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Interesting content is one of the top three reasons why consumers follow brands on social media. Blog posts that add value, social media interactions that put a face on your brand, and videos that offer information are all great ways to keep your audience coming back for more.
But the adjective “interesting” certainly leaves something to the imagination. To some readers, a discussion about rebar placement and planned gap structure coordination may be share-worthy. To others, it may be as boring as it sounds.
Occasionally, brands outgrow their social reach and become bigger than a blog. While it may still stand as a resource, the appeal may be limited in comparison with other content formats. This is when brands go “big”.
But what does going big mean? How can your company do it and does it even work? For those looking to go big, a combination of strategy and some pioneering case studies have provided marketers with a roadmap for reaching past your current boundaries into heights never-before thought possible. Through a combination of developed brand strategy, understanding of what comprises big campaigns, and ambition, going big is not only possible, but valuable.
Starting with Strategy
If there's one common factor between big buildings, big athletes, and big ideas, it is that they are all supported by a firm foundation. Buildings stand on a literal foundation of concrete and steel, while athletes rely on strong legs, the right shoes, and a keen sense of balance and coordination. In both instances, the subject has the framework they need to keep them standing.
With big ideas, foundation is equally critical. Large projects and investments must stem from confidence that the money is well spent. Research must be performed to target the right audience and extensive work must be done to make sure that websites, lighting, messaging, and staff are all working in tandem.
That's why any big idea must arise from a solid, well-conceived strategy. This strategy will help fill in the small details and keep the entire team focused on the big picture. A sound strategy is more than just a reference; it's a road map to success.
Developing Your Strategy
As crucial as a documented content strategy may be, research shows that only 44% of B2B marketers actually have one in place. This means that if you've actually taken the time to write down your target audience, their characteristics, your value proposition and goals, and steps for achieving those goals, you are in the minority.
Therefore, we're going to assume that you don't have a documented content strategy, which means we're going to have to build one from scratch. This may seem like a daunting task, but the reality is that a little research, a little foreknowledge, and six steps are all it takes to create a strategy guide that will help direct your content efforts in all mediums and on all scales.
While this may seem like overkill, it is important to note that big content marketing takes a great deal of time, money, and coordination to execute. Proceeding with a complex, large scale campaign without one is going to add un-needed friction to an already challenging project.
1. Identify your audience
Your audience is the fuel of your business. Without your audience, blog posts and videos become disconnected islands with no impact and no future.
For this reason, much of our strategy is predicated on the makeup and inherent preferences of our audience. Fortunately, in the Information Age, there are numerous resources for even small businesses to dive into their target demographic and discover guideposts for strategy.
Since many businesses lack the budget for extensive audience research, the best place to start is with public resources. Depending on the country you're targeting, various public resources exist that provide census data for no charge. In the United States, two entities offer this kind of information: Census.gov and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, these resources often dive into more niche areas, like future outlook and how citizens spend their time.
The next place to look is owned marketing properties. These include websites, ad campaigns, and social followings that are rich in user-submitted data. In addition to pure demographic data, like gender and age, these resources can help indicate more nuanced factors, such as topics of interest, availability during the day, and depth of interest.
Finally, any holes in audience understanding should be filled through independent market research. This can come in a number of forms as well, including online surveys and focus groups. The first offers a large data set, rendering the results more accurate when applied to a large audience. The second offers an in-depth look at psychological factors, including reason for using your product, brand perception, and personal predilections and aspirations.
With all of this data in place, it is now possible to draw a comprehensive picture of your audience. For more information regarding how to turn this information into a usable audience profile, consult our guide for developing and using buyer personas here.
2. Audit your brand position
In order to understand where you're going, you need to understand where you are. Once you understand your audience, the next step is to audit your position in the market to gain a better understanding of what needs to be accomplished through your content.
It is important to note that much of the information about your brand position will not be readily apparent. According to Harris Interactive, only about 4% of dissatisfied customers will actually file a formal complaint. The other 96% simply walk away. Furthermore, dissatisfied customers will tell an average of 24 people about their negative experience, while only 15 will hear about positive experiences, according to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer. These statistics can lead to an inflated picture of negative reactions, and subsequently tilt a cursory evaluation of your brand.
Instead of relying on social media comments and Yelp reviews for your audit, perform your research and lock down concrete statistics. Develop a marketing survey that looks at the perception and likeliness of a recommendation that customers feel toward your brand. Collect data on market share, and ascertain information regarding how customers feel about your brand in comparison with other brands. Look at site traffic and your social media following and note historical trends that point to growth or decline in your web presence.
