How to turn commonplace content into meaningful media

digital content
Image by Mueller / MSC (CC BY 3.0 DE)

Remember how we used to consume content before the arrival of Facebook, iPhones and must-read blogs? We’d open a magazine produced by media companies that, for better or worse, controlled the flow of information between news makers and everyone else.

The influence of the media was, in retrospect, for better and for worse. Playing the gatekeeper, publishers could uphold a higher standard of quality than what we see in today’s media. The trade press wasn’t perfect. Far from it. But if you spent $7.99 or so at the newsstand, you could be certain that a publication like Macworld would consistently deliver a collection of accurate, informative, up-to-date product reviews and feature articles accompanied by engaging photography, graphic design, and page layout.

Journalists served as a vital conduit between technology leaders and the people they wished to communicate with. Yet the relationship between journalists and corporate executives was always uneasy. Corporate executives, in general, viewed the media as a necessary evil. It provided access to a large audience, but through a communication channel that corporations could not control.

Journalists then, marketers now

The Hirsch Media team didn’t have to study media relations in the tech industry to understand this dynamic. We’ve experienced it. As journalists at Macworld, the solar magazine Photon, Bloomberg, and many other media outposts, we’ve each interfaced with industry visionaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. As marketers, we’ve managed client interactions with some of today’s top industry news outlets.

The technology that has revolutionized how we produce, distribute, and consume media has far-reaching consequences for companies in all industries. That’s especially so in cleantech, as we’ll discuss later in this post. There are no information gatekeepers anymore. Anyone with a smartphone can create content and distribute it. Content has become so cheap and plentiful, it’s a commodity.

While content has devolved into a jumble of words and images thoughtlessly flying around the Internet, media is as valuable as ever. Modern media happens when someone sifts through the chaos to pull out and organize useful information, then shapes it for a defined audience to enrich understanding and maybe even elicit an emotional reaction. Media is where content becomes stories.

Good stories are cropping up everywhere now. Publishing companies produce them, as always. So do lighting manufacturers, enterprise software developers, and marketers. We are a new kind of media company that helps innovative businesses tell their stories. If you’re not already producing a blog, a newsletter, or a social media feed, give it a try. Storytelling can help anyone achieve phenomenal results. The question, then, is whether to fill these communication channels with the sort of content that’s destined for page 2 in the online search results, which nobody reads. Or whether to use artfully crafted media that taps into your company’s authenticity, originality, and source of inspiration.

Content is commonplace. Media is meaningful. Go with media.

Better storytelling

High-caliber storytelling is increasingly showing up on company blogs and other brand outlets. In Content Marketing Institute’s 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends reports for North America, over 85 percent of B2B and B2C marketers reported that they use content marketing. Almost two-thirds of each group say their organizations are more successful with content marketing than they were last year. This shows how far we’ve come since companies banked on free content and content creators willing to work for free.

Not all industries are investing equally in content marketing. A recent article at CIO.com notes that while quality content has the potential to benefit almost any business, some industries, such as real estate, have made early investments and realized early results. The National Association of Realtors didn’t rest on its laurels once its digital content hub had reached an audience of 1.5 million unique visitors per month. The association brought in accomplished freelancers and used software that tracks article finish rates to document growth in audience engagement.

The opportunity for companies in the energy industry, where content marketing has yet to reach maturity, is that competition is still limited. Cleantech companies that invest in quality content now can be early movers that build strong followings and achieve influence.

Quality content’s essential elements

What are the commonalities that make some companies more successful with media than others? For one thing, the information that you’re putting out into the world must be discoverable. We’re not talking about search engine gaming tactics like keyword stuffing that are no longer rewarded by search algorithms. There’s an art to telling stories in a way that’s accessible to readers and effective with Google and Twitter. The Washington Post says that democracy dies in darkness. So do your marketing efforts.

Originality is important, too. This is where it’s critical to invest in quality storytellers who can truly understand your company, your audience, and the unique ways to engage their attention. If you’re lucky, you might have a few employees who have a knack for writing and can provide occasional insights for the company blog and newsletter. Support them by partnering with a team of experienced marketers who can satisfy your audience with consistently high-quality information.

Collecting customer feedback is an essential step towards creating media that matters to your audience. Paying close attention to customer behavior using software analytics, social media monitoring, and the occasional consumer survey is also a great way to avoid getting lost in the sea of indistinguishable information.

Effectively executed media fills your communication channel with customers, employees, business partners, and investors. It can drive results for any business objective, including lead generation and sales, hiring and retention. Whether in technology or textiles, social media or solar energy, successful brands have this much in common: they value professionally produced stories as much as the industry magazines they’ve largely replaced.

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