“The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”
Howard Gossage, a 1950s ad man who was considered a black sheep in an industry he disdained, was responsible for a philosophy in advertising that has since flourished as a primary marketing strategy for B2B marketers and a rapidly growing number of B2C brands.
Let’s take Gossage’s sentiment several decades into the future, where it can be linked – to the thesis of content marketing and brand storytelling. Content marketing is the process of a brand’s deviation from self-serving messaging in order to provide relevant and valuable information to their consumers. Like content marketing, Gossage’s vision saw brands chartering communities built on like-interests, galvanising their advocates through incentive.
While his theory eventually proved successful, the conversation – and message – Gossage was referencing has become wildly diverse and Orwellian in nature due to the way in which Americans consume personalised media. Call this the new culture, and it is increasingly visual.
Consider media hubs like Buzzfeed or Upworthy which flood newsfeeds with click-bait headlines and “you won’t believe what happened next” calls-to-action. These publishers have built their business models based on one thing: You. Whether you are an avid fisherman or a teenage girl, Buzzfeed has something for everybody. These media publishers have left their mark on the content marketing industry and reshaped how brands need to compete.
Namely, how can brands express value, build trust, and establish quality through popular formats that are built with succinct content?
By referencing the successful, albeit sometimes annoying tactics of these publishers, we extract three strategies to optimise digital media while still maintaining both the conversational prose – and quality, that would make Gossage proud.
Look to the past
Although it may not always be timely content, there is an opportunity to recycle well-thought content for new viewership you’ve developed. This is a derivative of one of Upworthy’s primary strategies: harness the massive archive of content that is the internet and repurpose it to your needs.
Apart from being an efficient tactic, allowing Upworthy to simply own up to the headline that explains the content, it’s a good way to stand out from the competition that is focused on generating new content that can often times overlap. According to Buffer, repurposed content still drives new traffic and social engagement after 2-3 circulations.
Variety, in format and content
Variety is crucial as it’s advantageous to both your existing viewership and attracting new impressions. No one does a better job at this than Buzzfeed, who can receive up to 165m monthly unique visitors. Their process, beautifully documented here, involves extracting popular forum topics and assembling them into a coherent, and often visual, post. While brands don’t share the flexibility in content, the same mining process can still be used.
For instance, start building keyword lists that define your brand’s service, product or value. You can even run your site or competitors through a keyword scraper tool to extract actionable data. With this, search through relevant hashtags, forums, and social media to find communities dedicated to relevant topics, and then monitor these outlets for posting ideas.
By building an aggregate of first party sources, you can begin developing relevant and valuable content for your audience. This also allows you to break the habit of reactionary posting, ie matching content with other publishers.
Upworthy puts a large emphasis on headlines, in some cases testing up to 25 per article. This allows Upworthy to determine which headline drives the best engagement before officially publishing a post, in some cases even testing headlines once that post has gained traction. Over time, that testing leads to greater insights on what resonates with your audience.
While Buzzfeed and Upworthy make great case studies to boosting traffic, it’s important to distinguish quality versus quantity, and in content marketing’s case, readers versus traffic. Page views are great for publishers, but for a brand, if those page views don’t lead to a specified action or goal, it’s time to rethink not only the value of your content, but who it’s driving to your website.