Customer Experience, Digital marketing, Create Customer Connections with a Content Marketing Mix
You can’t turn a page today without reading another article extolling the virtues of content marketing. With good reason -- content strategies are more creative than ever. Brands and publishers are putting more resources behind original content, sponsoring helpful information on top of or next to editorial, and leaving no Internet stone unturned to partner with the most compelling influencers and bloggers.

Why have these techniques been so successful? Nearly 20 percent of people’s time online is now spent reading content. More and more we turn to the Internet to stay informed and be entertained -- so marketers are rising to meet this demand.

Each of the essentials - in-house content, native advertising and community-driven contributions provide truly unique and engaging material that readers are seeking out. The key is finding the right blend of content.

The Power of Exclusive Content

As any publisher will tell you, exclusive content is best. Readers want to be informed and they want the latest original news. Creating content in-house is the fastest way to monopolize information and provide people with something they can’t find anywhere else.

If a brand doesn't have access to a team of professional journalists, sponsoring editorial content might be the next best means of gaining exclusivity. Lending your company name to a compelling feature, or working with an established journalist to explore an emerging topic are also ways in which you can capture a reader’s attention. Marketers also have more options than ever when it comes to licensing content from reputable sources in order to boost their perception as a helpful resource, and more than an entity that’s simply looking to make a sale.

Yet many readers are becoming "blind" to sponsored posts. In turn, marketers are now looking to longer-form content created and contributed by their audience. This means identifying the most appropriate viewers, readers, bloggers, fans and followers to become ongoing contributors. This group can be engaged with cash payment, samples, events or simply the credibility of being chosen as a contributor, therefore giving them additional exposure.

News outlets such as The Associated Press and CNN have both increased the amount of content they share from "amateur journalists" who capture and submit eye-catching video, share heart-warming stories on their own, and sometimes even blog for the news sites. Publishers are soliciting submissions from avid readers to expand their editorial scope without expanding their payroll. Brands are amplifying voices to help create a more honest connection with customers, and retailers are leveraging existing customers to gain new ones.

Once a system and tech platform is put in place to manage contribution, opening up to outside contribution from the audience can ensure an increased flow of great content with less work. The favor is then returned to superfans by providing them with added visibility and great incentives for the content they may already be creating in their spare time.

Put More In, Get More Out

What many companies realized as social media exploded is that they needed to have something to actually say to those fans once they started engaging.

Pepsi is a great example of a company that continues making investments in content. You can find licensed content on their homepage, and contributed content on their social media channels, one example being Tumblr. Warby Parker is another example of a brand advancing from its creative annual report to the more elaborate Home Try-On program it launched this year that encourages customers to submit photos of themselves trying on frames.

Publishers such as Lucky Mag and Details have also begun formalizing programs for content sourced from their readers. Both have built and continue to grow editorial communities fed by influencers and bloggers around the Web. These portals have also become native ad vessels for potential advertisers. This summer Dasani launched a Dasani Drops campaign on the Lucky Community, encouraging readers to “Show Us Your Summer Color” via contributed photos.

As more brands and publishers complete successful content campaigns, the returns become more articulated. These campaigns move the needle forward for stats that marketers have obsessed over for years now: more time on site, increased number of page-views, lower bounce rates, improved social metrics, improved SEO and more.

Beyond metrics, intangible benefits include deeper, more honest interactions with fans, the opportunity to elevate other marketing programs, and a broader reach through added brand advocates.

Striking the Right Balance

There’s no set ratio that will dictate the right balance of each content type. What works best for brands will be different than what works for publishers. Brands need content to build affinity while publishers need content to further monetize and help highlight existing editorial. Identifying certain cues might help dictate when to increase your stake in one type of content over the others.

For brands, offline events can be a great reason to formulate a new content plan. For example: in advance of an event, native advertising alongside relevant editorial can get people thinking more about the event and help boost ticket sales or participation.

During the event, attendees will likely capture their experiences via blog posts, photos on Instagram, Vine videos, etc. This lends itself to a nice transition from paid content to contributed content. In each instance, contributors should be given a theme around which to focus on iterating. More than saying, “What did you think of Bonnaroo?” ask contributors to submit their best Vine dance at Bonnaroo.

Publishers, on the other hand, can mold content around their already planned editorial calendars. If an issue will discuss the newest gin bars in town, ask readers to submit their favorite gin-based recipes, or gin-fueled disaster stories. For many publishers, seasonal cues will work best as many readers will go online seeking insight on seasonal trends, like tips and tricks for holiday shopping or backyard BBQs. Readers appreciate the added real world commentary that adds a personal perspective to already in-depth editorial.

The content spectrum will continue to grow as more readers go online and companies spend more to capture the attention of those readers. As new techniques emerge, think how they will help you monopolize content and advance your marketing goals. As they become fully implemented in your strategy, remember to strike an even balance and keep giving your readers fresh information to enjoy.

Title image courtesy of Leszek Glasner (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Find more perspectives on the transition of brands to publishers here.