Content marketing is the process of delivering brand value to an audience by publishing branded content designed to help or entertain in order to earn attention rather than pay for it.

But how do you do content marketing?

Here are 20 simple and practical rules for doing epic content marketing – with examples – from brands such including Volvo, Dove, NASA, Google, and Amazon.

 

Content marketing is the process of delivering brand value to an audience by publishing branded content designed to help or entertain in order to earn attention rather than pay for it.

The rules are derived from 20 examples of epic content that appeared on the Internet in 2013 – 20 Things that Happened on the Internet in 2013 (all hidden in artwork above).  You can download the presentation of the rules here (and Syzygy’s PDF of the 20 Things here)

1 - Connecting People (Google Project Loon)

1. CONNECTING PEOPLE (GOOGLE PROJECT LOON)
Forget Skynet, this is Balloon-net. On June 16 2013, Google balloon-lifts 30 Internet Access Points 27 km up into the stratosphere from New Zealand’s South Island. The goal? To test a new idea for bringing online connectivity and Google ads – to signal-saturated and remote areas.

SO WHAT? In our hyper-connected world, connectivity is our life blood. We want it, crave it, need it. Through Project Loon, Google is connecting people to the Web, and more importantly to each other. Could you take a leaf out of Google’s book and build your digital strategy around helping people not only connect with your brand, but also with each other?

2 - Agile Marketing (Harlem Shake)

2. AGILE MARKETING (HARLEM SHAKE)
In early February 2013, this catchy 30-second dance becomes a YouTube copycat phenomenon garnering over a billion views as people perform and upload their own Harlem Shakes to the beat of DJ artist Baauer.

SO WHAT? When US video marketing agency Maker Studios noticed a YouTube video of five teens dancing to Baauer’s track, they decided it had viral potential. Producing their own professional version, and with the help of Baauer’s record label, they heavily promoted the videos on viral video sites and in social media. A copycat video fad ensued and Baauer’s track shot to #1 on iTunes. The lesson for digital marketers? Digital marketing needs to be agile and opportunistic to reap rewards.

3 - Be First or Not at All (Space-Oddity.png)

3. BE FIRST OR NOT AT ALL (SPACE ODDITY)
Released on May 23 2013 and sung from the US module of the International Space Station for copyright reasons, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield releases a zero-gravity YouTube cover of David Bowie’s classic ‘sitting-in-a-tin-can’ track.

SO WHAT? In the marketing classic ‘Purple Cow’, Seth Godin argues that in order to cut through digital marketing clutter, you need ‘stand-out’ marketing. And that means delivering a marketing ‘first’, something new, different and remarkable – like a purple cow appearing in a field of back and white cows. Better than a world first, NASA’s Space Oddity PR stunt was a interstellar first. The bar for digital marketing just got higher; be first or not at all.

3d-gun

4. DON’T BE THE STORY, BE PART OF THE (BIGGER) STORY (FIRST 3D PRINTED METAL GUN)
Who needs a 3D-printed plastic gun when you can 3D print the real metal deal? In November 2013, rapid-prototyping firm Solid Concepts publishes a YouTube video demonstrating the production and testing of the world’s first functional 3D-printed metal gun using 3D DMLS printing technology (direct metal laser sintering).

SO WHAT? Working primarily for the medical and automotive sectors, Solid Concepts has no involvement with the firearms industry. But the Texan firm’s smart YouTube PR stunt to generate awareness piggybacked on an existing popular and controversial news story about 3D printed firearms. The digital world is too big for your brand to be the story, try instead to be part of a bigger story.

schwarz

5. DIGITAL REVOLUTIONS (AARON SWARTZ DIES)
26 year-old Internet Hall of Famer, Aaron Hillel Swartz is found dead in his Brooklyn apartment in January 2013. Swartz, a much admired programmer and political activist, had been involved in the development of content sharing technology (RSS) and online copyright reform (Creative Commons).

SO WHAT? Swartz’ legacy to marketers is that the true value of digital lies not in preserving the status quo, but in revolutionising it. He believed that technology was a revolutionary and disruptive force for change – personal change, cultural change and political change – and applied technology to those ends. How can digital technology become the game-changer that transforms what you sell and how you sell it?

9 - Art of Wow (Epic Split)

6. THE ART OF WOW (THE EPIC SPLIT FEAT. JC VAN DAMME)
An ageing but buff Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme, goes viral on YouTube in a November 2013 Volvo Trucks ad. Aiming to demonstrate the stability and precision of Volvo steering, the ad features JC performing a full side splits between two reversing Volvo trucks.

