We are in a time where brands must act as media companies to manage perception, build loyalty, engage users and proactively affect revenue. And with the information overload epidemic growing, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd no matter how great or innovative your product may be.
Content and marketing are one and the same, thus every potential user touchpoint must be authentic and benefit your customers/audience. If you can talk authentically about what you know, the rest will come.
Selling With Integrity
I have made a career of strategically managing content for brands in a variety of industries, but the ones that have taught me the most are from my work in sports. During my time at NGBs and Endurance Brands, I was always split between core brand content, marketing and sponsor marketing.
This split is a catch-22.
For example, I was building a brand’s core audience on various platforms, trying to protect the brand voice from any sales-y, inauthentic influence that would derail the community and affect loyalty. However, because I knew the platforms and audience best, I was part of the team selling against the very voice, community and loyalty I was protecting.
So how can you go about sponsored content in a way that isn’t “selling out” in the eyes of your audience?
1. Know your audience.
At the content marketing end of the business, you are on the front lines with your audience. It’s your job to know who they are, how they like to be spoken to and what’s important to them. The beauty of today’s digital world is the one-to-one customer interaction and the instantaneous analytics at your disposal. Listen to your audience, read your analytics, strategize and execute accordingly.
I have always taken the approach that brands must require content that’s submitted by a sponsor to enhance the brand community lifestyle to which the sponsor is buying into. The sponsor bought into a carefully curated content community, so they already see the value. You should not shift what you know works in order to accommodate an “outsider.” Rather, educate them on your brand audience best practices to drive ROI. Remember, your audience is savvy; they will call you on your you-know-what one way or another.
2. Provide strategic value.
You know your audience and brand, and thanks to analytics, you know how to leverage each platform touchpoint. That is knowledge your sponsors and sales team need in order to drive successful campaigns.
In my sponsor marketing role, my sales strategy was to act as an in-house agency of sorts. I built best practice methodology into contracts using two steps:
Step One includes selling multi-platform packages to drive ROI for the sponsor and allow us to tactfully leverage our audiences on each touchpoint based on the topic and content type. For example, let’s say a sponsor wants to produce a video for YouTube and their website that’s 2-3 minutes long. This request adds up to two platforms (YouTube and their website) and one creative asset, requiring a minimum video production spend of $40K+.
With a spend like that, you should be maximizing all exposure points and increasing assets to justify their spend, your efforts and drive ROI. Go back to them with an optimized execution plan that includes the originally requested video at two to three minutes in length and add an additional four to six teaser videos, each 15-30 seconds in length. You now have five to seven creative assets to leverage from the same production budget. The video deployment strategy should incorporate all key social platforms for your brand and the sponsor, which keeps audience acquisition as a primary goal.
The videos can live in a YouTube playlist, be embedded on your website and theirs, and roll out one at a time across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email blasts, etc., in a two-week span. We are now up to seven-plus platforms.
To go the extra mile, maximizing shoot day is a great tactic. Leverage Facebook Live, live tweeting and Instagram stories from the shoot to drum up anticipation and buzz. This allows you to pre-sell where and when audiences will see the video. Now we just went from a one-and-done launch to a full campaign. Price your efforts and engagement potential accordingly.
Step Two includes building in content requirements that allow us to direct and approve content prior to going live. Protect your audience. They aren’t for sale, but their interest can be piqued and purchasing power earned.
3. Walk the walk.
If you have a sponsor trying to sell an audience a new road bike, don’t accept an article about the price, features and custom color offering. It will fall on deaf ears and certainly won’t translate well across any platform. Instead, challenge the sponsor and ask them what they know best about their industry. Maybe the topic is “how to choose the right road bike” or “common mistakes beginners make when shifting gears.”
Ask the sponsor to choose a topic that will help assimilate them into your brand’s community as a thought leader in a specific area. Let the content map back to a product suggestion like that new bike the sponsor company is launching. The educating and thought leader concept isn’t groundbreaking to the Forbes audience, but experience shows that once sales and content marketing cross paths, brand morals go out the window.
Content is marketing, and brands need to act as a gatekeeper — not to keep things away from its audience, but to keep the community — one they have worked hard to build — thriving. Don’t treat your audience like hostages, treat them like people with similar interests open to entertainment and lifestyle enhancements.[“Source-forbes.”]