content marketing

Brand, Journalism, Marketing

A few months ago, in The Future Of Owned Media and Can media become social enough?, I’d written about a marketplace model that would connect journalists and ‘buyers’. More recently, I saw an article about Contently raising a round of funding to work on its stated objective – connect freelance journalists and writers with nontraditional publishers, such as brands, agencies, nonprofits, and new media companies. These organizations use Contently’s technology to commission projects, such as sponsored articles, infographics, and blog posts.

Like I’ve tweeted before, journalism is definitely in need of a business model. Media (with advertising) is arguably not the best bet now, because of various reasons. Digital has allowed brands to create their own media platforms (blogs, websites) and social has enabled them to (at least) broadcast it themselves, without a dependency on traditional media. Frank Strong, in a post titled ‘Why Content Marketing is the new Branding‘, rightly states that content is currency. It not only builds perception, but enables us to transact with consumers, keep a conversation going, and at some point, achieve a certain business outcome.

However, except for campaigns, marketing collateral etc, brands have never really required/produced ‘content’ on a regular basis, and thus they are not wired for it. But content marketing obviously requires sustainable quality content, and that’s where brand journalism can play a part. I’d come across the term ‘brand journalism’ first on this post in early 2013 – ‘The Role of Brand Journalism in Content Marketing‘ – where it is defined as “research, storytelling and reporting for a non-media company, in that company’s line of business, with the goal of thought leadership.” (Erica Swallow) There’s a media vs non-media debate in the post, but my little tiff with the definition is that ‘thought leadership’ is rather limiting. There might be other business objectives/outcomes. Unless we’re talking of a leadership among the consumer’s thoughts. (share of mind)

Meanwhile, in addition to a structured way like Contently, I can see brands already doing other forms of brand journalism. (used loosely) I’d classify blogger outreach, guest Twitterers, all under this, because the brand is using a content creator’s contextual reputation to enhance its own standing. The latest example I saw was quite fantastic – teen retailer Wet Seal ‘handing over’ its Snapchat account to MissMeghanMakeup (aged 16) who has quite a social following on various platforms. (via) To note that this is not Miss Meghan’s only client!

I can paint a rather utopian win-win-win picture with this – brands with a purpose that has a social-societal perspective, journalists, who have created trust and a reputation of their own, who can identify with the brand’s purpose and who can write honestly (with disclosure) and consumers, who get to know more about the brands they align with through superb narratives created by these journalists. (among other storytellers) But I’d be surprised if it pans out this way anytime soon.

It will have its challenges, but most of it is when we try to fit this method into the ‘containers of the past’. Its potential to succeed is because it offers much for all stakeholders. Journalists will have the option to be authentic in their writing, and give full disclosure because they’re not tied to the (traditional) media aspect. (newspapers/channels with their own business interests) Brands can be transparent about who has been commissioned to produce their content, and can use paid, owned media to promote it. Consumers get an interesting mix of narrators. It is a shift because the players (Brand, PR, journalists, media platforms) and/or their roles (production, distribution) will transform, but I do think brand journalism (a type of content) + marketing stands a chance.


until next time, to better brand stories

Brand, Marketing – 2014 and beyond

These are not really trends or predictions, it’s more a set of drivers and their impact on the domain of brand marketing.

Technology: Disruption is an abused word, but I think technology is the biggest disruption that marketing has experienced. Yes, it has been so every time a new medium cropped up, but this wave is special. In this largish bucket, I’m dumping everything from the Internet of Things (IoT, which, in addition to really smarter devices and spaces, will also, I hope, give the entire domain of social a reboot) to 3D printing (HP’s entry, scheduled for mid 2014, should push this further in the mainstream journey) to wearable tech/techsessories (Google Glass is the poster boy, though development is happening on various fronts) to Social TV. (a classic example of how social adds itself as a layer to existing media platforms and augments it)  I also add to this the advancements in devices – specifically mobile, which is already forcing marketers to quickly rework their strategy to adapt. The reason I used the word disruption is because by fostering a new kind of phenomenon like say, the collaborative economy, and getting ready to challenge traditional manufacturing, technology is going beyond its role as an enabler and changing brand experiences.

Marketing Technology: While the first point was about technology in a relatively generic sense, this is is about the application of technology and associated tools in the marketing domain. This is everything from marketing automation to web content management to advertising technology and so many, many more things which will probably make a move towards mainstream in 2014. This very popular image would give you a vastness of this domain. With the kind of data that phenomena like IoT and wearable tech will spew out, and the levels of customisation that customers expect, everyone, across domain would have to at least attempt Amazonian levels of efficiency.  Also, increasingly, technology will help us integrate offline with digital. (example)

We can scream buzzword, but big data exists, and we’re only taking baby steps towards harnessing it. I can already see the first levels of it in social media advertising, where intelligent tools and dashboards allow not just better and real time targeting but also better analytics on everything from planning to attribution, to aid decision making. Extrapolate this to multiple media platforms, devices, delivery channels within each and think of the possibilities. I think the domain will move much faster because of two reasons – one, the fragmentation of marketing channels and the impossibility of managing it with only manpower resources, and two, the marketer’s ROI obsession. To quote Scott Brinker, “software is the new fabric of marketing” I see the ‘big’ in big data moving on two paths simultaneously – qualitatively big that would help in personalisation, and quantitatively big that would help in scaling. (mass customisation for larger audience sets, better targeted)

