New to sponsored content? Here’s how to get started

Back in July, I wrote an article on the nuts and bolts of sponsored content—what it is, what purposes it serves, and how it fits into the marketer’s toolkit. But how do B2B marketers who are intrigued by this particular form of content marketing go about actually trying it out? What do they need to consider? And how do they know the effort is working? Below, I offer six steps for marketers looking to get their feet wet with sponsored content.

Getting started: A targeted effort to experiment and learn is a good place to start. Media outlets don’t typically sell one-off sponsored-content placements, but they may offer a bundle of, say, one per month for three months. Treat the effort as a mini-campaign.

Deciding what content to feature: Scan your business to identify an initiative—the launch of a flagship report, for example, or a series of client success stories or a new business offering—that merits an extra marketing boost to a broader audience and that lends itself to a longer narrative than a social media post or a banner ad. When choosing which content to feature, be thoughtful about your intentions, key messages, and desired outcomes. Be sure each placement is of an appropriate scope and length to fit the medium, whether that’s an article, a video, or an infographic. Don’t try to stuff 10 pounds of content into a 2-pound sack; instead, highlight an especially relatable finding or angle, or distill a longer narrative into an elegant summary.

Selecting an outlet: Next, identify a media outlet or other channel whose demographics line up with your target audience and that reflects your brand purpose. It likely will be a channel you’ve used in the past for earned media or for other forms of advertising, but you may consider a new channel, especially if you’re in business-building mode. If the publication has print and online editions, inquire about whether the placement will appear in both. Costs for placement will vary, of course, based on the channel’s prestige, the size and demographics of the readership, the size and format of the content, and the duration of the placement.

Developing the content: To develop and produce the content, you may have either in-house capabilities or an established agency partner. Either way, be sure to read and follow the fine print on the required specifications, how to submit the piece, the lead time involved, and the like. Alternatively, many media outlets now offer turnkey content-creation services through their own studios—for an additional fee, of course. Your creative ambitions and budget will guide you to the most appropriate format and path for development.

Promoting it: Be sure to ask your media partner how it will help promote your content. If the content is relevant across multiple categories—for example, an industry sector and a function—then perhaps it can be placed in more than one location. Getting your content embedded into an e-newsletter is another way to broaden its reach. Naturally, you’ll also want to have your own plan in place for promoting the piece through your social, newsletter, and other channels.

Tracking performance: Ask what metrics you’ll receive to track performance, and ensure they provide sufficient detail to gauge the success of the effort. You’ll likely need to manually consolidate those data with whatever you can glean internally. If the content is driving traffic back to your site, be sure to distinguish it from other ways your audience might find it—by searching via Google or a native search, for example. Keep in mind that success is measured not just by visitors and page views but also by actions a reader may take—downloading a report, opting into a newsletter, or signing up for a webinar—in response to engaging with it.

You can learn a lot from this initial effort about how media companies package and sell sponsored content, how the deliverables differ from traditional advertising, what it takes to prepare a piece of content for external publishing, and, perhaps most important, whether it is an effective way to extend your reach. From here, if you find value in sponsored content and plan to continue investing in it, you’ll want to embed it into your broader digital content marketing strategy and take a programmatic approach. But that’s a topic for another time.

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