Industry April 2014

Connect and Engage

Kei Sakaguchi

Educational, entertaining and relevant content are more important than ever

  • The best ads circulate among networks of trusted friends
  • Wow factor a critical part of targeted communications
  • Sony was an early leader in word-of-mouth marketing

In 2014, content marketing is considered a very important method for connecting and engaging with your target social community.

The central goal of this method is to create content that people want to share with their networks of friends, colleagues, family members and followers. This form of “connect & engage” marketing is nothing new to seasoned marketers, as it is a well-documented truth that the best ads are spread among trusted friends.

In this social media-centric world, “content is king” is becoming a more significant theme to all marketers.

As a core strategy, content marketing emphasises achievement of marketing goals through a firm’s delivery of entertaining, educational and relevant content on the company website, as well as in blogs and newsletters—not with products and services themselves.

When I worked at Sony Corporation, the era was still analogue, and our PR and marketing communications centred on conventional channels such as press releases and print ads.

However, Sony’s legendary chief executive and master communicator, Akio Morita, taught us the crucial marketing imperative of incorporating a wow factor in communications with target consumers. Morita was also a strong proponent of the idea that “everything communicates”.

The Sony Building in Tokyo’s Ginza district was his brilliant idea, intended as one of the first comprehensive corporate showrooms in Japan to deliver various brand messages directly to consumers. He orchestrated a wide variety of marketing campaigns utilising live events that created waves of consumer buzz.

A typical example of such methods was the launch in 1979 of the first-generation Walkman cassette tape player.

To ensure maximum appeal to music-loving teens and 20-somethings, he gathered a group of young, fashionable roller skaters in Yoyogi Park and had them cheerfully skate in front of TV cameras, each with a Walkman.

Morita was also present, cruising through the park hand-in-hand with a young girl. Before the emergence of digital and social communication platforms, Morita knew the power of word-of-mouth and buzz in marketing.

Decades later at Coca-Cola Japan Co, Ltd., I learned the impact of being viral and of having owned media (channels owned and controlled by a firm, such as websites or blogs) in marketing communications, particularly in this digital and social communication era.

Coca-Cola’s “happiness vending machine” video on YouTube is one major example of effective use of viral messaging.

Coca-Cola Park, the firm’s online portal where visitors can engage with a variety of brand and campaign event-related information, games and quizzes, eventually grew into powerful owned media, with over 12mn registered members acquired over several years.

In essence, the most critical takeaways from these corporate campaigns were the importance of: (1) knowing and understanding your target community, (2) connecting and engaging with them using relevant content, and eventually (3) acquiring earned media (publicity gained through non-direct advertising methods such as word-of-mouth) and brand advocacy through your owned media efforts.

In fact, these are the core marketing communications strategies that have long been deployed by leading global brands, and that have proven effective in both the analogue and digital communication eras.

What clearly differentiates content marketing in the analogue age from that of the social age is that the latter is supported by many digital tools, which are used to gather and analyse raw customer conversations and identify target social communities and potential influencers.

Further, current marketers are equipped with far more channels to disseminate fun, educational and relevant content to their target audience, such as social networking services, company websites, emails, blogs, online videos, webinars and e-books.

These channels also expand the potential reach of every message, as users have multiple mediums by which to share content with their networks.

Many experts are offering advice on this evolving topic.

Digital advertising and media analyst Rebecca Lieb said in her book, Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher–How to Use Content to Make Online and in Social Media, that once you own a company website, Facebook page or Twitter account, you are already a publisher. It is then critical, she argues, to have a clear media strategy and be meticulous about the appropriateness of your content.

At my current employer, we are now carrying out a content marketing strategy especially focused on thought-leadership blogging. Even in the business-to-business space, the end goal of creating valuable content that people want to share with their associates remains the same.

Thus, in today’s age of viral tweets, Yelp reviews and Facebook fan pages, when a simple post can reach millions of viewers, the connect & engage marketing mantra (generating widespread word-of-mouth recommendations) holds even more weight.