Content is king

Content is king

It’s an age-old saying: content is king. But in 2013, that adage is set to take centre stage in Australia. The predictions for content marketing Down Under are big. Lucy Clark finds out why.

Place your bets. Marketers and advertising insiders are predicting 2013 to be the year of content.

With social media leading the charge – meaning that every single one of us is a publisher – brands are striving to create content and tell stories that engage the consumer, instead of simply shouting at them. Consumers want to learn and discuss, not just listen.

To engage with today’s consumers, marketers need to take a step back from the basic crux of their role: to sell a product. Content marketing is all about telling stories. Stories that people want – and perhaps, need – to hear.

The best content marketers out there are the ones that don’t mention their product at all. Think Red Bull.

The face of marketing in Australia is expected to evolve in the coming months, as more brands think of themselves as publishers and storytellers, rather than sellers. Content will take the crown.

What is content marketing?

The definition of content marketing is simple: content that, ultimately, leads to sales.

Jodie Sangster, chief executive of ADMA (the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising), explains: “Put simply, content marketing is the convergence between marketing and publishing. It merges the motivation behind marketing with the discipline of publishing.

 Jodie Sangster, ADMA

“Content marketing flips traditional marcoms on its head. The aim of both traditional marketing communications and content marketing is ultimately the same – to influence future customer behaviour. However, they achieve this aim in very different ways.”

Ensemble Australia managing director Justin Ricketts says content marketing is “the move from interruption to attraction and engagement”. He says: “It’s about enabling new entertainment experiences for brands to gain significant engagement and goodwill. It’s using content to help brands become a part of what people are watching, reading and doing, rather than relying on being in between it.

“Brands are no longer defined by the role they play in people’s lives. With this in mind, we take what the brand is saying and give it relatable meaning through entertainment, utility and information.”

Prominent US content marketer Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, adds: “Content marketing is the creation of valuable and compelling information on a consistent basis, by a brand to a prospect or customer, in order to create a profitable action. It’s the idea that brands are starting to think and act more like publishers, and delivering relevant information to consumers at critical stages of the buying process.”

And Sydney-based content strategist, journalist and editor Debra Taylor explains: “Content marketing is the art of engaging with people via content that resonates with the audience and forms a relationship that brings results. People are exposed to an enormous amount of marketing. Through social media and the internet, people have more choice than ever before. The more people respond and demand through social media, the more they are able to question brands and their authenticity.

“How can people create content around a brand and not create suspicion around it? It’s about relevant and unique content. If you are banging people over the head saying ‘you must buy our energy drink’ they will switch off. It’s a different approach.”

Craig Hodges, chief executive of content marketing agency King Content in Sydney, which he launched in July 2010, stresses that the importance of search engine optimised content should not be forgotten. “There is a huge focus on owned media now,” he says. “You have to produce beautiful, engaging content, but it also has to be optimised so people can find it.”

 Craig Hodges, King Content

Why content marketing?

As consumers change their media consumption habits, brands must keep pace – and keep their audience interested.

Rickets outlines: “Consumers are dividing their time more broadly across a fragmented and increasingly personalised media landscape. Since savvy consumers are increasingly ignoring or avoiding traditional advertising, marketers must find cost-effective ways to stay relevant and engage their target audience across film, television and new media.”

And Fergus Stoddart, founder and commercial director at content marketing agency Edge, adds: “Traditional advertising is becoming a lot less effective. Media consumption habits are changing dramatically. It’s becoming a lot harder to flog a message out there and expect your target audience will be there absorbing it. At the same time, consumers are getting more cynical around that type of advertising. And there is a huge advantage around technology – it allows cheaper distribution of content. And content marketing is the most effective way of managing these social channels.”

Taylor argues that social media for social media’s sake won’t fool today’s consumers. She says: “Social media seems to have reached a critical mass – there is only so much we can share. These platforms might change, but essentially the channels have been established. Once you’ve got these established channels, the channel will only be as good as the content you put on it.”

