Has Content Marketing Replaced the Big Idea in Advertising?

Posted by Garfield

It seems like everywhere we turn there is more and more emphasis on “content marketing.” According to the Content Marketing Institute: “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience - with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The consensus is that content marketing is the next digital battleground as more companies turn to content as a way to reach and engage customers, strengthen credibility, and build a passionate community of brand advocates. As consumers’ dependency on search and social media for information discovery increases, leading marketers recognize that providing quality content at the right time and in the right place will allow brands to cut through the noise and make lasting connections.

As we partner with our clients on new campaign architectures, we wanted to ask a question: does this fly in the face of the ‘big idea’ — the unifying concept behind a brand or campaign? Do we still need big ideas? Or is content creation enough?

In our opinion, the best approach is to combine their superpowers.

Content is nothing new. In a way, it’s the same longer-form marketing support that’s been needed in the past to sell any complex B2B product or service. It’s the third-party credibility (case studies, eBooks, white papers) needed to educate the market and gain trust. It’s an extension of the idea that a well-informed prospect is much more likely to turn into a customer. The difference is that the focus of modern content marketing isn’t always pitching the product, only in a later conversation (somewhere down the funnel) do we begin comparing product features, differentiators, and reasons-to-believe. The initial hook is a softer sell, focused on providing real and tangible value for the customer, without the hassle of a product pitch.

Content on its own, however, doesn’t connect all of the possible brand touch points that make up a customer ecosystem. You still need a “big idea” to grab attention, break through the clutter, and memorably communicate your brand’s message. It’s great to be known for providing valuable content, but if you’re not using that content to create a connected brand experience, you’ve missed an opportunity.

Let’s look at two of the brands that have applied this technique. One that’s more traditional, and one not so traditional for comparison’s sake.

Marketo and Pardot, both leading providers of Marketing Automation platforms, are shining stars in the realm of content marketing. Combining whitepapers, reports, eBooks, webinars and product marketing, they engage their audiences with specific (and extremely valuable) content related to multiple pain points and triggers.

Top of the funnel engagement topics range from best practices and marketing reports to tips, tricks, and tools on hot-topic conversations like mobile, social, and relationship marketing. 

Top of the funnel activity follows a soft-sell approach, barely mentioning product information. They then follow the funnel, producing content related to vendor selection, platform usage, budgeting, implementation, etc. — all clearly focused on providing value to the customer and differentiating the product offering.
A host of additional content supports the customer journey, from initial prospect customers to those in the final stages of purchasing.

The underlying big idea remains as the consistent element (the glue) connecting all marketing activity to the higher-level brand value proposition.

GE’s Imagination at Work campaign (http://www.ge.com) has done an amazing job of describing the future - according to GE. It’s a thought-leadership meets sci-fi way of extending on their decades old promise of “bringing good things to life.” Recently, they created a TV commercial that features Hugo Weaving, the actor who played Agent Smith in the Matrix movie trilogy. The big idea: that GE is an “agent of good” who reduces patient waiting time and reduces healthcare costs through the use of innovative smart machines.

The idea drives the TV commercial, which acts as the lead. Then, online content is built out around it supporting the core idea with deeper content. The big idea connects viscerally, getting you into the conversation, and more detailed content deepens the conversation and provides additional information needed to form an opinion (ultimately leading to a decision). The Agent of Good story has been watched 1.6 million times online, referring viewers to additional GE videos and content; including two case studies featuring real world examples of the change they’re making.

In this brave new world of content marketing, big ideas still serve a very important role. It’s time for agencies and marketing teams alike to master both.