Craig Aron, SVP of Strategic Business Development, Bidtellect
Like many things in digital media, the current process for content creation, distribution and measurement is extremely disparate. The myriad stakeholders and companies in the content journey has proven to be a double-edged sword. While there is great expertise in this growing field, it has also created silos that lead to inefficiencies and a non-optimized consumer experience. The holy grail of digital advertising has always been to reach a target consumer with the right message, at the right time, and right place, but until we bring the walls between these silos down, this will be unattainable.
Content marketing has ascended on brand marketers’ priority lists, giving way to numerous avenues for content production and delivery. Society has shifted to a pull media world where consumers are in complete control of the content they wish to engage with, and simply don’t waste their time with something they don’t care about. This, combined with an increasingly fragmented media landscape and limited attention spans, has made it more critical than ever that the content being created and delivered is deemed valuable to each individual.
Break Down of The Content Silos
Many brands still leverage creative agencies for content creation, but increasingly brands are seeing the importance of bringing this piece closer to home with in-house content marketing teams and content production arms. Additionally, the big consulting firms are advising brand marketers on content strategy. Major media companies are also investing heavily in content divisions and studios that specialize in producing and distributing specific content for brands, coupled with strategic investments and acquisitions in digital media companies with branded content at their core.
Content management platforms have emerged to provide brands with a valuable platform to manage the lifecycle of their content marketing initiatives. Marketing automation and CRM platforms are also playing an increasing role in creating and delivering content for brands. Then there are the distribution platforms that enable brands to scale their content initiatives and drive consumer engagement with the brand. Traditional Demand Side Platforms and creative ad serving vendors also exist to help dynamically deliver advertising messages to consumers.
Another group that cannot be forgotten are the closed ecosystems – Facebook, Google, Snapchat etc. – which offer powerful distribution platforms and significant scale. In these closed ecosystems that have their own unique user experiences, content must be specifically catered to that environment.
It’s a complicated ecosystem, to say the least.
Audience Data Is Only Half The Battle
Data-driven strategies, advanced targeting capabilities and sophisticated optimization technology empower brands to identify target audience segments and connect with them across devices and formats in real-time. High consumer engagement and positive results have instilled a renewed energy in content marketing for brands that leverage data to make smarter decisions.
In the race toward utilizing deterministic data to identify the right person, we have overlooked the importance of delivering the right piece of content based on that data. Both the problem and opportunity lie in the ability to meaningfully couple these two pieces – creation and distribution – in real-time.
There is already a growing movement amongst brands, publishers and technology companies to begin integrating these various components – creative, data, targeting etc. As consumers demand better advertising experiences, leading brands and agencies are looking to eradicate the existing fragmentation.
As the industry tackles this challenge, technology will take center stage in bridging the gap between the art and science of marketing. While there is an immense challenge ahead, I am excited about all the opportunities to help marketers navigate this fundamental shift in how content is being created, distributed and consumed.
In this article, I explored the driving forces behind this shift, how it has manifested and the major types of players involved. In the next piece, I’ll take a closer look at who these players are and how they contribute to the ecosystem.
For the next edition of Bidtellect’s Content Marketing Series, we spoke with Luke Kintigh, Head of Publishing at Intel iQ. Throughout his five-year tenure, Luke has played an integral role in developing and executing the brand’s comprehensive content marketing strategy. He was the co-founder of iQ by Intel, Intel’s content marketing platform and digital magazine that launched in 2012. He wore multiple hats, working as the managing editor, distribution strategist and audience development manager for Intel iQ.
Today, Luke oversees strategy and day to day operations, focused on audience development and growth versus editorial. Intel iQ has a roster of talented writers and in house editors creating great content and it is his job to ensure that the content gets in front of the right audiences and drives value for the business. A true leader in content marketing, he has been recognized as a Rising Star in Content Marketing by the Guardian and is a member of Onalytica’s Top 100 Content Marketing Influencers.
