Why Content Marketing is the New Branding

image of Warhol's Campbell's Soup can

Branding isn’t your company name.

It’s not a tag line. It’s not a logo.

Branding is just another name for creating a perception.

When marketers ask, “How do we want to brand this product?” what they’re really asking is how they want their audience to think about that product once it comes to market.

A brand is a promise. It’s an expectation of an experience.

The company and tag line and logo and brand colors only exist to call that experience to mind.

Brands can meet that expectation, exceed that expectation … or in the worst cases, fall short of that expectation.

(By the way, the word product can easily be swapped for service, or blog, or newsletter, or any number of things marketers promote. The underlying concepts remain the same.)

Volvo’s name is synonymous with safety, which makes it the quintessential consumer example.

Cisco’s “Human Network” stands out among business-to-business brands.

Cisco makes products that make it possible for people to be connected, no matter how far apart they may be, geographically. ~ Forbes

The Red Cross is a bellwether among nonprofits, with a brand that literally means help is on the way in times of crisis.

The very essence of brands doesn’t lie within your brand colors or site design, even though those are important.

The essence of a brand lies within its meaning. And words have meaning. Words matter.

Volvo’s meaning wasn’t derived from its logo, or even its product design, but by the constant stream of product reviews that published the data on crash tests year-in and year-out.

The brand was built, over time, by third-party validation communicated through third-party content. What other people said about Volvo created the meaning of that brand. The advertising Volvo did just reinforced that meaning.

The rise of user-generated content

Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, is now famous for having said,

Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.

As marketers, we try to convince customers and prospects to generate content about our brands. In other words, to talk about us. To create a Volvo-like experience where the meaning of our brand comes from how others perceive us.

How do we inspire people to generate content? To talk about us on Facebook and Twitter, to increase our audience?

Increasingly, we inspire our customers with brand experiences and by publishing our own content.

The uninitiated customer is no more inclined to mention a brand than talk to the shy person tucked quietly in the corner at a cocktail party. If we want our customers to engage us, or our products and services, we have to contribute to the conversation.

Content is currency

Today’s web is an endless 24/7 cycle fed by content and social actions. In this cycle, brands are realizing that content is currency … ~ Bryan Rhoads, global content strategy, Intel

Content is currency — something we trade for our audience’s attention.

That currency becomes more valuable every time it’s shared by someone other than ourselves.

Those shares might be validation. There might be debate. There might be disagreement.

It’s our job to create content worth sharing. How it’s shared isn’t up to us.

If you take a look at this infographic, created by PRWeb, you’ll see an array of content marketing options — each with its own balance of difficulty and value.

(Click here for the full-sized infographic.)

image of infographic: Why Content Marketing is the New Branding
Click here for the full-sized infographic

Your job is to figure out what types of content are most valuable to your audience — and most likely to be shared. And then to gather the resources to produce the best content you possibly can.

‘No Comment’ is a failure

Every smart crisis communications professional knows that “no comment” creates a vacuum where everyone — except the person or organization in crisis — will be able to shape the conversation.

The applies in content marketing, too. We can commit to an active role, by publishing content worth talking about … or we can abstain and miss the opportunity.

How about you? What experience are you creating with your content? What promise are you making?

Let us know in the comments.

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About the Author: Frank Strong is the director of PR for Vocus. Get more from Frank on Twitter and the Vocus blog.

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Comments

  1. Very true of what you have said. A brand is the perception that people have regarding a product. I mostly use twitter and facebook to create awareness of my products. The promise is ‘quality content.’

  2. I think that people tries to find people with similar interests. They want to share their voice.
    It’s important to provide a space for commenting, and let them know you want to know what they think. And dot only sell them things.
    If it’s well worked, it’s synergistic.

  3. Love the infographic. The best content marketing campaigns are going to pull from all of those options from time to time. Obviously a blog is easier than a webinar, but a little extra effort every now and again is usually worth the time.

  4. Agreed, Nick. And webinar goes nicely with a content plan with opportunities to publish before, during and after all while inspiring a community to write as well. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Love the Brian Rhodes quote. Thanks for sharing Frank.

  6. Love the idea that the “no comment” dynamic applies in content marketing, too. I’ve never thought of it that way, but it makes so much sense. (Am going to add this to my talking points for speaking to new clients about content marketing and strategy!)

