Brandopolis is nigh; the history of content marketing and its future from hereon in

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Brandopolis is coming....

Behind the scenes we’ve been working hard on Brandopolis - our industry report that explores how some of the world’s leading brands make their mark online. The report includes hard won stories from the likes of Honda, Maybelline, Dell and Facebook to name but a few.

We’ll be launching the full report on 23rd October - to be one of the first to see it, register your interest here. In the meantime, here’s another post from Lydia Laurenson, who helped create the report, to whet your appetite ahead of the project’s official release later next month.

Content marketing is getting lots of buzz lately.  Yet not all the buzz has generated good content.  A lot of it is just plain dull - or worse, impersonal.  But even content about content should not forget good storytelling.  So I have been genuinely excited to work with Distilled on creating a research-based, story-laden report about content strategy: my assignment was to hunt for tales of great content marketing at top brands.

Personally, I suspect that good content (i.e. marketing that’s attractive because it’s interesting, rather than forcing a hard sell or relying on a captive audience) has always been one of the most effective forms of marketing.  It’s certainly not new.  General Electric, for example, released a branded comic called “Adventures Inside The Atom: The Story of Nuclear Energy” back in 1948:

One smart person I spoke to during my story-hunt was Paul Marcum, GE’s Director of Digital Marketing and Programming, who agreed with me that “Content marketing isn’t new.  If you look at the origins of so much on TV, for the longest time there were branded programs.  GE was also the sponsor of trivia shows back in the day.”

GE’s digital strategy is widely admired, to the extent that the brand is prioritized for new opportunities by digital platforms themselves.  They hold a seat on Facebook’s Clients Council, which helps Facebook figure out its ongoing approach to marketing.  When Instagram was developing Instagram Video, the platform notified GE about the timing of the feature’s release so GE could be quick to capitalize on it.  In fact, I heard about the GE comics because GE posted the image on Facebook; GE’s clever approach to content and social media continues to serve them well.

Similarly, the luxury brand Louis Vuitton began publishing attractive City Guides 15 years ago, which help trend-spotters live the high life across the world.  Their recent innovations include the well-regarded arts and culture site Nowness, which showcases beauty across the world.

Yet while content marketing has been around for ages, we have only recently been able to measure how well good content performs, compared to pushy hard sells.  We can also use content to gather unparalleled data: for example, Nowness encourages its users to connect their various social profiles, and it enables users to “Love” (i.e. favorite) content they like which, of course, gives the parent brand extensive trend data.

Alongside marketers’ improved measurements, consumers now have improved ability to opt out of media they don’t like.  Michael Brenner, the VP of Marketing and Content Strategy at the business-software brand SAP, put it this way: “There’s not a statistic in the world that shows people opting in more.  They’re opting out more!”  He also noted: “Content marketers have to ask whether this is going to help the customer, or if it’s selfish promotion that increasingly in today’s world is getting tuned out.  We need to courageously push back on over-promotion and truly put our customers first.”

Finally, the disruption affecting fields like journalism and publishing has pushed many journalists and publications to seek new profit models — which often leads into the content game.  (Full disclosure: I’m a journalist.)  This has not been without controversy.  Plenty of journalists and artists feel deeply suspicious of marketing.  Alexis Madrigal, an editor at The Atlantic, characterized GE’s antique comic with the loaded term “propaganda,” which is ironic given some of The Atlantic’s recent forays into content marketing.

Personally, I think these shifts in strategy are exciting, and that they’re yielding both interesting tactics and entertaining content.  There are certainly issues of ethical and artistic integrity, but those issues have been with marketing since its inception, too.  Ultimately, I agree with Stephanie Losee, Managing Editor for Dell: “I’m finding it intriguing as a sort of content anthropologist,” she said.  ”At the beginning of a shift in business, I find it so interesting how different companies go about it.“

Lydia Laurenson helped create our upcoming report Brandopolis, which showcases the best digital strategy by top brands.