Alexa Biale lives and breathes marketing. As a Brand Marketing Manager at NewsCred, a marketing platform, she is not only tasked with building an audience for the company, she and the larger team are always living an Inception-esque reality: Marketing marketing to marketers. In this Q&A, we chat all things content marketing: how NewsCred demonstrates ROI, the power of a rebrand, and why VR is the future of marketing. C5: NewsCred tackles the meta-task of marketing to marketers. What’s the biggest challenge you face in communicating with that audience?
AB: Most marketers today know that content is the key to truly connecting with their audience. However, it’s sometimes difficult to justify why brands should allocate more of their budget to content marketing, especially when this budget is being borrowed from elsewhere.
Content marketing is not a short-term game—it’s a long-term strategy with long-term results. Investing in content requires an entirely different mindset than what traditional marketers are used to. It requires CMOs to move away from the crutch of traditional digital advertising, and instead move toward a more customer-centric, value-led approach to marketing.
For us, that means constantly proving the business case of content marketing. In 2013, banner ads were clicked a mere 0.1%, and that was before the abundance of ad-blocking technology. Today’s consumers are far too smart to click on a banner ad or watch a pre-roll advertisement. They know what to ignore, and it’s our job to help our customers cut through the noise and deliver actionable information that their audiences want.
The good news is that there is a compounding effect of content marketing, and we frequently use our own data to prove this. For example, at NewsCred the marketing team drives 40% of our revenue on a first-touch basis, and influences 100% of deals. And the best news is that content marketing is our most cost-efficient channel! For every $1 we put in, we get $14 out.
C5: What are the most consistent problems marketers face?
AB: The two biggest challenges that we see for customers are:
- Poor return on existing marketing approaches
- Low brand awareness
For large companies that have taken a traditional approach to marketing, they tend to see low returns on outdated activities such as billboard ads or expensive multi-touch campaigns. We also see established brands that have a rich history but have a brand awareness problem that results in high acquisition or retention costs.
For companies that need to keep a tight process around compliance, such as pharmaceutical or financial brands, there tends to be some internal ambivalence around content marketing. However, we see a huge potential with these brands as content is one of the best ways to get around the tough regulations within their industries.
It seems contradictory, but content marketing is a great way for these brands to share information with their audience while complying with their legal terms.
C5: How do you address your audience’s challenges through content?
AB: Every brand has a story to tell, and we help them share their stories while measuring real business impact. While content is at the core of what we do, we also offer CMS builds, editorial curation from our team of in-house editors, and in-person strategy sessions. There are lots of moving pieces in content marketing, from establishing a content hub to creating a distribution strategy, and each part needs to be well thought out to be successful.
That’s why we don’t just stop at content—we make sure to set each and every client up for success by providing a 360º strategy.
C5: The NewsCred Insights blog pushes out a ton of content. How do you come up with fresh ideas?
AB: We plan out our editorial calendar months in advance but always leave room for trend pieces that come up along the way. We are also lucky to have an extremely creative office, and NewsCred employees from all departments frequently pitch ideas for the blog. Most recently, one of our designers wrote about the success of Netflix’s Stranger Things and how it speaks to the power of nostalgia in marketing. He even took it a step further by creating an ’80s-style intro video using the NewsCred logo with a grainy filter set to a synthetic beat. It was incredible!
In addition to our original content, we utilize licensed content to effectively scale our content efforts and fill out our editorial calendar. We have a licensed content marketplace with thousands of publications, ranging from international news sources to niche markets that help both us and our clients maintain a consistent publishing cadence.
NewsCred publishes about 2-3 licensed articles per week to help fill in the gaps, especially if it relates to a newsworthy topic. Since we don’t have a team of reporters on staff, we rely on licensed content from Forbes, Business Insider, Ad Age, etc. for news and trend pieces that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to create ourselves.
It’s a huge time saver that allows us to focus on the creative, original pieces like the one I previously mentioned. It also helps build brand trust because we know that our audience reads articles from these publications anyway, so featuring these fully licensed posts on Insights reinforces the credibility of both outlets.
C5: How does visual content play into your content strategy?
AB: Visual content is a highly important part of our overall marketing strategy. From our recent rebrand to ongoing content creation, we take visual content very seriously. Month over month we see that some of our best-performing content is visually based—video, infographics, microsites, interactive content, they all continue to perform.
One of our best-performing newsletters of all time was an infographic created by Column Five! This goes for our “big rock” pieces of content too. In fact, our most successful white paper is The Power of Visual Storytelling, a guide we put together with Getty Images. One of the most compelling statistics in the guide is that articles that contain images get 94% more views than articles without.
We find this to be true in our own content production, and we always try to include images that are authentic and relatable. There’s nothing worse than reading a well-done piece of content only to have it be punctuated with a horrible stock image. If the visuals do not complement the story, they need to be replaced with something more on-brand.
C5: A strong brand identity, from brand voice to visual language, is a competitive advantage. What steps has NewsCred taken to build a preserve that identity?
AB: In March, we rebranded and overhauled our existing blog and Academy (our high-value content hub) to create NewsCred Insights.
