The first article in our Q&A content marketing series produced by SmartCompany’s content agency, Bureau, features content lead at ME Bank, Bec Thexton. She shares her thoughts on content trends, how Australians are consuming content as well as her desire for the era of mindless scrolling to disappear.
Bec Thexton is the content lead at ME Bank and chief advocate for improving the way ME Bank uses content to directly engage with people.
Her current focus is ensuring all the content ME publishes speaks to the bank’s purpose, leaves the customer in a better place, embeds content strategy and delivers innovative ways to communicate.
She’s worked across social media, digital marketing, customer experience and brand at ME for more than five years and volunteered as the leader of the digital marketing team at TEDxMelbourne. She caught up with SmartCompany’s content agency, Bureau, to share her thoughts on content marketing.
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What’s your definition of content marketing?
Content marketing has broad and varied definitions. To me, it’s using a brand’s expertise to produce stuff that adds value and creates a positive experience between a person and your brand. Whatever format, whatever channel, if the intention is to impart value, that’s content marketing.
It’s people helping each other and the societies in which they operate by sharing information that enriches a particular online community. Or, in a more cynical, but bold view, it’s Seth Godin’s quote:
“Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left. Teaching your customers and giving your customers the resources to believe you is new marketing. They become a fan of yours because you teach them something that makes them feel better about the world.”
How does this method work without overtly promoting a brand’s product/service?
To effectively content market without overly promoting a brand’s product or service you need to apply an empathetic lens and remember that its citizens, not consumers, interpreting your content. You do this by researching and understanding what’s important to the audience. Listening to your customers and hearing what their pain points and passions are can be another resource to tap for creating content with meaning.
Once you’ve created useful content that solves a specific, real customer need, the next step is trust. Trust that in imparting your brand’s knowledge, it’s valuable enough for you to make a positive brand impression. If you’ve added value in some way such as additional information or entertainment, then you have earned the right to subtly mention a product or service. This can be tempting to ignore, however product stuffing your content will do all your efforts a disservice.
How has content marketing changed over the past five years?
Content marketing has grown exponentially in both volume and resources allocated. Marketing in 2018 saw more resources allocated to producing high quality content than ever before with 55 per cent of marketers saying blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority.
It’s growing in size but there are core elements of people publishing good content that has remained the same.
The platforms used to distribute content have become so cluttered that the quality is now more important than ever, with an expectation on authenticity and transparency from brands. Sophisticated and mature brands understand how to create content that resonates with their audiences as audiences have become more conscious of what they are consuming as well.
Another major change is the much-needed shift for tech platforms and content distributors like Facebook in regards to responsible content distribution. The platforms have been tasked with vetting content to enhance the level of quality and experience on platforms. With Facebook policy, algorithm rules and quality scores ranking the perceived quality of the materials, there’s more onus on the platforms to be transparent and build experiences to weed out thin content that is harmful, lacks depth or legitimacy.
How are audiences consuming content differently than previously?
Unfortunately, attention spans are getting smaller as quantity of published work is increasing. If your content doesn’t capture the audience’s attention by showcasing the value of investing their time and attention, it’s not getting consumed to its entirety. But we know this.
Flicking past 10 seconds of a video, a scan of an article, listening to podcasts at 2 x speed or skimming through magazines are all behaviours of people who feel time poor. For content marketing we need to capture people’s attention and communicate the value of investing their time and attention, fast.
On a UX front, we’re seeing publishers designing for attention management as well. Examples include the read progress trackers, article read-time and improving the readability of content. More than ever, people want to know how long it will take to consume content before they start to determine if it’s worth their time.
I was recently searching on Google and a preselected YouTube snippet popped up with the exact eight seconds of the 45 second video I needed to watch based on my search query.
You watch people on the train and their fingers are moving faster than ever, flicking and scrolling through their newsfeeds giving 1.5 seconds of subconscious consideration to each piece they come across. That’s content consumption in a broader sense.
However, contradicting that, another consumption trend gaining prominence is people being more intentional with what they consume. There’s been a lot of de-cluttering of inboxes and newsletter subscriptions, carving out space for consuming content and more mindful attention management.
Personally I’m trying to be more intentional about what I’m consuming and where. If there’s an article that requires a slower pace of thought, I’ll save it for a quiet morning opposed to on the bus. I think, and hope, the mindless scroll is starting to wane.
For SMEs with a limited budget, what are the best tactics to use?
I’ve worked within limited budgets my entire career so tactical is what I do. If you’re investing in content creation being strategic about distribution and focusing on quality over quantity can make the most of the reach. Consider what you expect it to do, who is it for and how you will distribute it. It’s better to have 10 pieces of great content with an extensive distribution strategy rather than 30 or 40 quickly done articles that only get shared once.
Another tactic is to slice and dice to maximise efficiency. You’ve got a long-form article optimised for SEO that goes out in a newsletter and social, so share it with your partners for their networks. You could then take each headline or tip and create those insights into four social posts. You then re-write the tips into questions for Instagram story polls so you have some interactive content.
Try to be unique in your brand voice. At ME, we’ve extended our reach by applying a cheeky approach to how we position our brand via social content. If your brand allows a bold or controversial view that can help too. Another tactic is to publish reactive content in addition to evergreen content. Evergreen content is crucial to help your brand to be found and offer value, but to get attention and more engagement it’s useful to be responsive, relevant and relatable.
