The New Content BLVD is On It’s Way… Get on the List!

You know how brands like to get their products included inside content like blog posts, movies, TV shows, Youtube videos, and just about anywhere their target audience is looking? Well, Content Blvd is making it happen.

Check out our fancy new video above. And if you’re a brand or agency who wants to get your brand messages integrated inside the content your target audience enjoys, sign up for our beta today.

If you’re a content creator with a website, podcast, Youtube channel, TV show, film or event that already attracts an audience brands want to reach, well by golly, you ought to sign up, too.

More to come… get on the list to be in the know!

Posted in Native Advertising, Sponsored Content

Are You Winning the Content Arms Race? You Can’t. It’s Not Real.

You can't nuke your competitors with content.
I love the smell of hyperbole in the morning. We in the pundit class are prone to overstate just about anything. I know I’ve done it, because boring doesn’t sell a blog post. Case in point: the existential concern about the mythical content arms race. Agh! How will I ever keep up!

I hereby grant you permission to take a deep breath and pump the brakes on your crazy content ambitions. The global content juggernauts that dazzle you with their “shock and awe” campaigns of incredible quality, depth and volume aren’t drowning out your ability to engage consumers. They’re improving it. Here’s why.

1. Content marketing is not a zero sum game.

If I write five articles this week and you write one, who won?

Let me ask that another way:

Can I ever produce content that will win, at the expense of your content losing?

No, I can’t. Besides the fact that your content is probably better than mine, this very article was published to my own company blog. It’s extremely unlikely that any individual chose to read my article here instead of yours over there. Most internet users visit fewer than 10 websites on a daily basis. Any websites we visit outside of our normal routine, we do so with very low frequency. That makes it extremely unlike for any two websites to compete for the same exact traffic. Think of it like two farmer’s markets on opposite sides of town– they don’t compete for the same visitors.

Add to that fragmentation the fact that our social graphs are unlikely to overlap significantly, so we’re not seeing the same things shared or discussed through social media.

The lesson here is simple: You can own and grow your online footprint, no matter what anyone else is doing. No one can box you out, no matter how big they are. It’s just not possible. If your content is worth consuming, someone is out there waiting to do so.

2. There is no scarcity in online real estate.

You may have heard the phrase “real estate is the one thing you can never make more of.” That’s mostly true when it comes to land mass and television commercials, but it doesn’t apply at all to online real estate.

Super Bowl ads this year cost about $4 million per 30 seconds because there’s only one Super Bowl and only so many spots. Even still, the success or failure of such a prominent ad campaign isn’t won or lost because your brand hogged more eyeballs.

Ford, for example, didn’t purchase a game time ad and they still owned three of the top nine selling cars or trucks in February. Last year, Oreo owned the Super Bowl-related marketing news cycle without even buying a spot! I’m pretty sure the official net return on that well-timed tweet was 85 billion percent.

Even in the most competitive advertising markets, often, the biggest spender doesn’t win. Or, more precisely, more effective competitors can win big, regardless of spend. That’s the draw away from ads, toward content.

If you aren’t reaching the target consumers you need to reach, you can build a new, more focused niche website. You can partner with other complementary brands. You can earn guest posts, or buy sponsored posts on targeted niche sites. You can work on how you nurture the audience you already do have by building a killer email marketing program. (Yes, my friends, email is still one heck of a powerful tactic.)

Your publishing will never be constrained by access, only by your ability to fulfill the needs of your audience effectively.

3. Content marketing is conducted on millions of fronts at once.

Literally millions. There are over 200 million English language blogs online. A billion people on Facebook. Many millions more on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn. This is why content marketing is not a zero sum game, and why there is no shortage of online real estate. But there’s a more subtle point in here, too.

No one can tell a user where to look, or what’s interesting.

Regardless how large a “content-industrial complex” your competitors build to dominate the content marketing landscape, it’s not broadcast media. It’s not ads. They can’t push it on every potential viewer and expect it to work.

Branded Content on Forbes

Look at’s BrandVoice channel. It’s full of largely high quality content, and it costs brands upwards of $75,000 per month to be there. By many accounts, it’s a native advertising success. But that’s one channel. On one website. Are you concerned that you don’t also command that kind of viewership on Forbes? Or are you out gaining it elsewhere for a fraction of that cost?

