Suddenly everyone is talking about content.

But content marketing wasn’t just dreamed up yesterday. Some super-early adopters like John Deere blazed a trail for content marketing in the late 1800s when they created a magazine called The Furrow full of useful information for farmers (and an aid to selling tractors). Others including Michelin Tyres, who published the Michelin Guides and Jello who created recipe  books jumped on the content ‘brand-wagon’ in the early 1990s. These companies used content successfully to attract and retain customers finding out early on that content marketing helps brands connect with consumers.

Since then the value of content strategy has been acknowledged by a growing number of companies like American Express and Red Bull, who have become media companies in their own right.

In 2011 when one of the biggest brands in the world, Coca Cola, nailed its red and white colours firmly to the content mast with the launch of its Content 2020 strategy  the era of ‘content marketing’ had well and truly arrived. It is moving from ‘Creative Excellence’ (advertising) to Content Excellence.

If there was any doubt about the importance of content in the marketing mix it was further reinforced  in 2012 by Google’s Panda update, which rewards websites with genuine and regularly updated, and relevant content. It’s no longer possible to game Google. Even using PPC (pay per click) strategies will not be enough to build page rank if your content isn’t working hard.

So as more and more companies discover that Content is King, the big question for any marketing department  is ‘where are the crown jewels’?

Traditional publishers will be the first to admit that publishing content doesn't guarantee commercial success. You have to get the tone and topics just right to attract a loyal readership. And the very best content is worthless if the distribution isn’t working.

The good news is that there are many channels for  content distribution available today through social media and blog creation tools which have spawned a ‘magic porridge pot’ of content. 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years according to IBM and content plays a significant part.

But while brands are being advised to act like a publisher to get the best consumer engagement, the results can be hit and miss. Companies know their core business very well, but many just don’t know how to be publishers. They have dipped their toes into the content pool but have not fully immersed themselves like Coca Cola, Red Bull and American Express.

A lot of company blogs feature just a handful of posts before they run out of steam. Social media activity is often sporadic or the remit of the most junior person on the team. E-zines are infrequent and the reports are not being analysed.

The real secret to successful content marketing is devising a clear content strategy and systematically implementing and measuring it for return on investment. While social media in particular is an ‘immediate’ medium that benefits from spontaneity, the smart brands make sure content isn’t operating in a silo and  is carefully planned and executed.

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