And, for the third year in a row, 2008 saw the percentage of custom publications using paid advertising decreasing by 4%, marking the trend away from promotional messages and toward the delivery of informative content. The percentage carrying no advertising at all now stands at 70% of all publications.
“Most of the biggest direct marketing use is of compelling content,” Pulizzi said. “It's not just about the offer anymore.”
It's also not about any particular medium, said Paul Dunay, global managing director of services and social marketing at telecommunications company Avaya Inc.
“Media is just content of any sort,” Dunay said. “It's no longer available only in certain forms, such as TV, print or radio. What you see today are people creating content in forms that are highly sharable. The new formula is all about velocity. Does it get picked up and shared? In other words, is it frictionless?”
Dunay noted that the content-marketing channels can be quite old-school and even include live events. The October introduction of the company's Avaya Aura, a call-center platform that supports unified communications and contact center solutions, included that and more.
Because of the product's appeal to technology buyers—it uses the emerging “session initiation protocol” (SIP) technology that unites communications via the Web—Avaya hoped to generate plenty of high-tech buzz, starting with a conference about the future of SIP.
“We were there as facilitators, to throw in our knowledge,” said Dunay, of the SIP-oriented conference. “But we also created videos, podcasts, blog posts and a research paper on the topic. We wanted to harness the sticky stories and challenges of business case studies, and package them all into these very sharable bites. We launched them all in every medium we could, all driving back to our Web site.”
Dunay said the launch achieved social media mentions approaching the company's all-time high. Further, the conversation was heavily blogger-oriented, which in turn flooded recipients' RSS feeds.
“Our conversation index went up 33%,” Dunay said. “Avaya is still a babe in the woods with social media, but each post was getting good comments back to our associated bloggers.”
Elsewhere, video has become a content marketing channel of choice because of its immediacy and (to use Dunay's term) potential for sharing “velocity.” For example, last spring, Coldwell Banker Real Estate debuted a YouTube channel featuring educational videos about the housing market and the home-buying process. There currently are more than 5,000 videos on the Coldwell Banker on Location channel.
Other examples include the Geek Squad, the computer support service owned by Best Buy, “Two-Minute Miracles,” editorial-style online videos of its agents on the job; and MasterCard's video interviews with its executives, which the company uploads to YouTube. The videos are low-tech, with WPP's Cohn & Wolfe PR agency producing the snippets using Flip camcorders.
While the potential for viral buzz generated by well-planned digital content marketing programs is great, there's still room for stand-alone, traditional custom publishing efforts. The difference these days may be that these traditional vehicles are hewing closer than ever to the content-is-king model, and eschewing the old advertorial approach entirely.
Consider Green Mechanical Contractor, launched in the fall of 2008 and polybagged with Penton Media's Contractor magazine three times a year. Because of that, the 40-to-48-page publication is considered a custom publishing item, yet is written by Contractor's editorial staff and expert contributors, and already is heavily supported by advertising, according to Contractor Publisher Dan Ashenden..
“It reinforces the Contractor brand while speaking to a segment of the market dealing with super-high-end efficiency homes, commercial buildings, schools, etc.,” said Ashenden. He said Green Mechanical Contractor reinforces Contractor's own newly created awards program for eco-friendly mechanical solutions. Further, it supports reader and industry confidence in the parent brand's thought leadership role.
Green Mechanical Contractor took a bronze award this month in the Custom Publishing Council's annual Pearl Awards for excellence in custom publishing. M