Industry April 2015

Power of the pen

The rise of content marketing

  • More firms prefer paid content articles to display ads
  • High editorial standards key to keep trust of readers
  • Paid content can be informative, interesting and useful

Display advertising in print publications has seen a significant change in trend, thanks to digital and social media. In this information age, firms have embraced new rules of content marketing.

Knowledge sharing and informative advertising are now being embraced over traditional visual display advertising with catchy copy, stunning images and bold call-to-action statements that did the job in the past.

This does not mean that businesses and brands no longer see value in display ads; as a matter of fact, they do. I believe they can benefit more than ever, as fewer firms opt to use them.

It is, rather, that marketing directors and public relations executives are increasingly preferring to educate and inform their target audiences of the value they can offer, to share knowledge and industry insights, and to keep their audience up to date on developments at their organisation.

As this landscape continues to change, debate often arises about what readers expect and how they may react to outright advertorial or promotional content that may seem like a firm or an executive blowing their own horn.

Yet, how does this content marketing differ from display adverts that openly promote an organisation’s products, services or solutions?

In the past, magazines and dailies had pages and pages of display advertising; readers had come to accept them, so why the fuss now? Much before the rise of social media and content marketing, kiji-kokoku (paid publicity) had already been the norm in Japan.

Our research has shown that publishers and magazines that fail to set high editorial standards and clearly distinguish content that is genuine editorial from publicity or promotional content give the industry a bad reputation.

The result is a loss in reader confidence. After all, how can a reader trust the quality, content or authority of a publication that blatantly sells their front cover to the highest bidder every issue, as one English-language business magazine in Tokyo does?

Smart publishers want individuals on the cover only if their profile, achievements or personality warrant it: This attracts readers and establishes credibility.

Savvy readers can see right through advertising that masquerades as interesting business content, but that does not mean they are averse to content that has been paid for.

Recently, a business executive told me that her boss—a senior business leader at a major US retailer—regularly shares with her team paid content that she finds useful, informative or interesting. So it is not all bad news.

Here are a few tips on sharing your interesting content and at the same time spending your advertising budgets well.

  • Understand the audience you are trying to reach and impress; overt self-promotion has the opposite result.
  • When deciding what you would like to promote, ask yourself if paid content is the right approach, or if display advertising would achieve the same goal and results.
  • Do not publish paid content just for the sake of it, to see your name in print or picture on the front cover; it would be a disservice and a waste of advertising budget.
  • Make sure the content you are sharing, or the product or service you are offering, is of value to the reader.
  • Accept the publication’s editorial standards, guidelines and edits. These are in place for a reason: to share uniform well-edited content with busy readers. It is a job for professionals; let them do what they do best.
  • If you have interesting content to share but do not have time to write it or know how to start, ask a professional to do it for you.
  • When choosing the publication, do not simply decide based on the target audience promised. Take time to read back issues thoroughly, check the balance between regular editorial content that is informative, interesting and, most important, written by professional journalists and content that is marked as sponsored, publicity or advertorial.
  • Ask how many times the publication has been redesigned: this would show if it has the long-term confidence to invest in itself and offer value to advertisers. This shows it cares.

A well-balanced, informative publication engages its readers. Such readers are more than likely going to see, read and appreciate that content.

After all, what purpose is a magazine with which readers do not interact? It might as well be used to wrap fish and chips.