By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

Peloton Rides And Lego Outfits: The Importance Of 21st-Century Content Marketing

I recently returned from the largest content marketing conference in the world — fittingly named Content Marketing World — and it got me thinking: How do you generate brand buzz? How do you “go viral”? How do you draw a direct line between branding and selling?

In today’s world, it’s virtually impossible to succeed as a business — large or small — without engaging in some form of content marketing. Amazon, Lego and the New York Times all have that in common — they create content to promote their brands and engage with consumers. From social media posts and YouTube videos to op-ed columns and blogs posts, content really is king. Content creation is synonymous with successful marketing.

Public relations has transformed from drafting press releases for the media to creating other forms of content that engage with a target audience, and that’s exciting. Of course, media relations is still an important component of PR, but the idea of content marketing is to interact with people in a wide range of new ways, beyond the traditional news story or five-minute TV spot. The options are now endless, as are the platforms of interaction. In a given situation, TikTok may matter more than a Wall Street Journal story. Perhaps that LinkedIn post goes a longer way than your appearance on CNBC.

However, the key is to be strategic and creative. If you saw the Today show episode where Jenna Bush Hager dressed up as a Lego character, you consumed a unique, fun example of content marketing. That was creative, for sure.

But behind the publicity stunt was probably a whole lot of strategic thinking, which included the targeting and messaging associated with content creation. Part of that thinking no doubt was the call to action — buy more Legos — but packaged in a new way.

One brand that I have grown to love during the Covid-19 pandemic is Peloton. I bought a Peloton bike in February and use it basically every day. The appeal isn’t just about the exercise classes; it also comes down to the personalities (e.g., the personal brands) of the Peloton instructors, such as Cody Rigsby, Selena Samuela and Matt Wilpers. Rigsby even competed as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars.

Who would’ve ever thought that would happen? Well, it happened because people like Rigsby are becoming celebrities in their own right since Peloton empowered them as personal brands. Now, Peloton has built an army of involved, enthusiastic brand ambassadors who can spread word of mouth and make referrals to other would-be customers.

When done right, content marketing creates a palpable buzz around a brand. Clever uses of content can generate word-of-mouth marketing — still the best form of marketing — whereby people talk about a brand and conjure up more grassroots appeal over time. Take the “dudes” from the Dude Perfect channel on YouTube: They turned viral videos into an online brand with tens of millions of subscribers. They leveraged content to start and grow a lucrative business. From throwing footballs out of airplanes to landing faraway shots in basketball hoops, the Dude Perfect brand epitomizes buzz. And from what I’ve seen, they haven’t lost sight of their target audience — the tens of millions of YouTube viewers who crave sports-related content.

If you’re a content marketer, think about what keeps your target audience up at night and how you can help solve their problems. Think about what they’re craving content-wise and how you can fill that void. What are their frequently asked questions, and how can you answer them? Are they on Facebook or Instagram? Can you secure their email addresses to share promotional content? An email list of engaged subscribers is one of the most valuable tools in any company’s marketing toolkit.

Whatever you do online, never forget to measure your return on investment. You can spend millions of dollars on content and get nowhere if you don’t calculate your ROI for every spend. If you don’t have a strategy for being creative and tracking success, you’re just spinning your wheels.

That’s the ultimate challenge for content marketers like myself. But we should be excited by the opportunity to be creative, as we ride our Peloton bikes and buy Legos for the little people in our lives.

This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in November 2021.