Back in the late 1960s, before Salman Rushdie had invented the slogan 'that'll do nicely' for them, American Express discovered something that many companies still don't get; the right content delivered in the right medium is pretty damn powerful (not to mention profitable).

When it acquired the 31 year old US magazine Camera & Travel in 1968, it started a love affair with content that developed into the multi-million dollar American Express Publishing Corporation. The company's content is now available in magazines, digitally, on-air, on mobile, books, membership clubs and events over 70 countries, 24 editions and in 9 languages. Whew.

But how can resource strapped marketing teams in smaller companies develop a content marketing strategy that will work? Here are six ideas to get you started.

1. Name your word and own it.

Amex set out to own 'luxury'. Everything it does in content is aligned with that word. Departures magazine, which launched in 1985 as an exclusive benefit for American Express Platinum Card and Centurion members, is a good example. It tells its readers where to fly, what to try, and what to buy next (using their Amex card of course).   So think about what word your business should own. A mortgage brand could own the word 'home', a chocolate brand could own 'treats', you get the idea. This will be your starting point for building your content 'assets'.

2. Focus on the people

Once you've decided on the word you want to own, focus on the people who can tell your story for you. In the case of the mortgage brand, these are your first time buyers and home owners. Share their tales of finding their dream home, how you helped them buy it. Let them tell your story. They will do it better than you ever can and will bring emotion to what is otherwise just an in-tangible financial product.


3. Speak to your audience not your CEO

This is a very tough one, particularly for Marketing Managers whose Board of Directors' idea of great communications is superlative packed with copious references to how great the company is and blah, blah, blah.  In the magazine business this is akin to the advertiser who wants to buy an 'advertorial'. They want it to look like it was written by the magazine journalist. But more often than not they will insist that it is jam-packed with jargon and over-zealous product placement. Unenlightened upper management may love this approach but consumers will not be fooled. So don't waste your time or your money and instead focus on content that will interest your target audience and not your MD.

4. Create once, publish often

If you are creating content for your website think about other places you can use it.  It could be part of your company brochure or on your Facebook page. Always plan at least three uses for any content you are writing or developing.

5.  Embrace social, even if it scares the hell out of you

You may have to fight your corner on this, particularly if your company has always had a vice like grip on its brand. But you cannot own your brand any longer and if you think you can it's the same as putting your fingers in your ears as a child and singing out loud so you can't hear something you don't want to. The fact is that conversations about bad customer service are happening anyway online. At least if you are engaged in social you can be part of the conversation and influence the outcome.  The aim is to use content to have a conversation. Talk with your customers and not at them. And remember it's never too late to get with social. Amex's Departures mag didn't join Facebook until 2008 so there's hope for us all.

At 256 Media our word is 'content', in all it guises across all channels. No point in aiming low. So if we can help with your content marketing project let us know.

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