There are very few things that get venture capitalists excited, and even fewer things that make them want to leave the safety of their ivory towers. I know, because I used to be one. As the vice president of digital media at a VC firm, I spent my days looking at digital advertising from 50,000 feet, analyzing trends and identifying market opportunities. One day, I gave it all up to return to the hectic roller coaster that is life at a startup. Why? The answer is simple. I saw an opportunity to be part of a revolution and to solve a serious need in the online advertising industry.
By and large, advertisers are missing the boat when it comes to using digital ads for branding. Far too many dollars are flowing into display ads, which are incredibly weak branding vehicles. You can add all the bells and whistles you want to banner ads, but they’ll never truly create the kind of emotional experience that gets consumers excited about your brand.
Don’t believe me? Try this quick exercise. What was the last great commercial you saw? Any come to mind? I’m sure several do. Now close your eyes and try to tell me about a display ad you saw lately. Anything? Hard, isn’t it? That’s because it’s almost impossible to tell a story in a banner. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think display advertising is bad. It’s just not great for top-of-funnel, true branding. No matter how much bigger or better we make these banners, readers continue to be impervious to them.
On its surface, this may seem like a small, isolated problem. But it’s a large part of what’s holding back growth in the online advertising business. By some estimates, the gap between online ad spending and consumption of digital media is already as much as $20B. Without effective options for driving brand awareness, the industry will continue to be stifled, as media buyers revert to tried-and-true options like the 30-second TV spot.
The bottom line is that there is only one true branding mechanism online and that’s content marketing. What makes me so certain? Well, for starters, content marketing enables brands to share their story in long form and in their own words. An incredible sea of change in the way information is shared and distrbuted online means that for the first time ever, any brand can create its own content affordably and at scale. The story can come in the form of blogs, articles, reviews, ebooks or videos. It can be low-cost or it can be professionally produced. But let’s be clear: we’re not talking about ads! It’s real, interesting content that delivers informational or entertainment value.
Content marketing is a strategy with two obvious pillars: content and marketing. ‘Content’ means the creation of original content or the curation of content for the benefit of your audience. ‘Marketing’ means getting people to discover and engage with your content.
One cannot live without the other. Creating content for SEO, for example, is not content marketing. It’s content waiting. You need to get out there and actively get your content discovered, and you have to do it in a subtle way, without pushing it down people’s throats or interrupting them with push advertising. Content marketing should be a pull strategy — a strategy that allows people to discover you, rather than you crashing their party.
The good news is that there’s already plenty of inspiration to draw from. Just check out some of P&G’s content sites, such as BeingGirl.com, Man Of The House and Home Made Simple. Browse the great recipes at General Mills’ Tablespoon.com or Kraft’s KraftRecipes.com. Get some quality advice from Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Project or the Allstate blog.
Just like search was a decade ago and social was five years ago, content marketing is the next digital media revolution.
This post was originally posted on Forbes