4. The Biggest Spenders are Paving the Way

Rather than dominating on the content battlefield, the biggest spenders are really just helping us all by running the expensive experiments to see what works, and warming up our audience in the process. Consumers are only just getting used to branded content, and it turns out they’re happy to consume it, so long as it delivers the goods.

Just take a look that Red Bull’s brand publishing work. It’s incredible. No one scoffs at their content because it’s brand-driven, as opposed to independent editorial. Why? Because it’s really really good at satisfying their audience’s need for a cultural/sports/entertainment fix.

Frankly, I’m glad they’re doing it, setting a new standard for what it means to engage an audience. With a marketing budget of approximately $2 billion, if they can’t figure it out, no one can. And yet, in spite of that spectacular spend, global brand awareness and pioneering role in the energy drink industry, Red Bull is losing market share.

Granted, Red Bull only spends a small fraction of their annual budget on content, and content-generating activities, but do you think they’d have more market share if they spent even more on content? I doubt it.

I would wager a guess that Red Bull has found, or surpassed their maximum effective marketing budget, and that much of their spend actually helps to grow the size of the entire industry pie, rather than just their own share of it.

That kind of awareness among consumers gives smaller players ample opportunity to speak to target audiences in direct, personal ways that Red Bull isn’t doing, just by serving the same audience while being Not Red Bull.

No matter your industry or the size of your company, content is a great equalizer, allowing smaller brands to explore new channels beyond conventional advertising and flourish in places where big brands have little or no presence at all. Unlike monolithic broadcast media, online marketing comprises millions of niche markets with very very low barriers to entry. While content marketing efforts accelerate, the only brands losing the content battle are the ones not participating in the first place.

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Posted in Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, Native Advertising, Social Media Marketing, Sponsored Content

Your Company Needs a New Product Category: Content

Make Cool Content

What do you sell? Whatever it is, it’s a key aspect of what your brand stands for, but that’s not all. Consumers expect brands to provide value long before an actual sale takes place. Content marketing tactics like native advertising are growing as brands attempt to fulfill that need. Unfortunately, a significant portion of native advertisers don’t get that point.

The Federal Trade Commission first took steps to regulate native advertising decades ago, when it began to crack down on deceptive and otherwise misleading advertising copy masquerading as news. The FTC updated it’s guidelines with it’s Dot Com Disclosures in 2000, and held a workshop on native advertising called “Blurred Lines” in late 2013. Marketers’ attempts to fit brand-driven content into an editorial context, in other words, aren’t new.

What is new is how we consume content, which provides brands more ways to get their own words and video in front of our eyeballs. But, as consumers, we aren’t responding to display ads like we used to, so brands are changing tactics. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, content marketing can be better for everyone, especially if brands treat their content like a new product.

Consumers are More Discerning than Ever

We focus our attention when and where we want. No longer at the mercy of relatively few mass media outlets like broadcast TV and newspapers holding us captive, we carry our screens with us and tune in to micro media outlets of our choosing. We choose to look at specific updates and pages within Facebook. We choose to follow specific Twitter feeds. We choose to browse a small handful of sites that fulfill our daily online routines.

As consumers, we are fragmented into our own self-curated content silos. That’s a huge challenge not just to the brands who want to reach their target audience, but to the micro media (blog) publishers who need to monetize their traffic in order to stay online. Because ad clicks are down, it’s hard for brands to spend wisely, and for publishers to monetize their traffic effectively.

Online, consumers look at what interest them. Simple as that.

Generally speaking, display ads aren’t interesting, they just get in the way. They interrupt what users are online to see. (It’s estimated that as many as 40% of ad clicks on mobile devices are the result of click fraud or mistakes.) Brands, therefore, are working at entering the content stream, making their branded content “native” to the user experience, hence the rise of native or sponsored content.

Consumers are Creating a New Media Model

It’s our online behavior that encourages native advertising. As I mentioned above, we devote our attention to whatever we like. If we loved display ads and eagerly responded to every campaign, brands wouldn’t bother with content. But we don’t like ads. We like what’s relevant, credible, trustworthy, informative and entertaining.

Native ads work in this new media model when they give users
the value they came for.

Sponsored tweets are considered native ads. So are sponsored updates on Facebook, or sponsored videos on Youtube. Many blogs showcase sponsored content teasers on their home pages just like any other story. Inserting content into the user’s stream is not enough to make native advertising work, however. It has to contribute to the user’s experience.