Agile Marketing: Yes, we have borrowed it from the software development guys. No, it’s not really new, nor is it surprising because if marketing is getting a technology influx, it is only obvious that software processes might be a good way to approach marketing. Everything that I have written above will ensure that by design or not, marketers will increasingly be forced to adopt this methodology as the days of predictable media platforms draw to a close. In a dynamic business environment, where new platforms are popping up regularly, and even known platforms are changing their rules constantly, the only way to cope, let alone thrive, would be to run various simulations continuously,  iterate and develop incrementally, break silos and communicate effectively, and have flexible frameworks that can be more responsive to the speed of the change cycles.  What I hope to see this year – at least at an early stage – are software/tools that are customised to the requirements of marketing. But irrespective of that, get ready to sprint! (read more)

Promotainment: Roughly, the phenomenon formerly known as advertising. Thanks to everything above, creativity will need to be channeled differently. In YouTube’s top trends for 2013, three branded videos managed to capture a place for themselves. But this only covers part of the story. Mere entertainment will not be enough to bond with the consumer, for sufficient pull to happen, brands will have to define a purpose (business and beyond) that will resonate with consumers, and treat it differently according to contexts. These contexts could be platforms, locations, topical opportunities and a host of other things, with each experience adding to the perceptions of the consumer. Experiences and ‘content’ need to be created for each of these contexts, and brands need to reboot the way they handle communication. (The Making of a Content Brand) The other key player in this mix is privacy – everything from transience (eg. Snapchat) to the ‘negotiation’ with consumers on what information they share to get what benefit. Customisation as per contexts and audiences and yet cohesive within the larger purpose framework. Not an easy challenge. (A wonderful take on this, and more from Vyshnavi Doss – Brand Avatars)

Marketing Organisation: I came across the fascinating Big Shift concept and the three ‘waves‘ – foundation, flow and impact – only recently. The third wave is how organisations respond to the fundamental shifts in knowledge and the flow of information that are characteristic of the first two waves. While this is a larger institutional shift, its impact will also felt in the structure of the marketing organisation. Add to this, the transformation required for agile methodologies and a fundamentally different content marketing process, and the existing marketing silos have no choice but to evolve. Technologists, ROI drivers, specialists in different kinds of brand experiences – real time, real (offline) and otherwise, data wizards to analyse the tons of data streaming in, CRM folks, creative people and many more will be part of this new structure that realigns the marketing domain to fit the new business landscape dynamics. (a good illustration)

These subjects, and in my mind, one of its results –  social business – will form the majority of this blog’s content in 2014. We’re at the cusp of an extremely interesting era in brand marketing, thanks to radical shifts in pretty much everything happening around us – what I keep referring to as institutional realignment. Here’s to an exciting year ahead!


 until next time, have a wonderful 2014!


Its ironic that I have to start the post this way, but

Disclosure: I work with The Times Group :)

There was some amount of Twitter buzz a couple of days ago on the article carried in the (city edition) Times about Arindam C’s new book selling a lakh of copies in 10 days. This also appeared in a post at “Don’t trust the Indian media”, in the context of ‘paid-for news’. The post dealt with the TV medium primarily, but also noted that in the coming years, consumption will be not be medium specific.

Like I’ve written before in the context of content marketing, the key factor, irrespective of platform, amidst the changing nature of advertisers, publishers and consumers and the relationships between  them is trust.  In a sense regular advertising is also paid-for news, but its form is such that one immediately knows its paid for. With the influx of advertorials and paid-for news, the lines began to blur fast, with  credibility beginning to suffer.

In an increasingly user generated environment (almost all of social media is just that) advertisers (brands) now have a way to source positive content without paying obscene amounts for it. They can find relevant spokespersons who have their niche, but contextually relevant fan following. Of course, on the flip side, finding them is still a task. But they already have a name for it – ‘social influencer relationship management’ 😀 The other point is that even the nature of sharing – blogs/microblogs/statuses are in a constant state of flux. Meanwhile, like Shefaly pointed out in the comments, it is still relatively easy to get away with non-disclosure on the web.

But despite all that, and the fact that I believe in the loop of objective-> idea/strategy-> medium, I’d say that the web is more advanced than other media in terms of content marketing, primarily because user generated content, and discontent, has been an integral part of its evolution. Users, potential users, all talk to each other, and trust evolves. A crowd is involved, conversations happen. Also, with more and more lives being lived with an audience in mind, and people becoming conscious of how they’re perceived online, hopefully it will ‘become too costly to be evil’ (non disclosure)

And that’s why its erm, refreshing, when I see brands making a strategic commitment to the digital space. Pepsi recently junked Super Bowl for the first time in 23 years and has included $20 million in grants for the Pepsi Refresh Project. Some say, its a risk, but to me its about as risky as putting a 30 sec ad that might get trashed. Moreover, its not an isolated thing. I recently read about Pepsi using Foursquare to fund a youth mentoring program called Camp Interactive, which helps youth explore technology and environment. Consistent efforts like this will get them unpaid editorial space and buzz at least in the online space.

