pointed to GE’s #6SecondsScienceFair as a form of communication that existed simply “to get people excited about the space.” The short Vine videos encouraged fans to experiment and share their own six-second science lessons. The highly curated content stream caught fire and did just what GE was hoping it would: invigorated young people, and their parents, about the field.

The content should be high quality.
I found Ilkovich’s story about the origins of Masthead Media particularly interesting. They saw a potential connection between the rise of the corporate content trend and the decline of print publications, and therefore the increasing numbers of talented journalists and editors looking for work. Masthead formed to partner those who know how to tell stories with the brands that wanted their stories told. Ilkovich fervently reminded the room how important it is to invest in writers and editors, and not just assume your marketing people know how to generate substantive content. Consumers don’t seem to be differentiating between branded content and that which comes from publishing platforms. We will engage with compelling stories wherever we happen to them.

I thought one of the best points of the evening was that content is successful because it has rational and emotional value. Greene noted that Meredith’s client, Kraft, was able to determine (through highly sophisticated data analytics) that over a period of time, they had four times as many conversions from content marketing as from their advertising efforts. I don’t think the communicators in the room were too shocked by that statistic. We can all attest to the staying power of a striking image, a creative video or a compelling article. It’s no surprise that good stories are good for business.