It's difficult getting audiences' attention in 2018. It's not just that content marketing is everywhere, it's that it's being done well by so many companies. As more and more brands get up to speed with how to offer value to their audiences and keep them coming back, the competition for people's time only intensifies. Nowhere is this more true than on mobile - users spend the vast majority of their time in apps, and encouraging them to leave them and visit your site is tough. At the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in New York earlier this year, Christopher Briseno, Creative Director for Digital at Bloomberg, led the audience through how the company look at content marketing design, particularly on mobile.
"About four years ago we sort of re-engineered marketing," Christopher explains. "We used to approach digital with web, social, and email, by channel. As we started moving our focus to content marketing, though, we said 'this approach is not working for us.' We had to stop focusing on the channels and really be channel agnostic, and think about the disciplines that we're doing. So, thinking about design, content, and technology, and how they work together." So, rather than looking at content as a series of channels through which to interact with different audiences, they realigned their approach to focus more on the facets that make up content marketing more broadly - the design, the technology it's on, and the content itself.
This initially became a process of beginning with content, then thinking about design before looking at technology. But this process was too iterative, and Christopher and his team looked at ways to make the process more agile. "Let's try and think of a more agile approach," he said. "Let ideas stem from any one team, that they can develop, and they can all share them and we can figure out how to create that compelling, interesting message."
Bloomberg positioned itself to build what Christopher refers to as a 'content machine,' a platform to keep audiences updated with expert insight on whatever business topic interests them. The refocusing of the business toward content was a big shift for a company as established and large as Bloomberg, despite its established success in media, and it necessitated some design tenets for the different teams to follow, as a way to embed the content-first approach into everything they did.
Don't be afraid of negative space
Designing for a smaller screen is something that has tripped up countless brands when they dive head first into mobile, and it was important for Bloomberg's content marketing strategy that it be well-designed and clean. By clearing the space around the content from clutter, Bloomberg got closer to the essence of content marketing - that the content itself is the message, rather than the CTAs and excessive branding around it. "This is my favorite one," Christopher says. "This is actually the opposite of what we used to do. Basically, it's OK to put air on the page, it's OK to not try to get everything into that little tiny package. It's OK to say one thing, have one view-point, and reduce that cognitive load for the user, so you can see what that message is and get rid of everything else."
Kill the noise
"If everyone is screaming and yelling, how do you get attention? Do the opposite, be quiet," Christopher says. "Have a simple voice. Let's have a conversations with folks, and let's stop yelling at them." This comes down to quality over quantity in content marketing. Initially, a lot of brands thought that having a constant, all-encompassing output would be a blueprint for success in an era of attention as a commodity. Many found that the opposite is true, though; less frequent, high-quality content is how to get engagement.
Make it scannable & stackable
Since content marketing took off, there has been a tension between generating clicks, getting people onto the page, and making quality content that can match that initial interest. One extreme end is clickbait, something reputable brands will try to avoid, but it's still important that content is enticing given that it will undoubtedly appear alongside. "As internet folks, you probably all know this. It's that skim, dip, dive thing," Christopher says. "So, think of how they're going through their social, they see something, something comes up - how do you make it engaging and tangible. Do they want to actually click on it? That sort of scannable, stackable idea. And then, if they engage, it's important that content has meaning to it. That's why it's so important that the content has meaning, and is really targeted to that specific audience. Then they're actually going to choose to dive in."
The third tenet is an important one to get right. Far too many publishers publish messages on social that are not quite clickbait but take, let's say, the wrong tact in encouraging audiences to click. It's a problem Bloomberg faced, and it's one that required a solution specific to mobile to resolve. "When we first started doing content marketing," Christopher admits, "our early social pieces looked like ads. We didn't know what we were doing. We took a print piece, kind of reformatted it, and put it on the internet... It's not engaging. It didn't look user-generated; it looked like an ad. People don't want to engage with that on social."
So, Bloomberg went back to square one to find their tone. They landed on a more playful style - Christopher uses the example of a piece about the strong dollar, which they framed as a boxing match between the dollar (in one corner) and all other world currencies (in the other), complete with a cartoon of a dollar sign flexing. It was off-brand for Bloomberg, but it had to be. Through the other examples Christopher shows, it becomes clear that Bloomberg has found its most effective technique. On Twitter and Facebook, it will post the link to the piece with a brief summary, alongside a short video or gif that gives further basic information as to what the piece is about. This is all to encourage users to take that deeper dive that he mentions earlier in his presentation. Secondary to that, though, the fuller posts also offer value to users in and of themselves. There's no need to click the link to get an overview of the information it discusses - it is not clickbait.
On top of changing the tone of social shares, the content itself needed adjusting to be more mobile-friendly. When the team received the piece, it was a series of pie charts and explanations of how they related to the dollar, which would not have been compelling on a small screen. The solution to this was to take the information in the charts and reformat them into a linear, scrollable story. This meant inventing more of a narrative to the piece - the team landed on the disparity between the US dollar and the Russian ruble - which can, in many cases, be done retrospectively.
Bloomberg is a good example of a (relatively) established business adjusting its approach to meet changing user expectations and developing digital platforms. Crucially, Christopher and his team learned from their mistakes, identified where they could improve on their existing practices, and put those improvements into action with good effect. Brands can take on board as much of Bloomberg's key tenets as they see fit, but the balance between encouraging clicks and offering real value applies to everyone in the industry, and it's important all content marketers consider it.
Find out more about how to make a success of publishing on social channels at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit this July 18 - 19 in New York. To see the list of confirmed speakers, click here.