Seven Principles of Content Marketing in the Digital Age — Part 1

The special interest media experience requires publishers to reinterpret how users assimilate information.

Mequoda has been designing and building content marketing systems since 1995 while concurrently studying those of other publishers to determine the best practices. Every 12-18 months we do a review and revise, as needed, the seven principles of content marketing as they continue to evolve.

Like everyone else who is struggling to fully embrace the Digital Age, we strive to both understand the continuous, ongoing maturation of these concepts, as well as to assimilate the refinements.

For anyone over age 40, content marketing in the Digital Age is nothing like the fundamentals of advertising and direct marketing we studied in college. Today we are challenged to re-examine the old standards of space ads, broadcast advertising and direct response, and to reinterpret them in the new world of content marketing.

Frankly, content marketing is antithetical to anything we knew prior to 20 years ago — something Seth Godin terms interruption marketing. Everything I learned in college and during my early career, whether space ads, TV commercials or direct response, employed hardcore, confrontational marketing messages.

These ads were always pushed on the user, with little or no relationship to the environment in which they appeared. Whether a space ad in a magazine, a TV commercial in a news hour, or a direct mail package in a mailbox, they were not contextual, either in terms of media or audience.

In this and my next several blog posts, we will re-examine the seven principles of content marketing as we reinterpret them on the eve of 2011.

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Content marketing principle #1: Understand User Needs

The special interest media experience is not primarily about publishers pushing out editorial content to prospective users.

Oppositely, the special interest media experience is about the self-aware, self-actualized user seeking information from trusted sources. Those specialists range from the foremost experts in any discipline, to respected friends and colleagues. Included are online communities, user-generated content, expert-generated content and curated content.

Curators are experts who use their broader knowledge of a subject to select, arrange, organize and interpret user-generated content. Of course, this is what journalists have always done, especially expert journalists.

When a user conducts research to inform a decision, whether about where to hold a wedding, what car to buy, or how to spice tonight’s soup, she may want to consult her peers, or look to the foremost experts for guidance. If searching for medical guidance or other critical information, she may want a second, third or fourth opinion, as well.

Today’s online researcher can gather and assimilate information from both other users and experts. The Internet has made the process both easier and more complicated, owing to all the available options.

When searching special interest media, users most highly value a first-person experience from a combination of experts, colleagues and peers. The best high-fidelity user experience is a live event that can be any in-person event, from a cocktail party, to an industry conference, to dinner with friends. That’s the top of the media pyramid.

The most desirable alternative to a live event is an off-line experience such as reading a book or white paper. In the Digital Age, any downloadable media is the best alternative to a personal experience.

Ownership has value. The permanence of a text, photo, video or any tangible medium is an important media attribute.

Finally, the online experience is valuable because it is accessible and searchable, both through Google and on social networks. Facebook and Twitter are beginning to compete with Google as additional online content media where users can search for information from experts, colleagues and peers.

In my next blog post we’ll discuss content marketing principle #2: Use many platforms.


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