Duncan Arthur, general manager for Australia and New Zealand at Say Media, continues: “We are seeing a lot of really authentic programs that are very real, about real people talking about things they love and trying to find a way of getting a brand involved in that without it overtly pushing the product. It’s a fine line, but you can get it right as long as you are respectful to the consumer.”

Nothing new

Despite the predictions that content marketing will take off in 2013, the practice is nothing new. Content marketing is as old as marketing itself. But the fact that everyone can be a publisher in their own right today – thanks to the internet and social media – means content marketing is embarking on a big new journey.

“Content marketing has been going on for hundreds of years,” explains Pulizzi. “Many give John Deere credit for the first big case of content marketing, when they launched The Furrow magazine in the late 1800s. Companies like Procter & Gamble (they invented the soap opera) were also in on the history of content marketing.

“But the difference today is that all the technology barriers have fallen and consumers are now in complete control. That means brands can easily target customers with content. The challenge is getting customers to pay attention. That is why so much education is still needed around content marketing.”

Taylor agrees: “Content marketing has been around forever. But what has changes is that every brand, because of the internet, is now a publisher. We are all publishers. It means brands don’t need to use third parties to deliver content.”

Above: The Furrow Magazine – new and old

Lagging behind

The United States is leading the way with content marketing, and Australia has plenty of work to do – and case studies to learn from – to catch up.

The first step is to recognise that content marketing is a discipline in itself, as Sangster explains: “Content marketing has gained traction in Australia with brands engaging in content-driven social media, corporate blogs, information-based newsletters and video updates. However, in Australia it has not yet been recognised as a separate discipline or seen as a new skill set and often the development of content remains within the marketing teams. This differs from the US, where content marketing is recognised as requiring a distinct set of expertise that combines a marketer’s ability to understand and customer, gain reach and traction with a journalist’s ability to produce content that inspires and engages.”

Ricketts believes some brands, such as Coca-Cola, Coles, Billabong and XXXX Gold, are engaging content marketing successfully in Australia, but he adds: “Broadly speaking I believe brands in this market are lagging behind and playing it safe.”

He says there is a huge opportunity for brands to start dipping their toes in branded entertainment. “Everyone acknowledges that the marketing and media landscape has changed, but the industry is tending to lag behind in terms of how they are adapting their current marketing mix to keep up with these changes.”

In the States, about 25% of budgets go to content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute. Pulizzi says “big brands like Coca-Cola, Red Bull and P&G, and large B2B companies like SAP and IBM are taking the practice very seriously”.

And Taylor says: “Brands in Australia have not yet moved to thinking about creating content in a 360 degree way. Hopefully brands will start waking up and seeing the important message is it’s not as hard as it seems if you have the right people doing it. The key is to understand who your audience is. I can’t see how it can’t happen, because all the channels are demanding content.

“How do you advertise to people who do not want to be advertised to? The answer is you don’t. You talk and engage with them. I don’t see how it can be resisted. Forward-thinking brands will start using people who can create content.”

King Content’s Hodges predicts fast movement for Australia in the coming months. He says: “We’re already moving pretty quickly over here. We’re certainly not at the level the States is at, but we are seeing huge growth here.”

Trend setters

Stand-out performers in the content marketing arena include the likes of Red Bull and Coca-Cola. But it’s not just a tactic for the big guns.

“Coca-Cola’s 2020 plan is all about Coke moving from creative excellence to content excellence,” explains Pulizzi. “And Red Bull is actually a media company that just happens to sell energy drinks. Red Bull owns a content platform, a record label, multiple digital and print magazines, a radio station, a TV station and more. It’s pretty amazing.”

But he adds: “It’s not just for big companies. Small companies of less than 99 employees spend about 40% of their budget on content marketing initiatives. Content marketing, when done right, can be a true David versus Goliath situation.”

 Coca-Cola's 2020 Plan

Stoddart agrees that Red Bull is a stand-out when it comes to content marketing. He also singles out Johnson & Johnson and American Express, and adds: “Locally, Commonwealth Bank is doing it well – content is at the centre of what they are doing.”