Closer home, Nokia is using a digital dominated strategy for N97, in its first 4 months of launch. I liked it because of the reasons stated – “Digital media blends very well with the product features of N97 Mini. Also, the audience to be targeted is all available online.” That sounds like its reasoned out well, though I’d also like to see a similar approach to execution too. There are a couple of things I am hoping for in addition to the obligatory display advertising – that Nokia not make this a short term venture, because though this product might become non priority for them in a few months, the poor sod who bought it will still want to connect with them online. The second hope is that they experiment with content marketing, and go a little beyond the ‘over-the-counter’ blogger outreach stuff.

In the case of Pepsi, its a concept, an idea. In the case of Nokia, they have a product based strategy. In both cases, there is a potential for natural buzz, which to me is the way it should be. Buzz should be a result of a good product/strategy, too many time it IS the strategy, and that is what has caused things like ‘paid-for content’. The bigger hope in all this, of course,  is that an increasing commitment to the evolving digital space will force advertisers and brands to be on the ball, and in that, a better mindset will evolve, one that believes in a two way communication approach, as opposed to blind advertising and paid-for content.

Its interesting that on one hand, networks, brands and individuals are trying to carve out a niche based on trust, using digital media for reach, and on the other hand, we have the news media, the original custodians of trust,  despite guilt , oops,  guild feelings, using their massive reach to push one way communication.

until next time, news making

PS: See you in a fortnight :)

The evolution of Content Marketing

A few weeks back, the eMarketer released some statistics about the kind of web advertisements that elicit reactions from readers.


Clearly, the crowd likes to see ‘advertisements’ within content – I think advertorials would be a subset of that. This trend is all the more prominent in the younger audience, when the demographic profiles of the respondents are considered. (check out the statistics here)

The graph shows that advertising in content is also ahead of sponsored search links, perhaps because the human writer would obviously have a larger sense of context than the ad serving Google. More importantly, there is a trust factor involved when the ‘advertising’ comes from a ‘known’ blogger/writer. There have always been debates about bloggers ‘selling out’ and plugging products/services, but sponsored posts are a reality, and so long as the disclaimers and the disclosures are in place, I am quite okay with that. I’m quite sure that if the concerned blogger gets greedy, the crowd will straighten him out in time.

Content marketing is definitely different from traditional marketing/PR and raises interesting scenarios for all three parties involved – advertisers, publishers and consumers. Before you go further, I’d suggest reading up Chris Brogan’s (slightly old but) informative post about content marketing.

The advertisers could range from large brands – products or services, to those serving niche sections. Trendwatching had written recently about sellsumers

SELLSUMERS: Whether it’s selling their insights to corporations, hawking their creative output to fellow consumers, or renting out unused assets, consumers will increasingly become SELLSUMERS, too. Made possible by the online revolution’s great democratization of demand and supply, and further fueled by a global recession that leaves consumers strapped for cash, the SELLSUMERS phenomenon is yet another manifestation of the mega-trend that is ‘consumer participation’.

Advertisers would have to figure out if they want to establish and maintain their own content marketing platform, or rely on on a network of entities like sellsumers – that could be individuals or a content marketing service that aggregates independent websites/bloggers, or encourage their regular consumers (/prosumers) to speak about a brand they use, or just support activities/communities and hope for good word of mouth. Perhaps it could be a combination of any or all of the above, with a different objective (a brand goal or a sales goal),  and different measurement criteria for each. In any case, this could prove a great way for brands to explore their long tails of products/services and communication too. It would also mean that brands would have to work harder to ensure that they reach the desired audience in the desired way, in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.

Publishers, as mentioned above, could be the brands themselves or sellsumers  – individuals or a network. Perhaps newspapers could explore this as a revenue stream, since they’ve always been content aggregators with specialist columnists. The existing social networks are trying to evolve a revenue model out of this. Celebrities could build up an audience across social networks and create an endorsement 2.0 version. For any of the above, the key would be to establish and maintain a set of users, with whom they have an equity- a social capital, to whom they can provide a value, even when they’re doing content marketing. In essence, while the old publishers used their reach for any advertiser who could pay the required price, the new publishers would have to be focused and would have to live with the involvement of consumers in who they sell the reach to, and how.

The end consumers will seek out networks they can trust, ones which can provides non intrusive ways of connecting them to the product/service they might have an interest in. They would play an active role in creating and maintaining relevant publishers and networks, by ensuring that they are trustworthy sources of information.

Going forward, it is possible that all the entities we see on the web now, including us, will play all these roles at various times. Unlike the clearly demarcated advertiser-publisher-consumer system we have now, the new systems would be more fluid, with flexible options for all parties. The standards and norms of content marketing need to evolve. Perhaps the disruption we are seeing now, with the decline of traditional media and rise of social web is a prelude to this flexible system.

until next time, role play