Jonathan Crossfield

A word with … Jonathan Crossfield

In Interviews by Peter Gearin

Brand Tales speaks to a wordsmith with a nose for social media stinkers.

One of the most dominant voices in Australian content marketing, Jonathan Crossfield, likes to describe himself as a “storyteller”. He says this word fits on a business card more comfortably than his full and growing list of functions … everything from blogger to journalist/columnist to content marketing judge. One of his higher-profile roles these days is as a specialist in social media fails, which is something that no doubt leaves him with no shortage of material.

Brand Tales: What is your current role?

Jonathan Crossfield: Freelance storyteller, content marketer, consultant and writer.

BT: Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?

JC: I studied media and journalism, and then fell into copywriting and marketing 10 years ago – writing, managing blogs, social and a custom magazine. I went freelance in 2012.

BT: How did you get into content-based marketing?

JC: I started as a copywriter just as brand blogging became a thing and just as social media began to take off, so I soon found myself implementing these for Netregistry, the company I worked for. I joined Netregistry just as it was about to launch a custom print magazine as well – Nett – which I inherited from issue 3. So you could say I didn’t “get into” content marketing so much as content marketing found me and took over my life.

BT: What have you learnt about it since then?

JC: In the beginning, I was a media and journalistically trained writer trying to become a marketer. Over the years, I’ve realised that content marketing is really more about marketers trying to become journalists and media, so I learned to use that to my advantage and relax back into the media and journalistic values I learned twenty-mumble years ago – and fighting to not compromise those values where necessary. While marketing concepts are still vital, of course, content marketing relies on the ability to publish or broadcast great writing or great content – period. Journalism is still journalism no matter who picks up the bill or what the business model is behind the scenes.

BT: Which international company is doing content marketing really well, and why?

JC: I’m a big fan of Jyske Bank’s web TV strategy. Here was a Danish bank struggling against its competitors and underwent a major rebranding exercise about 10 years ago. One of the results of this was the cancellation of their long-running custom mag and redirecting than budget into more online video, as initial experiments had revealed far more measurable outcomes. By 2008, they had their own web TV channel of financial news, business reporting and events coverage which has gone on to win awards. The English language version launched in 2011. It also has its own TV studio and is self sufficient, so that today they describe it as a “TV station with its own bank”, rather than the other way around. The key factors are: 1) all reporting is impartial, covering their competitors as well; 2) regular, quality, advice-packed weekly programs people keep coming back for; and 3) widely shared and accessible – no membership or form fill-outs required. Massive audience + trusted information = brand success.

BT: Which Australian business is doing a great job? Why?

JC: I think you can’t go past Firebrand Talent for a great example of how a dogged commitment to good, regular content and good social can produce fantastic results. The recruitment space is highly competitive but Firebrand has used a well-executed blogging strategy and regular events such as #Digitalks to build a massive audience and establish huge authority – not only on the expected recruitment and career-building topics but also on marketing, digital, social, PR, design and more. As these are the industries they specialise in recruiting for, this also demonstrates its deep understanding of what clients are looking for.

“One well-planned, well-written ebook a year could achieve far more than 1000 mediocre blog posts.”Jonathan Crossfield

BT: Is there one specific content execution (not necessarily created in Australia) that you think works really well? Why?

JC: My favourite recent content execution is so wonderful because it’s so unexpected. MIT in the US has long published MIT Technology Review magazine, which is arguably a classic piece of content marketing nearly old enough to rival John Deere’s The Furrow magazine. (MIT is one of those brands that would never describe its publishing arm as content marketing because it’s entirely self-supporting and independent of the main university, but I would contend that’s exactly the point and what the rest of us need to be aiming for.) Anyway, for the last few years, MIT has published a sci-fi short story anthology called Twelve Tomorrows, commissioning the best SF and fantasy writers in the world to write short stories inspired by, or related to, current trends in technology and/or MIT research. MIT trains the inventors of tomorrow – and those people almost universally chose their path because they read sci-fi as a teenager. So I think it’s very smart for MIT to tap into that connection to reach the potential MIT students – or even just the MIT Technology Review subscribers – of tomorrow.

BT: What advice do you have for business owners/marketers thinking about using content as a prominent part of their marketing mix?

JC: Take your time! Content marketing is a long-term strategy. It could be months or years before the full benefits are realised, so spend the time to get it right. Do the research. Design a detailed strategy that uses content to solve existing problems or achieve a measurable goal. Whatever you do, don’t just do content marketing because you feel you should or because everyone else is. Without a clear strategy you’ll quickly find yourself questioning the time and expense that goes into it because you never decided what it was supposed to achieve or how you would measure the bottom line impact. And take the time to produce quality content instead of pushing out quantity that no one will read. One well-planned, well-written, well-executed ebook a year could achieve far more for a business than 1000 mediocre, unoriginal and rushed blog posts.

BT: What does the future hold for content-driven marketing in Australia?

JC: The avalanche of content has only just started – and I think the vast majority of this content remains mediocre. (This isn’t exclusive to Australia, by any stretch.) There is a lot of “quantity’ but IMHO far less “quality” going on. Quantity is easy and often cheaper – it’s content by production-line, made to fit a keyword strategy or designed to drive meaningless “engagement” numbers that actually do very little to move the CFO’s balance sheet.

The brands that will succeed with content are those that are committed to the long term, have a clear, measurable strategy, and give enough time and budget to ensure each piece is capable of standing out, reaching the right audience and resonating with the right message.

So there will still be a huge amount of content being produced. We’re just at the beginning of the avalanche. But I believe (hope) more and more brands will become more strategic and begin to invest more in less – favouring quality over quantity.

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