What are some of the biggest challenges and concerns that you see with Native Advertising and Content Marketing? What are some of the biggest opportunities?
Many marketers view data-driven strategies as transformative, which they have been, but there a lot of challenges that come along as well. The ability to measure everything today and access infinite data on demand is helpful when making smarter, informed decisions. But I think that we have gone too far in this “data-driven” direction that it has impeded marketers’ ability to use their intuition when making decisions because they have become so reliant on data points that pave way to best practices they can follow.
The challenge is figuring out how to balance the effective utilization of data to make you a better marketer with following your intuition and having the ability to be innovative and creative and not just follow best practices but create your own. Management needs to trust their creative teams to do great work instead of always pushing show data to justify every single action they take. It’s tying the hands of what creatives and writers do best. And that’s using their talents and instincts, not simply following benchmarks.
However, given all the data and resources today, it’s never been easier to be a good marketer. But if you really want to be a great marketer and do amazing work, there won’t be a precedent or formula for that. You must take a leap of faith and not be afraid to try new things and know you’re going to fail sometimes.
How does Content Marketing fit into your overall marketing strategies? How do you think this will change in the coming year?
As mentioned above, Intel iQ is our primary content marketing platform, which is what I am personally focused on. Content marketing strategies are certainly growing at Intel, but there is still ambiguity around what content marketing is exactly.
In general, marketers tend to be so focused on the “marketing” part of content marketing and forget about the “content.” They become obsessed with distribution, measurement and how to optimize media – they are looking at the container and not what’s inside. This is what I’d like to see change.
Marketers need to let content drive the boat rather than the distribution tactics by becoming more proactive about A/B testing, listening to what the audience is saying and thinking about how the content is translated to the channel. Everyone can agree that taking the products of the past and force fitting them in the containers of the present is a recipe for failure. However, that is exactly what many advertisers are doing with TV ads in digital. Social autoplay video is completely different than TV and the same content should not be deployed in both destinations. Marketers must recognize that the actual format, channel and expectation of the audience requires different content and that you can’t take one asset, check 10 boxes and expect it to be effective. It has to be about impact, not just mass reach.
How does Content Marketing work in conjunction with Intel’s greater marketing strategy?
Initially, we use a top funnel first touch strategy for Intel iQ. However, Intel’s approach is about developing consumer relationships over time. We try to stay away from the campaign mindset of “how do we drive a result in 10 weeks?” Day to day, our objective is to balance acquisition of new audiences with retaining our current audiences.
We leverage Content Marketing to find consumers, whether in-feed on social media or editorial sites, and reach them when they are most interested in such content so we can bring them to our site. Intel is working on a lot of really big ideas from virtual reality to driverless cars and content offers a big opportunity to explain these innovations in a powerful way that connects to people and their lives. This is what we are trying to do with Intel iQ. It is not a place for white papers or webinars – those live somewhere else, but Intel iQ can acquire and deliver a qualified audience for those types of activations further down the journey. We think about the audience as our most valuable asset, the content is just the instrument to get them to our site.
How do you view the relationship between Native Advertising and Content Marketing? How do you think it will continue to evolve?
It is a symbiotic relationship. To my earlier point, the “content” part of content marketing is really about the editorial and creative and the “marketing” is about Native (distribution). We view in Native is two parts: 1) Format – the actual container of the ad and how it matches the look and feel of its surroundings, since Native ads are built differently to adapt to their environment, and 2) Function – the content inside the Native ad also must be Native to the user experience and to where it is being delivered in terms of what readers are expecting to be there.
Some people got this wrong when they first launched Native In-Feed. A consumer would be in the technology section of a site and see a direct response ad that has nothing to do with technology or the surrounding content. This gets the format piece right but misses how to put the right contextual content inside the ads. Native and content marketing can’t really work without each other. You have to have one for the other to pay off because if you miss the content piece Native ads really aren’t inherently Native.
How do you see Native Programmatic progressing in 2017?
