‘Brand Editorial Marketing’ (or BEM) is providing businesses with new ways to engage with customers, increase brand awareness and dominate search terms on Google. But what is it, and how does it work?
Andrew Nixon, CEO of BEM agency Thinkpiece, provides this comprehensive guide – just don’t confuse it with content marketing…
All brands seem to know they need ‘content’.
Their marketing consultants tell them. Their SEO people tell them. Their social media people, their PR people, the LinkedIn articles they read, the blogs they follow, everything tells them that they must have content.
And they agree. They understand that they need content if they want an effective presence on social media, if they want to be found on Google, if they want to be loved by their customers and get repeat buys and word-of-mouth and so on and so on.
They also know that internet ads are producing worse ROI, and that paid search is getting very expensive. So they’re open to finding ways around that and they have a feeling that ‘content’ is the answer.
The problem is that a big, difficult question immediately arises, namely: What exactly is ‘content’? Is it longform blogs, or click-bait listicles, or Instagram pics of puppies, or wacky videos that might just go viral?
And after that question there are more questions, just as difficult. Such as: how do we go about producing content that is (a) good, and (b) actually helps our business?
How do we then continue producing consistently good content on an ongoing basis, for weeks, months, years?
How much resource should we throw at this? And how do we know if it’s working?
This article provides some answers to those questions, and addresses:
- The commercial trends that mean that brands really do need content
- The mistakes brands make when attempting ‘content marketing’
- Why what they really should be doing, when attempting content marketing, is strategic brand editorial marketing
I’ll look at each of those in turn. But first, two big issues for brands…
Big issue 1: Google gets cleverer every day
Let’s be brutally honest: nobody knows the mind of Google, except Google itself.
But although only Google truly understands its own algorithms, we can all easily understand what Google wants to achieve. It simply wants to deliver to its users the best and most relevant page on the web for whatever phrase they have searched.
The entire SEO industry with its black hat and grey hat techniques was built on trying to second-guess Google’s algorithms and effectively ‘trick’ Google into thinking that you have the best page for a phrase. The trouble is that Google keeps outsmarting these techniques and, in the end, Google always wins.
Therefore, it is increasingly the case that the easiest way to be at the top of Google for a search phrase is simply to make sure you write the best page on the internet for that phrase.
I don’t mean to say that SEO knowledge and techniques are obsolete – you still need to do everything you can to make sure Google is aware of your page’s existence. But I do believe that the emphasis of successful SEO is shifting from a need to have technical skills to a need to have editorial and copywriting skills.
Big issue 2: ‘There’s an ad bubble. It’s gonna blow!’
An alarming number of business futurist types think we’re heading for something like a total meltdown in the online advertising industry. See, for example, this doom-laden piece: ‘There’s an ad bubble. It’s gonna blow.’
It might or might not be as bleak as that, but there’s no doubt that in 2016 advertisers are facing a lot of serious challenges, including but not limited to:
The rise of the ad-blocking apps – the positive encouragement of ad-blocking apps by Apple is a strategic move to hurt Google, but it’s also a potentially devastating one for the online ad industry. It’s not only insiders who have noticed this, the mainstream media has picked up on it too (see this in The Sunday Times about an impending ‘Ablockalypse’ that could spell ‘the end of the internet as we now know it’.)
The increasingly obvious ineffectiveness of banner ads – In October 2015, the Internet Advertising Bureau admitted that banners have to be served an eye-watering 1,250 times before someone clicks on one. On top of that, there are increasing concerns about fraudulent activity in reporting stats about impressions and click-thrus, as well as unethical charging practices.
The negative effect of ads on brand image – A lot of people really hate pop-ups, screen-takeovers, pre-roll and auto-roll video ads, blinking ads and the fact that your ad slows the download time of the page they’ve landed on.
But it’s worse than that, because it seems a lot of people just hate all ads – even good, smart, funny ads – and there’s a worry that the mere act of seeing one will actually make them resent your brand.
So if not ads, how else do brands cut through online?
