Tim Tucker: “there are still big content marketing opportunities for brands and publishers in niches”

Tim Tucker — via timtuckeronline.com

Branded content, in all its various guises, has become a huge deal for mainstream publishers in recent years. From the meteoric growth of native advertising through to the labs that newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian have created, there is clearly a demand for brands to tell their stories in mainstream media. And in an era where consumers are increasingly ignoring display online ads, branded content has become a key revenue source.

However, branded content is not a new phenomenon. John Deere began publishing what was arguably the first ever customer magazine, The Furrow, as far back as the 1890s.

The boom in branded print magazines, spearheaded by supermarkets, car manufacturers and airlines created a whole new content industry niche in the late 90s. While today brands create content to connect with consumers via all manner of channels from video on YouTube and Instagram through to podcasts and blogs. Even printed brand magazines have made something of a comeback.

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Tim Tucker is one of the leading UK content marketing influencers, who has witnessed the industry evolve over the last three decades. Here he explains why content marketing has become such an important tactic for brands and highlights some of the issues media companies and their clients face when engaging with online audiences.

You come from a fairly traditional publishing background, how did you end up becoming a key content marketing influencer?

I spent most of my early years in print publishing (1990s) working in consumer markets, but some of that included a stint at Origin Publishing (now Immediate Media) working in what we used to call ‘contract publishing’. We published print magazines on behalf of HMV, Waterstones, English Heritage, the RICS and more. At Future Publishing I was recruited by David Maher-Roberts to work on the launch of the branded content division, Future Plus (now Future Fusion), so both of these gave me invaluable experience helping to build agencies within larger publishing companies.

Another major factor for me was that I took the step into digital publishing early on. In 1999 (18 years ago!) I moved from my print publishing role at Future to join the team that launched GamesRadar.com, TechRadar.com, BikeRadar.com and MusicRadar.com. I got the bug for digital and never turned back.

What’s always driven me into new areas of publishing is an endless curiosity for new approaches and opportunities.

The UK customer publishing boom, the forerunner of content marketing, began in the 1990s. What do you think has been the key issues for those companies as the years have gone by?

The online revolution has changed everything. Every publishing business is tackling the same issues — how to transition from a business model of creating and distributing print media, to one where content is free to the consumer and ad revenues are declining.

Advertising as a revenue stream has been hit by so many factors: the proliferation of digital channels, the attention habits of the online audience, the rise of two dominant digital ad platforms — Google and Facebook — and the lack of cut-through achieved by banner ads and other digital formats. It’s getting much tougher for businesses to rely on these revenues to create profitable businesses.

That’s why content marketing is such a massive opportunity for publishers and brands. Brands now have a way to get quality attention from a targeted audience and publishers can drive new revenue streams.

Another key factor is understanding how to create value for an audience on digital platforms. Taking print content and publishing it online very often isn’t the answer. It’s taken some time for publishers to understand that a digital audience requires different types of content in different forms.

Do you think there is a difference in content marketing, both definition and approach, between the US and Europe?

We always used to say that the US is ahead of Europe by a couple of years, in terms of digital marketing. Content marketing has matured in the States, and brands both big and small have embraced it as the way forward for their marketing.

What advice would you give to mainstream publishers looking to expand their content marketing offering?

The big opportunities are in niches. There are so many sectors that are underserved by media right now. Look for businesses who need to reach clearly defined audiences, and focus on that audience’s passion points.

This is one of the biggest things I’ve taken from my background in specialist magazines. The founder of Future Publishing, Chris Anderson (now head of TED) focused on a clear vision: there’s a high value in going ‘narrow but deep’. People will search out, engage with and share content around their hobbies and passion points.

And what do you think the key issues are for traditional publishers in working with brands this way?

Adopting a data-led approach. There’s loads of data out there that tells you what kind of content people are looking for. Look at search tools like Google’s Adwords Keyword tool, mine the data around social signals from the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, monitor conversations online, look at what people are engaging with on your platforms. It’s never been easier to discover what your audience wants in terms of content, if you look in the right places.

Of course you still want to surprise the audience with content they didn’t know they wanted or needed. A balance of the two is a winning combination.

There has been a renaissance of print based content marketing in the past few years — why do you think this has been the case?

It’s down to the sheer overwhelming abundance of digital content. For brands, getting the audience’s attention is difficult. For consumers, finding the signal amidst the noise is challenging.

Print stands out. It’s also tangible, less ephemeral, and therefore more memorable. These are the things we miss when we’re only engaging with digital content.

One of the key objections to content marketing that some marketers have is around measurement? Do you think that the industry is finally finding some effective metrics by which to measure performance?

I still find that metrics and ROI are the biggest challenge for most brands and content marketers, but at the Content Marketing Association (CMA) we’re seeing real progress in this area. The way forward is to take a strategic approach to content marketing. This leads to a greater understanding of what your business is trying to achieve with content. And when you’re clear on your objectives, measuring success becomes a lot easier.

Which brands would you say are innovating the most in content marketing? Could you give some examples?

On the B2C side, Red Bull, Coke and Dove are still the obvious examples of brands that produce consistently good quality content. I’ve also been impressed with how Sugru has approached storytelling around its unique brand proposition.

On the B2B side, brands that are targeting marketers are leading the way — Hubspot, of course, but also Buffapp, Hootsuite and Kissmetrics.

On a personal level, as a musician I’ve been blown away by how Scott Devine has grown Scottsbasslessons.com. From a few YouTube tutorial videos it’s now become the largest bass guitar community resource on the planet, all driven by high quality content marketing. Back in the 1990s I was the editor of the biggest selling guitar magazine in Europe, but what Scott’s doing feels to me like the future of musical education.

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