As traditional marketing tactics become less and less effective, many brands are looking for new ways to rise above the noise and truly engage with consumers in more meaningful ways. One such method is content marketing. Barnes & Noble College’s Tamara Vostok, Consumer & New Media Marketing Manager, spoke about the importance of content marketing at Mission Possible 2013. This invitation-only social business summit hosted by Expion focused on the challenges and opportunities in managing social media programs. Joining Vostok on the Content Marketing panel were Justin Gardner of AMC Theaters, Tonia Hammer of Molson Coors, and conference keynote speaker Jay Baer, founder of Convince and Convert and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Youtility.
During the panel discussion, each speaker discussed how their brand uses content marketing to attract customers, creating and distributing content that is relevant and valuable to them as opposed to simply sending a message through ads or emails.
“When it comes to social media, it’s not enough to simply post a status update,” said Vostok. “That’s basically the social media equivalent of a billboard ad. It takes more than that to engage consumers – especially today’s college students, who are used to having immediate access to information online.”
Particularly important for Barnes & Noble College, which operates more than 700 unique campus stores across the country, is understanding that what might be relevant for one campus may not be work for another. That’s why each campus store is operated on a local level; while store managers are supported by the corporate office, they are empowered to make decisions locally – and that includes social media channels and content.
“Our store managers know best when it comes to what’s important to their students – they’re the on-campus experts,” explained Vostok. “That’s why time and time again, the best results – or the most engagement – happens when the content and conversations are started and driven from the campus store level, not from a centralized location.”
The panelists agreed that while many brands are starting to better integrate content marketing into their overall marketing strategy, technology is changing the game – particularly when it comes to college students. Millennials and those in the following generation, Generation Z, aren’t just consumers of content – they’re creators, said Vostok. And by leveraging the content they are creating, students can feel more connected to their campus store’s activities.
For example, each year freshmen receive a New Student Welcome Kit from their campus store. This year, Barnes & Noble College leveraged the popularity of Instagram by running a contest that would allow students to submit their own Instagram photos for an 18-month wall calendar, which would be distributed to new students as part of the Welcome Kit. With more than 4,000 submissions in two weeks, the contest was an extremely successful and fun way to showcase the creative content that students were already creating.
One question posed to each panelist related to suggestions for other areas that a company could reach from in order to build that content marketing portfolio. Vostok said that a blog can be a good place to start. Barnes & Noble College’s blog, The College Juice, offers “tips and advice from folks who know college all too well – those who have been through it and now work on campus.” From budgeting tips to DIY projects, the blog gives Barnes & Noble College exclusive, relevant and valuable content – beyond the traditional new product or discount announcement – that can be pushed out to students through email and social media channels like Pinterest.
“To really make the content resonate, you have to take it one step further by bringing it from social media to real life,” said Vostok. “That’s what’s going to spark engagement with your customers and build the connection with your brand – when you can show the true value you add to their everyday lives.”