Building a Content Portfolio: An Interview with Empower Group’s Kevin Dugan

Kevin Dugan Wrenches
It’s important to explore every avenue of digital marketing. In an ever-changing online landscape, brands must be prepared to pivot quickly as new strategies gain momentum. Many companies find that approaches like native advertising and owned content can produce positive results, but the key to a sustainable content marketing strategy is more complicated than that. To get a better sense of how this terrain looks, we turned to Kevin Dugan.


Empower Group’s Kevin Dugan says brands understand the ownership benefits of producing quality content.

Kevin is the director of marketing at Magnetic Content Studios, a property of the Cincinnati-based Empower Group, whose clients include U.S. Bank, Godiva, Wendy’s and more. Kevin shared with us his take on the importance of brands balancing their content portfolios, how to help clients see the benefits of content marketing, and some best practices for developing a content strategy that breaks through the noise of the digital landscape.


There’s been a native advertising ramp-up at many media companies. Is it better to focus on owned content marketing assets?

​There is a spectrum of options out there, including native advertising, which involves everything from traditional publishers all the way to branded publishers. We’re proponents of all of them for the right reasons. We live in a world where you can’t choose one thing and survive by it. You see a lot of the native come out of content studios that publishers have created.

​Native advertising offers brands a way to test and learn with content marketing. We don’t think it’s a sustainable strategy on its own. You’re renting an audience. That’s when we think of a brand’s media budget. It tends to be a brand’s single largest [marketing] expenditure. With a small fraction of that invested into content marketing you could do something different and long-term.​


What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in content marketing?

Social media really disrupted things because it can be both paid and earned. In this social media space native ads are closer to traditional advertising but much better than the old, awkward advertorial. Back when things were so siloed, creating any piece of editorial was obviously an ad, and of course it was going to look awkward. ​


You emphasize the importance of data in content marketing. How does that fit into the strategies you develop?

​Data informs every step of the publishing process. There are four phases: plan, publish, distribute, and optimize. You start with strategy, tapping into different data streams: Web analytics, search data for both product and category, and social data. On social platforms you do your research and say, “Here’s how people talk about this thing​.” Search signals are more exciting; you know what people want to learn about these things. These insights then drive the rest of the planning process.

Is there one type of digital content that provides a greater return than others?

​At a blogger level we’re pretty media neutral and don’t really feel like one can rule the day. Everybody will tell you “Wow, digital video is off the charts and mobile video consumption is growing,” but even though you’re growing quickly compared to traditional TV, television still rules the day. Social media is a really great complement to TV. With online versus traditional, you need to find the right mix depending on a brand’s needs. Typically a company’s max expenditure on marketing is closer to 10 percent of revenue. As a marketer, if your clients are doing that you’re in good shape.


What is your experience in helping brands get over the “strategy hurdle?” How do you help them see the value in content marketing?

​As far as getting brands over the strategy hurdle, our track record is good. We’ve done test campaigns for clients. We start with the topic we agreed we would write on, say “Here’s the conversion metric,” and put it into our discovery network. We can say we spent this, got this many views or this much traffic, and this many people did business with you. In one case we had a single article convince a brand to divert search dollars into content. The conversion shows how much the data has become integrated with the marketing and for the folks who are resistant to this we have done some small campaigns to help them ultimately inform their strategy.


Are there other sticking points that brands have trouble overcoming?

​The other hurdle the brands have is the ability to write about something other than themselves. Getting brands to understand the benefit of them writing about something other than themselves is often ​the first point of discussion. People get that message, but then they wonder, “How do I get credit?” We help them realize they’re not just controlling the story, but also the environment and experience around it. Guess who controls the advertising around it? You do. Your [call-to-action] will be an ad served up next to your content. We want to make sure there’s a breadcrumb trail back to the brand. In some cases we have sites for clients where they run noncompetitive ads and extend their marketing budget by 10 percent. Data can be used to optimize the first strategy-driven iteration of that, and a campaign turns into a commitment. We’re happy to teach our clients how to fish.


Read more of Kevin’s thoughts on marketing through the posts on his website and follow him on Twitter.


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About Adam Dudek

Adam is a freelance writer specializing in digital content. He has previous experience at an online startup as well as in the entertainment industry. He can be reached at