    It’s akin to a lesson I learned when I worked on political campaigns — if you don’t define yourself, the other guy (or girl) will.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

  7. Getting your content to be shared is also difficult because not every person likes the same type of content…
    some people prefer a video, some a podcast and others a good old blog post.

    The best way is to leverage your content in different ways. You write a blog post, put the content on slides, the slides to slideshare,then make a video, the video to youtube, from the video you make a podcast and so on….

    That way you reach a larger audience, even if of course its more work…

    Great infographic!

  8. My blogsite, AfricaInside.org keeps people connected to that indescribable feeling they have upon returning from an African Safari, and for those who have never been to Africa to help them find a piece of AFRICA INSIDE of them. Thanks for the reminder in this post to stay focused on what I am trying to provide with my blog.

  9. Love the post. There are many ways to say the same thing and your perspective cuts through much of the mumbo jumbo applied to the word branding. A word of caution from my own experience… ultimately once the chatter is converted to interest and a sale the product/service experience must match the expectation created… but oh so often it doesn’t and it can be a long way back.

    Thank you

  10. “It’s our job to create content worth sharing. How it’s shared isn’t up to us.” This is true. You can’t force people to share your information on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. They may prefer to share your information via email or LinkedIn. Besides… Who cares how your information is shared? As long as it being shared and people are receiving benefits from it. :)

  11. I think part of branding is consistency, the idea that is central to a brand that is always called to mind when the logo is seen or the font face, or a jingle or even the sequence of camera shots from particular viewpoints, like Law and Order of Big Brother does. All those things packaged form the brand, and when those things are managed well, it is ever so much easier for people to share them.

  12. I like the succinctness of your statements that a brand is a promise and it is not just an experience, but the expectation of an experience. That is so true. When I think of the different blogs and training that I love to follow, it is definitely for the anticipation of the experience it brings me.

  13. I’ve used the exact words “a brand is a promise” and “an expectation of an experience” in describing a brand to others. My favorite informal definition of a brand is “what they say about your company when you’re not in the room.”

  14. The big take-away for me is that branding takes time and is less about paying graphics pros than it is about delivering a consistent message over time. Reputations aren’t built overnight. Sometimes we get so caught up in those logos and colors and such that we think once we have them in place we’re done! Your presentation here clearly demonstrates that we’re not.

    Do you think we can speed the process by delivering more consistent content in a shorter time frame or does it still take its time and need the long haul?

  15. Carmelo: I believe consistent, high quality content is pivotal. For most, gaining traction will be a long haul, though that’s not to say some rock stars can’t explode on the scene. Still, I believe its better to focus on consistent base hits, rather than home runs every inning, because over that long haul, that’s what will win the game more often than not.

  16. You asked “How about you? What experience are you creating with your content? What promise are you making?”

    I’m getting over 2,000 pageviews per month but don’t know about the experience because I don’t get any comments. And, I’m not making a promise.

    Very good article.

  17. Excellent article and infographic. Still the problem of how do we get others to talk about our ideas remains?
    We can have great content with all the media bells and whistles and still need to think bigger and broader. I think this is a social media next generation issue.

  18. “Branding is just another name for creating a perception.” Branding is all about trust. That of course is reflected in good content as well. As you said it’s the promise of (a) fine product. True.
    But, I’d say that content marketing can never be branding. Marketing is about the product, branding about the brand. In that sense content marketing can only be a part of the whole thing and never replace it.

    • Thanks for the contrarian viewpoint. Always good to get a different perspective. I don’t think marketing and branding should be treated separately and would refer back to the opening, when marketers say “how do we want to brand this product?” — they really mean something different.

  19. Love the content is currency idea. So true.

    Also, thanks for defining branding in easy to understand terms. I would add in that content marketing is the new branding over time because it develops a relationship with your readers by being consistent and clear on your beliefs and your relevancy to the reader’s life – their struggles.

    I agree with your reply to Carmelo’s question on can it be done overnight? My gut feeling is no. You need to develop the relationship and that takes time. Even a site with mounds of wonderful content someone stumbles on right away can not immediately create a connection that instills a sense of community in the reader. Creating a new tribe member takes time. Writing that conveys the author’s brand consistently will create strong relationships that will transform into new enthusiastic followers.

