winter / 2016

The magazine of branded content
Why your
blog still
Juliet Stott
Juliet Stott
Jan 18, 2017

In a world where people’s attention spans are at an all-time low, and social media consumption is at an all-time high, is the blog still relevant? Yes, says Dan Grantham, Editorial Director from Campbell Ewald, an advertising and marketing communications agency headquartered in Detroit, who advocates that we should take a 360-degree view on content. “You have to be there, with what’s appropriate, on whatever channel. You have to reach people on their own turf,” he says.

Here Grantham, the three-time winner of The Pearl Awards “best blog” for client OnStar, talks to Content Magazine about why the blog still matters and how to keep the content on it fresh.

Is there still a role for a blog in today’s mobile/social world?
You have to be everywhere your readers/customers/prospects are and put content out on all channels for all people. We work very closely with our social team, so when we come up with an idea, it’s not just for the blog, but our social channels too. We always begin with asking ourselves, “How can we tell the best story possible on those channels?” People aren’t doing long reads on social, but there is a place for them on the blog. Those articles are there for those who want to dig deeper into the subject. From that standpoint, the blog is a help to them. A lot of our clients’ products or services are “considered purchases,” like buying a car, subscribing to a long-term service or making a move. Their customers are going to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions before they make a purchase. The blog is there to reassure them, to smooth the complexities of the buying decision. It’s there to help them feel comfortable with their purchase—that’s something a blog can do, which social channels can’t.

What comes first? The blog idea and then how you’ll disseminate the content on other channels? Or is it your social team suggesting topics?
It’s a bit of both. We do our content planning in quarterly installments. We sit down and factor in seasonal issues and client wants. The social team highlights questions being asked/topics raised on the differing channels and suggest we write articles that answer those issues. We get a lot of great input from them. As a result, we’ve done how-to videos and standard Q&As to help answer questions. We also do tips articles, which are really popular in the social space. We share the tips a little at a time as teasers to the blog. For example, we say to readers “If you like this, there’s a complete list on the blog.”

Do you monitor where OnStar readers are coming from? If so, how many come from mobile? And how does this affect the type of content you produce?
More than half of OnStar viewers come from a mobile device, so we have adopted a mobile-first approach to content. We try to ensure there’s not a grey wall of text and break it up with subheads or imagery. I know a lot of people want to go shorter with article length, but we try to make the length appropriate, so if we’re telling a really dramatic story about an OnStar subscriber we go to the length that it takes to tell the story. We are more conscious of how the content is displayed, which is part of the mobile experience. One area we have struggled with a bit in mobile is infographics. Traditionally, we like to use them to convey stories in a non-narrative way. But on mobile this is hard. Something that looks beautiful on a desktop can be a nightmare on mobile. It’s a reality that everyone’s dealing with.

Does a blog give a brand credibility?
Absolutely. But only if you’re doing it correctly and adding value to your reader with your content. If you don’t do that first and foremost, then it doesn’t matter what the brand’s messaging is. The key reason people are attracted to content marketing, and why it’s grown, is that readers are finding value in what they’re getting. There’s an exchange going on. They give us some of their time, and we’re imparting something of value that helps in their life. We hope that people feel better about the brand as a result. Content marketing succeeds when there’s a value transaction that’s happening beyond the brand finding a different way to push its message. Whether its through education, entertainment or inspiration, the reader must be able to take something away and apply it in their life.

What role does SEO play in underpinning a blogging strategy?
SEO is very important, but our mantra is, write for the audience first and the machine second. Yes, we want to rank well from an SEO standpoint, but if the approach isn’t engaging for the reader, then it’s not any good. You want to be successful on Google in addition to pleasing the reader.

Why should blogs include personal stories?
People are emotional creatures. Storytelling is as old as we are. As human beings, we used to sit around the campfire and tell stories. It’s an ancient tradition, and it’s a great way to communicate both lessons and knowledge from one person to the next. From a marketing standpoint, personal pieces are a great way to tell the brand story through the eyes of someone readers can identify with. There’s an authenticity to individual stories which may not be there with brand messages. Testimonial pieces go a long way toward helping people believe in, and understand, the brand and the value it can bring to their lives.

What role does data play in informing content on the blog?
We get weekly analytics reports that we look at. We get monthly analysis that we look at. We get quarterly statements that we look at. And what we’re looking for is whether our suppositions are correct in what we think people will be interested in. So, we use data more like a proof point on the approach, rather than a guide towards creating specific types of articles. When we notice pieces that have been particularly popular or engaging to the audience, we take a closer look and ask why. On a small scale, we pay to promote these pieces as native advertising.

Should we be worried if readers don’t read all of our carefully crafted blog posts to the very end?
One of the fallacies of modern marketing metrics is that if people don’t read the entire article that it’s a bad thing. But from a content marketing standpoint, if a customer spends any amount of time with the content, that’s valuable. We take the view that whatever portion of the article the reader has read we hope is of value to them. We hope that it enhances their feeling about the brand and helps them. We try not to get too hung up on whether the reader has read to the end of the article or not.