Brands

Why Smart Brands Are Breaking the First Rule of Content Marketing

You’ve probably heard the big commandment of content marketing: Don’t talk about the brand. If you do, the theory goes, you’ll drive consumers away. After all, they want to read about the things they love, not about you.

But what about the people who are interested in your brand? What about the investors and potential investors? What about the employees and vendors with a stake in your success? Or, for that matter, what about the super-users who just can’t get enough? Shouldn’t you talk about the brand to them?

The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.

In November, Coca-Cola made waves by re-launching its corporate website in an online magazine format, with a strong focus on content. The Coca-Cola corporate site had been drawing 1.2 million unique visitors a month. Coke saw an opportunity to tell the Coca-Cola story through compelling content.

In some ways, Coca-Cola’s new website isn’t new at all. It’s a contemporary take on Coca-Cola Journey, a print magazine that the company distributed to employees from 1987-1997.

Ashley Brown, director for digital communications and social media at the Coca-Cola Company, told the New York Times that Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar A. Kent had challenged the team to find a way to bring back Coca-Cola Journey in the digital age. Coca-Cola had great stories to tell about the company and its history. Why not share them with the world?

“We hope we’re communicating in a way that smart, fun, and even a bit fearless.”

“Journey seeks to reach a digitally-savvy, globally-aware, and socially-connected reader, and we hope we’re communicating in a way that smart, fun, and even a bit fearless,” said Brown. “We haven’t figured everything out yet, but we’re getting closer and better at it every day.”

The new Coca-Cola Journey site helps tell the Coca-Cola narrative by focusing on employee stories, from how long-time archivist Phil Mooney keeps Coca-Cola’s history alive to how members of the Coca-Cola Global Women’s Initiative are changing the world. Other stories tackle industry-related health issues, highlight the brand’s good deeds, and delve into unexpected but interesting topics, such as how “Grownups are the New Gamers.”

All this content allows Coca-Cola to shape the company’s image for investors and internal constituents, giving them reason to think positively about the company and regard it as a thought leader.

“Now we can share employee, brand and company stories all in one place,” explained Ashley Callahan, Coke’s digital communications and social media manager. “This allows us to highlight the great work we’re doing and the people who are doing it. It also exposes our employees to cool initiatives Coke is engaged in that they can be proud of, but otherwise might not have known about. Who doesn’t want to be able to say, ‘I work for a company that values their employees, empowers women, gives back and reinvests in the communities where we operate?'”

Coca-Cola’s content-focused reimagining of the corporate website is certainly laudable. After all, most corporate sites are still stuck in the dull dark ages. But it’s not revolutionary. Some top tech companies have taken this approach from the start.

“It … exposes our employees to cool initiatives Coke is engaged in that they can be proud of, but otherwise might not have known about. Who doesn’t want to be able to say, ‘I work for a company that values their employees, empowers women, gives back and reinvests in the communities where we operate?'”

For almost nine years, Google’s primary corporate presence has been the Official Google Blog, hosted with a simple, minimal design on Blogger, which Google purchased in 2003. Since launching the blog in May 2004, Google has published 2,843 posts — nearly one per day — filled with insightful hacks, product updates, peaks at Google’s culture and charitable efforts, recipes for chicken dishes, and everything in between.

The content is consistently fascinating, and the blog’s voice is friendly and intimate. It never feels like a PR push; instead, it feels like Google employees are just sharing the things that excite them.

Google has replicated this approach for its products and sub-businesses, creating blogs for Gmail, Android, Google News, AdWords, Analytics, among others. Each blog digs into the nitty-gritty of the service, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the products being created and the people creating them.

Another prime example is Twitter’s official blog. Like Google’s blog, Twitter’s blog is hosted on Blogger and represents Twitter’s main corporate presence online.

While Google’s blog focuses on its many innovative products and experiments, Twitter’s blog often examines how major world events play out on the platform, from the Arab Spring to the Super Bowl and March Madness. It also highlights major “events” going on each week on the platform, such as live chats and political Q&A’s; all of this content provides value to Twitter’s super users, and positions the social network at the epicenter of major world events.

GE is another major brand that understands the importance of telling company stories in the most compelling way possible. GE’s Annual Report is no longer a drab PDF; the 2012 Report feels much more like an online magazine, with several pieces of juicy content served up on its elegant corporate site.

GE organizes its content into four storytelling verticals  Moving, Curing, Powering, and Building  with each section containing multimedia stories about how GE is working to shape and change our future. It’s an engaging way to present your message to investors and internal constituents alike.

“We use storytelling, which is critical, to make sure we bring to life what we do in ways that are inherently interesting.”

“This is probably true for all brands, but I am speaking for GE, content is important because it helps people relate to what it is we do,” GE Executive Director of Global Digital Marketing Linda Boff told Digiday. “What we do, not what we sell. We are involved in renewable energy in transportation, healthcare and natural gases. These are inherently interesting. We use storytelling, which is critical, to make sure we bring to life what we do in ways that are inherently interesting.”

Alas, these examples remain few and far between. Too often the same brands that are creating great content in other contexts are failing to find engaging ways to tell their own stories. Perhaps we should add a second commandment of content marketing: Go ahead, talk about yourself, as long as you have something interesting to say.

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