IN CONVERSATION WITH SEAN WORRALL
CIO Irene Gomez speaks with Sean Worrall, Managing Director of content.sg
Consumers today are shutting off the traditional world of marketing. They rely on their DVR to skip television advertising, often ignore magazine advertising, and now have become so adept at online “surfing” that they can take in online information without a care for banners or buttons (making them irrelevant).
Smart marketers understand that traditional marketing is becoming less and less effective by the minute, and that there has to be a better way.
Enter Content Marketing!
Q: How would you define content marketing?
I don’t want to define it because I don’t see it as something new or special. Marketing is a business discipline that includes communication, but it’s also a strategic and financial role. What interests me is the evolution of communication media, and changing consumption habits. And what we currently find at the intersection of those two lines are opportunities to lower costs and raise revenue. The opportunities are new, but the principals of communication are not. Brands have been doing content marketing for a long time.
In 1891 Dr. August Oetker, a German pharmacist, developed a baking powder which he branded as Backin. Baking powder had been around for nearly 50 years before that point, but Oetker’s formula had a USP – a long shelf life that made it a more cost effective purchase than other baking powders. Naturally, he patented his formula to get a defensible competitive advantage. But he wasn’t content to simply offer a superior product. He thought long and hard about how he could get housewives to use more of his product. His solution was to pakage it in individual sachets – one sachet activated 500g of flour – and he printed recipe ideas on each one. Sales skyrocketed and he made a fortune (and, incidentally the Oetker-Gruppe is still around today with annual revenues of 11 billion euros).
I love this story because it very neatly encapsulates what I consider to be great content: it is helpful, actionable, strategic, and profit focused. Certainly he built brand loyalty and boosted sales, but he didn’t ostensibly achieve it by shouting about himself and his clever formula. He helped his target audience to fix a personal pain point – “What on earth will I cook for dinner tonight?”
Q: How is content marketing different from other forms of marketing?
It’s not different. A good salesman will share a lot of information about himself, his company, and his product. His aim is to make sure that you feel totally at ease with your decision to buy, and that you will come back and buy from him again. Changes in technology, media, and consumption now make it possible to have that kind of dialogue with all your customers, regardless of the business sector you operate in.
Q: Why is it important to businesses, big or small?
It’s a productivity thing. It offers the potential to reduce the cost of sales line in the P&L. Every business leader wants to raise marginal revenue and reduce marginal costs. Effective content marketing differentiates you from your competitors at the discovery phase, and drives your prospects more quickly down the purchase pathway. It’s a cost effective way to sell with confidence, and respect for your audience.
Q: What do you think is the biggest content marketing mistake?
Have you ever read or viewed branded content that makes you go: “So what?”
That’s the biggest mistake that some players are making today. Content should be relevant, sincere, and useful. I have no problem with content that is fun or quirky, but it has to be anchored to the goals of customer acquisition and retention. If your aim is to build brand affinity, then help me to understand what is distinctive and helpful about your brand. Pictures of cute kids and cats interacting with your logo don’t say anything useful. I’m exaggerating for effect there, but the key message is: don’t conflate the idea of content marketing with social media – one is a discipline, the other is a channel.
I think some B2B marketers are managing content very well, and they are getting better all the time. I feel that this is because they have a better foundation to build on. They already understand the complex jigsaw puzzle of information flow that’s needed to win a major client for (say) a multi-million dollar enterprise technology investment. B2C players can learn a lot from B2B.
Q: Creating and maintaining a successful content marketing strategy is hard work. Can you share some tips on creating an effective strategy?
I’m glad you acknowledged that it is hard work. My top tip would be to recognise that, and not to be tempted to simply throw money at the problem. It needs a collaborative commitment of time.
Next, draw a visual map of your customer’s journey and try to capture his state of mind at each step along the way. I find it helpful to do this as a role-play exercise because, if you verbalise the questions and answers, your content will be more specific and helpful. By comparison if you simply write down a generic topic like “trust”, you won’t get very far. If you’re an investment manager, I want to know how you think, and you’ll be around for the long term. If you’re selling curry puffs, I don’t care much about that – I want to know that your kitchen is clean and you use good ingredients!
Finally, encourage open collaboration from all around the organisation, and create a mechanism for people to submit suggestions. With my own clients, I’m evangelical about this. What I love most is when I get an email from a staff member I haven’t met before (e.g. from the customer call centre) and they say something like: “This could be stupid, but I’ve had an idea. I don’t know if you can use it, but…”, and they typically go on to describe a very interesting insight or experience. It is never stupid or a waste of time because that process often leads to great pieces of content.
Q: How do you see content marketing changing over the next 5 years?
Change is constant but I don’t think the next 5 years will be quite as disruptive as the previous 10 years. That’s not to say that there won’t be winners and losers – there will be. There are still agencies and clients who haven’t fully gotten to grips with digital media, and traditional media owners who haven’t figured out their response. But it’s not the same existential crisis as before.
There’s now a whole generation of tech-savvy marketers moving into senior positions, and many of the old old-timers have shifted up the learning curve too. There’s a foundation of knowledge and experience now, and that makes life-long learning and adaptation easier.
On the client side I think we’ll see some reconfiguring of marketing departments. We’ll obviously see a bigger role for writers, and there will be more in-house writers than we’ve seen before. But I tend to think they will come from the journalistic tradition, rather than the creative agency copywriting one: business-literate researchers, who know how to tell a story. PR and strategic comms people already have those skills, so I think they will take more of a leadership role. And we’ll see more B2B marketers crossing over into B2C (but I feel that will be a one-way street).
Overall, I think we’ll start to see brands communicating with more substance, and less fluff: a more sincere dialogue with customers that will redefine our notions of ‘image’.
Sean Worrall is a corporate storyteller and the founder of content.sg, a marketing services firm with a focus on customer purchase and retention pathways. A former business consultant and trainer, Sean was the MD of an international advertising agency before establishing his own practice. He is a naturalised Singapore citizen and has an MBA from Warwick Business School.