The combination of brand, expert, and social content results in fresh, interesting content that appeals to a variety of audiences at all points in the decision-making process.
Why has so much attention been focused over the past year or more on the subject of brand content marketing? Is it because brands are seeing that even while digital ad spending continues to increase, display advertising performance and rates - with the exception of search - are in a downward spiral?
Certainly, it's true that brands are looking for creative opportunities outside "standard" display advertising to attract and engage audiences (examples abound, from The New York Times "IdeaLab" - a team dedicated to more visual and engaging advertising on the site - to experiments with native ad formats right inside user comment streams, powered by platforms like Disqus.
But there's more to it than that. Digital audiences are increasingly savvy when it comes to their active digital research. And that research isn't led by display advertising, but rather by conscious discovery and search.
Content marketing as a brand strategy and tactic is proving over and over again that it engages those audiences who are looking to become more educated consumers, by offering them the ability to review and read content of all types. It's become a natural part of today's consumer digital behavior.
In 2014, 71 percent of the 500 companies interviewed by the content marketing platform Curata plan toincrease their content marketing budgets. And in the B2B space, 93 percent of marketers say they are already using content marketing strategies and tactics to engage their audiences.
But what are those companies using to fuel their content marketing efforts? Creating excellent content that consumers trust - both in terms of resource expertise and time - is consistently cited as a serious challenge for all brands engaged in content marketing. B2B marketers have historically addressed this challenge by creating their own "traditional" content - white papers, articles, e-books, podcasts, slide presentations, webinars, and similar. They staff up to create it. They are looking for chief content executives to manage it. And they distribute the content they create through websites and social platforms.
But brand-created content should be just one slice of the content created. There needs to be more. Brands need to combine their own content with expert, trusted and reliable content, and, where relevant, content from their own social audiences to complete the story and drive the best results.
In a report from Nielsen last month, "The Role of Content in the Consumer Decision Making Process," it was found that consumers value expert content, and they are relying more and more on social media as a source of information in their decision-making processes. It also found that the expert content needed to be perceived as "unbiased" and not paid for by the brand. The study also pointed out that the role of the fellow-consumer has an important role to place in "tipping" the consumer into a purchase. Indeed, Nielsen's study found specifically that when user content is coupled with expert content, the likelihood of conversion to purchase lifts.
These observations speak to a need for brands to focus beyond just brand-produced content, but also weave in the authenticity and expertise of experts and consumers, too.
One example? Visit Norway USA. This highly social travel brand has worked to combine authoritative content, such travel articles from reputable sources like The New York Times, along with their own beautiful photo imagery and articles they have commissioned that inform about Norway, with content from fellow Norway travelers.
That final content type - user-created content - may not be as polished and refined, but it is nonetheless authentic and genuine and therefore highly credible. The benefit to including that last type of content is that it exists in social audiences in large quantities already, oftentimes in the form of user photos - the most shared content type on the Web. The challenge then becomes inviting audiences to share it, and for the brand to gather, curate, and display combined with their own content in a way that is refreshing and engaging. When that happens, the overall result is a fresh, interesting, continually updating triumvirate of content that appeals to audiences at all points in the decision-making process.