Content marketing is now an integral element of public relations and is an extension of the notion of thought leadership. It varies the thought leadership approach in four ways:
1. It includes content not generated by the organisation
2. It can include content that is not necessarily ‘insightful’ or ‘high-end’
3. It broadens the range of issues an organisation might offer content on
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4. It increases the number of organisational employees who might speak, or represent the organisation, on certain topics.
Whether these aspects manifest themselves in an organisation’s approach to content marketing will be entirely dependent on its communication and marketing strategies, especially its reputation management and branding dimensions.
The C word in content marketing
C = content. What’s it all about?
Beyond thought leadership, or not? The answer is yes. Not all content needs to be cutting edge, ground breaking etc. But it should provide value to the target audience.
It can help organisations cover the broad ground of their remit (or their brand) that might otherwise have not been possible due to resources. For instance, providing an insightful, helpful comment on valuable content relevant to target audiences and then sharing it can be a worthwhile activity.
By choosing some core pillars to provide original content on, then having a ‘satellite’ of secondary topics where a content curation aesthetic is applied, can offer organisations the opportunity to have their cake and eat it too.
Certainly, it can help communicate and engage with secondary target audiences where marketing and communication resources are not normally expended. A ‘reverse-flow’ positive impact on primary target audiences can be instigated, as the secondary target audiences become sharers and advocates of that curated information that received the imprimatur of the organisation.
And as word-of-mouth (WOM) now has social media through which to accelerate its ‘virality’, this momentum of sharing has even greater potential than it once did. Especially since the digital age has cultivated the behaviour of social sharing (digital gossip) amongst its netizens.
Just remember: “Your story travels further the less you mention your brand.”
Branding and positioning in content marketing
The social infinity does not seem to have canvassed the aspect of content marketing that relates to positioning and branding in great depth. Important elements in this dialectic are the sorts of content that are embraced by an organisation and who, from the organisation, does the ‘speaking’.
Further elements include what role does content (and content curation) play in the broader content marketing context, are there any dimensions that are ‘off-limits’ and what is the rationale driving the content marketing plan?
Firstly, in regard to the content itself, each element of content that emanates from an organisational employee contributes to an organisation’s branding, positioning and, to a lesser but still potentially significant degree, its differentiation. Choosing these topics should be driven by the strategy; content topics should not be picked up randomly simply because they are ‘topics du jour’ and of immediate interest to target audiences (i.e. how do these topics relate to brand-target audience relationships?).
Secondly, in traditional command-and-control organisations and those that apply a similar authoritarian approach to their communication, it has been a CEO-and-damn-the-troops mentality. I don’t espouse this approach but, regardless of this, whatever approach an organisation takes will impact on how much content it can feasibly generate and curate.
From a pure practicality perspective, whilst thought leadership can be applied in a limited but still quite effective manner when adopting this antediluvian approach, it is simply not viable to apply it to content marketing:
• A primary reason for this is that content curation is more than just retweeting or otherwise sharing. There needs to be a qualitative value-add from the organisation to some degree some of the time (actually a lot of the time, but I’m taking the low [expectation] road here)
• Involving employees in content creation educates employees on their industry which, one would think, helps them contextualise their work efforts and give them information to get better at their job, increasing productivity
• Employee involvement increases commitment to their organisation – likely to increase productivity – and helps them become a stronger organisational advocate
• Utilising normal (non-marketing Martians?) minimises the need to hire additional marketing employees and can optimise financial investment into the program – increasing productivity.
The most interesting and challenging aspect of this dimension, however, relates back to who are those doing the curating and how is this contextalised within an organisation’s branding?
• What are they commenting on?
• What is the nature of their value add?
• Is there a comms or marketing employee facilitating all this curation, or is it the relevant individual doing it solo after, perhaps, some initial briefing and some guidelines have been set? This relates to the third point I flagged above.
Fourthly, and this is perhaps the most fundamental aspect, the rationales driving the strategy will determine all of those issues noted above.
The ‘personality’ of content marketing
One of the interesting questions about both content strategy and thought leadership is should it be refined and targeted to within an inch of its focus group-tested life, or should it be sprawling, multi-faceted and reflective of the tumultuous, fast moving environment in which most organisations exist – and which, in fact, mirror target audiences’ existences?
I suggest it probably all goes back to overarching communication strategy:
• the drivers of communication strategy
• what market research tells us what will engage target audiences and prompt them to enact required behaviour (e.g. purchase, whisper sweet reputation-enhancing nothings in their contacts’ ears et al)
• perhaps, too, there is a unique emphasis or shading in the content that is delivered via various communication mechanisms
• and what of the impact on content for each organisational spokesperson due to their own interests, preferences, knowledge, passions and the customer/target audience segment they are responsible for?
Whilst it will be the organisation’s brand/personality that dictates the answers to these points and queries, in general I believe there is room for both schools of thought – the refined and the rambling (i.e. humanistic) – to work hand-in-hand.
A focus on topics and messaging that is relevant to the organisation and engaging for target audiences seems a prerequisite. But, and this is important, to rein in thought leadership or any other content to within a narrow set of parameters risks the organisation being perceived as cold, calculating, self-centred and predictable.
This post is an edited version of an article in a free white paper, The Holy Trinity of public relations. The white paper is available as a free download for all email subscribers to his blog, Public relations and managing reputation. The white paper provides an overview of the strategic dimensions of, and practical implementation tips on, thought leadership, 3rd party credibility and strategic alliances.
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