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Critiquing Content Marketing

Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 12:18 PM

A case study in content marketing strategy.

By William Dunkerley

According to the Content Marketing Institute, "The idea of content marketing is to attract and retain customers by creating and curating relevant and valuable content."

Lately, I've been advocating that publishers give consideration to using content marketing techniques for boosting advertising sales. An article in the June issue, "Ad Sales Wisdom from Life," presented a relevant blast from the past: an example of how, nearly 50 years ago, Life magazine used a form of content marketing to promote advertising sales. Now in this issue I'd like to critique that Life magazine effort.

The Case Study

Life included in its issue a two-page letter from its advertising director. The page appeared only in copies sent to advertisers and agencies. It didn't look like an insert or a bind-in; it had every appearance of being just a run-of-the-book page. That was novel. The page probably caught the attention of the intended audience when readers saw content that specifically targeted them printed in the magazine.

Beyond that novelty, however, the content fell short of the promise of effectiveness offered by content marketing. Basically, this was simply a sales letter, and not a very good one at that.

Oh No!

The copy was not even "you"-oriented. It began, "Life today is a far more flexible advertising medium than it has ever been before, due chiefly to the rapid growth of our regional edition program."

As it went on, the letter was relentlessly boastful about the magazine's various ad-related features. The principal theme is the promotion of 60 regional variants that were available to advertisers. It bragged about how much revenue Life was receiving from regional advertising.

The problem in all this, of course, is that the advertisers were likely much more interested in their own businesses than in Life's. That's why "you"-oriented copy is usually much more effective.

Opportunity Lost

Instead of telling the advertisers how great Life magazine is, it would have been better if the focus of the content had been more relevant to the advertisers: how to make their advertising more effective. That would have been a real winner.

The letter contained very brief mention of how advertisers could use Life's regionalization beneficially. It said they could use it "to test new products, new prices, new copy, new offers; to evaluate merchandising plans or special promotions; for expansion of new brands; for extra weight against strong brands, or for any of a dozen other marketing objectives."

A Different Approach

That's what the content should have focused on and expanded upon. The advertisers could have benefited from good, solid content with concrete examples of successful regionalized advertising. Case examples would have given an added dimension. And comments from advertisers who had racked up increased sales through regionalization would have served as convincing testimonials.

This should have been more of a lively tutorial piece than a hack sales letter.

You may not offer 60 regional variants that your advertisers can use, but you probably know some very useful things about the market you serve that your advertisers could benefit from knowing about. That would be great grist for content advertising efforts.

What's that? You don't have information like that? Well, you should.

Be a Market Guru

I've seen at many publications that the publisher and ad sales staff regard their knowledge of the market they're in as inferior to that of the advertisers. That's really a bad position to be in. To maximize your sales effectiveness, you should be in a position to mentor your advertisers on how they can better succeed in the marketplace.

I recommend that publishers carefully track market trends and cycles. If you actively seek and acquire that kind of information, it will put you in a position to develop valuable content that you can share with advertisers. I'm talking about content that can be vital to their success.

If you do that consistently and effectively, you'll be able to use content marketing profitably to breathe new life into your ad sales.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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