The Thinksmart Marketing founder says the simplest content approaches are often the best.
The managing director of Sydney-based Thinksmart Marketing (TSM) is a firm believer in content’s ability to deliver great results for business, especially B2Bs. She helped develop the Advanced Content Marketing Certificate for ADMA after working in marketing at NAB, Canon, Land Rover and the InterContinental Hotel Group. She launched TSM in 2014.
Brand Tales: What must brands do to be successful in the digital age?
Janine Pares: Understand their audience. That has always been true, but with the pace of change today, the proliferation of channels and the consumption habits changing so dramatically, it’s critically important brands know their audiences at a deep motivational level. This helps inform channel choice and content formats, and ultimately leads to creating content that survives the swipe. At Content Marketing World in Cleveland last year, this was a recurring theme from Joe Pulizzi to Robert Rose and Jay Baer – I wrote a wrap up of it here with my key takeouts about the importance of audience focus to win the competition for attention.
BT: What attribute do you crave most in a marketer: data intuitiveness or creativity?
Pares: Can I sit on the fence? In reality both are important, but I do believe a marketer’s ability to interpret data to uncover the hidden gems which lead to insight is critical. Particularly today, when data itself is so widely available, it’s important to realise that not all data is equal, and not all data matters. Connecting the dots between data points to drive better decisions (even micro-decisions used to optimise) is an important skill. Having said that, I don’t want to diminish the importance of creativity – which I define as the ability to problem-solve. As marketers, that’s essentially what our work comes down to – creating solutions to known and sometimes unknown problems. Doing this in a way that utilises the tools at our disposable (including insightful data points) in a way that connects us to audiences and creates differentiation is founded on our ability to be creative.
BT: Are you seeing more brands follow carefully considered strategies or do you think marketers still fly too much by the seat of their pants?
Pares: I definitely think there are still an awful lot of random acts of marketing. Of course it’s not intentional, but the pressure to be across all channels, to respond to the needs of various (often competing) parts of the business, and quite honestly, just the pressure to continually deliver can create a huge volume of activity, without the guiding strategy to make sense of all that activity. I’m a big proponent of the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid). Of course, it’s much more difficult to simplify than to complicate but simplicity has the power to streamline activity, resources and intention to things that count, which will ultimately create the focus required to deliver results.
BT: How do you define brand storytelling?
Pares: Having a consistent narrative that aligns your brand values, passion and purpose with the needs and interest of your audience. When this alignment is achieved and communicated with authenticity, it’s very powerful. It may not capture everyone’s attention, but that’s not the point. Those it does resonate with will be highly engaged.
BT: What type of content resonates with you?
Pares: For me, it’s content that connects emotionally and taps into a human truth. I came across some fake news recently, a commuter poster for the London tube. The original has been photoshopped with an edited message. The copy was hilarious, but more than that it touched a chord I could immediately relate to. It connected. I posted it on LinkedIn and that post has been going gangbusters! It helps that it’s funny – but it’s relatable.
BT: What do brands tend to get wrong with their content?
Pares: In my experience, there are usually two key areas. First, brands sometimes try to do too much by appealing to broad audiences, or thinking they need to play in every channel. It goes back to my earlier point around simplicity. There’s a lot of value and confidence in being quite targeted with your content efforts. People outside your core target will likely still consume or be impacted by the content, but it’s critical to ensure there’s a laser focus on your core audience so you’re setting up content for success with them first. The second issue I come across is expecting too much from content too soon. Content is a slow game. It needs time, consistency, care and attention. Expecting an immediate payoff simply isn’t realistic.
“A solid strategy backed up with high-quality content can win – even without the big media budgets to drive it.”
BT: What’s your favourite content platform – 1) as a publisher and 2) as a consumer?
Pares: As a publisher, it’s a difficult question to answer – it depends on the audience and the brand we’re working for. I believe email is still a very effective channel (it’s more a distribution channel than a publishing platform) but I think it’s undervalued (still). We know there are correlations with well-executed personalised email and revenue growth, and so it’s a critical piece of the content puzzle to drive traffic to publishing platforms and a path to purchase.
As a consumer, I’m a big fan of podcasts. I love the ability to tune in on my schedule and generally multi-task while I’m learning something new. With voice being the new frontier, brands should be thinking about how they can introduce audio content into the mix, and what’s required from a process and structure perspective to make voice content discoverable. This trend isn’t going away, so figuring out your voice strategy will be critical to getting some early wins.
BT: What is the best content execution you have been involved in?
Pares: We recently worked on a content program for Axicom, leaders in telecommunication towers. Although it’s still evolving, one of the key pieces was a researched in-depth whitepaper on 5G in Australia. Although not the sexiest example, what I love about it is the commitment this highly engineering-focused organisation has taken to using content as a platform for broadening their brand to conversations around innovation, including 5G. Content is a completely new initiative for this business, and already this one piece of content has created impact in their niche sector, it’s had organic pick up by industry trade – with no PR push or media spend and they’re starting to grow engagement with their target audience around this new topic. There’s a lot more to come, but for me it demonstrates that a solid strategy backed up with high-quality content can win – even without the big media budgets to drive it.
BT: What is an example of Australian brand content that works well?
Pares: There are lots of examples of big brands (with budgets to match) doing a great job, like Bupa’s Blue Room and HBF’s Direct Advice for Dads content hubs, but on a smaller scale I think the NSW Police Force does a great job with its social content. Rather than use fear, they use humour (often aided by their Troop Cat Ed) to communicate important public safety messages in a way the community can engage with and are happy to share. Usually the production value is quite low, but the message and tongue-in-cheek delivery win. The Easter double demerits video post illustrates this perfectly. With a Facebook community of over 1 million, they must be doing something right!
BT: What brands (here or overseas) stand out as great corporate storytellers?
Pares: GE is an international standout. Their ability to completely redefine technical and complex engineering by connecting at a human level to the things their technology enables everyday people to do is inspiring. But more than a content play, it’s their entire brand strategy told through stories that gives them reach and resonance beyond their direct audience. This video is just one example, and there are hundreds more.
On a smaller, local scale, online retailer ShowPo, led by founder and CEO Jane Lu is doing a great job of embracing authenticity to relate to its audience in a more human way. It’s become part of the brand mantra to tell stories about the business – the success and failures, showcase the personality of its people and the culture of its team. In an increasingly faceless online retail environment, it actively seeks out personal connections by showing vulnerability in its content and staying grounded. Despite the business growth, Jane still hand writes 3000 Christmas cards each year to send to a random selection of customers – now that’s making a personal connection!