Media companies grapple with growing pains of custom media

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While 90% of b-to-b marketers are actively involved in producing custom content, a confidence gap has emerged between the various tactics being used to push custom content and their effectiveness, according to a soon-to-be-released survey.

The survey, “B2B Content Marketing 2010 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends,” kicked off the third annual Custom Media Day, which took place in New York and drew more than 100 people from the b-to-b media and custom media precincts.

According to the online survey, which took the pulse of more than 1,100 b-to-b marketers in May, respondents are spending roughly a quarter of their budgets on custom content. And b-to-b media companies are angling to get their piece of this growing spending.

However, the survey, which will be released in early August, found wide discrepancies between the tactics being used by media companies to market custom content and their effectiveness.

For example, while 79% of respondents are using social media tools to market custom content, just 25% said those tools are effective. Additionally, 51% use blogs, but only 25% said that they are effective; 75% use article postings, but only 40% said that they are effective, according to the survey.

The biggest challenges to custom media players are producing “engaging” content (36%) and producing enough content (21%), the survey found.

“Custom media has turned into a real marketing practice, but there’s not a lot of education to help brands learn how to integrate content marketing with the rest of the portfolio,” said Joe Pulizzi, founder of the content marketing outsource site Junta42, which sponsored the survey with MarketingProfs in association with American Business Media and the Business Marketing Association.

“It used to be, the custom publishing group was in a little, dark corner that sat outside of marketing,” Pulizzi added. “Today, [custom] is instrumental to the company’s entire marketing strategy.”

Other speakers focused on how media companies can enhance their custom media divisions with regard to production, distribution and ROI. Dan Blank, founder of media consulting company We Grow Media, said the biggest hurdle custom content providers face is how to make such content “actionable.” “It’s not just informing and entertaining, but calling the [readers] to action,” said Blank, who formerly was director of content strategy and development at Reed Business Information. “It’s not just content is king, but it’s adding other layers on top of it to add scale.”

There are myriad ways media companies can augment their custom media products, Blank said, such as integrating data points, search engine optimization (SEO) and cultivating more robust connections via social media.

Tackling ROI requires media companies to consider how their clients’ needs are changing. “Publishing is no longer a business metric; you have to show engagement, and it has to be actionable,” Blank said.

“It’s not that we don’t have enough data; it’s deciding how to value the data and how to bake that into business processes,” he added.

Yet despite all the moving parts in producing custom content, it’s important that media companies remember their core business, said Ian Alexander, VP-content for Eat Media. “It starts with a story,” Alexander said. “As much as people say everything is changing, it’s staying the same: It’s about telling stories. The differentiator is how we’re telling stories in different mediums.”

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