This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
Content marketing is mainstream. Whether it's a B2B startup or a large consumer enterprise, most marketers now understand that stories are superior to ads because they're simply more impactful. More than half of Canadian consumers who have bought online responded that branded content had influenced their purchase decision.
However, at the moment, "gut feeling" is the reason marketers put content at the centre of their marketing. If probed about how to measure the ROI of content, many marketers would offer differing opinions.
Despite this uncertainty, the question of content marketing's role in bringing tangible business results is moving to the forefront of all marketing conversations. The challenge of measuring ROI is largely tied to the lack of attribution models that would work specifically for content.
For such an attribution model to exist, it would have to be possible to connect the dots of who is reading your content and what impact that content creates. While some pieces of this puzzle are still missing (for example, the absence of qualitative metrics around the impact of content), there are some promising movements in repurposing existing technologies to serve the content marketing space.
One of particular note is the adoption of programmatic technologies for the distribution of branded content. Programmatic native advertising is quickly becoming the default channel for distributing branded content in an efficient and attributable way. Why so? Because it provides a fundamental edge over traditional channels: the ability for advertisers to speak only to their audiences of interest without creating unnecessary noise.
What does this ability to reach only relevant audiences with content on-demand mean for brands?
First, targeted storytelling lets brands build deeper relationships with consumers. Gone are the days of the transactional approach to doing business. Driving revenue from existing customers is simply much cheaper than continuously acquiring new ones. As competition becomes fiercer across all verticals and product categories, building brand loyalty is of paramount importance for brands that want to stay relevant in the years to come.
Second, if you have several buyer personas, it becomes a powerful channel for segmenting your messaging. Instead of doing what most marketers do—that is, "pumping" content out—granular segmentation allows marketers to step away from the shotgun approach of content marketing and towards a "sniper" mentality.
At the end of the day, it's the right content delivered at the right time in the purchase funnel that truly moves the needle for brands. "Spray and pray" is simply not an approach that marketers should take two decades after the first ads appeared online.
Third, it brings convergence between brand advertising and performance teams. This can help brands and agencies build leaner teams, consolidate multiple platforms, and avoid an expensive overlap in reaching the same users. Awareness campaigns that have become synonymous with lack of accountability can start being closer tied to on-site engagements, events and ultimately sales.
Last but not least, as content-driven initiatives start moving down the funnel, we'll see more brands invest in value-adding strategies to connect with consumers. Content's non-interruptive delivery through native advertising creates a better user experience on the web and slows the ad blocking trend.
At the end of the day, all marketing and advertising efforts should accomplish one goal and one goal only: to drive sales now or in the future. With the adoption of real-time, data-driven technologies for the distribution of content, we're witnessing a shift from content marketing to content "performance" marketing—a more sustainable and accountable way to drive business results by delivering value—adding content to consumers in a timely manner.