Hodges also singles out Tourism Australia for praise for its content marketing. “They have engaged journalists to write their stories. But Red Bull is the best. They have 600 staff on their media team.”

Bringing in the journos

As brands seek to tell stories, they are increasingly engaging journalists to help out.

Pulizzi says journalists have long been hired by brands to help tell their stories. “Journalists know and understand the art of storytelling,” he says. “Most marketers know how to talk about their products and services, so journalists can help a brand find and tell a compelling story. I believe that the majority of journalists in the future will be hired by brands and not by media companies. That is where the jobs are and the need is.”

Taylor adds: “If you look at the States, marketing departments look like newsrooms. Brands have been actively looking for journalists to join their marketing teams. This is starting to happen here in Australia to. The people who are most able to produce and create, on a daily or hourly basis, content that engages with the audience and puts them first are journalists and editors.”

King Content’s Hodges explains: “The industry is evolving a lot now. The role of the journalist is probably changing. I cannot understand why media organisations, whose focus is content, are sacking journalists. Journalists are being snapped up by organisations like us, and by brands. Some pretty big brands over here have journalists in-house now. Brands are thinking ‘why should we invest in assets we don’t own, when we could own them?’.

“The halcyon days for print and TV, from a content perspective, are in the rear view mirror. We are not going to relive those days gone by with massive circulations of magazines and huge numbers of TV viewers. It’s a diversified mix now. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years as brands start to invest in the assets they own. Every one of our clients is investing in their own assets.”

And about a third of the team at Edge is made up of journalists and editors. Stoddart says: “Journalists have a completely different mindset from commercial guys and marketers. They come to things from a different angle, as their objective is to entertain an audience, whereas marketers don’t necessarily think like that. It’s a huge opportunity for journalists. In my view, brands will be the future of the publishing landscape. They are in a much stronger position to monetise than traditional media are.

“Brands need content champions. They need to be editors or journalists who set the strategy and commission the content. It needs to come together. At the moment, it’s very disparate and that’s a big challenge.”

The future

The future certainly looks bright for content marketing, with predictions that 2013 will see it take off in Australia.

Hodges predicts: “In 2013, there will be a lot more agencies doing what we do and a lot more brands pushing to investing in their own assets. Video is going to go crazy in 2013. If the NBN gets off the ground ok, YouTube will be a massive player and a huge competitor to the networks. We will also see more and more journalists fall into content strategy and data roles.

“But there are a lot of brands that should be doing it better. There is no site dedicated to wine, for example, in Australia. There are so many opportunities out there like that, for brands to take up. We are pretty confident that content will play a strong role in the next 12 months – it’s exciting.”

And Ricketts adds: “The discipline of branded entertainment is undoubtedly going to continue growing. The advent of NBN, Smart TVs and the ongoing uptake of second and third screen devices is only going to speed up the need for clients to start playing in this space.”

Stoddart says:  “A lot of companies are still lurching around the place thinking ‘I have got to do a blog and get onto Pinterest’. But what we are going to see is people taking a big step back and looking at why they are doing it and getting their overall marketing objectives aligned, putting content at the fore. Once the content proposition and big story is decided, then brands can start working out what the most appropriate channel is for the consumer.

“There is so much content out there, the world is awash with people posting stuff. Brands are going to have to be very strategic in the way they position themselves. There are huge advantages to grabbing that space now.”

Initiating and holding an interesting conversation with consumers is where brands should focus their marketing efforts, according to Say Media’s Arthur.

He concludes: “There is a huge opportunity. I think brands are really excited about creating ads that people want to spend time with, rather than ads that try and trick consumers into spending time with them.

“Brands definitely need to stop and take stock and ask themselves what their point of view is. If you got stuck in a conversation with someone what has no point of view, it would be a very dull conversation.”


International content marketing experts will come together at Content Marketing World in Sydney in March. The three-day event, staged by ADMA, will feature workshops, talks and networking opportunities and will take place at Sheraton on the Park in Elizabeth Street from March 4 to 6.  

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