The answer, obviously, is through some kind of content marketing. So…
What is content marketing?
At the risk of stating the very obvious, digital ‘content’ is anything people want to read, watch or listen to via their various devices; so content marketing is a way for brands to get to these people through their devices by sharing stories and information, with the aim of maintaining their position and increasing their reach.
The trouble is that the term ‘content marketing’ is currently used to refer to all sorts of different things, including:
- Promoting special offers on social media
- Broadcasting ‘firm news’ type material (e.g. we’re ready for Christmas and here’s a picture of our office tree)
- ‘Curating’ content (which really just means RTing stuff written by other people)
- Sponsoring others’ content
- Placing advertorials in online publications.
All perfectly valid commercial activities. But they’re all aimed at people at different stages of the sales funnel, and they’re very often conducted in isolation from any kind of coherent marketing strategy.
They also all have their own problems….
The content scattergun
Virtually all B2C brands think they’re doing some form of ‘content marketing’. The painful truth is that most are probably just firing scattergun content into the ether.
A typical content marketing output for a niche B2C brand consists of a mix of: ‘firm news’ style pics and posts on a blog; putting promotions and special offers on Twitter and Facebook; varyingly awkward attempts to jump on trending hashtags; and haphazard RTs and shares (sometimes rather grandly called ‘curating’ content).
If that’s you, well, it’s probably not doing your brand much harm. But is it actually doing it any good?
The problems with a content scattergun approach are:
- There’s no clear aim, and therefore, no way of knowing if it’s helping with anything
- There’s no strategy for targeting people at the different stages of the sales funnel
- There’s a lack of control over quality, frequency and consistency
- There’s no thought given to how content can help with search.
Alternatively, by ‘content marketing’ brands sometimes mean traditional PR style activities, but done online. So that could be sponsoring content in online publications, or placing advertorial articles on popular blogs or newspaper websites.
Again, this is a perfectly valid and often highly effective marketing tool, especially for one-off campaigns. But it is also often expensive, short-lived and has no great long-term benefit: providing a sudden one-off hit of leads and sales, rather than a steady, sustained flow.
It also does nothing for brand loyalty and customer relations – which are key benefits of good content marketing.
All of which is why I believe that when brands divert any sort of resource to ‘content marketing’, what they should really try to do is brand editorial marketing.
Starting to think like an editor
Brand editorial marketing (BEM) is, in essence, a way to approach content marketing strategically and methodically, so that you avoid the problems of the content scattergun described above and ensure your content efforts support your business goals.
It means designing content strategies, and planning ongoing series of posts that all refer to each other and add up to a coherent whole.
It means that for every item of content that you post or broadcast on social media, you ask yourself questions like: who do we think is going to read this, and why do we want them to read it? Does this help deepen our brand position? Does it make sense in the context of everything else we’ve posted? Is this helping us get found by the kind of prospects we want? What follows from it – and what do we post next?
It means relentlessly focusing on quality – on content that is engaging, interesting, worthwhile to read – so that when someone has read one of your posts, they’re glad they spent a few of their precious minutes on it and will feel positively about your brand, instead of resenting you for wasting their screen time.
In other words, in addition to the copywriting and marketing skills you already have, you introduce into your content marketing proper editorial skills.
These skills will enable you to write or commission the right content to a consistent high standard, so that you produce a constant flow of engaging content that adds up to a coherent body, and that reinforces your marketing strategy.
Implementing brand editorial marketing
In practical terms, for most B2C brands a good brand editorial marketing strategy will start with a blog. This will be the source from which your targeted social media broadcasting flows, and should be incorporated into the main website so that you gain the search benefits.
The next step is to start thinking about your blog editorially and strategically. So rather than just saying ‘we ought to put something on the blog’, you design a proper BEM strategy to support the particular goals of your business.