  20. Thank you for this thought provoking article. Content is today’s marketing currency, and the infographic does a fantastic job of displaying the many options we have to get the word out about our products and services.

    Fantastic job!

  21. I loved it. Thank you.

  22. Interesting article, thanks. But what about email marketing as part of the mix?

  23. ‘Branding’ is a dirty word now, huh? I predict that whatever you replace it with will also become a dirty word. The worm turns. This article is essentially correct, but the problem with the old words was not the articles or the advice around them (and in fact, I like this blog, I find the least bullshit-heavy way to get this kind of advice). It is the marketers themselves that give marketing a bad name. As a group they are greedy, grasping, inelegant, in-your-face insincere, and always looking for an unethical angle that they can self-justify as ‘OK’ to somehow get it under the wire, thinking that their readers are gullible idiots. Therefore whatever terminology marketers use will inevitably become tarnished with their dishonest character.

    I don’t know if this is a universal rule of all marketers of all eras and media, but it is very true in this era and in this medium.

    • Hmmm…I guess I don’t see branding as a dirty word, I just think how we approach it has changed. And you are right, unfortunately, some marketers press the boundary of ethics. I’d venture that every industry has it’s 10%. Thanks for making an important point about ethics.

      • 10%? Wow, that’s not what I am seeing out there at all. I’m seeing more like 75% unethical affiliate reviewers and spammers out there marketing their blogs, and that’s generous. We live in the age of the cheater.

  24. @minervaco got so inspired and excited about this one that we wrote our own blog post. Mama says “pretty is as pretty does”: Content marketing is about what’s on the inside: http://ow.ly/dYEtI

  25. Required attention for Audio is ‘Less’? Really? I don’t think so. When I choose to listen to an audio talk, it goes right into my earballs and has my maximum attention – more so than a video where I might be distracted by something in the background, the way the person dresses, their body language or bad quality filming: Audio (via earphones) goes straight into my head. With SoundCloud and Audioboo apps it’s even easier to make it happen.

    Great post and graphic btw :)

  26. For some reason anytime someone mentions branding I always think of bad branding. Like new Coke or what’s been bugging me lately is the Chick fil a fiasco. I say fiasco because the idea of sales is that you want lots of sales from people who enjoy your product. I suspect that there are many people I sell to whose lifestyles I wouldn’t agree with – for whatever reason. So when something like the Chick fil a thing happens it makes even your brand loyal customers question their loyalty. While I am asking who am I selling to the customer is asking who am I buying from? I have never heard a bad branding example that did not include narrowing the market for the product in some way whether lifestyle or new product ingredients. Not only does this limit current sales but also what if you want to sell your product to a large conglomerate? If there is a bad connotation with the brand you may get a lower price offer or no offer. Content has to come from a thoughtful approach to the market.

  27. I don’t know if branding should be considered as a dirty word, but I truly think that one of the biggest ways to build up a brand successfully and correctly is through content marketing. I agree with a lot of the points mentioned in this article and think it has been well thought out given the era we are in today.

  28. I love that comment from the CEO of Google. Astounding but believable.

    I agree that it is important to put your content where your audience will see it. Your words, videos, music etc. needs to be placed directly in front of your target customers.

  29. One of the things we shoot for with our Ink’d blog is to create controversy of some kind. Because controversy is what gets the blog read. If what we post gets to a few people and gets them talking, whether in a good way or bad way, it just makes more people aware of us. Now, mind you, we’re not looking to tick off the world b/c that would be someone contradictory to our ultimate goal, but we know that we MUST look at things from a different angle in order to make an impression.

  30. These are so amazing ideas Frank! I just love the way you make your contents so appealing and inspiring to the reader. This makes me think what most people go for; quantity and not quality. Thanks a lot for opening most of us in marketing strategies! I loved your blog so much. it is one of the best in my list!

  31. I just love the quote given by Bryan; really amazing and inspiring! It is right that content is currency and whoever is traded for is the audience’s attention. I loved the idea there. Thanks Frank, you hit the nail on the head. Look forward for more!

  32. Content marketing is such a good method of communicating with customers. I like the way you portray it as a new brand and the weight you give it. It is as if you are bringing it out in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty. I love your post. Thumbs up for this great write!