Throughout your research, endeavor to put yourself in the objective consumer's shoes. Ask yourselves, “on an average day, does our target consumer think of us? If so, do they know where to find us? What will they find? How do they feel we stack up to other options?” This will provide you with a better understanding of how your efforts are perceived and how to improve that perception through content.
3. Set goals
Now that you know where your brand sits in the market, you can officially plan where you would like it to be! The specific goals that you set are entirely dependent on your brand position, your assets, and your priorities. While we cannot advise you regarding your specific goals in a simple blog post, any goal you create should be “SMART”.
SMART goals are:
- Specific – pertaining to a very particular context or metric
- Measurable – capable of comparison to concrete numbers
- Attainable – challenging, but within available means
- Relevant – possessing direct value to your situation
- Time-sensitive – bound to a deadline
Without these criteria, goals are susceptible to a lack of accountability or perhaps worse, a lack of belief and commitment. An example of a SMART goal may be, “We will grow our social following by 15% by December.”
4. Define your unique value proposition
Once you have your goals, it's time to identify your greatest asset in achieving them. This asset is frequently referred to as your “unique value proposition.”
The idea is simple. The Internet is a crowded place. Literally billions of people have contributed information to the Internet, much of it redundant. Eventually, the value of this information goes down, since it has been covered exhaustively.
Instead of chasing more redundant information, your job is to identify what you bring to the table that no one else does. This way, you create something brand new and therefore highly valuable to your audience. In addition, your unique proposition becomes a resource for the long-term, providing additional ideas and continuing to generate unique and valuable content that people want to see.
The question you have to ask yourself is, “What do we provide that no one else does?” Compare your company to your competitors and identify exactly what you provide to customers and your industry. Don't be afraid to spend some time identifying this characteristic. As an important part of your strategy, the answer should not be taken lightly.
5. Develop a clear style guide
With the big picture in place, all content efforts can benefit from stylistic guidelines. These help ensure a consistent brand presentation across all media types and make it easier to create assets for various campaigns.
With the development of their Material Design philosophy, Google has created one of the best examples of a style guide to date. While yours may not be as exhaustive as Google's, their framework of design philosophy backed by marketing goals that outlines specific design criteria is exemplary.
An exhaustive explanation of style guide development lies outside the scope of our discussion here. Suffice to say that a strong style guide develops a combination of aesthetic guidelines born from a strong understanding of brand image and goals.
With our foundation in place, the only thing limiting our content (besides our budget) is our creativity. What stems from your content strategy is decided entirely by your team and what you determine to be advantageous to your brand.
In this case, we want to go BIG. We want to make a statement with our efforts that delivers value, builds positive association, increases brand reach, and enables conversion. This may require taking some risks, but our documented strategy and creative ambition will help ensure that our big content is successful.
The key to creating big content lies in understanding that content marketing is not dependent on format. Truly, the power of content marketing lies in its capacity to deliver value through channels with which customers are familiar. As we'll see in the following examples, any number of channels and combinations of channels can be used to enable this capacity.
To be fair, it's hard to imagine pictures as “big” content. Infographics and slideshows can be well-crafted, but they can hardly be called big. However, Coca-Cola's “Share a Coke” campaign demonstrates that a combination of crowd-sourced visuals and social media can create a big impression.
For those who are unfamiliar with the promotion, Coca-Cola has printed millions of cans and bottles with names on them and encouraged Coke drinkers to take a picture of themselves with a bottle that bears their name. Coke then compiled photos from Instagram with the hashtag “ShareaCoke” on a website, and may even use user photos for billboards and other promotional materials.
So what makes the Share a Coke campaign “big”? To begin with, the resource demand of printing hundreds of different labels thousands of times is nothing to ignore. Next, by crowd-sourcing contributions from social networking, what Coke has created is more than just a visual campaign. It's a community experienced based entirely around their product. Furthermore, the sharing component is intrinsically designed to spread brand awareness in a warm and positive way. This combination of channels and formats shows that content is never bound by strict limitations, and that some of the best content is not created by businesses, but by users.
Most importantly, this campaign fits the Coke strategy like a glove. The audience of young adults is clearly focused by reaching them on social media platforms and encouraging sharing, a product of the Millennial generation. In addition, it facilitates Coke's goal of ubiquitous brand awareness by personalizing the experience for every human being, even those who have never heard of the soft drink.
But did it work? The answer is a resounding yes. Data from the same campaign run exclusively in Australia showed that young adult consumption increased 7%, and the campaign itself garnered 18-million-plus social media impressions. Furthermore, Coke's Facebook traffic increased 870%, increasing the brand's social following by 39%. With numbers like that, it's hard to argue with going big.
