Is content marketing the new weapon in our advertiser toolbox?

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


I recently caught up with one of global media’s experts on one of our industry’s hottest topics: content marketing. Sean Stanleigh is head of the Globe Content Studio (GCS) at The Globe and Mail, a Canadian media company based in Toronto. 

In essence, the GCS is a team of editors, social-media strategists, designers, and data analysts who comprise the content marketing division of The Globe and Mail. They produce premium quality articles, publications, videos, and podcasts for world-leading brands. They uncover meaningful brand stories, “artfully" package them, and deliver them to targeted audiences. 

So, what exactly is content marketing?

It is an advertising strategy that involves creating and distributing relevant, valued, and engaging content to attract a target audience and encourage it to move down the purchasing funnel. Content marketing has been embraced by many global media organisations, mostly through dedicated content studios, as an offering to their advertising partners.

A content. marketing campaign featuring the Sap Sucker brand in The Globe and Mail.
A content. marketing campaign featuring the Sap Sucker brand in The Globe and Mail.

The best content marketing doesn’t aim for a “hard sell” of a client’s brand. It generates customer interest in a product or service using light integration. The idea is that the more value you offer via expertise, the more likely you’ll get potential customers to consider making a purchase.

In short, content marketing highlights the advertiser’s knowledge, insights, and authority in their industry. It cements credibility, helping them gain consumer trust.

In addition, it can build brand awareness and boost SEO, making it more likely for a brand to be discovered by new customers and engage existing customers to perhaps buy again.

I interviewed Sean, wanting to know about his team’s efforts in 2021 and trends we should all be thinking about in 2022 from a content marketing perspective. What is he seeing and planning with his clients? 

This is what we covered:

“Seamless not abrupt”

MC: Sean, welcome to INMA. Let’s firstly talk about 2021. How did you integrate your clients into the world of content marketing? It must have been a new concept for many.

SS: Heavy handed was out, light integration was in. Whether campaigns were B2B or B2C, companies and consumers alike were looking for guidance, and the best content marketing showcased expertise and information. I hate to use the phrase “thought leadership,” but it remains the standard industry term for “value” and it helps with both retention and acquisition. It’s fine to mention products and services; ultimately, it’s about how you weave them organically into your storytelling. It should be seamless, not abrupt.

Sean Stanleigh is head of the Globe Content Studio at The Globe and Mail.
Sean Stanleigh is head of the Globe Content Studio at The Globe and Mail.

Brand awareness campaigns

MC: During COVID, we heard of many brands having supply chain issues. Not enough products to sell, basically. Did that help or hinder what you were trying to convey at a time where ad spend was down on previous years and the unwillingness by some advertisers to commit ad budgets to media?

SS: Labour disruptions, parts shortages, transportation issues, and changing border requirements contributed to challenges for businesses and consumers to get the goods they needed in a timely fashion.

The decreased supplies of everything from food to cars meant that yes, a lot of companies had fewer products to sell and therefore needed to change their marketing focus.

The volume of brand awareness campaigns increased for those businesses that smartly decided to remain top of mind even if supplies were low.

“No going back to the old days”

MC: Did the change in shopping behaviour affect your business proposition with customers returning to the high street to shop?

SS: Sure, there was a return to more in-person shopping. But let’s face it, once you get used to the convenience of online purchasing, there’s no going back to the “old days.”

Shoppable links gained more traction, adding a bottom-of-the-funnel tactic to content-marketing programmes that are traditionally more focused on top- and mid-funnel executions

New channels to consider

MC: I get that and there were other factors, too, no doubt? Other platforms like digital audio, more choices to consider?

SS: Podcasts. Live audio. Smart speakers. Voice-controlled personal assistants. None of these were new to 2021. It’s the amount of growth we saw that mattered. Brands that failed to capitalise on this trend are well behind the eight ball, and they have some catching up to do in 2022. 2021 was the year to produce or advertise in the podcast arena, to host or join regular audio conversations on Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces, or to optimise your voice SEO strategy.

Social media

MC: And what about social media?

SS: Social media platforms are personality driven, and there is no better way to draw attention to your brand and its “face” than live video. Whether it was through Instagram Live for B2C executions, or LinkedIn Live for B2B, digital broadcasting was a great way to connect with new and existing audiences, and to showcase company expertise on relevant topics. 

Social media platforms are a great way to get to know your customers but can be tricky on the data front.
Social media platforms are a great way to get to know your customers but can be tricky on the data front.

You also learned something about your customers based on the questions you ended up fielding. Going forward, bear in mind that social platforms are increasingly raising their privacy walls, making it more difficult to funnel traffic back to your own Web site and sharing less of their data. You need to adapt in the ways you use them.

MC: How did brands adapt to that?

SS: Successful content marketing on these platforms followed the influencer model — social-first content designed for the platform rather than simply posting cut-downs of longer-form storytelling. TikTok, the ultimate walled garden, expanded into branded content in the latter part of 2021, a trend expected to continue alongside its overall growth.

Non-fungible tokens

MC: So, looking ahead to 2022, what are the main trends in content marketing?

SS: Firstly, Non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The term doesn’t have a great ring to it, and most people couldn’t explain NFTs if they tried. But everyone saw references to them in 2021 and probably wondered whether they should pay attention. In 2022, you won’t have much choice.