  33. Great stuff, thank you. I especially like your point that all these things take time. Content creation – like creating a brand – is a cumulative experience and very different than the “one and done” of a huge ad campaign (for example).

    Patience and perseverance win the day!

  34. This is a great read about branding. Branding is not only a promise, but a commitment to your customers. Your customer trust you to provide the commitment. Keep your commitments, and people will continue to talk about you!

  35. First 30 became the new 20 and now content marketing is the new branding! I agree and am in the midst of a plan to build brand awareness through strategic content marketing. Content is king, content is currency – I agree with these beliefs. The reality is that marketing and branding strategies must evolve to meet market demands. While you can incorporate many of the “old” tactics, you won’t find success by ignoring new strategies.

  36. Branding is, indeed, many things, as your post and the comments all indicate. Good branding is typically highly familiar yet quite distinct (it needs to stand out from the crowd). It must also do a good job at resonating with the intended audience.

    Traditional branding experts (advertisers mostly), know that as humans we make decisions based not so much upon logic but on ‘heuristics’. And the key ones for marketers tend to be ‘familiarity’ and ‘risk mitigation’.

    The purpose of creating and promoting a brand is to do two things: Firstly, it is to make an organisation and its products familiar and secondly to create a sense of trust around the brand. (For ‘trust’ you can also substitute words such as ‘desire’ or ‘tribe association’.)

    Content marketing can have the same effect on a community of interest as advertising. However – as with good advertising – good content marketing doesn’t just happen by chance. To start with there must be a critical mass of content being consumed by an individual for it to make any noticeable difference (not an easy task). And there must be clear, consistent and competitive messaging communicated throughout.

    In some cases, content marketing may indeed by the new branding. But in many others, advertising will still be a far better option.

    • Paul, I love your thoughtful answer and agree with much of what you say, however, one idea I don’t buy into is using advertising to build a brand. It costs a fortune. It used to be that we used earned media to build brands and paid media to defend them. I still think that’s true, but the crux of this post is demonstrating how owned media and shared media (social) are changing things up.

  37. Developing strategy of which audience you write your content for is key, but which platform to distribute that content is equally important. I tailor a message or a shared article to the platform I’m posting on, but that’s partly because I know the audience I’m writing to and I know that each platform has a lightly difference audience for my brand. I am a huge believer in keeping tabs on data analytics for your platforms and tweaking your content strategy based on those insights…if you don’t you risk screaming to an empty room.

  38. Frank,
    How can I get a print copy of this? I’d like to hang it on my wall.
    Connie

  39. It truly is a full time job to market. I market as much as I write. LOL.

  40. Branding is something that takes a lot of time and hard work, especially when it comes to planning your strategy. You can’t just stick to one because it worked before or because this is the “in” thing. Like it was mentioned here, visitors have their personal preference when it comes to how they digest information. Aside from knowing which ones to use, it’s also important to look on how frequent a certain kind of content format works best for your blog or website. It does take some time, but in the end, it will be all worth it.

    On that note, is it possible to print out the infographic? The information is so useful here. I’d like to hand it here in my work area.

  41. Love the infographic and explanations. Great work!

  42. Amazing statement from the CEO of google! the sad fact is that if you replace the word “content” with “garbage” it is also true…

  43. This post give us courage to fight marketing and branding battle with bigger player in market.

  44. Great post! Managing content is such an important part of managing brand image. My blog strives to be the ultimate niche website for home buyers in our area.

  45. Great article and infographic. I want to use it in my Digital Marketing class… I understand the “Ease of Implementation”. However I am unclear as to the “Required Attention”? Could you explain this briefly? Is this a metric of quality, relevance or just”ease of use” for the reader/view?

    • Hi Dom, I think you have the idea — the amount of attention, which is both focus and time, a reader, viewer or listener would be required to give in exchange for the content.

  46. This is a really good post. Especially in a day when I feel like content is least focused on by a lot of people or should I say quality content. I believe that it is the most important element you have in building your blog. Though not everyone feels that way I know. There are many that think quantity over quality is most important unfortunately. You are only as strong as the content you develop. Thanks for the post, really good stuff!

  47. Really useful article – thank you. It supports the approach we have taken to building brand Australia one story at a time. Free iPhone app – AU – good news from and about Australia just launched (search Australia Unlimited from app store or through our website)