"Content marketing" has grown from a murkily defined buzzword--or rather, a series of evolving buzzwords including "branded content" and "custom publishing"--into a ubiquitous, and in some high-profile cases demonstrably effective marketing strategy. Whether they knew it or not, millions of American consumers were touched last year by savvy content marketing campaigns from a broad spectrum of brands ranging from Oreo cookies to the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. Marketers across all industries are frequently subject to pressure from outside experts, as well as from inside the executive suite, to "tell their brand's story" rather than just run ads and commercials. An organization's chief content officer--a title that scarcely existed prior to the turn of the 21st century--is likely to hold considerable sway over the brand's image, voice, and direction.
With the rise of content marketing has come a proliferation of solutions for companies lacking the resources or the internal know-how to execute their own content marketing strategies from scratch.
One such service, called OnTopic, is an off-shoot of Examiner.com, which is a media company that employs tens of thousands of freelance writers who specialize in both subject-matter and geographical areas (i.e., small business in Atlanta, or food in San Francisco). In 2011, Examiner.com developed the notion of putting selected members of its contributor community to work creating content for publishers, marketers and agencies-effectively leveraging its contributor workforce to execute content marketing campaigns on a consultancy basis.
Justin Jimenez, the senior director of content at Examiner.com, described the opportunity the company saw to put its writers to work for external clients in need of a high volume of content production. "We had the advantage of having a vast network of contributors with a very broad collective body of knowledge that we could engage relatively quickly to create on-demand content for clients," Jiminez says.
Examiner.com vets and trains a small percentage of its stable of more than 85,000 writers to put to work on OnTopic.
OnTopic has been employed by organizations such as CBS Local; Care.com, a source for senior- and childcare information; and HealthGrades a source of information about doctors, hospitals, and other consumer medical research. In the case of CBS Local, OnTopic writers create content targeted by geography and subject matter to ensure that the sites' avid media consumers have access to a steady stream of fresh content. Care.com and HealthGrades used OnTopic to build up their respective libraries of articles and information.
Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, says that services such as OnTopic are becoming increasingly common, and that they're really just adapted versions of a model that has been around for a long time.
"The outsourcing of content creation has been happening for 100 years. It's almost like what's old is new," Pulizzi says. He pointed to agencies such as TMG and Imagination that began their lives as custom publishers in the 1980s and '90s, and have now moved into the more contemporary realm of content marketing, with services ranging from social media campaigns to online video series to graphic novels. Newer companies such Zerys, Contently, and Skyward came into being during the current era of content marketing, but didn't necessarily invent the concept.
The difference in what organizations are looking for in their content marketing strategies today is a level of sophistication, coherence, and interest. "Churn and burn content no longer cuts it," Pulizzi says. Examiner.com's OnTopic and similar services seek to provide that kind of high level of custom content by leveraging the expertise of a pre-existing pool of content creators who might call themselves journalists first, and who might never have considered creating branded content--or even be familiar with the term.
(Content Marketing Cycle image courtesy of Shutterstock.)