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The evolution of content marketing

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It’s always been about making sure your investment is working hard, writes New Media’s CEO, Aileen Lamb. In this game, you need to be able to prove what you’ve created has had a real commercial impact on your client’s bottom line.

Content marketing has its roots in custom publications, specifically John Deere’s The Furrow, which launched in 1895. Still in production today, the original brand magazine was ahead of its time, teaching farmers ways to be more profitable. Fast forward 125 years and value creation is still at the centre of what content marketers do. Only now, we’re operating in a world of rapid tech evolution and growing economic uncertainty.

From magazines to content everywhere

Custom publishing started evolving into content marketing in the mid-2000s. New Media, which began operating as a custom publisher for brands in 1998, led the movement in South Africa. In 2011, we dropped “Publishing” from our name in a rebrand that signalled our transition to a digital-first content agency. But we’ve always remained steadfast in our belief in editorial and design excellence and the power of storytelling. Brands such as Ackermans, our first client, have stayed with us on this journey.

In our 22 years, the most important shift we’ve seen in marketing has been from one-way communication to two-way communication. Instead of assuming what customers want or need, we now know – because they tell us directly. Brands that listen to and engage in honest conversation with their customers are the ones excelling in the marketing game.

And we’re right there with them. At New Media, we pride ourselves on being able to connect brands with their customers, and the best way you can do that is on the platforms they already use. As technology has evolved, so has global content consumption habits. Over the past decade, the volume of content consumed on digital devices has increased at an incredible rate.

COVID-19 has accelerated this even more, with much of the world confined to homes sometime during the 2020 global pandemic. eMarketer reports that consumers have spent 20% more time on the internet on their phones during self-isolation. And a Qualtrics report says consumers have been spending 29% more time on social media per day. YouTube has seen a 44% increase in usage, while Instagram has seen a 32% increase.

We’ve certainly picked this up on our food brands. Food24 (owned by New Media) and Woolworths TASTE saw a 78% and a 181% increase in unique users respectively when lockdown level 5 was in effect.

From vanity metrics to true ROI

If you want to connect with a customer, it’s clear that you have to offer them content that’s relevant to them on their preferred platform. There is a tendency to stop there though, to focus on views, shares, likes and comments. But true ROI comes in real commercial value. That’s why, at New Media, all the work we do for our clients is to achieve a specific business outcome. We measure customer engagement through to point of sale and beyond.

A great example of this is in the WCellar wine club we launched for Woolworths, which has resulted in a double-digit growth in wine sales for the client. For the first eight months of the project, Woolworths saw a return in sales of three times the amount they had spent in content and on promotions.

It’s not only sales that affects the bottom line though; in some cases, ROI is about saving a client money. Calls to Vodacom’s customer care line have dropped by many thousands as a direct result of our SEO-optimised how-to content on the Vodacom now! blog. Using a formula developed by the client, we’ve been able to determine that these posts save Vodacom around a quarter of a million rand a month. Vodacom customers – and, as a bonus, their competitors’ customers – are finding this content via Google.

How do you determine what’s of value to your client’s customers though? And how do you strategically plan your content to make sure it aligns with what they’re looking for, ultimately leading to ROI? Market research and consumer insights are key to New Media’s way of working. The digital revolution has allowed us to read people in a way print never could.

We put a lot of effort into researching our client’s consumers – who they are, what they do and what keeps them up at night. We use a variety of platforms and partners to research consumers’ behaviours, needs and perceptions. This gives us a pretty good idea of our audiences’ preferences, but we also consider our clients’ marketing calendars. By layering the two, we’re able to ensure a balance between what our clients want and what their audiences need.

But it doesn’t end there. As a piece of content goes live, we monitor its performance so we are able to make changes in real time to deliver the best campaigns. Such is the continuous cycle of improvement we employ at New Media.

The data-driven digital journey we’ve taken has allowed us to continue adding value to our clients. Years ago, we began to work with our clients to purposively ramp up their digital migration. This has kept them relevant to consumers, diversified our portfolio and further reduced our dependency on ad revenues.

From digital first to interactive experience

New Media completed its acquisition of established digital solutions and dev house Swipe iX in June 2020. This brought full-stack app and web development and UX and interaction design into our stable. Marrying our storytelling expertise with solid, scalable tech solutions is the next step in our evolution.

Swipe iX also specialises in emerging technologies. This will allow us to unlock even more innovation in our campaigns and broaden our distribution methods.

Think machine learning systems that target the most relevant content to those who would most benefit from it. Or big data-powered gamification techniques that can help motivate interactions with content. AR and VR platforms, as they continue to mature, will play a much bigger part in creating immersive content experiences. As will the use of conversational agents in crafting interactive storytelling experiences.

These are not just “cool”, they pack a real punch in terms of telling engaging brand stories, improving customer affinity and retention.

As budgets come under increased scrutiny in these tough times, New Media is proud to be able to provide additional value and expertise. It allows us to service our existing client base at an even higher level and creates compelling opportunities for new clients.

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