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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Q&A with Josh Sternberg, Content Strategist, Washington Post Brand Studio, on Content Marketing

May 5, 2015 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

Q: What do you think is the effective use case for content marketing?

A: Content Marketing is great for brand awareness and offers a way for a brand to align themselves with high-quality content around a particular brand attribute that they are interested in, want to be associated with or want to own.

WaPoAudiWHTechFor example, every brand wants to be known for innovation, but there’s nuance to that. The good news is that many brands actually are innovative, but you have to figure out from where and tell those stories. Right now we’re running pieces for Audi about how the White House Press Corp uses technology to cover the President. The content includes information about how the use of technology has evolved over the past three presidencies including the rise of social media and its correlation to the increase of popularity of the White House correspondents’ dinner. The content doesn’t mention Audi, but they get the association of technological progress. The campaign works particularly well because of the way it combines content and display advertising. The branded content works for brand awareness and the display ads work as direct response so Audi hits people throughout the funnel.

Q: What metrics do you think most effective to use to evaluate the effectiveness of content marketing? 

A: Ok, so I am going to use the two worst words in the media industry: It depends. It depends on the brand, what they are looking for, target audience, publication, goals… there are so many variables, so you have to talk with the client to figure out what is going to work best to accomplish their goals.

Above all else, we are focused on creating content that is good, informative or entertaining and gets people to read and to share. We look at all sorts of metrics as well, including page views, social shares, completion rates with video, time on page, etc.

Often branded content is not done in a vacuum. Typically it’s a piece of an overall campaign which could include TV ads, print ads, radio ads, billboards. =It is important to understand what the goal is for a particular campaign, which is something people often forget.

Q: What is the biggest hurdle for content marketing today and do you have any thoughts on how to address it?

A: The biggest hurdles are around process. Brands and agencies are not designed to create content. They are designed to create products and services and then get them to people who need or want them. Creating content is not in their nature. But for publishers is that’s where the fun is, that’s what our business is: creating content. One of the hardest things is explaining to brands and agencies that great content isn’t easy. There needs to be more trust in the relationship, more transparency, and there needs to be better understanding of those processes.

It is incumbent on publishers to communicate these processes. There’s a theory in academia called the Uncertainty Reduction Theory, which discusses how the more two people communicate, the more the uncertainty between the two people goes down. And, as uncertainty is reduced, the more comfortable you feel and the more you talk about what really matters. The same is true in business; that’s why relationships matter. The more we all communicate about the process of creating quality content, the more we will build trust. This applies to brand studios like mine talking to clients. Content is a form of communication and it all just comes down to understanding one another.

Josh Sternberg joined The Washington Post to lead its Brand Studio in July 2014. He previously worked at the digital advertising industry website Digiday where he served as a reporter covering the publishing industry and most recently as a senior editor for the Digiday Content Studio. 

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