Ask an Expert: How to Become a Content Brand

What does it really mean to be a content brand and how can you achieve it? Find out how some of the leading content brands operate.


Our industry has a hard time discerning the meaning behind fad words – “big data,” “thought leadership,” “share of voice,” “social commerce,” and ESPECIALLY “content brand.” You may claim that your organization is a “content brand,” but do you fully understand its definition and tactics that support that lofty title? You may or may not; leave it to the marketing experts to help define it for you. In this installment of iAcquire’s “Ask an Expert” Samuel Axon of Sprout Social, Michael Brenner of SAP, Ken Ericson of Xerox, and Adam Toren of Entrepreneur answer the following questions:

1) What’s your definition of a “content brand”?

2) What’s the strategy behind becoming a content brand?

3) How do you create brand content that people actually care about?

They’re giving away trade secrets, so get out your notepads and calendar block a full day to get these ideas implemented…

Michael Brenner, Vice President of Global Marketing and Content Strategy for SAP

Michael_Brenner1) A content brand is one that thinks and acts like a publisher. Thinking like a publisher means the brand realizes that content is a core product offering from the business. Acting like a publisher means the brand creates and distributes the content its customers are interested in consuming. It is this customer-centric approach which differentiates it from traditional branding techniques like advertising which primarily seek to promote the brand. In addition, publishers have to make money. The content brand seeks ways to use its engaging content to drive actions that turn into measurable business results.

2) Traditional push-based marketing techniques are having decreasing effect. Consider the last time you were grateful for a cold-call or a banner blocking an article you wanted to read. Or that commercial that interrupts your favorite TV show. Or the dozens to hundreds of email you get that you never wanted. The strategy behind becoming a content brand is to reach the audience of your potential customers with content that is helpful or entertaining. This creates the foundation of trust that is necessary for customers to make the decision to buy from the brand.

3) In order to create content that your audience cares about you simply have to listen to them. You have to identify the question they are asking though techniques such as keyword research, website analytics, social media trending topics, even by asking your customers. Once you know what questions they have and what challenges they are facing, you can write content that answers those questions, points to solutions (without selling) or inspires them through creativity. The buyer journey is simply a series of questions that must be answered. And the content brand can become of source of those answers.

Ken Ericson, Director of Content Marketing for Xerox Corporation says:

Ken-Ericson1) I define a “content brand” as a brand that provides trusted insights to an audience. I don’t mean serving up marketing material that focuses on the features and benefits of a product or service, but information with a point of view from outside of your organization and designed to help the reader regardless of your brand. If you’re looking at content from the viewpoint of “what’s in it for the audience,” as opposed to “what’s in it for my brand,” you’re headed in the right direction.

2) While there are many reasons to do so: one is to build trust and brand advocacy. If you’re a brand providing interesting, relevant content to help your audience better understand their business or industry, and they don’t feel like they’re being hit with a sales pitch, you’ll begin to gain trust in the content and believability in your domain expertise. That believability leads to advocacy and can eventually drive sales decisions. There’s more: quality content becomes the snowball rolling down the hill; growing larger and picking up steam because it can be “sliced and diced,” used to fuel social channels, PR and more.

3) Know what’s important to your audience. As you’re developing a content strategy, reach out to your audience, or at the very least, the sales or customer relationship people who are on the front line. Produce content that has transparency and authenticity. Be interesting. There’s a ton of content out there, so you’re not there to fill a void, you’re trying to cut through. Don’t spam your audience with material telling them how awesome your product or service is. Tell them a story that has meaning. If you can, use metrics and research, but only as a guide, not a mandate.

SamUEl Axon, Editorial Director at Sprout Social says:

Samuel Axon headshot1) Most brands that are going to be successful in reaching customers moving forward are going to be “content brands,” in a way. Traditional advertising and marketing like TV or display ads are effective in a brute force sort of way, but creating content that actually provides immediate, personal value to a potential consumer is going to be much more effective on a per-head basis. So to me, a content brand is a brand that’s serious about actually connecting with customers instead of shouting at them.

