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AT&T, IBM Fuel Web Presence

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For AT&T, the small business owner is so key a customer, the company needed more than regular marketing tactics to reach it. Its solution? Original content.

To create it, AT&T turned to an outside firm called Associated Content—a startup with a network of 300,000 freelance content creators—to produce more than 100 how-to articles. Topics range from setting up a wireless network and building a marketing strategy to writing a business plan. The material will appear on the soon-to-launch AT&T Small Business InSite destination.

“The ability to distribute content offers us a credible way to connect with small business owners,” said Chris Schembri, vp of media services for AT&T. “We’re able to provide valuable information that comes from a third party that will be a little more believable” than brand-created content.

AT&T’s tactic also highlights a dilemma for brands. At a time of tight budgets and consumer skepticism of brand messages, marketers still need to produce loads of digital content to capture consumer attention. This virtual content arms race is fueled by how consumers now use the Web. Search and social media are the main modes of information discovery, and both engines live off vast pools of content. To feed them, many advertisers are relying less on content produced solely by themselves and their agencies, and more on that crafted by customers and outside content creators.

“The proliferation of platforms and the crush of content makes it very difficult for any one creator to match the volume of the environment,” said Colleen DeCourcy, chief digital officer at TBWA Worldwide.

That’s led some retailers to branch out from simple product information and into editorial. Zappos, for instance, operates blogs and posts third-party content about everything from parenting and skateboarding to running. All that content helps it bubble up in search results not necessarily tied to products.

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