SO WHAT? With digital technology providing more people with ever-more ways to skip, avoid or ignore ads, the biggest challenge facing the future of advertising is a creative challenge. How do we create ads that people actually want – and choose – to watch?Volvo responded to this creative challenge by bundling together some of the most popular ingredients of YouTube hits – celebrity, stunts, comedy and music. And it worked.

prism

7. ONE SIZE PRIVACY DOES NOT FIT ALL (NSA PHONE TAPPING)
On October 23 2013, and allegedly following online surveillance leaks from US NSA contractor Edward Snowden, German magazine Der Spiegel reports that the National Security Agency has been tapping the personal mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

SO WHAT? Privacy – whether illusory or not – matters to the media, politicians and consumers. And as attested by differing reactions to the NSA allegations around the world, the importance of privacy varies market to market. People may be willing to trade their privacy for security or benefits, but one size privacy, or lack of it, does not fit all.

6 - One Size Privacy - Not (US Gov Shutdown)

8. PICTURE POWER (THIS ZOO IS TEMPORARILY CLOSED)
‘This Adorably Sad Image Is Now The Official Photo Of The U.S. Government Shutdown’ claims viral news site buzzfeed in October 2013 describing this evocative and widely-shared image of a child at the closed barrier of the Washington National zoo.

SO WHAT? With the rise of online video in 2013, it’s easy to forget that pictures still speak a thousand words, and unlike video, pictures are immediate. Digital is a fast-moving visual medium, and to succeed your brand will need an image-first digital strategy that communicates in pictures not words.

7 - Digital as Value Delivery (Evernote:Post-it)

9. DIGITAL AS VALUE DELIVERY CHANNEL (POST-IT NOTE/EVERNOTE PARTNERSHIP)
On September 26 2013 popular note-taking software company Evernote announces that it has teamed up with 3M to add digital functionality to 3M’s classic Post-it Notes by making them scannable, importable, readable and sortable within Evernote.

SO WHAT? The Post-it Note/Evernote tie-up is indicative of the emergence of a new breed of ‘crossover brands’ delivering value both online and offline. In a world where the value of your brand lies in the margin you can extract through the value you add, can you afford not to add crossover value on and offline?

washington-post

10. DIGITAL FOR INNOVATION (JEFF BEZOS BUYS THE WASHINGTON POST)
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchases leading US daily newspaper The Washington Post for US$250 Million cash, completing the transaction on October 1, 2013.

SO WHAT? The Amazon chief has revealed his desire to use the Washington Post to ‘experiment’ with digital innovation. In a similar vein to Apple’s ‘experiment’ with Apple TV to reinvent television, digital is becoming a channel to explore, trial and test new business models. Does the true value of digital for your brand lie in innovation rather than communication?

5 - The Digital Spring Clean (Google Retires Reader)

11. THE DIGITAL SPRING CLEAN (GOOGLE RETIRES READER)
On July 1 2013 and at a ripe old age of 7 years and 8 months, Google shuts down its market-leading RSS Google Reader service as part of spring clean and a refocusing of resources and talent on core products and services.

SO WHAT? Does your brand need a digital spring clean? Just because you are, or could be, on every screen, social network or app store, should you? Take a leaf from the book of Google, and jettison non-core digital marketing and services. Do less digitally, but do it better.

ios

12. DIGITAL SUBVERTISING (iOS7 WATERPROOF AD)
Following a wave of hype around Apple’s new mobile software update, iOS7, a hoax ad surfaces on the popular 4chan image forum claiming that the new software will make Apple devices waterproof.

SO WHAT? Apple didn’t produce the phoney ads, but could you get a bigger bang for your campaign if your ad was subverted online? To cut through digital clutter, your campaign volume needs to be dialled up to 11, so why not try ‘subvertising'; culture-jamming your own ads with subversive humour to give them digital wings?

4 - Inspiration from the Edge (Silk Road Closed)

13. INSPIRATION FROM THE EDGE (SILK ROAD CLOSED)
On 2 October 2013 the FBI shuts down underground online marketplace Silk Road and seizes crypto-currency Bitcoin balances from user accounts. By the end of December 2013 a replacement Silk Road 2.0 was up and trading.

SO WHAT? Digital innovation typically happens at the edges rather than in the fat middle. Think hover-over video previews on adult sites, personalised screens on gaming pages, and Silk Road’s risk-busting payment-on-receipt escrow service. What could your brand learn from the edgy edges of digital experience?

