Content marketing lessons from the Singtel-Gushcloud saga

A hot topic during the first day of the Content 360 conference held by Marketing was the Singtel Gushcloud saga.

Recently, a leaked social media brief got both the telco and its then social media partner Gushcloud in trouble, as the brief was found to be urging bloggers to slam Singtel’s competitors, M1 and StarHub, to promote Singtel’s youth plan.

Speaking on the issue was Miguel Bernas, currently director of digital marketing at PayPal. (Bernas was last Singtel’s digital director.)

Reflecting on the situation, he said that what this saga clearly highlighted was the fact brands needed to have a proper content strategy and an execution process in place when it comes to content marketing. This process then needs to be implemented throughout the organisation and to be taken seriously by staff and external members across the board.

Unchartered territory for brands

He added the second and possibly more pertinent issue that the incident highlighted was the “fundamental flaw in the blogging industry which is, to date, mostly unregulated”. Adding the industry is mostly dominated by “a bunch of youngsters” who have a voice and audience, but what it “lacks in standards are authenticity and honesty”.

“Authenticity is about a brand being honest about its role in creating a piece of content. The idea of paying a person to share positive words about a brand and then passing it off as their own content does not sit well with the notion of honesty and authenticity,” he said .

His views were supported by Jamshed Wadia, head of social and digital media at Intel APJ.

Wadia added that while there was a lack of awareness on authenticity in the blogger influencer sphere, and that the realm desperately needed regulations, ultimately it boiled down to brands exercising plain and simple common sense.

He explained that content marketing was ultimately the basis of online marketing and for it to succeed, clear definitions are needed.

“If a brand’s processes and products have flaws, those issues need to be fixed before the brand can jump onto the content bandwagon. Failure to do so will simply end up in negative publicity through the content marketing strategies put in place,” he said.

Bernas and Wadia added that content marketing needed to be viewed as a long-term strategy, but mostly, marketers treated it as they would a traditional marketing or acquisition strategy where they were in a hurry to see the ROI.

This “fear and pressure of ROI in return makes brands embark on crazy [strategies]”, added Wadia.

Building trust online

Meanwhile, Anthony Hearne, regional director for SEA, India and new markets for Outbrain, also added that today trust was a major issue in the online realm. However, he was optimistic content marketing could play a big role in pushing the needle on the trust factor and influencing digital marketing as a whole.

“For the first time, through content marketing, marketing can be valuable to consumers,” Hearne said.

Quoting the Edelman trust barometer, Hearne said that in 2015 there were more distrusters in the world then trusters. A deeper delve into the data showed that 75% of major institutions in today’s world have all declined in trust over the past 12 months. Trust in the media is down by 2%, in business down 2% and even in NGOs, down 3% globally.

Another 2013 survey by Nielsen showed the trust factor was especially low online when it came to display ads on mobile and online banner ads. However, that same Nielsen “Trust in Advertising” research illustrated that while most forms of “advertising” languish at the bottom of the trust list, towards the top of the list there were high trust opportunities that should form an important part of any brand’s digital “marketing” efforts.

Nearly 69% of consumers indicated they completely or somewhat trust branded websites – more than any other form of online or offline media. Close behind this is consumer opinions posted online (68%) and editorial content (67%) both of which can be used powerfully by brands in their digital marketing efforts.

“This shows that with content marketing, we have the fresh buds of hope sprouting out of web pages and onto our many different devices,” Hearne said.

He added that in our increasingly digitalised world, the most important thing for marketers in Southeast Asia to wrap their head around in digital marketing is the idea of trust. This is a far more human-based issue than a technical one.

He added that content has much more to offer than traditional advertising to both the brand and the consumer.

“You can finally tell your brand story online and in a way that is authentic. You’re giving your customers advice and taking them behind the scenes. Not selling a product.”

Hearne, however, noted that with the emergence of native advertising and other innovations, there were perhaps too many opportunities for brands to try to “dupe” their customers.

“Content marketing is not about camouflaging your ads on a publisher page to bait people into clicking on them or to try to get them to buy your product. It’s about being part of someone’s day,” Hearne said.

Ultimately creating and distributing spam content will hurt the industry as a whole and risk the future of publisher monetisation, he added.

In-house content creation versus external sourcing

Nissan Motor Corp’s editor-in-chief Dan Sloan added that while paying for external content creation may offer greater peace of mind, creating content in-house also has its perks.

One such arena is for a brand to have better access to speak about issues previously closed to the public that are sensitive. Addressing those issues will ultimately depict the brand in an honest light and help build a better relationship with these customers.

Sloan explained that manufacturers are known in Japan for “monozukuri” (making things), and his team saw similarities in traditional factory production and their media centre content “kojo” (factory). This led to the birth of the term “koto-zukuri” – the stories behind making things. Essentially, he added, this is what content marketing is all about.

“While it was more trial and error when the media centre began, we operate to a good degree in this production vein now, trying to learn from utilisation metrics on how to make the next round of content creation even more successful.”

Distribution partners and audience targeting

However, Sloan was also quick to add that while any brand might have a content team of experienced journalists and writers, this is not complete without the right distribution partners.

“Having an agency with a distribution strategy as part of the overall plan would be essential. To be frank, making it is often easy, but shepherding it to an audience, the right audience, is more of a challenge.”

This was a sentiment echoed by Chris Reed, global CEO of Black Marketing, who was on the panel later in the day. Reed added it was vital for brands to understand the content that would resonate with their consumers and understand which channels to use in the distribution process. Ultimately, it should not just be about content marketing, but rather content that resonates with the right audience.