May 2, 2016

Content marketing: the antidote to ad blocking

This post was published originally on on Nov. 4th, 2015

Apple’s introduction of ad blocking support in iOS9 has finally brought the rise this consumer behaviour to the top of the agenda for CMOs. Research conducted for Adobe found that ad-blocking has hit 54 per cent of male US users aged 18-29. It is a clear and present danger for online marketing as we know it. And, whilst blocking behaviour creates challenges for brands and publishers alike, this customer revolt is catalysing an important re-think about how digital media can be most effectively utilised. Would we want it any other way? I think not: the iPhone is unboxed, and no one is sending it back.

So what can brands do to beat the blockers?

Brands can learn from publishers who themselves are having to adapt to ad blocking. Successful digital publishers like Vice reveal some of the answers. They have cracked the code for creating strong content that their target audience consume, comment upon and most importantly share. Creating cutting-edge content requires great skill. If it is to be popular, and to stand out from the hordes of dancing kittens and and doge dogs, it must be great.

So how do brands create strong content? Understanding customer requirements is critical. Customer insight, including their information needs and media habits, will help brands develop content their customers will actively seek. Filling information vacuums is also a smart move. Vice tap into unmet emotional needs by covering topics of interest to young people, like mental health, avoided elsewhere.

Smart brands like Scottish Widows partner with respected online communities like Mumsnet to convince mums pensions are a wise investment. Respected peers present the case for having one, and mums can ask questions of Scottish Widows experts in a comfortable milieu. Co-creating content in partnership with such trusted communities also helps sustain them. Knowing the partnership is sponsored makes everyone happy including the ASA.

Co-creation makes brands more authentic

Working with the new breed of online influencers is a winning way to make content about your brand. This approach helps brands reach youth audiences, many of whom opt out of traditional TV schedules choosing the freedom of on demand viewing instead.

Getting your message out through product reviews by YouTube luminaries like Zoella, now a celebrity in her own right, boosts brand appeal with ad-averse audiences. However, as this method can be costly (depending on the stature of the star) and brands are less in control, some are opting to create their own online destinations. The direct-to-customer publishing approach makes sense even when brands are reliant on reaching their audience through social networking sites.

Creating a hub outside of these walled gardens means the content works harder: it is more visible in search engines, but still easy to share. The direct approach also makes sense when big behaviour change is needed, as in recruitment ­– an industry that relies on activating passive job seekers. Sharing professional development tips with candidates makes strategic sense for recruiters.  It helps encourage candidates, who may be considering their next move, to make it. Becoming a publisher can also open doors with customers who may be happy to be interviewed in exchange for publicity.

Hays corporate blogging platform, the Viewpoint, contains articles created by and with employers along with Hays consultants to add extra value and credibility to its career boosting tips. According to Sholto Douglas Home, Group Marketing Director of Hays, plc, “Our business is all about people. Conversations, whether they take place online, over the phone, or in person are the lifeblood of our business. Content marketing is integral to this, and also allows our brand to have a voice through our expert consultants around the world. Publishing and sharing high quality and valuable content, at the right time, in the right places, and from the right people, helps us build meaningful relationships with our global community of clients and job seekers.” As one of the most influential companies in LinkedIn, Hays approach is market-leading.

The brand publisher dilemma

Even though multichannel brand publishing is now easy to deliver with ubiquitous CMS tools like WordPress, coordinated effort across departments is necessary for brands if they are to become publishers. The process can be fast tracked if prioritised and the right level and type of resource allocated. Too often though traditional advertising, even when proven to be ineffective, still gets the bulk of marketing budgets.

As with all change, it is part of an ongoing evolutionary process. Prior editorial experience pays dividends. Some brands have gained it by publishing in-house magazines; most have gained some relevant experience through their PR efforts. Typically, business units need to work closely with their marketing and communications colleagues creating editorial boards and ‘always on’ content plans executed by specialist design and editorial teams. This new way of working may create fear inside some organisations, but it also creates new opportunities and safeguards the future.

Changing from the inside

Given the constant need for new creative ideas and networked distribution channels, it is not surprising that employee engagement is also rising up the corporate agenda. Arguably, a brands’ most reliable and accessible ambassadors are its employees. They not only have a vested interest in their company’s success, they also possess valuable customer insights and ideas. New structures (like task groups) and tools (such as internal social networks) empower employees and are vital ways to get their buy in and input into content plans.

Not only are employees great sources of ideas, they can also help transmit messages through their own networks. Once again, fairly easy to achieve, if made a priority. An enlightened mind-set and commitment to developing the communication skills of employees is all that is needed to reap the benefits. Not surprisingly, professional services firms, like Hays, are often most open to empowering their employees, however, the business case exists elsewhere. In retail, Zappos and Best Buy are leading the way. Provide guardrails and training and your people will help them deliver the brand experience.

Does advertising still have a role to play?

People will respond to advertising if the call to action is compelling. Tata Consulting Services used social media to source runners’ stories using #TCSSuperheroes during its award winning TAM2014 campaign. Paid adverts promoted the hashtag which in turn generated more inspiring runners’ stories.

Abhinav Kumar, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer, Tata Consultancy Services Europe has proven the power of supporting strong brand content with advertising: “With declining traditional newsrooms, exponential growth in mobile based content consumption and shortened attention spans, there is tremendous opportunity for original content. Flooded by data and generic content, people are essentially looking for content that either entertains or inspires them. Inspiring and emotional content amplified through paid media can create consumer engagement that sales oriented material often fails to deliver.

Brands like American Express regularly publish quality content through Facebook and Twitter, achieving great impressive results. At SMWF 2015, Simon Veaney, Social Media Communications Director for AMEX affirmed organic-only campaigns are pointless in Facebook due to the algorithms now used by the dominant social network.

Making content that matters

Strong content is the solution to the problem of ad blocking. Brands now have myriad ways to get in front of customers at opportune moments in the purchase pathway. Instead of relying on increasingly ineffective online ad formats, brands can produce useful and engaging content with paid media adding a boost as and when needed. And, like industry pioneer Red Bull, if they want to make an impact and reach those who have become banner blind, they need to be ambitious and either make or support content that matters.

This post was published originally on on Nov. 4th, 2015 and can also be found on LinkedIn.

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