Think about that word: contribute. Not interrupt. Native advertising is effective when it adds to the user’s experience, not when it gets in the way. Give them a reason to opt in– to read, share and remember the experience. It’s up to brands and publishers working together to meet that challenge.

Consumers Demand a New Product Category: Content

You may have heard of the idea that businesses need to become “brand publishers” or that “content is king.” This doesn’t mean that consumers are ravenous for more words to read; it means that meaningful content is becoming one of the most powerful ways to engage an audience by giving them something they want.

It’s not uncommon for brands to treat native ads like any other banner ad, only longer with more words. That doesn’t provide value, and completely misses the point. Most branded content (especially native ads published on other sites) shouldn’t be about your brand at all.

Your content should do what your product does: help your target consumers
get something done

Brand differentiation and consumer engagement begins by delivering value to your target audience, no strings attached. Helpful content is a key reason why users opt in to begin with. It gives them a chance to start forming opinions about your brand, even kick the tires, so to speak. It’s like a freemium sign up model, in which the brand demonstrates value, rather than attempting to convince the user, or close a sale first. If your content is lousy, what are the other products likely to offer in your prospect’s mind? Probably not much.

When you own the creation of content with the same focus as the creation of any other product or service, your marketing efforts become an integral part of how your brand provides value for your market niche. Instead of getting in the way like any other advertising, native content gives consumers something they can really use. Approached that way, consumers, blog publishers and brands win.

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Posted in Branded Content

Answering the Tough Question: What is a Fair Price for a Sponsored Blog Post?

What should sponsored content cost?

Sponsored content is popping up everywhere, and more brands and publishers are eager to get in the game every day. Brands know that to actively grow their pool of new prospects, they have to publish in more places than their own media properties. Enter: sponsored content.

Brands seek out independent publishers to host content on their behalf, giving brands access to loyal, targeted audiences, with trust to boot. Unlike Google adwords and other ad-serving platforms, however, there is no standard way of buying (or selling) sponsored post placements. Not surprisingly, brands, marketing agencies, and the blog publishers they work with are reporting varying levels of frustration and confusion. So, we’re conducting research on the matter to help chart a better way forward.

If you’ve ever bought or sold sponsored posts please click here to take our brief survey. We’ll be making our findings public in a complete report in the coming weeks. The responses to date are already revealing some interesting insights.

Despite the buzz, standard business practices and the technology that supports them will always move slower than the blogosphere can write about a hot topic. And sponsored content, as a marketing tactic, has a lot of moving parts, making it more complex a marketing channel than display or text ads. There’s a lot of catching up to do. It starts by clarifying a few key questions.

What Exactly Is Sponsored Blog Content?

Depends on who you ask, because it’s not a single post type, but rather a category, which makes consistent pricing difficult. Generally, sponsored blog content is considered “paid media:” articles, infographics or video that blog publishers are paid to post on their own sites.They come in five varieties:

  • Paid Review: A product or service review, usually including a description, rating and recommendation that the blogger writes in exchange for either free product or cash.

  • Custom Content: An original article that incorporates the brand in a way that is useful, informative or entertaining for the audience. Brands usually provide a framework and key points, but blog publishers tend to have a great deal of editorial freedom.

  • Original Sponsored Post: An article written by the brand, for use on just one blog, often similar to a guest post, but the placement is paid.

  • Syndicated Sponsored Post: A piece of content created by the brand, but used on many different blogs. Sometimes these “native ads” are pushed through a platform like ad units that appear within the content stream of participating publishers.

  • Product Placement: These are more common among video bloggers, where incorporating a product into the content is as simple as showing it on screen.

Of course, not every transaction between a brand and publisher is considered “sponsored.” Any press release, announcement or interview that the publisher decides to post purely on editorial grounds is not sponsored content. Nor are guest posts that the publisher decides are worthwhile contributions to the site, sans payment. Public relations pros have been working these “earned media” angles since long before the internet. Only when money (or something of value) changes hands is the content considered advertising.

What is Sponsored Blog Content Worth?

To answer that question, it’s important to recognize that branded content is a much bigger topic than the sponsored content subset. It includes blogging on one’s own site, static page content, email newsletters, whitepapers, ebooks, and all the social media activity a brand can generate.

