(This post originally appeared on Forbes.)
Brand communication has undergone a fundamental shift in the last five years. We have officially left the age of propaganda (read: advertising), when brand messaging was carefully curated and funneled through one-way communication. Brands were able to conceal reality behind the façade of advertising, as real interactions with brands were isolated to private, one-on-one interactions.
A vintage Coca-Cola ad claims the drink is a cure-all.
Now, we have entered the age of transparency, brought on almost singlehandedly by social media. The message is no longer controlled by brands; consumers now share the conversation. When the brand message is inconsistent with the consumer experience, the disparity is quickly and publicly exposed.
Some brands choose to expend their energy trying to guard the doors and maintain control of the conversation. (Your PR firms and lawyers thank you for your patronage.) However, it is a losing battle; the control has already shifted.
After an employee accidentally tweeted “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd” from the Red Cross Twitter account (instead of her own), the company issued an immediate apology.
Content Marketing Is the New Conversation
In this climate, content marketing is a powerful tool to create—not control—that conversation. Yet many brands approach this new medium with an old mentality. The shift from advertising to content is not simply a new fad; it is a fundamental transition in communication from telling to showing, from talking to being.
A simple image image from Oreo, posted on the company’s Facebook page, served to convey the brand’s values to consumers and spark conversation.
Successful content marketing is about the brand’s culture being reflected and reinforced in its actions. For some brands, this transition comes easy. They just have to be themselves and do the good things they always do.
A simple image image from Oreo, posted on the company’s Facebook page, served to convey the brand’s values to consumers and spark conversation. (Image credit: Oreo)Other brands, however, struggle to forge an authentic relationship with consumers. These brands view customers as a means to an end—a crowd to sell to instead of an audience to attract—and therefore will never succeed in content marketing.
3 Ways to Win with Content Marketing
There are many tactics that can be employed for successful content marketing campaigns, but at the foundation are three rules that will ensure success:
1. Be Real.
Consumers are savvier than ever; if you are trying to falsely project an image or spark a conversation, you will fail. Consumers demand honesty and look to offer their loyalty to brands that truly reflect their own values. Be authentic in all content marketing, and you will attract a devoted, like-minded following.
2. Do Good.
Act according to your company values, treat customers well and do good in the world, and you will have a rabid following extolling your virtues. If you are trying to dupe your consumers or following bad practices, it is only a matter of time before you are exposed.
3. Give First, then Ask.
The media landscape is cluttered, and consumers have no time to waste on content that doesn’t educate, inspire, or entertain them. Consider what purpose your content can serve and how you can cater to your audience’s needs. Offering this content shows that you truly know and understand your audience—a first step to forming a symbiotic relationship.
When creating content, you are expressing the heart of your company and culture and giving something of value to your consumers. If you are genuinely interested in cultivating a relationship, you will always win. But if you are primarily concerned with how you can convince people to do what you want, you will lose every time.
Ross Crooks is a Column Five co-founder. Follow him @rtcrooks