8 - As Seen on YouTube (Fox)

14. ‘AS SEEN ON YOUTUBE’ (WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY?)
In September 2013, this music video promoting a Norwegian chat show goes global and viral on YouTube. Generating over 300 million views, the satirical video for ‘I kveld med Ylvis ‘asks the profound question of what sound foxes make (they yap, they can’t bark).

SO WHAT? As result of YouTube fame, the music track from the promotional video made the top 10 in download charts around the world, a book deal was sealed and an international tour organised. So is “Based on the YouTube Sensation” a new model for seeding and launching new artists, businesses – and perhaps even brands?

twitter

15. TWITTER BECOMES A NEWS NETWORK (TWITTER IPO)
On November 7 2013 Twitter goes live with its Initial Public Offering of 70 million shares to raise $1.8bn on the New York Stock Exchange. The opening bell is rung by X-men/Star Trek star Patrick Stewart and 9-year old child entrepreneur Vivienne Harr. The shares debut at $26.00 and close up 73% on the day at US$44.90.

SO WHAT? The success of Twitter’s IPO was due – in part – to its increasingly dominant role as a global news network for our global networked economy. Offering direct, realtime and rich media news content, Twitter is no longer an option, it is a must-have news network for broadcasting your brand news.

gosling

16. SHRINKING THE 30-SECOND SPOT (RYAN GOSLING WON’T EAT HIS CEREAL)
A series of six-second doctored Ryan Gosling movie clips are posted to Twitter’s Vine video-sharing app and find viral fame in April 2013. The clips, posted by Scottish film director Ryan McHenry, feature superimposed spoons of cereal looming in on the Canadian actor.

SO WHAT? In a digital world suffering from perpetual Attention Deficit Disorder, the traditional 30-second TV ad format feels increasingly maladapted and overindulgent. So is the ultra-short video format of Vine, a glimpse of advertising’s future? If so, brands will need to work on their elevator pitch and become experts in the art of fast sub-10-second storytelling.

ballmer

17. THE POST-PC ERA (STEVE BALLMER FAREWELL SPEECH)
Self-declared ‘emblem of an old era’ Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer makes a tearful farewell speech to employees on September 26 2013, backed by Dirty Dancing track ‘I’ve had the time of my life’.

SO WHAT? For consumer brands our new multiscreen Post-PC era is not about device formats and screen sizes, it’s about rising expectations for intuitive and seamless digital experiences that are either invisible or immersive. The non-intuitive PC era of turning off a device by pressing ‘Start’ is over.

dove

18. EXTENDING THE 30-SECOND SPOT (DOVE REAL BEAUTY ‘SKETCHES’)
Viral lightening does strike twice; Unilever brand Dove achieves another viral hit in April 2013 for its ‘Real Beauty’ campaign and garners 163 million views on YouTube. The feel-good ad features an FBI sketch artist in a social experiment that demonstrates to women that they are more beautiful than they think.

SO WHAT? At three minutes long, Real Beauty Sketches is part of a new generation of long-form video ads that uses YouTube and social media to break out of the 30-second TV spot mould. Could long-form branded video content offer consumers a more rewarding and less formulaic narrative, and become part of the future of digital advertising?

10 - Talking About Me (Selfie)

19. ARE WE TALKING ABOUT ME YET? (THE SELFIE)
In November 2013 the influential Oxford English Dictionary names ‘Selfie’ the new international word of the year. To crown the iconic status of self-portrait mobile snaps, US president Obama stars in the 2013 Selfie of the Year by snapping himself at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Owners of the Selfies-at-Funerals site are delighted.

SO WHAT? The rise of the selfie is indicative of how digital media has evolved into deeply personal media. Mobile devices have become extensions of ourselves, offering us a sixth sense, a second brain, and a powerful tool for managing our self identity and public image. Brands can continue using digital to talk about themselves, but smart brands will use digital to help people be, and talk about, themselves. Digital media; this time it’s personal.

pants-fire

20. BEYOND CHANNEL SILOS (WORST TWERK FAIL EVER)
A YouTube hoax goes viral in September 2013 featuring stunt actor Daphne Avalon who appears to catch fire whilst ‘twerking’ at home. Revealed as a hoax on US TV talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a YouTube clip of the ‘Big Reveal’ garners more views than the original 9 million views for the hoax.

SO WHAT? Piggybacking on media buzz surrounding Miley Cyrus’ suggestive twerking antics at the MTV awards, the Worst Twerk Fail PR stunt is an example of a new generation of TV/YouTube integration. The only place you’ll find a line between digital and traditional media now is in the obsolescent minds of marketing dinosaurs.