Daniel Newman did a great job describing the use of branded content in his article on Social Media Today called, The Rise of Brands as Media Companies. He wisely pointed out,

As reported rates of trust in traditional advertising continue to sink to levels well below 50%, brands are going to continue to invest in channels that increase trust. This means we will see more informative content and very likely more influencer driven content where brands seek out persons that already have the trust of a certain audience type. This method which has seen an influx of activity in the past 2 years will also require evolution as more people begin to see gaps between influence and money.

While 91% of B2B marketers and 86% of B2C marketers claim to use content marketing, and eMarketer forecasts sponsored content spending to reach $2.3 billion in 2014, not everyone is on board with paying influencers to deliver their message through sponsored content. That affects what different stakeholders think it’s worth.

As mentioned above, PR folks don’t usually focus on paid opportunities, but many do welcome the chance to distribute more content at will by paying for it, considering the precedent of platforms used to syndicate press releases.

Search marketers don’t typically have the budget for paid placements since organic, unpaid, do-follow links are the name of their game. But that’s beginning to change in cases where SEO firms are diversifying across a variety of inbound marketing channels. Still, “not getting a do-follow link” and being tagged with a “sponsored” label are often seen as reasons why a sponsored post should be worth less, not more than a guest post.

Social media marketers can and do use sponsored content to help fuel social engagement, but again, depending on how they work with clients, paid media buying in social is more often limited to the social streams of influencers, not their on-site content streams.

Ad agencies and the kinds of brands that are likely to hire them, on the other hand, can’t seem to buy enough sponsored content. Knowing how much more effective a single content placement can be compared to a display ad, many brands and agencies are willing to pay whatever blog publishers command. Which brings us to the supply side of the equation.

What Determines a Sponsored Post’s Value?

As online consumers naturally segment their attention across millions of websites, the blogs they’re reading become the new media outlets through which brands can reach them. Now, to connect with an audience of appreciable size, content must pass through dozens, hundreds or even thousands of micro media outlets, as opposed to monolithic mass media.

Blog publishers are beginning to recognize their role in this new micro media model, and they’re demanding to be compensated for it. After all, they own a slice of both the target audience and the trust that brands need.

So far, our research is indicating that about 90% of the time, prices are determined by publishers naming their own flat rate. However, those rates vary widely between $15 and $5,000, depending a number of factors, including,

  • Average monthly visitors

  • Industry niche

  • Social reach

  • Type of content

  • Blog publisher’s time commitment

  • Brand’s relationship to the blog

Is there a formula? Not exactly. Brands report paying highly variable rates with little correlation to the outcome. And most publishers who offer sponsored post placements don’t make their rates public. Determining how much the most popular sites like Buzzfeed earn on a CPM basis is an exercise in statistical gymnastics.

Clearly, it’s tough for brands and marketers to get a clear picture of what any given publisher might charge. Likewise, publishers know little about best practices when it comes to price, because there are no generally accepted pricing formulas.

What is Holding the Sponsored Post Market Back?

In order for this nascent micro media marketing model to thrive over the long run, publishers do need to make money. At the same time, for it to grow, brands must be afforded the opportunity to spend at scale, like they have with ads for many years now.

The brands and agencies we’ve spoken with about sponsored post economics point to three major challenges that are holding them back:

  1. Lack of price and product consistency.
    In order to make a large media buy, brands need to know how much they can get for their money, and for which kind of sponsored content product. Currently, that’s not possible without contacting every potential publisher one at a time, save for a handful of niche platforms.

    Of course, not all blogs or topics are created equal; a high quality blog in a very focused niche may reasonably command higher rates than a mediocre blog with a larger but more diverse audience.

  2. No results-based pricing.
    Flat rates rule when suppliers (publishers) dictate the terms. However, as publishing choices increase, brands will want more accountability. Although base flat rates may continue, especially when publishers create custom content, brands want to see more cost per impression, cost per click, or even cost per view pricing. Better publishers who have mastered audience engagement will likely appreciate pay-for-performance.

  3. No central marketplace to reach many publishers.
    Of the brands and agencies we’ve surveyed so far, 66% want to maintain or increase the number of sponsored posts they publish, while 87% of publishers would like to grow their rate of sponsored post publication.

    Most brands and agencies are forced to hunt for the right publisher targets, then initiate what can be a lengthy back-and-forth until one piece is finally published. Publishers simply have to sit and wait to get found, then hope the prices and products they offer fit what marketers need. Without efficient matchmaking, fewer sponsored posts are being published than either party would prefer.

