One of the overriding themes to emerge in marketing during the last 15 years is the end of “interruptive” advertising. From Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing back in the late ’90s to inbound marketing and even content marketing more recently, the central idea is a world where audiences opt in for content that ultimately helps to position a brand more favorably in the eye of the customer.
But what’s happened is that in many cases interruptive advertising is mistakenly seen as synonymous with paid media. In other words, the idea of the 30-second paid spots, banner ads, full-page spreads, and even cold calls as methods to engage a potential customer is considered antiquated. And a good argument can be made that this idea creates a large portion of the drama and confusion around native advertising.
Of course, this tumult is mostly overblown. Paying for attention is still an active and productive practice for marketers and will be for some time to come. The real change, and arguably the real difference, is WHAT is being advertised and HOW it’s being delivered to audiences.
Attracting audiences, not converting leads
Media companies are experimenting (sometimes desperately so) with new ways of displaying paid media, such as long-form native advertising – where content is displayed in context with other material. Other companies such as Yahoo, Outbrain, and Taboola are connecting with websites in large networks to enable the semantic analysis of a brand’s content to display related links, which are in paid-placement slots. Newswire services and content syndication networks are creating methods for marketers to pay for distribution of content, not just to newsrooms but to website content networks, blogs, and social media channels eager for newsworthy pieces.
And these trends are truly one of the primary reasons that content marketing has taken off. The entire premise of content marketing is that a brand no longer has to rent an audience. With the democratization of publishing and tools that can create content-driven experiences, any brand can create, publish, and develop a compelling content platform, circumventing the temporary rental of audience and building its own.
Audience building is the key point.
Building a content platform is the FIRST step, not the last. The second step is to aggregate the audience TO that platform. And, this is where a paid-media strategy can become vitally important. Every successful media company pays for attention to attract and build its own audience – and so should the brands that are interested in doing the same.
So, how can brands use a smart paid strategy for promoting their own content? We have ideas certainly, but we wanted to turn to the practitioners of content marketing to find out for sure.
Research: The state of paid promotion for content
We started with this hypothesis: We believe that paid promotion of content marketing can be a successful strategy – but that a new approach to actually using paid media to support that strategy will be necessary.
As we did in our annual, more global study, we spent a good deal of time in this research looking at the differences between the marketers who rate themselves highly in terms of overall content marketing effectiveness (the “most effective”) versus those who rate themselves as least effective to understand the gaps and identify best practices for paid content promotion.
Among the key findings:
- Budgets for paid content promotion are going up. Eighty-seven percent of content marketers said they were going to either increase or maintain their budget for paid content promotion. Only 2% said they were going to decrease it.
- Content marketers are doing a great deal of experimenting with paid promotion, trying nearly every paid method available. But, the more effective content marketers are using these methods in innovative ways. For example, effective content marketers are using paid newswire services much more than ineffective content marketers – but they are not using them in a classic press-release-distribution way but rather as paid syndication of content.
- For those content marketers who aren’t using paid promotion to advertise content, proven case studies and best practices (along with a dedicated budget) were the top factors that would make them reconsider.
And in perhaps the most confirming result to the hypothesis of building audiences is a primary measurement of the effective content marketer. Forty-two percent of the most effective marketers were measuring subscriber growth vs. only 23% of the least effective.
Overall, the findings tended to confirm our hypothesis: Those who are using paid methods and finding them effective do so with wide experimentation, collaboration with cross-functional teams, a meaningful budget, and more focus on building an audience as a measurement of success than their less effective peers.
Our conclusion, all the research, and some of the best practices we’ve determined are summed up in this CMI white paper, written to highlight the entire study, called: Promoting Your Content Marketing: Time To Orchestrate The Concert Of Paid Media.
As always, we hope you find this useful.
Don’t fall into the advertising trap
Measurement and ROI are among the biggest challenges that are facing not just content marketers but marketing more broadly. Advertising and paid media, given their traditional role as the primary method of marketing promotion, now struggle to earn respect as a high-ROI metric. A quick look around at other research shows that every new marketing practice gets compared to paid advertising as the baseline as to what effective means.
In other words – every time a new marketing approach or strategy comes along, the question and convincing conclusion is always whether it’s “two or five times more effective than paid advertising.”
This is flawed thinking. Content (permissioned, inbound, or otherwise) doesn’t replace paid tactics. Content can make paid media better. And, in turn, paid can make content marketing better. With the new approaches to classic paid solutions such as search, press release services, advertising, advertorials (native advertising), and even outbound calling, content marketers can infuse paid promotions into content programs and make them better.
The idea – if you build it, they will come – is (and always has been) true only if you insert the words “and you promote it” in the middle.
This, in turn, makes the paid promotions better – and marketing and advertising work, truly, in an orchestrated, beautiful concert.
Want to bring some new energy to your content marketing program? Check out Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix to see which tactics content marketers are adding to their mix this year.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute