Television Upfronts explain the impact of content marketing

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Showing a television and a viewer with a remote.Television is a great equalizer – everyone has one or surely knows what it is, making it easy to relate to. For instance, just about anyone could tell you their favorite program. In my case right now, it would have to be a tie between Scandal and Modern Family.

So as a devotee of those programs, my ears perked up when I heard a radio news story that specifically mentioned those shows, and as I listened it occurred to me what a compelling analogy the story made to my current focus at work on content marketing.

The news was about the Television Upfronts (“Upfronts”) which have been happening this past week in New York. Upfronts are when television networks showcase the programming they have planned for the next season to advertisers with the goal of getting them to reserve time for their commercial messages.

As I listened to the news, it occurred to me how TV programs and the way advertising is selected to air during the shows is similar to the value that content-driven approaches add to marketing. So using these two programs, let's take a closer look at how they illustrate the impact of content marketing.

Modern Family
From the title, it should be no surprise that this show likely attracts a wide range of viewers with children since it features an extended family made up of many types of families - blended families, same-sex families, December-May families, adoptive families and so on. That profile explains why air time during Modern Family would be more valuable to businesses that want to communicate with families, such as theme park operators, game and toy makers, household product distributors, multi-passenger vehicle makers, and the like.

Scandal
In the case of Scandal, you might expect the show to attract female audiences and professionals of both sexes because the main character, Olivia Pope, is a powerful lawyer in Washington, DC that stays busy with her team of “gladiators” fixing problems (“scandals”) in the ecosystem around the American President. She has a Princeton + Georgetown pedigree and happens to have an intimate relationship with the President, making her quite powerful. Based on that description, this program would be prized for ads by high-performance auto manufacturers, upscale clothing and footwear retailers, designer brands, wine makers, and the like.

The common denominator between these two shows is that their story-lines (i.e. their content) are what attract their respective audiences, so in other words:

The content is what creates the value.

And in these cases, the content of each program is a rich combination of plots and characters. With Modern Family, the everyday adventures and foibles of the families and their individual members are easy to relate to. In the case of Scandal, the allure may be the possibility of living vicariously through Olivia Pope, who wields as much power as the President himself and is not afraid to use it. Both shows are among the brightest stars of television programming today.

The big pitch for the drawing power of these stories are made during Upfronts because that’s the window of opportunity for advertisers to find the best bets to reach their customers via television and to try to snag them before their competitors do. In the real world the rest of us mortals inhabit, that process is analogous to what happens when our customers use a search engine to find answers to their business problems. In the world of TV, when these programs stay true to their story line through the season and play it out one episode at a time, they deliver on the promise of getting the attention of the expected audiences. So the value of the programs is spread over time and builds with each engaged viewer the advertisers actually intend to reach (and are successful at doing so). The same thing holds true for marketing content in any industry.

The same thing happens when you deliberately plan an array of marketing content to tell a cohesive story and then make it available in appropriate formats to help guide your customers' purchase journey and beyond. Over time, your content becomes associated with the search terms you tag them with, which needs to be consistent with the keywords you use throughout your content's narrative about that particular topic.

And each piece of the puzzle is important - if you use the wrong tags or the keywords don't match the tags, your content won't show up in search or will be suppressed in organic results because it's misleading. And the worst outcome is when your customers do find your content, but it only serves to confuse or frustrate them because it's not matched to their expectations - too technical, too vague, too many value propositions, or even lacking a clear call to action. The bottom line is this:

Neither confusion nor frustration will lead to a sales discussion.

Some people contend that Upfronts are becoming a quaint hold-over from the era when the main broadcast networks controlled all the programming on people’s television sets. After all, viewers today indeed have more options than simple broadcast programming – cable TV, streaming video, programs through computers and mobile devices to name a few. Then there must be a reason that media and advertisers still have Upfronts, right? There are 3 main reasons that come to mind:

Content is what matters most.
One might argue that on-demand viewing options and the popularity of the DVR undercut the idea that scheduled programming per the traditional broadcast networks is less valuable. I think the reason it still matters is that while programs' specific timing doesn't matter as much anymore, DVRs record the ads right along with the programs so the content of the programs attract the audiences no matter when they view them and they still get shown the ads anyway. So the process still matters for one simple reason – it’s all about the content.

Like many people, I choose to record the programs and watch them when I can, so as long as the TV networks find producers that provide content that is valued by certain types of people, they will create experiences that are valuable to the audience, to the producers and to the networks themselves. Do I also have Netflix, 150+ cable TV alternatives and other sources of programming? Yes I do, but given a choice I'd still choose to watch Modern Family and Scandal first because I like them most. Even with more channels and options, content is what matters most.

Content marketing in the B2B world and other industries works much the same way. Marketers produce content and offer it to their audiences, and how the content is consumed predominantly happens online and increasingly via mobile devices. Content can be images, short stories, research reports, cool videos, infographics and more. And the key is not to simply produce content for the sake of having something to be proud of – it needs to be valuable for the audience, it should be relevant to your value proposition, and it must be formatted to enable using and sharing.

Content matters before, during and after the sale
Google has accurately captured the essence of the online content experience with their Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) concept – the idea that your customers’ first experience with your brand is likely through online search. After that ZMOT your customers probably engage with your brand's online content for a big chunk of their purchase process before even having a sales conversation.

The common element for that critical beginning of a purchase process is content. And the experience for your customer is better if there is a smooth transition between your online content and the conversations that lead up to the sale and afterward. And the consistency of your content's message and how it relates to your value proposition is important for your marketing to work because when you integrate the main points of your value proposition into the content, you are connecting the dots between finding your content and the using and sharing it throughout their journey.

So content marketing is a lot like what’s been happening this past week in New York during Upfronts – the networks are showing program pilots and connecting the dots between the stories and the audiences they are looking for. And as the season rolls out, those pilots had better be like the programs that actually come out months later, or the advertisers will simply take their money and their 3o-second spots and find other programs to sponsor.

Content creates connections
We all have competitors and we all have customers. And the last thing we want to do is to connect our customers to our competitors. Successful marketing is about connecting with your customers in ways that they welcome the connection. The way to achieve that in today’s digital world is to create possible connections to your brand with content marketing. When you create things that your audience wants and values and you make it easy to find, they will use it and share it. And you'll be creating connections over and over again by being mindful of the customer journey before, during and after the sale.

Content marketing is decidedly an art form and involves some subjectivity. That may seem at odds with the "science" of marketing enabled by analytics, but it meshes very well with data-driven processes and ensures a prominent place for a human factor in marketing, which is important because even in a B2B context marketing is about communicating with other people. It relates the quality of your messages to the intended outcomes of your value proposition. And the intended outcomes vary depending upon where your customer is in their own journey:

  • Early in their journey, your content may simply be to help them become aware of an opportunity or deficiency.
  • Later on, your content should help them understand available options and how to frame them so the choices can be evaluated in terms of realizing the opportunity or correcting the deficiency.
  • Further still in the journey, your content needs to make the case for your solution and how it delivers on the opportunity or corrects the deficiency.
  • Finally, you need to prepare materials to affirm the purchase decision, ease the process of using your solution and allow the customer to become an advocate for your solution.

At each stage, your content ideally creates the connections that compel, convince, persuade and inform your customers so they are satisfied and confident of their choices. In that regard, content marketing heavily influences the customer experience. And you don't have to be a media mogul to create content and orchestrate those customer connections meaningfully - in our big data world it's done with analytically-driven marketing solutions such as SAS Customer intelligence paired with thoughtfully planned content marketing. Take a look and let us know what you think.

And as always - thank you for following!

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About Author

John Balla

Principal Marketing Strategist

Hi, I'm John Balla - a Digital Marketing Principal here at SAS focused on Content Strategy. I co-founded the SAS Customer Intelligence blog and served as Editor for five years. I like to find and share content and experiences that open doors, answer questions and maybe even challenge assumptions so better questions can be asked. Outside of work I stay busy with my wife and I keeping up with my 2 awesome college-age kids (Go Quakers! Go Tarheels!), volunteering for the Boy Scouts, keeping my garden green, striving for green living, expressing myself with puns, and making my own café con leche every morning. I’ve lived and worked on 3 contents and can communicate fluently in Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and passable English. Prior to SAS, my experience in marketing ranges from Fortune 100 companies to co-founding two start ups. I studied economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got an MBA from Georgetown. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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