Is your brand guilty of content pollution?

In my former life as a journalist, I was always looking for a good story, and that usually began by identifying the challenges faced by a particular industry. In the business world, it was digital technology and the rise of the bring-your-own-device phenomenon; for Hollywood it was piracy and peer-to-peer sharing, while the music industry was being disrupted by Spotify and, sadly, shows such as American Idol.

For us as marketers, I believe that our greatest challenge today is content pollution.

Content isn’t anything new – it has always been the bedrock of a good communications in some form. And despite the current industry hype, content marketing isn’t new either. The problem we have today actually is the digital media explosion has contaminated brands’ view of content.

The good news is this means, as marcomms professionals, that we’re doing our jobs well. Brands have finally woken up to the need to engage with their consumers via relevant, targeted content marketing.

Unfortunately content is being produced to please algorithms, not people.

It’s all too often neither relevant nor targeted, but aimlessly pushed out, polluting consumers’ lives. It’s like playing the numbers game with a machine gun in the hope of registering a hit, rather than the careful, considered, highly targeted approach of a sniper.

Content pollution is becoming a very real problem for both brands and consumers. There’s just so much stuff out there it is becoming increasingly difficult to find content that is relevant, interesting and entertaining. And this is worrying.

Take native advertising, which is when brands provide online content in the context of the user experience (think advertorials for the digital world). Our industry is going wild for native advertising today, and when done well it can be enormously powerful. It takes all the best bits of editorial content – trust, authenticity, insight, relevance – and carefully weaves the brand message into it.

However, do it badly and it can be the worst kind of content pollution. It can obscure and dilute the user experience, and ultimately damage consumer sentiment towards a brand. This is the reason why at the moment traditional editorial sees engagement rates of about 70%, while native ads only see about 24%.

So how do brands engage increasingly fickle consumers, for whom the next story is just a swipe away?

One model that is being touted as a future solution is the Guardian’s recent seven-figure deal with Unilever. The leading UK media title recently launched a branded content division, Guardian Labs, which works with brands to tell their stories in a compelling, authentic manner to create “long-term, engaging commercial partnerships”. The twist? Unilever gets no editorial sign-off on any content.

You only have to look at the B2C space to see how brands are finding innovative ways to engage with time-poor consumers with unusual content. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is one example of an initiative that turned every single ad model on its head to produce one of the most compelling ads in recent years. Elsewhere, IBM has invested heavily into its strategy, with IBMblr just one example of how it produces original content to engage its traditionally cynical IT audience.

The list goes on: BA’s lauded, multi-channel #LookUp campaign; Chipotle’s transmedia Scarecrow spot; and Google’s Think Quarterly online magazine.

Big brands are starting to find new and interesting ways to tell their stories and engage with consumers. But those marketing departments are often operating on multi-million pound budgets and virtually unlimited resources. So what is the answer for the rest of us, particularly those in the B2B space?

In my mind the answer is environmentally friendly content marketing. Content that is objective, relevant, insightful and original. Content that is backed up by an insight and then an idea, and supported by a carefully curated community. Content that is well-researched and targeted, but simultaneously agile enough to be relevant to emerging trends.

There’s no one right type of content, it can take many forms. But if done well and done right, it will be a breath of fresh air in the market for both consumers and brands alike.

[Image from: Shutterstock]

The writer is Nick Thorpe, content editor from Bite