The shape of your big content can vary greatly based on your industry. While specific concepts and channels may reach a particular audience, B2B campaigns may require a bit of adjustment.
Fortunately, American Express provides us with an example of a campaign that reaches both audiences simultaneously. The inarguably brilliant Small Business Saturday campaign created by the credit card company shows that good content can deliver real value and raise awareness and association on a large scale.
The Small Business Saturday campaign is, in a general sense, designed to enable small businesses in the United States and encourage citizens to explore the under-tapped world of small businesses in their cities. On a more specific level, the campaign is a combination of advertisements, resources, robust content, and social engagement that paints a picture of American Express as a champion of small businesses. Content formats include interactive maps, webinars for business owners, social media promotion for consumers, and brand assets for promoting the event.
A cursory look at Amex's content strategy suggests that SBS hits the nail on the head. While lenders and creditors in the United States are going through an identity crisis for taking advantage of the little guy at the behest of large corporate interest, Amex is reshaping their brand perception by specifically targeting the American entrepreneur. Furthermore, companion marketing materials help grow their perception as an authority in building your dreams through finance.
While creating a brand can be arduous, creating a holiday is another thing entirely. However, Amex campaign was a resounding success. The movement debuted with $5.5 billion in sales at local businesses across the country and rose 4% to $5.7 billion the following year. While these revenues did not directly benefit Amex in all cases, the promotion has effectively cemented the perception that American Express is the champion of the American citizen's ambitions.
Going big with video can take a number of forms. Like Coke, it may involve crowd-sourcing content and creating a movement around your brand. Like Amex, it may involve creating video resources that inspire individuals to go big themselves.
For perhaps the greatest example of big video however, we look to none other than Red Bull, the brand that turned “going big” into a lifestyle. For a big brand to go even bigger, the energy drink makers looked to the edge of space itself.
Red Bull Stratos, the famed project that sent daredevil Felix Baumgartner hurtling through the atmosphere, was a combination of video, advertisement, and a companion website that paid out in spades for the brand. According to Forbes, the combined 8 million eyeballs who watched the live coverage, ~30 million who have watched it on YouTube, and the accompanying sponsorship and marketing impact are worth tens of millions of dollars in global exposure.
Anyone who has been to Spring Break or a sporting event knows that Red Bull's target market is the young, active crowd. Stratos clearly and definitively targets this demographic by holding a spectacle of adrenaline. In addition, the record-breaking nature of the stunt is indicative of a campaign looking to change Red Bull's perception from an unhealthy stimulant to a brand that believes in achieving great things.
By building an event around their video, Red Bull were able to turn their project into something much larger: a moment in history. Your big video should also aspire to make an indelible impression in viewers, either through emotional impact, a demonstration of extraordinary events, or both
While most marketers consider content to be digital media only, events fall under this umbrella as well. Once again, content is about delivering a valuable user experience and events, whether entertaining or informative, provide this opportunity.
Despite their stranglehold on the digital music market, the iTunes Festival represents a creative effort to expand brand reach and deliver unique value. By building a concert series that delivers an in-person experience and using recordings to expand their already exhaustive library of music, Apple has built a piece of big content marketing that expands upon the culture of democratized music put in place by their retail service.
A set list that includes both indie and pop artists like Beck, Pharrell Williams, Calvin Harris, Jessie Ware, and Elbow shows that iTunes is targeting a generation of music fans that have forged their own path. By appealing to music fans both niche and culturally mainstream, iTunes further cements their position as the store that caters to all music fans, not just those whose tastes are commercially favorable.
Breaking the Mold
Looking back at these examples, one thing is clear: none of them fall into strict, rudimentary definitions of content. Most of them combine various types of content in order to create a dynamic experience with their fans and target market.
So what does this mean to your big content? Simply that the sky is the limit. Creativity is literally the only boundary of content, and savvy businesses have thoroughly demonstrated that a judicious application of audience knowledge, direction, strategy, and imagination can turn PDFs and some Facebook posts into a memorable annual event.
On a practical level, big content marketing does require dedication, innovation, and a great deal of resources. However, the payoff is worth the work, and the campaign itself can be crafted to suit your needs, no matter how unique or specific.
Build a foundation of strategy and think big. Execute through a combination of channels that reach your target audience with a milieu that suits your business. The effort can take your brand to new places, truly enrich the lives of your customers, and secure relationships that facilitate conversion in the near-term and for years to come.