Viewing Native through the programmatic lens, our focus is on balancing scale – which we achieve through programmatic – and figuring out how to keep the power of Native true to its promise. For a global company scale is very important. So, the fundamental question we often ask ourselves, what’s the tradeoff for scale and personalized content experiences?
There is a lot of promise with Native programmatic, but platforms need to ensure that they are not sacrificing the true value of Native for scale. As it grows we have to keep in mind the end user and the overall user experience. If we focus too much on sheer scale, I fear high quality native ads will be chopped up and deconstructed to the point where the algorithm overtakes the experience. There’s a balance of scale and user experience, I am not sure exactly where it is, but we have to be cognizant of that.
What content marketing results are the most important to Intel when determining success?
Initially our objective is to reach an audience, then drive them to our content, then try to get them to return to our content and ultimately convert to a subscriber. After a conversion, we leverage recirculation and the power of first-party data and email segments to begin to upsell them to target lower funnel activations that don’t point to Intel iQ.
Each of our media and content marketing KPIs align to a certain audience stage. For acquisition of new audiences, the key objective is to drive clicks and post-click metrics. We have an index to measure how effective post click engagement is, including time on site, scroll time, specific actions taken etc. We optimize our advertiser platforms and partners based on the efficiency of media and driving qualified traffic based on these post click metrics. We always try weight return on objective higher than return on investment because it is a longer-term way to look at success over time using different KPIs based on each phase in the audience journey.
In your experience, how are consumers engaging with content across devices? How does their behavior vary?
The advent of the feed has played a major role in cross-device behavior because that’s where consumers are today. Whether it is the Facebook, Twitter or editorial feed, they are living on their phones. Our site audience is 80% mobile, which is why we have experimented with Facebook Instant Articles and are trying to grow our presence on apps like Flipboard. Mobile is definitely the focus for us. However, desktop although a smaller piece of the pie is still valuable. Desktop users are typically more engaged with the content given their mindset.
At Intel, we are always thinking about how we can stick out in this noisy world when there is more content being created than ever. From a media perspective, we make sure that we have the right partners for delivering the right kind of ad units and audiences. Editorially, we search for white space that will allow us to differentiate and deliver a very unique POV. This is a big challenge, especially in the technology sector, but it is how we guide our content strategy.
What is an example of Content Marketing done really well that you have seen recently?
On the media front, there is a movement toward immersive mobile units like the Flipboard storyboard unit or Facebook canvas units that replaces the traditional way of driving a consumer from an ad to your site by containing the entire experience within the ad itself. Brands can put video, photos, text etc. inside one immersive mobile ad unit. We have experimented with those types of executions and they are exciting because the user experience has been really good and fully optimized for mobile.
A recent example that I really like from a brand publishing perspective is what Casper is doing with Van Winkle’s – their content marketing platform. They are telling some awesome stories about the power of sleep, for example, how Winston Churchill slept, historical profiles, practical tips like how to sleep better when travelling etc. The content really gets you to think about your sleeping habits without actually selling you on a mattress.
What trends do you see on the horizon in Content Marketing and Native Advertising over the next 6-12 months?
I think that the concept of “programming” will emerge as a valuable strategy for brands. Instead of simply publishing a lot of content on one site, brands can think about their strategies from the same perspective of how TV studios create content by taking multiple assets and a central narrative and building that out over time. For example, you can start with short form video, then weave that into other long-form videos and then into a blog post that has wrapper of photos and infographics. Programming helps brands identify the best way to a tell a story over time against multiple channels and assets while maintaining a central narrative.
By moving beyond the concept of just publishing, which is pretty easy, you’re starting to look at audience development which is an important part of content marketing. TV studios do this well and have been for a while because the content itself is a product. Brands have to adopt this mindset—treat your content as a product in itself that will create trust and affinity so powerful that audiences that will be compelled to buy your real products or services.
Questions or comments for Luke? Please shoot him a line on his Twitter or Linkedin.