Our goal of Insights was simple: to create a premier destination to help educate, inspire, and empower marketers. Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time speaking with customers, prospects, and industry peers to understand what they need to be more successful marketers and bring fresh ideas to the table. Content marketing is still a fairly new frontier, and we created Insights to help marketers reach and surpass their goals by providing best-in-class resources, advice from Fortune 500 marketers, how-to videos, and more.
We also created #ThinkContent University, our self-guided content marketing course with over six hours of webinar content taught by industry experts. As for our rebrand, we knew we needed to update our brand positioning and visual identity.
In 2008, NewsCred was founded as a news syndication platform with a one-desk “office” space at General Assembly. Fast forward 8 years and we’ve since closed our $42 million Series D in early 2016, raising our total funding to nearly $90 million. Our customer list now includes brands like Dell, ConAgra, Jockey, HP, Fidelity, and Visa. Needless to say, we’ve come a long, long way.
Despite nearly a decade of growth and maturity, most of our brand elements remained the same. Admitting the need to address this was the first step toward creating a flexible visual system that didn’t yield the dark, dull, flat assets of the past.
After a candid self-analysis, we determined that our brand balances the juxtaposition between two sides of who we are. On one hand, we are incredibly bold, revolutionary, and irreverent, and on the other hand, we are compassionate, authentic, and genuine. This is what draws people to us and makes people want to work with and for us. Eventually, we realized that our new visual identity needed to convey the convergence of both sides of our brand personality.
The team did an amazing job updating our logo, color palette, and typeface to really capture who we are as a brand while staying true to our roots.
C5: What’s your biggest content marketing pet peeve?
AB: Speaking in marketing jargon! I’ve been guilty of this myself (and I’d say most marketers have), but we all need to do a better job of curbing our marketing speak in everyday life. It’s one thing to discuss KPIs, OKRs, CPCs, etc. in a meeting. But once you start saying “Let’s take it offline” or “I’ll ping you,” then you need to reevaluate. If we’re going to market to humans, we need to speak like humans.
C5: Can you share the most valuable piece of marketing-related advice you’ve ever received?
AB: The best advice I’ve received is, “Your product is not the thing you sell; your product is the value that you bring to the world.” This is something that our CEO + Co-founder, Shafqat Islam, said during his presentation at our 2015 #ThinkContent Summit and continues to ring true today.
When I stop and think about my favorite brands, I almost never think about the product itself—it’s always a feeling, a memory, or an experience. For example, I associate Under Armour with strong, confident women as highlighted in their famous “I Will What I Want” campaign with athletes such as Lindsey Vonn and Misty Copeland. More recently, their “Rule Yourself” campaign, featuring the USA gymnastics team, was a brilliant example of creating early hype around the Olympics while highlighting the athletes’ exceptionally hard work to reach the international stage.
As a brand marketer, it’s my job to make sure that people associate NewsCred with more than our product and services. In order to really connect with consumers, you have to create value in their lives, and it’s that challenge that makes me excited to come to work every day.
C5: Is there a marketing fail you experienced that taught you a good lesson?
AB: Our marketing team learned the hard way that newsletters are meant for content, not self-promotion. When we were promoting one of our events, we published a few too many newsletters that only focused on generating RSVPs and not at all on content. It totally turned off our audience, and we saw our click through rates and page views suffer because we were being too self-promotional.
We certainly learned our lesson that newsletter segmentation is key. You cannot cannibalize your own marketing efforts, especially between your event and content teams. Now we incorporate content into our event strategy and have found it to be massively helpful not just promoting the event itself but providing actionable information as well.
C5: What future marketing trends are you excited about?
AB: I’m really excited about the future of video content, especially virtual reality.
We were fortunate to have Adam Aston, VP and Editorial Director of The New York Times’ T Brand Studio speak at our 2016 #ThinkContent Summit about the amazing experiences that brands are creating with VR. I was one of the 1.3 million recipients of the Google cardboard viewers that NYT sent to its Sunday subscribers last October and was instantly hooked. And I wasn’t alone—in Adam’s presentation, we learned that they saw more than 22 million video views and 600,000 downloads of the NYT virtual reality app, which was the biggest launch in the company’s history.
The virtual reality market is expected to hit profits of $80 billion by 2025, and I can’t wait to see what immersive experience brands bring to life next. The possibilities are endless, and I have no doubt that VR will revolutionize storytelling as we know it.
C5: Any final thoughts?
AB: Lean on partners to help create and scale your content! Most content marketing teams are lean, even at large companies, and simply cannot create infographics, microsites, etc. in-house. My advice is to find a like-minded partner that truly understands your audience, goals, and values. Once you find that solution is when the real creative fun begins and you can see a real return on your content marketing efforts.
Many thanks to Alexa for talking with us. For more wisdom from game-changers in content marketing and content strategy, check out these Q&As:
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- Business Insider’s Mike Nudelman tells us what publishers want from your content.
- LinkedIn’s Alex Rynne explains how to use LinkedIn to build your personal and professional brand.