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Content Marketing is About Trust, Not Just Reach

Content Marketing is About Trust, Not Just Reach

Viral videos or hashtag campaigns won’t convert customers unless they build trust and confidence with their audience.

Bill Gates coined the phrase “content is king” in 1996, when he said, “One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.”

Marketers have taken note of this opportunity. Demand Metric claims that dollar-for-dollar, content marketing generates around three times as many leads as traditional marketing. And for good reason too. Digital content has a multitude of measurable uses that marketers can leverage. Content on the digital web can be created for specific demographics, allowing high-quality and direct engagement with audiences. An analysis by the Aberdeen Group, done in the same year, also shows that conversion rates for content marketing are typically 6-7 times higher than traditional marketing!

Aside from actual conversions, content marketing can help brands to generate demand from customers. Demand Metric states that 3 out of 5 people are motivated to seek out a particular product or service after reading about it online. Content marketing has even more intrinsic value than it seems, taking into consideration the fact that the traditional media is starting to fall in effectiveness. Now, more than 8 in 10 people skip TV adverts, while nearly half ignore direct mailers.

Content must spread, but…

Marketers acknowledge content as a powerful marketing tool, but for most of them, their focus is wrong. Over 90 percent of marketers incorporate content as part of their strategy, but as statistics have proven, most content marketing efforts go to waste. In fact, a study by Sirius Decisions has shown that approximately 60-70 percent of B2B content production goes to waste. Quantity means nothing without quality, and content means nothing if it doesn’t generate value downstream. Content needs to be relevant and exciting in order to inspire people to take action. Content needs to spread.

But with Facebook’s falling organic reach, posts typically reach only 2-5 percent of fans. And with more noise than ever on most platforms, it is essential to create content that can generate both buzz and demand. Viral is good, but does it always turn into a purchase decision? That is less clear.

A viral but largely ineffective campaign was Evian’s “roller babies” video, a visually striking video of babies expertly manoeuvering on roller skates, which naturally got a lot of views and went viral to the tune of over 77 million YouTube views.

The video had a lot of message virality, but that did not translate to sales success. Jonah Berger, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania stated that despite the viral success of the video, Evian went on to lose market share and sales dropped by 25 percent in the U.S. during the same time.

So take a good long look at your content strategy: does the content focus on the audience’s wants and needs? Or does it focus only on the brand?

Message virality and effectiveness: Why you need both

There are many ways to create potentially contagious content, but that doesn’t mean it is going to be effective in generating profit or results for your brand. There are two key things to every successful piece of contagious content: Message Effectiveness and Message Virality.

Message effectiveness refers to the extent to which the elements of message content help a brand achieve specific goals set before the campaign launch. The effectiveness of content depends on many factors, such as brand name placement, call to action, and explaining of product benefits (although not all are necessary at the same time). It may be tempting to create a funny or highly shocking piece of content, but it will not serve any purpose to a brand if the brand’s values are not imbued into the core message.

Message virality refers to the potential of a piece of content to go viral and catch attention among the online audience as well as media outlets. There are many ways to achieve this, using humour, shock, awe, or sorrow to grab onto the audience’s interest.

Organisations need to have this dual goal in mind when creating content. But a lot of content out there focuses only on message virality.

Take the social media campaign by the New York City Police Department earlier this year. NYPD wanted to create a viral campaign where citizens would share positive photos of themselves with their police officers, using the hashtag #myNYPD.

And they succeeded in getting it viral, but for all the wrong reasons.

Although the campaign started off on a positive note, it soon turned very sour. Citizens took advantage of the hashtag to share photos of police abuse, transforming what was supposed to be a feel-good publicity campaign into a myriad of trolling tweets, photos, and comments:


Clearly, this campaign either did not have clear goals besides virality, not did it anticipate how the elements of the message would impact viewers’ experience and reaction. In particular, market research prior to the campaign would have uncovered a particular situation: a priori negative attitudes toward the police, calling for a much more cautious social media campaign.

The role of trust

When it comes to purchasing for the first time, audiences are naturally apprehensive. They don’t know you. They don’t trust you. So you have to gain their trust.

Last year, a horrible haze from forest fires in Indonesia filled nearby Singapore’s skies, striking fear into the hearts of citizens to the point where people started to avoid going outdoors altogether.

Citizens flocked to the internet to find respiratory masks to block out toxic air particles. But there were many kinds of masks, many of which were not effective haze protection. The only official mask effective at filtering out haze particles is the N95 mask, produced by 3M.

Opportunists, both local and overseas, saw and recognised a business opportunity in the sudden interest in purchasing N95 masks. Soon enough, a lot of fake versions turned up and citizens, none the wiser, snatched them up like hot cakes on a cold windy day.

What 3M did on their social media front, however, was not to immediately push the product in the faces of citizens. 3M took an educational route, choosing instead to first establish trust with their audience.


When the audience was aware of the situation, 3M moved on to the second step of interaction with the public.


The audience reacted positively, eager for a method to identify a real mask, only to find out…


Through the posting of informative facts about the masks that citizens wanted to know, 3M slowly built their position as an authority on the subject.

Many of 3M’s posts were highly shared due to the relevance and time-worthiness of the content. The post above reached over 25,000 people and got around 80 shares for its value to the citizens.

They then introduced their masks to the masses. 3M posted content on the various kinds of masks available in the market, and why theirs was the best (and only) one to use during this period. By this time, the public was sufficiently convinced that 3M was the brand to go to.

Dermablend: Getting relevant attention

Another example, Dermablend, an international cosmetics brand, came up with a very interesting concept to market their tattoo concealer in Singapore, Asia’s leading cosmetics consumer in terms of expenditure per woman. They created a video to demonstrate the product by covering up the tattoos of the world’s most tattooed man.

With 5.7 million views in 10 days, it also successfully showcased the benefits of the brand’s products in a creative and easy-to-understand way. The content had a high shock value, but worked on a basic premise: Dermablend’s tattoo concealer is very effective.

Aside from going viral, the video brought in a 473 percent increase in e-commerce traffic in the first two weeks, resulting in an increase of over 100 percent in product sales.

So…how do I create contagious content?

Of course, there is no “perfect” recipe for creating contagious content. In fact, creating contagious content, in itself, should not be a driving force behind any content strategy. The one key KPI for any campaign should always be a brand’s objectives, be it an increase in brand awareness, an increase in leads, or profit.

Message effectiveness and message virality must both be present in any piece of content for it to spread.

David Dubois is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at INSEAD. Follow him on Twitter @d1dubois.

Marcus Ho is the co-founder of SocialMetric (blog). He is also the author of the book Social Payoff.

Follow INSEAD Knowledge on Twitter and Facebook


View Comments

Anonymous User

04/02/2015, 09.37 pm

Great piece David! Can't agree more that while going viral is amazing for visibility, quality, consistency and reader focus are the real key ingredients for contagious content. At #NovusAsia, we think the winning ticket combines platform neutrality, with an old-school publishing skill set. Long term, brands can indeed be newsmakers as you say, so long as the reader & customer needs almost remain in the headlights.


Anonymous User

20/09/2014, 03.24 am

Loved what you wrote, David. I think many brands are failing to understand that they may report a lot but readers at the end of the look for "truth and sincerity" - I guess that's where brands are struggling to leverage the reach which Facebook and Twitter give - but they are seeing the right engagements.

We at are trying to advocate that depth is more important than breath - have deeper engagement with your customers rather than broadcasting mindless information which consumers are not interested in.

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