Make Your Marketing Content More Lovable -- Before Customers Leave It

Consumers Are Starting to Drown in Repetitive, Boring Branded Content

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Content marketing is in serious danger of becoming ineffective. On TV, in print, via mobile device and across social networks, brands are creating more content than ever before. Consumers don't mind dipping their toes into the relevant and valuable stuff, but they're beginning to drown in a world of repetitive, generic and boring content. Every additional drop of irrelevant content risks turning off consumers on the whole, essentially stopping up the whole faucet.

Effective content marketing drives profitable customer behavior by creating and distributing relevant, valuable content to attract and engage. The proliferation of social-media channels, the ubiquity of mobile devices and a shift from push to pull messaging has all sent the demand for effective content skyrocketing. Despite the recession, marketers increased spending on content development by 45% from 2005 to 2012, according to the 2012 Content Wise survey. During this time, the percentage of marketing budgets with some allocation for content rose to 39% from 31%.

But as more players -- traditional publishers, digital agencies and even public relations firms -- enter the content-marketing space and struggle to do it well, we will continue to see more dramatic missteps such as last year's Scientology native advertising debacle at The Atlantic. But more frequently, and perhaps as damaging, marketers push out content that is so broad or irrelevant that consumers will start to look past it the same way they ignore banner ads.

Part of the problem is a widespread belief that content is content -- any will do. Brand managers, or their agencies, are solicited by "content mills," that only add to the clutter and make it hard for companies that are creating quality, engaging and welcome content to stand out. Generic content typically so lacks relevance that not only doesn't it engage consumers, but its lack of uniqueness can hurt the integrity of a brand.

Successful content marketers need to think less like advertisers and more like publishers. Publishers distinguish themselves in several ways. They apply distinct inclusion criteria to every pivotal content decision. They adopt a "pull" orientation rather than "push," allowing consumers to define the conversation. Finally, publishers dynamically plan and create content on a more "real-time" basis than on a rigid, cyclical campaign-centric basis.

Red Bull is a content-marketing success story, having shifted from energy-drink manufacturer to content dynamo, particularly with 2011's film "The Art of Flight" and last year's record-setting Stratos jump, featuring a helmet-cam video of Felix Baumgartner's free fall. By understanding what its consumers are most interested in and consistently aligning content -- and the brand -- with action sports and adrenaline seekers, it has been able to cut through the content marketing clutter. But brands don't have to send a stuntman to the edge of space; a few simple rules will help stem the tide of bad branded content.

Produce content that can compete. Relevance, as defined by the consumer, is the most important driver of engagement. Research and constant testing reveal what consumers find compelling, as well as when and where they want it.

Ensure that your content is digitally visible. Because we live in a marketing world where pulling consumers toward brands is ascendant and pushing ads in front of consumers is declining, content discoverability is essential . An effective search-engine strategy married to a robust distribution plan is the key.

Support content by fueling the fire. The best content experts strive to create "elastic" content that stretches across multiple channels and devices and is shared by consumers.

Convert data into insights. A robust content-measurement and optimization process is a must to deliver content efficiency. Consumers will show us how and what to market to them, if we're willing to pay attention. Successful marketers optimize their content continually, based on an expanding knowledge base.

Regularly evaluate your marketing so you can set priorities in the next go-round. An effective audit starts with the consumer journey. Compare content needs at each point in the journey with the quantity, type and quality of branded content you provided. Give special consideration to the media platforms and devices consumers prefer at each point.

If you haven't already done so, it is likely past time to update your approach to content. A brand with poor-performing content runs the risk of getting lost in in today's distraction-filled environment or worse, contributing to the consumer backlash against content marketing.

David Brown is exec VP-general manager, Meredith Xcelerated Marketing.
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