Clearly, sponsored content is poised for growth. Brands and publishers just need to work out the kinks. If 68% of people spend time reading about brands that interest them, ad 80% appreciate learning about a company through custom content, shouldn’t this be among our top marketing priorities?

To add your own perspective to the discussion, please complete our brief pricing survey here. Your input contributes to the collective knowledge we all need to help improve the quality and effectiveness of online marketing, not just for brands, agencies and publishers, but for the consumers we all serve.

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Posted in Branded Content

Did Your Content Change Any Minds Today?

Persuasion isn't just about content.

Let’s be honest. Most content stinks. It’s not particularly useful, fun to read or compelling to it’s target audience. It doesn’t persuade anybody. But should it? Does persuasion really matter?

I know how I feel when people talk about persuasion and it’s not good. My first reaction is to think of selling or convincing. Persuasion, however, isn’t about being president of the debate club. It’s about  expanding your influence. Those two things are very different. You can expand your influence without making an argument of any kind.

If you thought I was about to coach you on making stronger arguments, that would make sense, because most talk about persuasion is about arguments– fundamentally, though, persuasion isn’t even about words. Never has been.

So don’t go writing a long form ad for your product, service, or point of view. I won’t read it. And I’m not the only one. Wait… isn’t content marketing the thing that’s supposed to save us from ads? Well, that’s the idea, it’s just that words and arguments can’t do that. Only actual engagement can.

It doesn’t matter if you have lists of reasons. Reasons don’t make you influential. Reasons don’t change minds.

Written Content is Easy, but Words aren’t the Cues We Read Best

Imagine meeting up with friends for drinks, bouncing ideas off a mentor you really respect, or attending a conference of experts who you try to emulate in your work. How do experiences like that make you feel? What do you remember?

We humans, we’re built for that kind of stuff– reading the cues of those around us. When we meet in person, talk, listen and exchange ideas and information with each other, our brains light up in ways that reading words can’t accomplish.  Just because we can publish unlimited online content, doesn’t mean we should. Writing is a flawed way of communicating. It just so happens that it’s super easy to do.

When we listen to people we perceive as experts, our brains engage in something called semantic elaboration. In very simple terms, we naturally try to process and remember what experts say. Not because of what they’re arguing but because of who they are.

When we see others looking friendly, hear a welcoming tone of voice, or pick up on cues about their authority, we tune in. We can’t really help it. We’re wired to make connections with other people we like.

In fact, we empathize with other people, just because they are people. Our brains have what are called “mirror cells” which literally create shared experiences between us. How we feel and learn about things because other people around us have already felt and learned those things for us might be the single biggest reason why the human race has achieved all that it has. Don’t take it from me. V.S. Ramachadran is an expert on the subject.

Persuasion Isn’t About Making an Argument. It’s about Making a Connection

We aren’t computers, we’re social creatures. Intellectual processing is extraordinarily slow compared to the sensory processing we do when we see and hear things that evoke strong feelings. You don’t choose to make your mirror neurons fire– they just do.

And so it is with most aspects of persuasion. We don’t choose to tune in to voices of authority, for example. We’re trying to do what’s best for us. That’s all. Persuasion is about connecting with others in a way that they feel that connection is good for them.

Nathalie Nahai, author, speaker and consultant who’s known as The Web Psychologist, has a whole lot of practical advice to share about how exactly you go about achieving online success through persuasion. She’s got a handy intro to it in the video below, as part of’s highly valuable Whiteboard Friday Series.

If there is just one takeaway… OK, I can’t keep it to one… If there are just THREE things you remember from this article and these videos, it should be that:

  1. Persuasion isn’t really about words. It works on a much deeper (and faster) level.
  2. To know how to communicate with your target audience, you have to know exactly who they are.
  3. If you have people’s best interests in mind, and they also believe you do, then you can be genuinely persuasive.

So let me ask you again: Did you change any minds today? How might you change your site, your online presence or your approach to content so that you can tomorrow?

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Posted in Branded Content

LinkedIn Touts Citi’s Success As The Networking Site’s Content Marketing Ambitions Grow

Citi’s been doing great content and social media work for over a decade. Because they integrate the two and focus solely on delivering value to their audience, engagement and brand lift are significant. Take note: content marketing is not long form ads!

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Posted in Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, Native Advertising, Social Media Marketing, Uncategorized

When everyone says your tech idea is impossible, here’s what you do

This isn’t about content, but being a startup team, Meredith Perry is our hero.

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Posted in Uncategorized
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