2) You need to find excellent editorial and social media management talent who know how to use language authoritatively but accessibly while representing your brand’s values and voice. So great people are the starting point. Then you need make sure that content is accessible to visitors on the web no matter what device they’re using — so responsive design, for example. It’s a combination of creative and technical expertise. From there, it’s just consistency of quality and frequency, along with persistence. You keep putting valuable stuff out there and reaching out to people, and if what you’re producing really has value, it will find an audience.

3) As with good advertising, it’s about focusing not so much on what your product is in narrow terms, as in what values you’re associated with. Don’t just write about what your company can do for the reader. Write about the cultural context of your connection with the reader. Content marketing is like a lifestyle magazine. Rolling Stone magazine is about rock and roll, but it also covers business, fashion, politics — anything that provides context to what rock and roll is all about. Don’t limit yourself to talking about products. Talk about everything your customers care about to let them know that they’re not just buying a product, they’re buying themselves.

Adam Toren, an investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com and iSmallBusiness.com says:

AdamToren1) A content brand is a unique way to market a product founded on creating virally awesome content. Branded content is generally a creative or informative series of text/video/audio content that is capable of hitting a much wider demographic than your baseline marketing campaign will probably target. Content brands can build unique buzz, because the buzz won’t build directly around your product. Instead, your audience will grow virally as your content is seen, shared, and engaged with. So basically, a content brand is marketing speak for the ability to build an audience through top quality content that spreads virally.

2) Step 1: Identify what you’re looking to achieve: Your goals in developing your branded content will vary based on factors like your chosen industry, size, and social media presence. If you’re looking for recognition within your industry, then informative content is your best bet. Selling a product, however, opens up your options.

Step 2: Research everything!: Branded content requires you to be willing to get creative, and the best way to back your creative push is to become a media-hound. Gobble up the podcasts, viral videos, and unique blogs that inspire you. Take copious notes and be sure to ask your team to research their personal favorite viral content. Set a specific day for your team to meet, pitch ideas, and pin down what your branded content will end up looking like. It’ll make you a little crazy, rest assured, but your mania will be the fuel you need to come up with a unique concept.

Step 3: Build it: The toughest part of any project is actually putting your nose to the grindstone and getting it done. Figure out the equipment you need, budget the project, and jump in. Always be sure to catalogue your process in building your all-new content through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and any other ways your company communicates with its audience. As you’re building your pilot episode/podcast/blog post always be thinking of ways to encourage audience participation. If your series takes off, getting your audience involved is your best bet for engagement.

Step 4: Brand everything: If the content is good, you’ll know. More importantly, if you’re confident in the content then promoting it on every available social media platform will be much more exciting. Sharing unique content on Twitter is rare and influencers will latch on to any content creator building something related to their industry. Oh yeah, and keep a strict posting schedule. The key to building your first steps toward audience-building will be consistency.

Step 5: Engage your audience: If you’ve built something that people love, you’ll understand that I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the sky is the limit. A great podcast means you’ll never run out of sponsors, interviewees, and potential networking opportunities. Video content affords you a unique cross-branding opportunity with other businesses and social media personalities. Text content means that you could end up with enough words to fill a book by the time you get tired of your successful branded content. Keep thinking up new ways to make your videos interactive, host discussions on Twitter with your community, and always call the viewer to action to spice up your comment section.

3) The answer (of how to create brand content that people actually care about) varies depending on who you are, what you’re selling, and what it means to your audience. The word of the day is personification — a term that you might’ve heard in middle school English class — and it’s about finding the human quality of something that isn’t human. In a roundabout way, whatever it is you’re trying to sell.

The jury is out: our experts have told us that brands who provide audience and advocacy-driven content by value-based tactics and creativity are those that win. Want more resources on this topic?

Stay tuned for more next month on iAcquire’s exclusive Ask an Expert series!

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