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Tips for success: The new rules for content marketing

By Susi O’Neill, associate director of content



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May 18, 2015 | 7 min read

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New ways of imagining content, and making content marketing more effective were explored at Live, the fifth day of the Digital Shoreditch conference.

DoodleDo’s drawing workshop

Content rules

Fabio Torlini from WP Engine believes now is the moment of the content specialist, ruling over IT and technical disciplines in the hierarchy of website creation, as websites move away from static issues to breathable, living spaces for publishing. Websites need to consider a ‘content first’ approach: determining the audience needs, the purpose of content and then planning which platforms, structures and distribution best meet this need.

Being brave

Catherine Toole from business content specialists Sticky Content, believes brands needs to be braver and more imaginative in her talk about content strategies for ‘uncool clients’. Quoting marketing legend Seth Godin: “If the marketplace isn’t talking about you, the reason is that you’re boring.”

Digital publications like Investec’s world economics cartoon strip, or Cisco re-imaging a love affair with a router as a 1950s advert, use techniques from publishing to make the complex - and boring - more decipherable and delightful.

Even ‘boring’ brands can provide empathy and solutions to solve customer problems. Don’t use regulation as an excuse for inaction, either: Deloitte Debates avoided giving financial advice but impartially provided two sides to the argument, letting their audience form a view. Brands need to become authorities, but creating ‘non-boring’ content also involves build a case of risk. “You can’t play it safe”, Toole warns.

Humour works, but she advises against stuffing copy with witty prose and instead think about humorous conceits that support your core messaging, like this graphic visualising 'How much stuffing would it take to stuff your house like a turkey?' from a real estate firm.

Becoming a content evangelist

Toole believes brand content movement needs evangelists: citing her former BBH copy boss Jonathan Mildenhall, who created Coca-Cola’s ‘Content 2020 vision’ –reimagined the Coca-Cola European sites as ‘journeys’ – an online magazine illuminating their business and customer stories. Stanislas Magniant, Coca-Cola’s self confessed ‘corporate storytelling nerd’, explained to the conference on Thursday how their approach of ‘liquid content’, created a ‘co-owned’ space for fans and customers to co-create and share brand content.

Toole believes evangelists need to establish a culture of great content, and also to corral the troops and raise momentum in the ongoing brand publishing process. She believes corporate structures don’t work for content publishing when there are too many fingers in the creative pie. Like a large publishing house, you need a hierarchy to empower internal publishers to have permission to publish when they need to. Avoid ‘frakencontent’ – produced by committee without a clear purpose or creative vision.

For those working with hard-to-convince internal stakeholders or agencies, Toole provided a gem: her ‘content approval email’ – “Don’t ask for their feedback on your final draft – say ‘we think this is great. Please can you approve this for publication.” This shift in emphasis reduced feedback time by up to 90 per cent.

‘Nudge’ behaviours through content

Similarly, content has a clear role in ‘nudge’ or behaviour change. Correlating choice, like selecting an advert, increasing the likelihood of users approving and enjoying the content. Using the right language makes transacting easier and smoother, and dull tasks more exciting.

A flaw in business copy is to talk about the ‘royal we’ – what the business and its products do, not how they solving the customer’s problems. A simple count of ‘we/our’ versus ‘you/your’ on your landing pages weeds out excessive narcissism.

Equally language and layout play a roll in highlighting content’s importance: ‘Top 5’ appeals to human’s competitiveness, “people are herd animals they want to understand and climb the hierarchy,” Toole advises.

An algorithm for content success?

Can an algorithm determine whether your content will be more shareable? Cat Jones from online video specialists Unruly believes so, in her talk ‘Debunking The Viral Myth.’

By focusing on eliciting an emotional response, giving people a reason to share and formatting and distributing your video effectively you can, according to Unruly, determined the success of your video – with their Unruly Share Rank predicting accurate results 80 per cent of the time. Knowing that in probability your YouTube video is most likely to be shared on day two of its distribution, so avoid drip-feeding your distribution to benefit from the ‘spike’ of the new.

Social video is maturing – ticking the box of cats, babies and celebrities doesn’t guarantee success, rather the brand needs to find its social ‘sweet spot’: Integral to the brand, relevant to the audience, and with a reason to share.

Human storytelling

Being human was another theme today: Alex Wills from R/GA London, in his talk Contextual Content, believes brands need to be more relevant and human – telling stories users can relate to, citing the agency’s ‘Google 2014 Year in Search’ as an example of what stories the search giant’s big data told about humanity.

Playfulness is another means of telling human stories. Jon Burkhart believes techniques from improvisation comedy can help you create better real-time content. He asked us to create narratives for social meme ‘Meat Baby’, in exchange for a corn dog or three. “Improv isn’t about being funny, it’s about building others up, telling stories and being playful.” He advises against ‘bad newsjacking’ – collecting examples of brand social stories gone wrong like Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream – to play golf’.

I ended the day with my rubbish sketching at DoodleDo’s drawing workshop. Telling our own stories in hastily sketched pen and paper we concluded the week imagining a herd of occultist giraffe diamond thieves impressing a tortoise overlord. A suitably fitting and cerebral end to an inspiring week, where good stories know no boundaries.

Susi O’Neill is associate director of content for OgilvyOne. The Drum and Ogilvy UK are working in partnership to share the latest thinking from Digital Shoreditch 2015. Read more at The Drum’s Digital Shoreditch hub.

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