It’s well documented that content marketing is among this year’s top priorities for brands: 93 percent of marketers plan to use content marketing in 2014.
Yet while many brands (44 percent) have a documented content strategy in place, other research consistently finds that a majority of marketers (73 percent) say that when it comes to fully understanding native advertising — including branded content — they have no idea or hardly a clue.
Lacking a working knowledge of branded content coupled with time limitations naturally creates problems with developing clear strategies, generating engaging content and measuring ROI. Not surprisingly, a Forrester survey revealed that 62 percent of companies will outsource some or all of these efforts.
Companies like Collective Bias have emerged to offer brands access to a curated network of expert bloggers who create original and cost-effective content, and share that content broadly across a network of readers.
Forbes puts Collective Bias, whose customers include Tyson, Bigelow Tea and Nickelodeon, at #18 in this year’s list of America’s Most Promising Companies. We recently asked Collective Bias’ CEO Bill Sussman how marketers can overcome content barriers in 2014:
SocialTimes: Why do you think nearly 25 percent of marketers say their teams lack creative and storytelling skills?
Bill Sussman: Most companies today aren’t structured for the world of content marketing. You can’t flip a switch and turn members of your team into your content creators. Understanding marketing doesn’t mean they know how to write well enough to capture an audience’s attention. Storytelling is an art that not everyone has. Can they grab someone’s attention at the first sentence and keep them engaged until the end?
Some people are just natural-born storytellers, and it takes time to find the right ones for your brand. Companies need different kinds of storytellers for different aspects of building the brand, from telling the organization’s history to delivering something as mundane, but vitally important, as an instruction manual.
Stories have to be created with an understanding of the audience and what the audience wants, not necessarily what the brand thinks it needs. The best stories start from a deep understanding of the audience, and then figuring out how the brand can fit into their lives. It takes skill to weave insights and objectives into compelling stories that are shareable.
Can you speak specifically to the expense and time required to share new content?
Content may be king, but it takes an audience and distribution to rule today. That involves both human and technological resources, not only to create all the content, but also to share that content across multiple platforms. LinkedIn, for example, recommends you post twice a day. Twitter posts are more frequent at 1-12 times a day — and those are only two channels.
Sharing content is not enough; you have to be monitoring everything and engaging with the audience. If you’re managing a global brand, it gets even more complicated and you need enterprise-level platforms. Every brand has unique needs, but they all want the ability to manage and measure from a single dashboard where they can see results in real-time.
What is Collective Bias’ philosophy? What are the company’s goals?
Our philosophy is to use social media to solve shopper marketing problems. We harness the power of social content through our community of diverse social influencers who have micro-audiences centered on specific affinities. They have incredible reach, and their content generates high levels of engagement. That content is then amplified across various social media channels.
Our goal is to always create content that initiates two-way conversations and influences purchase decisions. This is the definition of shopper social media, and we are proud to be the only company to offer it.
How are your bloggers selected and paid?
Bloggers first apply to or are invited to join Social Fabric, our proprietary community of 3,000 shopping-focused influencers. Inside that community platform, we post project opportunities as they come up. Bloggers raise their hands and apply for opportunities that interest them.
From those applicants, we select the best candidates based on the project’s particular needs such as brand fit, writing style, social platforms and the client’s KPI’s and objectives. They are paid commensurate with the opportunity. We monitor the industry to make sure we are compensating our influencers fairly, if not at the top of this emerging industry.
Can you provide an example of one project?
One of our favorite examples was for Tyson Chicken Nuggets. The influencers were chosen based on their creativity and photography skills. They gave an all-new meaning to chicken nuggets, particularly during the holidays when turkey prevails.
“Why Should All the Cookies Have All the Fun?” was a great example of quality content our bloggers produced. They took nuggets and decorated them as if they were cookies, making Santas, penguins, reindeer and more. The charm and creativity made the content highly engaging and organically shareable. Most importantly, by selling through all the nuggets, it solved an overproduction problem that Tyson had.
What should companies consider when deciding between outsourcing and hiring content writers in-house?
Companies need to embrace the idea of becoming publishers first. It’s a different mentality and it takes commitment of resources — both human and monetary — to strategize and channel perspective. It also takes time to create good content and manage it on various social platforms. A couple of content writers, no matter how talented or prolific, cannot match the output of a group of bloggers who are passionate about a particular brand or product.
How does your company ensure it knows a brand’s objectives and image, and how is placement of content decided?
Collective Bias is a shopper social media company. Shopper comes first in that description and it’s an important distinction. We have over 100 years of corporate experience in shopper marketing. We use this experience to ensure we truly understand our advertisers’ business objectives and KPIs, and we use that information to inform the content tactics we use in their programs.
How do both bloggers and brands benefit from these services?
Brands benefit because we bring them programs that specifically target their business needs in specific retail channels. Bloggers benefit because we can give them content guidelines that still allow them to be creative with their final product.
If you are thinking about outsourced creative, check out Content Marketing Institute’s When Should You Consider Outsourcing Content Creation?
*Editors note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.