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.

Mike is Co-founder and CMO of Content BLVD, a marketplace where product companies and YouTubers meet to get more products into more videos. He's written for, been quoted in, and kicked out of many fine establishments.

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Posted in Branded Content

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