Observe and tap into what people are doing online and what they’re talking about. At ME, we touch on topics that upon first reflection, aren’t directly linked to finance but with a little bit of ideation we link it back. We had some content recently discussing the food product, Potato gems. How is that relevant to finance? Well as the seasons change, so does the food spending habits so we did a summer bill versus a winter bill and the cost of food. We talk about what people are passionate about, using spending behaviour as a tie in. If you allow for responsiveness in your content and find clever tie-ins to your brand, you can capitalise on a current zeitgeist.
Content is more pervasive than ever. How do you ensure your content gets cut through?
Having a clever angle, a strong insight or a bit of cheek is important. You need to ensure your team is motivated to find real insights based on real life experience, not ‘what the brand wants to say’. The content needs to fulfil the needs of your audience by applying an empathic lens.
If you do that you’ll create a more memorable connection rather than writing from function. There’s a place for both types of content, such as in the home buying space. Auctions are huge milestones for people, particularly first home buyers. We have functional content for this stage (Do I need a cheque at an auction?) but also more emotive content about how to deal with the stress, uncertainty and mind games that happen when bidding during the auction experience.
Has content moved beyond awareness and vanity metrics to more lead generation and ROI attribution models?
The tracking and the tools are getting better for attribution, however awareness as a metric is still important. The Content Marketing Institute’s maturity model states that the first layer of content maturity is that your brand is found. Content still plays a part in bringing people into your digital ecosystems.
It’s fine to use content to generate leads, if the people receiving it are at that stage and are ready. Targeting functions and behavioural signals are what’s maturing which allows more detailed objectives like lead generation or conversions.
You need to make sure the objective is linked to the type of content you have regardless of whether it’s awareness, consideration or conversion. You can run these campaigns simultaneously and it doesn’t have to be the typical approach of running awareness then retargeting for the next stage down the funnel.
Google references user moments for content which include ‘I want to know’ moment, ‘I want to buy’ moment, ‘I want to use my product better’ moment. They are three different audience intentions and you can have content that talks to each of them running at the same time. You could correlate the moments with awareness, conversion or utilisation if you so desired.
Awareness still plays a part and clicks to a site are great but you need to have a vision for what to do with them next.
What brands are doing it well and who isn’t doing it well?
Elements of content marketing that resonate with me are brands that apply a humanistic approach to both build brands and benefit society. I also admire brands that surprise you with humour and apply a simple, straightforward philosophy to publishing.
I’ve been impressed with Realestate.com and Domain. Over the last few years both platforms have asserted themselves as experts in the home searching experience and they behave as publishers just as much as an aggregator.
Domain has created some cheeky video series, most popular being Avalon Now, comically detailing the lives of an inner city Sydney suburb filled with hipsters wearing striped t-shirts. Another notable video series from Domain was the State BBQ series in partnership with ME. Each guest at the BBQ takes on the persona of an Australian state highlighting the nuances of the housing market in each state and showcasing that Domain understands the experiences of their users.
Lush is a surprising and exciting brand to watch in the content space, as they champion marketing for a cause with attitude. Lush transition seamlessly between meaningful purpose-led social cause campaigns to cheeky and out-there experimental content, like working with ASMR influencers.
BeyondBlue apply a simple and straightforward approach to their content marketing; they understand how their audience needs to receive their expertise. Having useful and actionable content dominating search for terms relating to mental health queries, BeyondBlue is simply there at the most vulnerable moments for people.
If you’re up for 60 minutes of long-form content from Ancestory.com check out the co-produced show, “Who do you think you are” on SBS on demand. With subtle branding, the show follows iconic Aussies as they trace their family histories, capturing the experience of understanding where we came from. There’s many ways to content market, the challenge is aligning it with your overall marketing strategy.
Can you quantify the importance of video and voice over the coming years?
Voice can seem like a futuristic technology but humans have been communicating with voice for eons. If anything, voice will enable us to go back to communicating in a more natural state compared to the current text-touch-type method. The way we’re communicating with texting and tapping hampers our ability to have more meaningful conversations as we sacrifice tonality and the nuances of speaking.
There’s no question in the growth of voice searches, but in 2019 many are still writing search headlines and optimising for short keywords and written text.
It’s crucial to stop thinking in marketing speak for search terms and instead use natural speaking language in our content. For example, ‘auction payment options’ as a keyword instead becomes ‘do I need to bring a cheque to an auction’. ME is lucky as our tone is already human and straightforward, but applying a human tone to optimise your search terms for natural speak is going to be crucial.
Now the majority of the internet has shifted to beautifully optimised mobile friendly websites, we need to design what a voice friendly website looks like. How do you search a navigation structure using voice commands?
It’s a whole new user interface and design rules that we need to be thinking about as well as audio branding. How do you convey your brand traits via a voice, snippets, blips and blobs? These considerations are beyond content but the unique experiences we design using voice and sound will affect how the content is then consumed.
Bureau is SmartCompany’s content agency helping brands attract and connect with small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs. Bureau creates articles, ebooks, videos, podcasts and infographics from data-led insights to achieve marketing ROI for businesses.