There are some new buzzwords in marketing going around, everything from “Collaborative Marketing” to “Relationship Marketing,” and even “Branded Content.” But what do those phrases really mean and how can today’s businesses take advantage of them?

Well, we all know that consumers are becoming more and more contemptuous of push advertising, which has traditional marketers scrambling to find a magic bullet to replace it. But with what? When social came along and marketers mistakenly tried to force push advertising messages there, the failures were huge.

What we’re seeing is a gradual shift away from advertising in general, and back towards communication, which has always been the human strong suit. People want to get information when they want it—not have it thrown at them, and they want to have conversations about and with brands. I read an article recently at that quoted Scott Olrich, CMO of the relationship-based marketing software company, Responsys. Olrich sums up the shift pretty nicely:

“A century or so back, the local corner shop lived or died based on the relationships they built. As new means of mass communication emerged, companies used their increased reach to try to advertise their way out of that responsibility. But today every aspect of a company’s behavior is on public display. A relationship first approach to every customer interaction has again become the imperative.”

Even Google’s algorithm changes are indicative of this shift towards communication and conversation, with content relevance being a key factor. Content that’s helpful and educational trumps marketing-speak, improves SEO and is instrumental in opening the door to those all-important relationships.

So where does that leave the average business? Finding ways to start more conversations is a good place to begin. At Collective Bias®, we foster a collaborative marketing approach by managing a private community called Social Fabric. It’s a platform for micro-publishers (or bloggers) who are passionate about building relationships and telling stories. Collective Bias® uses Social Fabric® to gain shopper insights and to identify brand advocates to create content for client campaigns.

This works very well for retailers and other brands because these bloggers are your shoppers and consumers. They are the brains behind some of our most successful campaigns – building, leading and managing them. Our community is different from most, because our members are highly involved in the campaign process. The content our bloggers produce is creative, engaging and compelling, and its reach is exponential, because it’s syndicated across various social channels as well as through the blogger’s audience. But what makes this type of content influential is that it’s tied to an emotional connection that resonates with people. It’s not about selling—it’s not about hype—it’s people talking to people about their lives and experiences with a brand being a part of the story.

So our focus is on collaborating with the Social Fabric® blogger community to create the informative, educational and emotionally compelling content that people are looking for online.

Some big brands are also finding success in creating “branded content,” which research analysts at Forrester define as “content that is developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education. It is designed to build brand consideration and affinity, not sell a product or service. It is not a paid ad, sponsorship, or product placement.”

That’s not to say that ads don’t have their place, but they can no longer be the major focus—it has to be delivering great brand stories. Companies that have moved the needle on branded content include Proctor & Gamble, Cisco, Duane Reade, Tyson, Nestle, Bigelow Tea, Red Bull and The Cleveland Clinic, to name a few. And they consistently leverage this content ahead of ad campaigns, which gives them even more top-of-mind reach and better ad response. These brands improve their products by staying close to their customers with constant communication at every stage of the customer relationship.

The marketing shift to branded storytelling also means that companies need to re-think metrics. It’s not enough today to simply measure impressions as a factor of campaign ROI—we need to think in terms of measuring our influence as well and our SOV (Share of Voice). Tracking the quality of engagement with our messaging is crucial to measuring overall effectiveness.

So whether your business is selling widgets or services, success depends on thinking more in terms of delivering stories about those widgets or services and how people use them than about pumping out feature-rich fact sheets or ads. Your customers want to hear those stories, so find more ways to tell them! Reach out to your brand advocates and collaborate with them, and don’t forget to include quality of engagement in your metrics for a better overall view of how you’re doing. In other words, think like a publisher—you’ll get better results.


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