Understand why a consumer interacts with your content and how can you use that to build stronger and more meaningful connections.
By Mike Evans, Director of Sales at AOL Canada
“Content overload” has become the status quo for many of us who use the Internet every day, throughout the day, at home and at work. Although consumers are consuming more content than ever before, it is becoming harder for brands and publishers to reach those audiences, as general media habits seem to be in a state of constant flux, scattered across email, social media, mobile apps, publisher sites, chat messengers, and more.
Despite this cacophony of noise, the research team at AOL has found that there is a surprising symmetry to how consumers interact with content around the world. After exploring over 55,000 interactions with online contact (6,800 from Canada alone), eight distinct types of “content moments” were identified. These moments characterize the motivations and expectations of why someone arrived at a piece of content in the first place, such as Inspire, Find, or Be In The Know. No content is consumed in a vacuum, and the context of when and how an article or video is consumed is often more important than the substance itself.
Below are a few tips our team has picked up from observing consumer interactions across the web, suggesting ways that brands can more effectively create and promote content that resonates with audiences in that moment of discovery.
1) USE YOUR BRAND AS A PLATFORM—NOT A FOCAL POINT—FOR YOUR STORY
When first launching a content marketing initiative, it can be tempting to consider the question: How do we best tell our brand story? However, the most effective content campaigns are not about the brand at all, but rather some bigger, tangentially-related subject or story. Many content marketers have found success by putting a new spin on a well-known topic. For example, direct-to-consumer mattress startup Casper created an online magazine, called Van Winkle's, that "explores the science, culture, and curiosities of sleep,” and encourages readers to think more critically about their bedtime habits (including, of course, their choice of mattress).
2) BE WARY OF THE BALANCE BETWEEN ADVERTORIAL AND EDITORIAL
Even if a brand has the discipline to create content around topics of general interest, they can still fall into the trap of being too self-promotional within the piece of content itself. Content marketing is markedly different than traditional “push” advertising, which is designed around strategically asking things of consumers. Instead, branded content has to earn people’s trust and attention, offering an editorial value that can stand on its own. This balance can be monitored through an honest “gut check,” but sometimes internal teams inevitably are too close to the brand to be completely impartial. Third-party partners can be a great way to bring fresh ideas into your organization that have a better chance of resonating with general audiences.
3) TAKE A PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH THAT ERRS ON THE SIDE OF ‘EDGY’
It’s probably a safe rule-of-thumb to presume that any content marketing initiative can benefit from being more edgy than conservative. With so much competition for attention on the web, edginess is not just an advantage, but increasingly a necessary component for any story to stand out. Encouraging your team to adopt this philosophy can urge people to entertain more outside-the-box and genuinely interesting ideas, rather than “safe” ones that simply fit brand messaging goals. The concept of Snapchat-sponsored Real Lifemagazine may seem far-fetched, with its literary-type essays and meditations on “living with technology,” but it is also a unique kind of “research and development” initiative, fostering a discourse amongst influencers at the edge of tech culture and assessing the evolution of consumer behavior.
4) CONSIDER HIGHER-VALUE FORMS OF DISTRIBUTION BEYOND ‘SOCIAL’
The sheer scale of platforms like Facebook and Twitter has obviously made social media an important component to any content marketing initiative, but it may be even more crucial for brands to consider targeted forms of distribution beyond social as well. For example, contextual targeting on publisher sites is a great way to match longer-form brand content with engaged audiences (as Travel Alberta did with its web series on the travel section of The Huffington Post). Off-platform distribution channels also offer opportunities to promote your content in less crowded environments, creating a kind of “built-in” audience for a piece of content that can then help spark a wave of sharing on social media sites as well.
5) EXPERIMENT WITH CREATIVE APPROACHES TO MEASURING ROI
As mentioned earlier, content marketing abides by different rules than traditional advertising. Because content can be tailored to support a variety of consumer behaviors and goals—from brand affinity to subscriptions to lead generation—there will not always be a linear relationship to sales. In order to accurately measure the return on content initiatives, brands will need to let go of traditional success metrics and instead experiment with different attribution models and ways of mapping consumer interactions. For example, Marriott’s “M Live” content operation measures success through increased traffic to featured destinations or brands across the company’s portfolio, jumps in SEO rankings for a defined list of keywords, and enrollment in the Marriott Rewards loyalty program.
The incessant waves of new content consumption trends can be overwhelming for the most adept brand marketers, causing hesitation or concern even when they know that content is becoming a more important part of the overall “marketing mix.” Consumer behavior isn’t likely to simplify or coalesce around a new “normal” anytime soon—but by focusing on the core set of tips above, your team can ensure that your storytelling efforts are at least headed in the right direction, tailored toward the underlying motivations of the moment, no matter what unforeseen platforms or devices that interaction may play out across in the future.