Ten years ago, if you would have suggested to a journalist that he might find a rewarding career in marketing, he would have laughed at you. Marketing was popularly regarded in newsrooms as the “dark side” and PR counterparts as “hacks.” But the times have changed.
Jonah Bloom began his career as a journalist, spending time on the staffs of a few British publications and also writing for regarded institutions like The Guardian. He eventually landed a gig as editor of Advertising Age, where he worked for nearly a decade. But in 2010, Bloom crossed over to New York-based agency Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, where he is now executive director of content strategy, working with brands like BMW and HomeGoods.
Today, thanks to the rise of social media, savvy brands know that providing compelling, engaging content will attract audiences. Which is precisely what Bloom is known for.
Media companies would not exist without the trust of their audiences, he says. If a reporter is caught lying or deceiving, he’d be done for, and there’s no reason a brand’s content can’t earn the same trust.
“The idea that there is such a difference between the motives of Intel and News Corp. is a strange idea,” Bloom says. “They both have the same standards: How do I get the biggest audience possible?”
When I spoke with Bloom recently, he shared his principles for doing just that.
1. Fight for what’s right for the audience.
“General marketers apply brand filters to their communications. A content marketer’s job is to make sure they’re also applying the audience (what we could call an ‘editorial’) filter. That is to say, your first responsibility is to create something that people want or need. Ads are things you want to say to the audience; content is stuff the audience wants to watch, listen to, participate in, and so on.”
2. Sharable by design is not just a cute little cliché.
“It’s widely held that you can’t guarantee virality. But rigorous research into audience taste and behavior—and constant application of the simple test ‘Would I interrupt a busy friend’s day with this piece of content?’—will give you a much higher chance of success.”
3. You’re in the business of selling stuff.
“Just as most media companies (the BBC or NPR might be exceptions) are ultimately in the business of engaging an audience to sell ads or content, most content marketers are ultimately in the business of engaging an audience to sell products or services. While you’re doing that by putting the audience first, and by creating and strengthening the inbound marketing channels, it’ll all be for naught if it doesn’t help make the cash registers ring.”
4. Owned media should be integrated with earned and paid media.
“How will your content play in PR terms? Should you use paid media to amplify its impact, and if so how? How will different technologies and social networks affect its consumption? Is your content optimized for search? Good content marketing, like all good marketing, should be fully integrated; it’s one part of a solution to a marketing challenge. Isolation is not splendid.”
5. Be authentic.
Media consumers are adept at knowing when someone is not being honest. Keep your motives transparent. Be sure your content provides something valuable and isn’t a loosely veiled ad pitch.
“If Exxon starts pumping out a climate science blog or white paper, [the reader has] to decide if they find them credible,” says Bloom. (Unfortunately, he adds, some people would.)
6. Keep it simple.
“It is tempting to bedazzle with your bullshit,” Bloom says, “but the best content and, indeed, the best marketing, is usually brilliantly simple and easily explained.”
You only have the eyes and ears of your audience for a brief second in an often-overwhelming marketplace of media. Be sure you can capture them in that second.
7. See content as a proxy for, not an alternative to, utility.
“Content is not the end game here. The end game is giving the consumer value and utility. If the most value for the consumer would be derived from free shipping, or a new piece of software, or a better user experience, then doing a feature film integration isn’t the right answer.”