How Aberdeen wins with owned and paid content
Two years into Aberdeen’s content journey, we welcome to the blog James Whiteman, Aberdeen’s head of investment communications, who’s answering key questions for us and offering up some good honest insights into what they’ve learned.
When you first started thinking about a content marketing strategy, what were the main challenges you needed to overcome?
Complexity. As a global company, operating in over 25 countries each with multiple distribution channels, the overall content needs of the business are immense.
Beyond that, we had the usual hurdles: digital infrastructure; obtaining buy-in from sales, senior management, broader marketing, compliance and product; and developing a content production team capable of delivering on our ambitious plans.
How did the strategy address these?
We tried to simplify as much as we could and start small. All very obvious stuff but so easy to forget when you are daunted by a mountain of work and challenges ahead. So we initially launched content programmes in the UK and US before gradually building out from there – taking our key markets in turn.
In terms of simplifying, we mapped out where markets had overlapping content needs and product priorities and over time have established a global versus local content hybrid model. It is still a work in progress.
What are some of the successes of the past few years that have meant the most to Aberdeen?
It is easy to focus on some of the more high profile pieces, like our three animation series (Golden Rules, Deadly Sins and Fables) that have collectively garnered over 4 million YouTube views.
There’s also our India: The Giant Awakens long-form article which reached 50,000 people organically. But the most impressive and rewarding aspect has been the consistency and steady volume of content that we’ve maintained. That, and the anecdotal feedback from sales teams when a piece of content proves useful in capturing a sale.
How did your internal team work with The Dubs?
The Dubs helped implement our social media strategy. Building on from this, they have been heavily involved in crafting the visual and branding identity for our content. As a key part of this they have continually supplied us with visually arresting and contextually relevant images to support our written, audio and video content. Lastly, they have had significant input in shaping our overall content strategy.
Firstly, we don’t always get it right. It is hard to keep everyone happy all of the time. This applies to both internal and external stakeholders. Balancing conflicting priorities requires compromises and that can sometimes mean that relevance is jeopardised. We never compromise on quality.
If you make your points clearly and offer a point of view that challenges convention you can actually straddle multiple geographies and client types in one go – so long as the topic is macro and big picture enough.
Quality of content and insight is key here; so style and substance. It is amazing how forgiving people are on the relevance issue if your content is engaging and insightful. If you make your points clearly and offer a point of view that challenges convention you can actually straddle multiple geographies and client types in one go – so long as the topic is macro and big picture enough. We try to overcome all of this by focusing on quality over quantity, making sure that our ‘globally relevant’ content is of the highest order, and then furnish this content backbone with locally-produced and therefore more locally-relevant content.
How has the strategy evolved over the last couple of years, based on learnings along the way?
We are always learning. Deciding on KPIs and how to judge yourself is a never-ending process, and a difficult one at that. It is a blend of art and science. Data is great, but often what counts can’t be counted. This is particularly true in a heavily-intermediated business environment like ours.
Understand your audience and be as relevant as you can to them. The relationship is a delicate one. People aren’t daft. They understand that we want to sell something to them and they are prepared to tolerate this fact as long as we provide them with value and insight – and, most importantly, as long as we don’t push our products too hard. That is a sure fire way to turn people off.
Above all else though, we have learned not to be afraid to take risks; to be curious about our product environment, to be adaptable to changing content mediums and to trust our instincts. Content is like any other product; people usually don’t know what they want until you present it to them. If you don’t try to push boundaries and stand out, you will be left behind.
What have you learned about the power of content for a financial brand?
People are becoming blind to banner ads and the like. Content ads, on the other hand, offer a deeper way of engaging with clients and prospects. Content marketing, by its very nature, is far more client-centric as it moves the product much further down the agenda – in theory to a place more suited to when the consumer is ready to engage at that level.
When implemented effectively it makes the sales process slicker and more subtle. Good content builds trust. And from this base, core marketing objectives can be achieved: brand awareness, product consideration and credibility as well as lead nurturing and generation.
Considered amplification is essential. A huge part of this has been a greater understanding and realisation of the importance of owned versus paid media. Our clients and prospects are everywhere, in the digital sense, and so we have multiple opportunities to reach them. Usually that means venturing outside of your ‘owned’ digital environment, servicing that as a form of digital backstop (albeit an extremely powerful one).
Owned media is very much a long-term game. We start from the premise that as we build out our audience and readership, we must leverage other ones in order to reach the relevant people. Standard PR opportunities are the cheapest way of achieving this, along with third party distributors (the supermarkets to the manufacturers to use a more relatable industry analogy). These channels form the bedrock of our content distribution strategy. For paid amplification, besides targeted search and social techniques, we use whitelisted media outlets in order to ensure relevance.
There can be no doubt that we are in the midst of a fundamental shift in how people consume content. This is as true in TV and film as it is in media and journalism. It has thrust content into the heart of the marketing mix, for good reason, and makes it a very exciting time to be a comms specialist.