The one-of-a-kind nature of these digital files, underpinned by blockchain technology, assigns them value, and brands are starting to think about their place in the ecosystem. While sports memorabilia and art sales were most prominent in terms of early deployment, this is going to ramp up.

Web 3.0, the metaverse and effective storytelling tools

MC: What else are you predicting? 

SS: Cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and, by extension, the NFT marketplace are related to the emergence of Web 3.0, designed to decentralise the Internet and give users more control over their online identities. You won’t be able to escape talk of the metaverse now that Facebook has rebranded as Meta to better reflect its stance that the future of the Web is an immersive, 3D virtual world. 

On these two fronts, bold brands are looking at a test-and-try year. These developments are not fully realised, but if there’s a “world” in which (controversial rapper/artist) Travis Scott can perform and sell merchandise for millions of fans and where privacy is valued over profit. It’s a sea change. The question is how to capitalise on it.

And speaking of 3D, this is the year of its revolution. COVID-19 and related safety protocols put a damper on video production through much of the past two years. But individual creators were able to shine, and their efforts point the way toward a potential resurgence in 2022.

No matter which way those winds blow, expect this to be the year of motion graphics, which can be used as effective storytelling tools, particularly for explainer videos. They are cost effective, social friendly, and sharable, and they can help define your brand identity.

First-party data

MC: And I have to ask you Sean about the emerging first-party data scenario

SS: While Google has decided to delay deprecation of third-party cookies to late 2022, their demise is coming and the time to prepare is now. First-party data is king, and putting it to good use is going to be a key content marketing strategy. You’ll need to attract current and potential clients to your own environment where you can target them and benefit from building exclusive audience segments. Content will be crucial to those efforts.

Focus on the fundamentals: “evergreen, memorable, always-on”

MC: As we conclude, what advice would you give to INMA members getting into content marketing?

SS: In an age of rapid technological change, it’s easy to forget the core content principles that drive success. It’s still the spark of human creativity that makes the difference between an average campaign and a standout effort. Start with research and data to lead you in the right direction. Then think evergreen, memorable, always-on. Choose a format that best suits your idea. Optimise as you go. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Talk to your customers. What are their pain points? How can you solve them through content?

3 key takeaways

MC: Any final thoughts?

SS: Three things: 

  1. People will continue to spend more time than ever in front of their laptops and on their mobile devices. The digital space has to be your No. 1 priority.
  2. Facebook may have rebranded, and a lot of people are counting it out, but it’s still the elephant in the room. You can’t buy around it. Yet.
  3. We’ll learn to live with COVID-19. A lot of new ideas and new businesses will emerge. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.

MC: Sean, thank you. It’s been enlightening, and I appreciate your time and insights. 

Taking advertising offerings from raw products to profitability

With Sean Stanleigh’s interview and how he approaches advertising business in mind, I was recently watching one of Jodie Hopperton’s excellent INMA Product Meet-Ups (part of the INMA Product Initiative) and it got me thinking.

Once we have the product — be it in content marketing or whatever— is there a “set” ad sales process we should all follow that then takes the product and applies a business case to it whilst allowing for the very best user experience?

A great advertiser user experience is key to ad profitability.
A great advertiser user experience is key to ad profitability.

Innovating business case/profit models always find new ways to turn a media company’s offerings into revenue. Great ideas reflect deep understanding of what the customers actually love and where new revenue opportunities might be found. Such models often challenge the media industry’s old assumptions about what to offer, how to price, and how to collect any revenue. In many industries, the prominent profit model often goes unchallenged for many years.

So, I came up with the following with regards to try to think beyond the product itself:

We start with the notion that we want to firstly apply a business case model centred around innovation where certain assets need to be configured, usually all differently, to capture maximum value, i.e. the first phase of a three-part process. The chronological three phases each have questions to be asked before moving onto the next phase.

Phase 1: Internal configuration

What network do we want to tap into? Agencies? Advertisers direct? Both? How do set up for success re: using communication channels, target audience planning, etc.? This is all about the internal workings and resource of a media company and its business systems. What structure and processes do we already have in place, and is it optimal to achieve our goals? 

Phase 2: Ad offerings

This is all about aiming for “actual product range of offerings” focused innovation. Do we need to reinvent the offerings we have already to create value? In essence, are our ad offerings able to demonstrate performance KPIs effectively, and do our systems/processes allow us to change and tweak if need be based on client demands or changing trends/marketplaces?

Phase 3: User experience

Are we concentrated around giving the advertiser the best possible experience? Again, it’s all about what value do we offer in terms of:

  • Service (advisory, bespoke, attitude, etc.).
  • Range of offerings (is it enough?).
  • Brand (trust, reputation of our brand, and what we’re offering).
  • Customer interaction and engagement (can we prove what we offer is wanted and loved by the target audience)? 

The above is meant to be a short “ready reckoner” to how you should approach your clients. Keep it handy as a sense check as to how you take your ad products forward from basic/“raw” to profit. 

Further reading

If you like this newsletter, you may want to deep dive into all things advertising. Try one or more of the following links for further insights, best practices, and presentations in media advertising:

Dates for the diary

Have you signed up for my Print Advertising Innovation master class? The three-session virtual class begins this Thursday.

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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