Fifteen years ago, if you were looking for a car, your first stop may have been the right-bottom corner of the grocery store newsstand. You’d scan Car and Driver, Luxury Auto and a slew of publications offering vehicle reviews and advice. Then you would visit dealerships with little to no information about your desired make, model or payment plan. You had no cohesive way to compare the prices and features of your final choices, or hear the opinions of current customers. After a few weeks of research, you’d make your decision, hand over the money, grab the keys and drive away.
In the age of the social customer, where the average shopper consumes 10.4 sources of information before handing over their money, this buying process has changed radically. Social media, search technology and tools for publishing content on the Web are giving brands the ability to bypass the press and bring their message directly to customers. No need for Ford to wait for the Fiesta model to be featured on the cover of Car and Driver. With more than 1 million fans on Facebook, 150,000 followers on Twitter and multiple Web properties, Ford can get the word out themselves. And thanks to communities such as AutoTrader.com, which allows customers to buy and sell their car online, buyers can now complete all of their research in one place with access to buying and selling tips, reviews, videos, photos and more. This example illustrates the fundamental power shift between brands and media and the challenge that both sides have to reach and engage with today’s social customer.
There are several reasons for this shift, the biggest one being the emergence of the Internet and technology that allow just about anyone the ability publish content that a wide audience can consume and share. In turn, social media and search technology give customers access to more information than ever, complicating the decision-making process. Instead of young women waiting for the prom edition of Seventeen magazine to come out to decide what eye shadow would match with their dress, they can search “makeup tips” on Google and call up pages of Web results. (It’s important to note that Cover Girl, an affordable cosmetic brand, ranks higher than Seventeen and Cosmopolitan — both go-to beauty magazines.)
This shift in power has enabled enterprise brands to small businesses to engage their audiences like a newspaper would — with compelling stories that address their challenges and speak to their interests. According to an annual survey report published by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute, 9 in 10 organizations market with content — regardless of their industry. Brands are investing in journalist talent to ensure that they are moving in the right direction. According Hanson Dodge Creative, the top-level reporters from Business Week, PC Magazine and The Economist are filling content-production roles at IBM, AOL and JWT and other big brands. On the flipside, publishers such as Forbes have adjusted their editorial models by inviting influential executives at Fortune 500 companies, startups, and top consulting firms to contribute byline articles. In order to compete with the sheer amount of content, publishers must be producing more than ever — and they need a sizable team of quality writers with diverse perspectives to keep up.
With change comes opportunity. Red Bull is a brand that has made the most of this opportunity. The energy-drink giant launched its own media house in 2007, which ranked 29 in Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2012. CEO Dietrich Mateschitz explained that its branded content (focused on extreme sports) provides customers with an “invitation to be active, performance-oriented, alert and to take challenges.” Just like its beverages — Red Bull Media House’s films, magazines, blog, newsletters and social media postings aim to help customers recognize their ultimate potential.
On the B2B side, it’s hard to differentiate IBM’s General Business division’s Midsize Insider content-marketing program from media publications focused on the needs of small to mid-sized business owners and technology professionals. Since 2010, the site has published more than 1,100 articles on virtualization, security, analytics and other relevant topics, written by 38 regular expert industry contributors. The Midsize Insider is also a member of the Google News program — which highlights breaking news from the top sources above all search results.
For publishers, in order to compete with the billions of pieces of content published daily, reach new audiences and ensure that articles are accessible across social channels, they need to expand their reach and develop content at scale. This requires more content providers and a wider range of perspectives. The Wall Street Journal MarketWatch does this through the Trading Deck, a community of money managers, brokers, analysts, financial advisers and other professionals knee deep in the trading industry. Multiple articles are published per day thanks to its growing community of expert contributors. By taking on the role of content curators and developing a system for “expert-sourcing,” the WSJ is not only a resource but also a dynamic community that readers feel compelled to go back to and participate in.
We see this movement as a chance for brands and publishers to deepen the way that they tell stories, create communities and live out the organization’s mission. What have you noticed about the changing landscape? What brands and publications do you think are leading the charge? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.