Opinion

Why Asia needs a content marketing association

Nick FawbertIn this guest post, Nick Fawbert suggests that content marketing is neither fad nor fashion, and argues why the region needs the Asian Content Marketing Association, which officially launched on Monday.

You could be forgiven for believing that classical marketing is running from the field, confidence broken and the will to fight all but snuffed out.

Allies in the linear television and traditional publishing world are emasculated by collapsing audiences and fair weather friends in the digital industry became turncoat when audience technologies championed short term direct response campaigns.

Copywriters flee crestfallen from a battlefield where algorithms create forty versions of the same tag line in less time than it takes to pull an arrow from their quiver, and art directors struggle knee-deep in the mud as stock photography libraries auto-populate identikit executions.

And meanwhile at the front, with troops in disarray, John Hegarty – the H in BBH – rallied the ranks to hold the line with a glorious assault on the false oracle of big data at Cannes last year.

“Data” he cried, “gives the answer to what has happened, not what is going to be. The danger of a reliance clients have on data is that they think it will give them an answer for tomorrow. They want it to be their oracle. But they are seeking a nonsense really. You can have all the data in the world, but you can’t predict the future.”

But like Cassandra on the battlefields of Ilium, is he fated to tell the truth and never to be believed?

Misdirection and false priorities

You could blame it all on Google. After all, the company flourishes on the ‘common sense’ assertion that those few short words we type into the search bar reveal our innermost feelings and a craving that demands instant satisfaction.

But without a champion for their cause, other equally salient issues remain unaddressed. ComScore observe that in Singapore local residents access close to six billion page views every month, and yet Google can celebrate only an estimated 300 million searches.

If it’s true then we need to recognise that 95 per cent of online behaviour is independent of search engines: Google may have a monopoly on search, but search has no monopoly on consumer activity.

Social fares no better, with recent research from Waggener Edstrom claiming the overriding reason for consumers connecting with brands on social media is the quest for discounts and promotions. Would they have us believe that marketing has stooped so low that the best thing we can hope for is to drop our pants and yell ‘look at me’?

That is, as Hegarty points out, a nonsense. Although it was the highest ranking factor for following a Facebook page, it still only represented a little over a quarter of the survey’s audience. That means three quarters of the audience voted for something else.

Ignore the Customer Journey at your peril

Both these claims about search and social are characteristic of an industry that has come under pressure for short term results: they operate at the narrow end of the funnel, reaching out to customers whose commitment to a product or service is active and informed. These consumers know what they want and they want it now.

The challenge is that neither of them establish influence at earlier critical stages in the journey. Top rank on a search engine or a special offer will do nothing to drive the awareness and satisfy the interest that creates a desire to buy in the first place.

A marketer who fails to invest effectively across the entire customer journey will experience a rapidly shrinking customer base and ever higher costs of customer acquisition.

Content marketing as a strategic asset

Traditionally the high ground in awareness and interest is occupied by linear TV and traditional press. The challenge is that consumer technologies – particularly mobile – have fundamentally altered consumption patterns.

Audiences are now committed to digital platforms at work, at play and even on the move.

The problem is that these are selective platforms – interruptive formats like a 30 second TV ad or a double page spread simply don’t engage attention, pre-roll video advertising is skipped and banners become wallpaper.

This is what’s behind the rise of content marketing: it’s neither fad nor fashion. It’s an urgent response to a marketing necessity. Marketers need to innovate to attract and retain consumers’s attention to fill a vital role in the customer journey.

Brand positioning and brand purpose

Defining content marketing is more challenging – not least because it’s a multi-disciplinary sector.

A useful working definition of content marketing may be that it represents all commercial communications where the message primarily comprises information and entertainment that offers value to a consumer independently of the product.

More technical definitions are awkward: those that claim a logo or a package design are also ‘content’ may be literally true, but they’re not helpful industrially when allocating resources or headcount to particular tasks.

At Brand New Media, we often distinguish between brand positioning (the place in time and space that a product occupies with respect to its competitors) and brand purpose (the value and the relevance of a product to a consumer).

We find that it becomes dramatically easier to identify useful content when we think about illustrating value and relevance of a product to a customer, than we do when we’re trying to squeeze three unique selling points into a thirty second commercial. In a selective environment like digital, this is what makes all the difference between engaging a consumer and losing them.

Rethinking the industry value chain

The complexity of content marketing demands new solutions across the industry.

Content ideation and strategy is primarily driven by data, consumer insights and gap analysis in social media – all of which are often dispersed across multiple agencies that sit separately from the usual marketing hegemony.

Content production is a dramatically different experience when the production houses – be they prose, graphics or video – need to create vast amounts of cost-effective output that have to sustain consumer interest and involvement against narrative arcs that span months or years instead of thirty seconds.

Content hosting and publishing requires skills often found in newspapers, not creative agencies. Content syndication is the preserve of upscale TV production companies, and audience acquisition is the expertise of media houses rather than film directors.

Underpinning all of this is the technological foundation of audience tracking, behavioural analysis and big data.

Why we need a content marketing association

These disparate skills all exist – the challenge is to knit them together across the current industry infrastructure in a way that will deliver manageable and coherent solutions for brand marketers.

Like John Hegarty, strategy teams may be unfamiliar with the dynamic needed to weave data efficiently into the creative process, or social media teams may be unfamiliar with the disciplines of platform publishing and video production.

The ACMA plays a vital role in bringing these groups together.

With three vital pillars in outreach, insights and education, it represents an opportunity to work together to anticipate industry requirements and design the solutions to meet them before they become a problem.

It’s an organisation for the industry by the industry – it’s non-profit and the services are delivered by the practitioners. People get out what they put in.

We’ve been overwhelmed with the response and support for the ACMA and we’re hoping that industry practitioners can find the time to come along to join us at Club Meatballs on Thursday evening to learn what ACMA have planned so far, and how we can make best use of the association to deliver all our needs.

See you there!

Nick Fawbert is the managing director, Asia, Brand New Media, and one of the founders of the Asian Content Marketing Association

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