Despite the fact that everyone seems to be talking about content creation, very few brands can actually present a case that holds together under careful scrutiny. One brand that has its content act together is Viking River Cruises evidenced by an expansive library of gorgeous videos that have generated over 6 million minutes of viewing, an online international recipe collection that makes you hungry for its destinations and social media that is actually social.
Initiated three years ago by their CMO Richard Marnell, Viking’s content not only helps build awareness of its cruise line but also, and more interestingly, keeps customers engaged between booking a trip and actually boarding a ship. I was delighted to catch up with Richard at The CMO Club Summit in Los Angeles recently for a panel discussion. Even if you aren’t quite ready for a river cruise, anyone interested in setting up a ship-shape content program will want to read on.
What role does content marketing play for Viking River Cruises?
Our product has a somewhat long purchase cycle, so content marketing keeps our guests engaged throughout the customer journey. Most valuably for us, it has filled a hole that was previously there for a segment we refer to as ‘Booked, Not Departed’ — meaning those who reserved their cruise a year in advance and are excited, but no longer receiving marketing messages from Viking. Now they receive content marketing that is relevant to the product or itinerary that they’ve purchased — and it amplifies their anticipation, continues to connect them with the brand, and builds a base of knowledge and enrichment from which to further enhance their actual product experience when they do travel.
Also, the content that we produce ourselves can be particularly useful in the re-engage stage of a long purchase cycle. Our passengers may not take a trip every year, so maybe they don’t always latch onto our promotional marketing, but even if they’re not ready to start planning their next trip, there’s a high probability that they’d like to test out the recipe we just emailed them, or answer a question we posted to Facebook. It keeps us in their consciousness and adds value to their day. Our content marketing helps create a brand halo.
Presumably, all this content also helps build awareness. Does social play a part?
[The program is] increasing brand awareness because videos such as language lessons, the cats of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, or a recipe for Vienna’s Sacher Torte are things that our audience wants to share with their friends. And on Facebook, for example, when our audience engages with our content, it is then spread to their other Facebook friends. Plus, travel is something they naturally talk about on social media anyway.
Can you talk about the synergies of content marketing with your other marketing efforts?
Content marketing is not a tactic — it’s a strategy. It folds into all of our channels — email, web, social, print, and PR — while experiencing the product onboard our ships. It also folds into multiple stages in the purchase cycle.
How are you getting all this content created?
Currently, any Viking published content is all created in-house, but in order to continue scaling with the growth of our business, as well as meet the demands of more and more content, we’ll need to add other publishers to the mix. The benefit to keeping it in-house is speed, and the brand voice is consistent. The downside is that being a publisher is a full-time job. Knowing what to create, how to create it well, and having sufficient time in which to create it is always a challenge.
Rather than outsource more original content, we’re looking to scale for increasing content needs and elevate our brand by partnering with top publishers of the kind of content our audience likes, curating that content into one digital destination under our brand umbrella. Moving forward, we’re looking to become more like a broadcaster than a publisher.
How about user-generated content?
Yes, we regularly solicit customer reviews — lengthy and detailed ones — on a popular cruise site. We use email and our own website to direct our customers to this third party site to write reviews and rate our product, because it’s a site that ranks highly in our top search terms and because we understand that consumers trust peer reviews more than brands’.
In PR we’ve started building relationships with social influencers, as well as more traditional media. They produce content differently than traditional media. It’s often quicker, there’s more of it, they’ll take their own photos and videos and publish across multiple platforms. It’s a way of having content created for us, rather than by us.
Are there any risks with user-generated content?
There’s some risk in turning over your brand to others. They’ll never say 100% of what you want them to say or how you’d want them to say it. They’ll talk about your brand in their own voice rather than your brand voice — there are pros and cons to that, too. But it’s an unavoidable situation in today’s digital marketplace. So we start all user-generated content efforts first with understanding who we are talking to. We extensively listen to what our customers are already saying online, we vet social influencers with both our PR firm and social media teams, or we target customers who rated us highly in questionnaires or customers with a high NPS. Then we build relationships with them, provide some kind of guidelines on what we’re politely asking for, and let go.
For any newbies out there, tell us a few of the bigger mistakes to avoid.
1. Don’t start by focusing on print. Focus on digital. Digital channels and their low-cost barriers and ease of use are part of what has made content marketing explode. Think of YouTube, WordPress, Facebook, downloadable articles, or Constant Contact. Then consider paper, printing, shipping, warehousing, postage, and etcetera. Plus, remember that digital content is easier for today’s consumer to share with an audience.
2. Know that producing engaging content is a challenge that we all face and one that is most often learned through trial and error. Our instinct as marketers is to sell, promote, assert market leadership, and hit home those branding messages.
Resist the urge to have all of your marketing speak directly to your products and services. Strive to balance the promotional aspect of your content with informational evergreen content. Remember that content marketing isn’t push marketing — it’s a pull strategy that can be thought of as the marketing of attraction. It’s marketing that is engaging, educational, helpful, entertaining, and there when you need it.
Think of it this way: no one likes a one-sided conversation, so don’t be the guy on the date who only talks about himself. Instead, start your content strategy with a goal of establishing genuine customer-brand relationships by offering up content that your target audience would find shareable. Be the guy on the date that she wants to go tell her friends about, because he’s the guy who gets the second date, while the one who only talks about himself is in the never-ending cycle of first dates.
3. Remember that 90% of purchase decisions now begin with an Internet search — and you’ll need content to help you show up in these searches.