Brands have been talking to their users for over a century and a half now. We have moved from extremely straightforward ads soliciting business for tractors and cigarettes to refined hyper-targeted ads offering communications relevant to what the user is doing at that very minute.
In spite of advertising’s move toward customization, response to good old advertising overall has been dropping consistently. Consumers simply trust the opinions of other users over brand-sponsored content that is clearly biased. Here’s where content marketing comes in—a life raft thrown to brands struggling to stay afloat in the choppy waters of marketing.
In short, brands are slowly but surely transforming into publishers in their own right—just another way in which content is now being presented to users.
And this strategy works: The most successful content-marketing brands in the business are producing content that rivals that of traditional publishing houses, both in quantity and quality. What’s more, various categories of tools that facilitate content re-sharing, document merging and infographic creation are enabling brands to turn their content into a format that is right for their target audience.
Here, we’ll discuss two brands that have taken the content marketing bull by its horns and tamed it into contributing directly to brand salience as well as each company’s bottom line.
LinkedIn: Social media’s success pro
Unlike most other brands, LinkedIn doesn’t use content marketing in the sense of creating reams of content promoting itself. Sometime in 2011, LinkedIn figured out, however, that promoting itself as a content-consumption platform was key to increasing user engagement and winning more valuable users.
LinkedIn then began its content-marketing journey by launching its social news feature, LinkedIn Today, which offered news items relevant to users based on their profile data and preferences. The company also took over SlideShare and Pulse—two content-publishing giants in the online and mobile spaces, respectively.
Pulse subsequently brought over third-party content from publishers like Al Jazeera and the New York Times. And LinkedIn went ahead and encouraged key members (read: Richard Branson and Bill Gates) to share their groundbreaking thoughts on Pulse, making that channel the most sought-after destination for consuming business insights.
LinkedIn has since further democratized itself by allowing individual members to create and publish their own content, thus transforming itself into a de facto publishing platform in its own right. That does not mean that LinkedIn does not create its own smash-hit content: Its Talent Solution and Marketing Solutions teams are constantly publishing high-quality guides that have generated thousands of views and downloads.
As for SlideShare, three years since its acquisition, its value is clear. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s words still ring true, in the context of content marketing:
“Presentations are one of the main ways in which professionals capture and share their experiences and knowledge, which in turn helps shape their professional identity. These presentations also enable professionals to discover new connections and gain the insights they need to become more productive and successful in their careers, aligning perfectly with LinkedIn’s mission and helping us deliver even more value for our members.”
SlideShare’s affinity to the visual expression of critical ideas has made it a perfect companion to Pulse’s blog-form content.
In addition, the content strategy LinkedIn has adopted has paid off handsomely, attracting the most educated and wealthy users of any other social network—a prize catch for any marketer using the network to promote its brand.
Red Bull: Content with wings
When it comes to content marketing, Red Bull is my favorite brand.
Instead of peddling its energy drink via convoluted posts all over the web, Red Bull decided to promote the essence of its brand—adventure, extreme sports and fast-paced fun—through the content it creates. Red Bull is a publisher in the real sense of the term: It has its own media company (Red Bull Media House), its own racing magazine (Red Bulletin) and a wildly popular YouTube channel.
In terms of the content itself, Red Bull does not rely on writers or video journalists. It does not even need to steal content from other brands, in the guise of content curation. By involving itself with its target audience on the ground—sponsoring events that resonate with its brand personality and encouraging sports teams and sponsoring athletes—Red Bull creates its raw, riveting content from the ground up.
From gripping videos, to entire magazines dedicated to sports, to sponsorship of local sports to a multi-million-dollar space jump (remember Felix Baumgartner?), Red Bull’s content marketing has done nothing the conventional way. And, boy, has it paid off.
Today, Red Bull has over four million subscribers on YouTube, a readership of over two million for its magazine and world domination of the energy-drink market since its inception.
As the field evolves, content marketing will consolidate its grip on marketing budgets and user imagination alike in the years to come. So, leave behind any preset notions about your brand, and gear up to create content that’s not just useful, but fascinating.
And if you turn your brand into a publishing heavyweight in the process, more power to you!
Rohan Ayyar works at E2M, a premium digital marketing firm specializing in creative content strategy, Web analytics and conversion rate optimization for startups. A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Copyright © 2015 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.