Mastering content marketing

Artificial intelligence and digital search capabilities are forcing businesses to reconsider their content marketing strategies. But experts warn that in the race to modernise content streams marketers must not lose sight of the fundamentals

More than two decades ago, the dot-com boom ushered in a new era of content marketing. It was a watershed moment for brands and marketing teams. Newfound digital mediums combined with the growing proliferation of connected devices greatly expanded the space available for advertisements and opened up new possibilities for content streams and formats. 

Now, technology is once again revolutionising digital advertising and branded content. Generative AI and data analytics are transforming the way that content is created and directed to potential consumers. Nearly three in five marketers are already deploying generative AI tools in written content creation and copywriting. 

At the same time, social media is changing the way consumers discover and explore content. Google and social platforms such as Facebook and TikTok are now de facto gatekeepers that determine which content is likely to be seen and by whom. Understanding and adapting to the algorithms used to make those decisions is a full-time job at some organisations.

Rapid advances in technology are also raising customers’ expectations of brand experiences. For instance, each time a marketing team uses technology to achieve a higher, more consistent standard of content personalisation, the base expectation for content personalisation everywhere is raised.

For content marketing teams, success in this new era of data and AI will hinge on the ability to develop content that conforms to timeless marketing principles, but also to direct and express that content in innovative ways enabled by emerging technologies.

Adapting your content strategy to digital technologies

Marketing leaders are by no means blind to the opportunities presented by new digital channels, data and AI. But as with any nascent technology, challenges to adoption and implementation remain.

Claire Dormer, global head of content at travel company TUI, says that although there is a lot of hype around AI, the key consideration for her team is how to prepare a business case for its use. To do this, her team has adopted a test-and-learn approach. “At the moment, while we have a lot of tests going, we’re not investing huge amounts,” she says. 

TUI is using AI to observe consumer sentiment online more efficiently. The firm’s AI-driven tool tracks interest and intent in a search category or a piece of content and then automatically creates a bespoke web page for that search profile. The AI also generates a brief for TUI’s team to write and produce content tailored to different search profiles. 

AI is not, however, left to its own devices. TUI has developed a “co-pilot” mentality around AI, meaning that there is human involvement in every use case. The content team ultimately decides whether or not to endorse the AI’s content recommendation, which protects against incidents where the algorithm has gone rogue and selected an inappropriate subject. 

Can AI really help to create better content?

Content marketing is a key element of the overall mix for retail optometrist Specsavers. Lisa Hale, head of consumer PR, social media and brand activation, says her team has carefully considered the role of technology in its content strategy.

“As a brand, you’re on the back foot in the digital world,” she says, pointing to the sheer volume of branded content that consumers are exposed to. In the social media age, Hale says, consumers could be seeing 10,000 ads per day. 

The oversupply of commercial content is self-perpetuating. Fierce competition for customer attention motivates marketing teams to drive up impressions, thereby increasing the chances of being seen. Hale worries that AI, with its potential to create content on a larger scale, will further exacerbate the content surplus.

But rather than merely churning out more content, AI can be used instead to improve the quality of content and target audiences more effectively. One way content marketers are doing this is by using AI to ‘scrape’ search-engine requests and social search for relevant data on specific audiences and platforms. More than two in five marketers are already using AI to conduct keyword research.

“We want to know what people are talking about, searching for and then how we can add value to that conversation rather than just broadcasting our business-first messaging to them,” says Hale. “AI helps us to do that, then we add the ‘human-ness’ to it – the authenticity – rather than let the AI create the content for us.”

Personalisation versus customer segmentation

Online auto marketplace Carwow is underpinned by a strong content operation that includes reams of car data, reviews and social video. Chief marketing officer Ben Carter explains that so far the firm is using AI in functional tasks, such as automatically resizing digital ad formats to fit different platforms and translating car reviews for international audiences. 

Carter says that there is future scope for training AI to direct content to specific audiences at distinct moments. “The more we can acquire traffic effectively and efficiently the better,” he says, admitting that “AI is key to helping us do that.”

For Dormer’s team at TUI, content personalisation is more about customer segmentation than individual personalisation. 

“We now know which customer segments see and engage with us for content marketing,” she says. “Are they going to be looking on Instagram or TikTok – and for what types of content? So we create content that’s relevant in that channel.”

TUI is also using technology to inform real-time content across channels. The company’s ‘discover where’s hot when’ concept aims to identify the holiday destinations guaranteed to offer warm weather at specific times. The format started as an SEO initiative but is now being combined with AI to identify necessary updates and quickly adapt the content to different digital platforms.

Content marketers must not lose sight of the fundamentals

Despite its enormous potential, marketing teams must understand that technology alone is no silver bullet. Marketers must not abandon fundamental content-marketing principles in the implementation of new technologies. Leaders in the field caution that AI’s output must be guided by the brand strategy. 

For instance, LinkedIn’s content and marketing campaigns balance authoritative messaging and humour. Tom Pepper, senior director, LinkedIn marketing solutions, EMEA & LATAM, says the site’s distinct tone of voice is increasingly important as content marketers seek to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. 

“In the age of AI, marketers are recognising the importance of emotion, storytelling and authenticity to connect with their audiences and they’re building content that is creative and humorous,” says Pepper. 

Structuring and presenting content in an engaging way is essential to creating a compelling and authentic narrative; a story people will identify with. Hale says: “You need a really strong headline and you have to land the key points in the first couple of sentences – not necessarily the brand message, but the stuff that is going to make people read the rest of your article.”

We want to know how we can add value to the conversation rather than just broadcasting our business-first messaging

Or, convince them to watch the rest of your video. Specsavers’ ‘Stories’, for instance, is a video series that appears on social channels including Facebook and YouTube and showcases real examples of how people’s lives have been transformed for the better through eye tests.

Hale explains that this output is at odds with conventional formats sold by digital platforms. Specsavers’ own research reveals that longer formats – between 30 seconds and three minutes, as opposed to the more commonly used three- to 15-second videos – work better in delivering higher levels of consideration and attention for the brand. Although longer formats may put some viewers off, the Specsavers team has found that those formats allow for more compelling storytelling.

Pepper adds that marketing teams must consider the storyteller as well as the story being told. He points out that many brands are “leveraging credible voices to build brand equity”. Carwow, for instance, employs Mat Watson, the British motor journalist, as its chief content officer. In addition to his functional role in the business, Watson is a key ambassador for the brand and the face of its YouTube channel, which has nearly 9 million subscribers.

What is your firm’s content proposition?

Of course, branded content must be guided by clear principles that underpin a firm’s wider marketing strategy. For Dormer, this means “defining not only our brand proposition, but also our content proposition – we’re trying to make every moment richer.” She adds that the content proposition helps determine the tone of the company’s messaging.

Hale agrees, explaining that Specsavers has developed a framework to ensure that its content focuses on three key messages: “Expert care tailored to individuals, innovation in healthcare and care for all.”

AI, then, serves an auxiliary role. Dormer says that AI has helped her team adapt to changes in SEO and social search, while continuing to produce relevant content. But the technology is only a co-pilot. Humans set the brand strategy and ensure that the output conforms to the tone and content proposition. 

These are the features that truly differentiate content. And, for now, ensuring content is to a high standard is a job better left to the captains, not the co-pilots.

How technology is transforming content search and discovery

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