“Know your audience.”

– Marketers Everywhere

There’s a lot to be said for audience research and evidence-based content strategies. Data and technology have revolutionised the way we connect with consumers; instead of relying on broad demographics and one-size-fits-all creative, brands can now personalise their messaging down to the individual. And many do.

But despite all the insights and analysis, there’s still an element of the unknown that we’ll perhaps never be able to fully understand or predict: sometimes things just “work”, and sometimes they don’t.

I recently experienced this myself, when a few pieces of content we created for our long-time client National Storage unexpectedly went into overdrive on social and in search. While I’d love to able to say we planned it all and knew this was going to happen, the truth is that we didn’t. But that’s ok – it’s part of what keeps this kind of work so interesting.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the pieces that performed well and explore how we might apply these tactics to other brands and their content-led campaigns.

The background

One of the things I love about this profession is that it gives you a rare view into a huge variety of industries, and it’s usually a lot more interesting than you’d expect. This is most certainly true with National Storage – self-storage doesn’t strike most people as particularly exciting, but beneath the surface there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, especially in terms of tech and audience strategy.

For National Storage, the iProspect Brisbane team is now almost two years into a fully fledged content marketing strategy, which underpins our greater channel and attribution strategy. At the heart of this approach is our ongoing writing and design, and amplification through social media – namely Facebook.

We’ve written about our work for National Storage before, but in this example, it wasn’t a major giveaway or mega promotion that took things up a notch: it was a string of unexpectedly high-performing content pieces amplified through targeted Facebook campaigns.

So successful has this strategy been that as of the end of June 2018, social traffic has grown over 140% QoQ without any additional budget.

What we did

A major part of our audience-first content strategy (initially put together by our very capable Melbourne team following a similar formula to our award-winning Starwood strategy) is to craft content for a number of defined audiences, based on their importance – both commercially and in terms of audience engagement.

With over 160 pieces of content now on their blog (aptly named The Store-y), we’ve covered an enormous range of topics for every conceivable audience, search intent and objective. We’ve ticked as many boxes as we can, from useful “utility” content like guides and how-tos to traffic-oriented organic search fodder, and of course a good dose of “just for fun” content aimed more at leaving our users with a positive impression of the brand.

It was a couple of these “just for fun” items that for some reason went stratospheric when we decided to put some budget behind them on Facebook.

Enter the toastie machine

The piece that stole the show was an article about a toastie machine, titled “You don’t need these items in your home”. We didn’t go into the post thinking we would hit some kind of viral sweet spot – in fact, at the time it was just another one of those ideas that had something to do with storage… at least on some kind of tangent.

But when we put the post up on Facebook, it quickly gained traction and ended up earning 10,000 link clicks in under two weeks. As of the writing of this article, the post has driven almost 24,000 new users to the National Storage site, with a 1.12% onsite conversion rate and 278 direct last-click phone call conversions, all at an overall CPC of just $0.07.

These numbers are significantly better than other content discovery platforms like Outbrain we’ve used previously, while simultaneously delivering huge numbers of real (and measurable) converting customers.

While things like this are almost impossible to plan ahead of time, being able to react to them is equally important. So we decided to look through some of the comments and see how we might capitalise on the popularity of the first post.

It seemed that people got up in arms about their precious toastie machines because they thought we were committing some kind of crime against an Aussie culinary institution. They chimed in with all the reasons they thought our post was wrong… so we did the humble thing and accepted their suggestions. But we didn’t stop there – we did a full 180 and published a second piece, this time entitled “Is a sandwich maker the only appliance you really need?”.

This post also did well, though not quite as explosively as the original. It was good to re-engage with people and show them that not only is National Storage a brand that is undoubtedly Australian, but it also has a heart and sense of humour – and with our main objective for the blog being brand awareness, participating in and fostering the conversation was a no-brainer.

What we’ve learned

While this wasn’t the first time we had a certain post gain decent traction for National Storage (for example, the below article on kerbside collections continues to be our highest-conversion-rate article from organic search), it was the first time it got to this level.

Here’s what we’ve learned from our ongoing efforts for The Store-y:

1. Experimentation is your friend

Having the client’s blessing to experiment with content is crucial to fostering a spirit of “test and learn”, even if the channel is something as top-of-funnel as a blog or social amplification. To their credit, our partners at National Storage are uniquely receptive to ideas, which enables an open and collaborative approach to the blog (and site as a whole).

2. Engagement lowers costs at all sides

For Facebook specifically, the more engagement you accumulate, the better your cost metrics are going to do. Social reach is famously difficult to measure, but from our analysis it appears that there’s a sweet spot – a tipping point – after which Facebook considers a post to be good enough to start ramping up its visibility in users’ friend’s feeds.

3. Engagement comes from people reacting/engaging with your content

The toastie machine post appeared to do well because of its mild controversy. We’ve all seen the arguments people online get into about iPhones and Androids, which way to put a toilet roll, or whether a dress is blue or gold. Minor, inoffensive controversy is something that people just like getting involved in. For your own campaigns, try to identify whether there’s something like this that you can harness – if we managed it for a self-storage company, I’m sure you could too.

4. Content amplification isn’t just for top-of-funnel activity

Over time, National Storage’s Facebook successes have proven that content amplification isn’t just for the top of the funnel. On the contrary, our content promotion activity has repeatedly shown itself to be a valid and significant source of last-click conversions, despite this not even being the original objective. The numbers speak for themselves: since its launch from zero in late 2016, The Store-y now accounts for 10% of total converting traffic, and one quarter of all phone calls.

Social is now National Storage’s 2nd biggest channel in terms of inbound traffic, and the toastie machine post and others like it brought in an extra 500 phone calls QoQ in April-June alone.

5. Audience targeting, de-duping and re-use are pivotal

To make this content amplification work without negatively affecting our other channels (including performance social), we needed to de-dupe our audiences and ensure we were not only avoiding creative fatigue and efficiency-killing audience overlap, but also feeding the correct users into our remarketing funnels. Without these safeguards in place, our efforts across Facebook would’ve been far less effective.

Some other highlights

I’ll leave you with some other top-performing posts. Oh, and while you’re at it, follow National Storage at https://www.facebook.com/NationalStorage/!

This post below achieved an incredible 14.88% CTR (unique link clicks) in April 2018, at an astoundingly low $0.07 per click, and earned an impressive share rate despite lower total engagement.

Meanwhile, this post on upcycling furniture achieved $0.07 per click and 9.98% CTR, with over 12,000 clicks to the site.

All credit here goes to our multi-talented content team, and the wonderful folks at National Storage for the creative freedom they give us. And, of course, to the hard-working toastie machines of Australia.

Craig Gibson

Craig Gibson is Client Strategy Director at iProspect Brisbane. He leads strategy for a number of our key enterprise clients, specialising in solving both client and consumer problems across all touchpoints, from data and insights to strategy and creative.