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Everything you need to know about content marketing optimisation: how machines can make a difference

The Drum has partnered with programmatic platform PulsePoint for a series of short video primers and features exploring the meaning and value of content marketing. Shot in the back of a cab, they explain everything you need to know about content marketing in the time it takes you to get to your next meeting. Episode five explores the best approaches to content optimisation.

Content marketing is enjoying something of a renaissance in the digital era, particularly at a time when marketers are looking to counter the effects of consumer actions such as adblocking and ad skipping.

The internet gives content marketers infinite space to publish their own articles and videos, while premium publishers are increasingly looking to native advertising (one way in which content can be delivered) to shore up their own commercial strategies while giving brands access to their editorial know-how and readerships.

In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 88 per cent of business-to-business marketers currently use content marketing as part of their marketing strategy – yet just 32 per cent of those have a documented content marketing strategy.

As with any fast-growing trend it can be hard to know how to get the most out of your budgets and execute strategies to the fullest, which is why The Drum, in partnership with programmatic platform PulsePoint, is here to help.

So far in Everything You Need to Know About Content Marketing we have explored the value of content marketing, how to set a strategy, how to target your audience and underlined the importance of distribution. This issue, the importance of optimisation, and how to close the loop, is put under the microscope.

It is here that the value of digital, and in particular machine learning, really comes to the fore. As Ben Pheloung, head of demand EMEA at PulsePoint, says: “The challenge marketers face is that optimisation requires the analysis of large amounts of data. It can be manual, and it can be time-consuming, but this is where machines make the difference.”

According to a recent PulsePoint study, 58 per cent of marketers and publishers agreed that technology would bring both better measurement and optimisation techniques. Of marketers surveyed in 2014, 83 per cent believed that content marketing would be programmatically powered by 2017.

Data management platforms, known as DMPs, collect user data both from first party sources (a brand’s own) and third party sources such as publishers. Billions of datum can be processed and sorted by DMPs, which can then be turned into insights that allow marketers to dial up the effectiveness of a campaign.

Bloomberg Media’s content division Kinection is one publisher exploring such optimisation tools to deliver more powerful communications for its clients, such as the ability to automatically optimise custom content headlines and images based on performance.

Penny Bartram, Bloomberg’s head of marketing EMEA, explains: “For advertisers and our own custom publishing teams alike, it requires a shift in mindset – we don’t publish once and forget about it. We automatically and in real-time adjust and adapt our distribution strategies for each piece, based on an audience’s feedback.”

Mindshare managing partner Adam Fulford is enthusiastic about the rise of the bots and how technology can drive better, more targeted and optimised campaigns, but says too many clients aren’t using the tech at their fingertips to their potential.

“With clients there is still that division between above-the-line and below-the-line thinking – there are people who have programmatic delivery but not test and learn methodologies,” he says.

“It comes down to not ‘just’ targeting more precisely but matching that message to the medium.”

Different types and versions of content perform differently across different channels, so marketers must test, learn and test again. For instance, a hefty documentary-style documentary might fly on YouTube, whereas a Facebook viewer would be more likely to engage with a (much) shorter video on the platform.

Listicles might work well on certain platforms, whereas in-depth articles are more likely to be engaging as part of a native buy on a premium publisher. Use headline and image variant testing.

Says Pheloung: “Continuous real-time optimisation based on performance will hone your headlines to the best-performing for each particular channel and audience profile.” He says that if something is over or under-indexing a brand can feed back that data in real-time and weight the content accordingly.

Yet while machine-learning is changing the way that marketers approach their content campaigns, it is imperative to acknowledge the crucial human factor in the equation. “Machines can serve up lots of data and perform in real-time,” says Fulford. “The art is turning the data into insight as quickly as possible, and that’s the hard bit. Computers can empower all sorts of stuff but it is humans who make the difference.”

Machines can go a long way on their own but headline writers, for instance, can think very differently. Pheloung likens it as “permission to push” or throwing out a “what if”. And if that curveball lands, that can be fed back into the loop and inform an ever richer ongoing strategy.

Marketers should also consider the long-tail of evergreen content, or content that is repurposed or written to suit the occasion – often if a campaign has resonated once, it has the power to do so again. For instance, an article created around a chancellor’s budget could be reworked around the time that announced measures go live.

Fulford agrees, saying the agency is increasingly running more and more campaigns that are adaptive and agile. “We are responding either to real world situations or to optimisation,” he says.

He believes that optimisation will become more sophisticated, suggesting that brands should also consider how to segment “creatively” and push different variations of content out. The tools are already there and some brands are experimenting but it is still “the path less trodden today”.

The future of content marketing is something that will be examined in the final episode of the EYNTK series.

Everything You Need to Know About Content Marketing is the second EYNTK series from The Drum, designed to help readers and viewers get up to speed with some of the most important issues in today’s marketing industry in one short film – something they can watch in the back of a taxi on the way to their next crucial meeting on the subject. You can watch the first five episodes of the series at our EYNTK hub.

This article was first published in the 14 September issue of The Drum.

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