Clearly, your strategy is going to include social media. For the vast majority of B2C businesses the important platforms are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, in that order (and Facebook is much more important than the other two). These are entirely content-driven platforms. But a BEM strategy can include elements from across the marketing spectrum, including:
- Raising brand awareness in particular demographics
- Helping SEO
- Supporting online and offline marketing campaigns
- Providing the content and landing pages for advertising campaigns
- Encouraging brand loyalty, repeat buys and word of mouth referrals
- Building referral relationships with other businesses.
BEM gives you the ability to engage people at all three stages of the sales funnel: leads (when thinking about BEM I prefer to call them ‘browsers’), prospects and customers.
I’ll take each in turn …
Leads or ‘browsers’: Spreading the content net
At the top of the sales funnel are ‘browsers’. These are people who are in your target demographic but aren’t yet identifiable prospects. So, for example, if you are a niche brand selling high-end designer coffee tables, ‘browsers’ are people who are not currently in the market for a designer coffee table, but might well be one day because they have plenty of disposable income and like beautiful, expensive things.
A good BEM strategy and a smart approach to content will allow you to raise awareness of your brand amongst this demographic by:
1) Engaging with potential referrers – well-written blog posts referencing other non-competing businesses popular within your target demographic is an incredibly effective way to generate plenty of eyeballs on social media for minimal cost. For example, you could write about “7 beautiful chairs to go with your coffee table”, and mention seven designer chair businesses. Each of those will have their own Facebook and Twitter followers, and are likely to share and retweet your post, especially if you contact them directly first about it.
And if you take a clever editorial approach, you can come up with all sorts leftfield ideas for gaining RTs and shares: “The 10 best indie coffee shops in London, for when you’re drinking coffee out”; “Nine stunning coffee table books from UK photographers”. The possibilities are infinite – you are bound only by your imagination.
2) Increasing your social media visibility through opportunistic broadcasting – if you have a stock of quality, engaging content, you can legitimately hop on to trending topics and hashtags. “Did you see the last episode of #MadMen? Here’s how you can get a cool midcentury coffee table like Don Draper’s”.
3) Providing content for social media advertising – for promoted posts and tweets to be effective, they need to be founded on content that is both enticing and engaging. And when you know that your content is liked by your followers, you can target it at Facebook ‘lookalikes’.
4) Proliferating the number of search terms for which you can be found on Google – once you have a good body of quality content on your site, you will eventually find that your site gets hits for all sorts of search phrases, including ones that you didn’t predict (like ‘Don Draper’s coffee table’). True, only a tiny percentage of these blow-ins will turn out to be viable prospects, but it’s free eyeballs, free brand awareness, and over time it all adds up.
Prospects – Fortifying search
The middle layer of the sales funnel – ‘prospects’ – are for our purposes people currently in the market for the type of product. They may or may not have heard of your brand before, but they do want to buy a designer coffee table, and, obviously, they’re looking for one on Google.
This is where a good BEM strategy and execution can provide huge value, particularly for niche B2C brands.
As we saw at the start of this article, a major trend in the search industry is the shift in emphasis in SEO away from technical work (‘grey hat’ techniques etc) towards quality content, because Google just gets better and better at identifying the best page on the internet for any particular search phrase.
BEM can help you find prospects and gain business from search in two related ways:
1) It can enable you to dominate commercially-relevant ‘long-tail’ keywords. Long-tail keywords are the specific search terms and phrases that when added together generally make up about 80% of your traffic from search. Some of these will be directly commercially relevant. So if you’re top of Google for dozens of phrases like “affordable glass coffee table”, “choosing a designer coffee table”, “industrial style coffee table” you will have a strong advantage over competitors.
And the best way to ensure you are at the top of Google for such specific phrases is to make sure that your post is the best, most useful and comprehensive page about that topic on the internet.
So a good BEM strategy can plan to target key words in the same way that you might run a PPC campaign – identifying the most-searched relevant phrases using Google’s keyword tool, but focusing on organic results instead of paid search.
2) It can help optimisation of core keywords. By ‘core’ keywords I mean the one or two essential search phrases that typically make up 20% of search traffic. For example, ‘coffee table’ or ‘designer coffee table’.
The trick here is that a BEM strategy can enable you to position yourself as the authority on a topic. If your website is bursting with original, quality content about coffee tables from every conceivable angle, all hyperlinked together and adding up to a coherent body, then over time your site will inevitably rise in the rankings for the keyword ‘coffee tables’.
This insight potentially levels the playing field for small, niche brands up against the giant retailers and department stores with their enormous SEO budgets.
But because of the way Google works, it is essential for brands now to get in first! If you are the first to build a bank of search-optimised content all about coffee tables, it will be very difficult for a competitor to dislodge you, since they’ll have to write all of your posts again but better.
This is what I mean when I talk about ‘fortifying’ search.
Customers: Moving from a content broadcaster to a content destination
In the bottom layer of the sales funnel are ‘customers’. These are people who have bought something from your brand, and who now receive your email newsletter and follow you on Facebook or Twitter (obviously in reality there’s a lot overlap with prospects here, as there will be plenty of people on your email list and amongst your followers who haven’t bought from you yet, but for our purposes we’ll call them all customers).
For these people, good BEM can:
1) Encourage brand loyalty and repeat buying – not just through promotions and special offers, but by giving them free content that they actually want to read. For example, people who bought an expensive designer coffee table are likely to be interested in a great article offering the latest tips and fashions in interior design. This could be delivered to them via Facebook, or your blog, or you can use such content to add depth and variety to your email newsletter.
Basic behavioural psychology shows that giving people free stuff creates an inclination to reciprocity -which means that they’ll buy from you again when they need a coffee table for their holiday home, and are more likely to be receptive to your cross-selling promotions.
2) Build trust and help turn customers into brand advocates – by giving your social media followers and happy customers genuinely interesting content, you’ll give them something to like and to share with their friends. It’s as simple as that.
Creating a BEM strategy
Once you start thinking of your brand editorial marketing in terms of the sales funnel, you can see how you could create a strategy that fits with your business goals.
So if you’re primarily concerned with raising brand awareness, you can prioritise articles that will gain you lots of free eyeballs via other referrers. If you want to beef up your search visibility, you can focus more on long-tail keyword optimised posts, while if you want to concentrate on repeat buys and cross-selling, you can put most effort into building brand loyalty and having a great email newsletter.
Good BEM is all about moving away from unfocused, haphazard, scattergun ‘content marketing’ and towards a systematic approach to content that supports your strategic business goals.
And the key to good BEM is to recognise the importance of quality, and to invest resource in editorial skills, not just copywriting and marketing skills.
Final thought: Moving from a broadcaster to an authority
One final way to think about brand editorial marketing is to see it as a three-stage journey your brand makes in terms of content.
Most brands start out as content ‘broadcasters’. They’re shouting as loud as they can, jumping on hashtags, promoting posts, trying to get themselves noticed on Facebook or Twitter. The problem is, so is everybody else.
But if they regularly churn out content that is genuinely interesting and engaging because they’ve invested resource in quality content, they can become content ‘destinations’. Followers on social media will come to look forward to their posts and will actually click on them, secure in the knowledge that it’s going to be worth their time doing so. At that point, your blog achieves some of the benefits and status of an online publication or newspaper – it is somewhere that people will go because they like what’s on there, rather than because some piece of clickbait or discount promotion has forced them to go there.
In other words, your brand becomes the place where your followers go to read the kinds of content they like. And that puts you in an incredible place in terms of customer trust and loyalty.
Finally, over time, you can become an authority on your particular topic. If you dominate Google for dozens of phrases related to your core topic, you will become the go-to online authority on that topic. Instead of hiring journalists to write PR pieces for you, you’ll find that journalists come to you for information and quotes.
True, getting to that stage might look like a bit of an Everest now – but with a coherent brand editorial marketing strategy in place, and if you invest in taking content seriously before your competitors do, it’s perfectly attainable.
Read more about Brand Editorial Marketing on the Thinkpiece website, and contact Andrew Nixon for a chat about how it can help you.