Brand content – the (slow but sure) way to a consumer’s heart

Brands across multiple categories are increasingly investing into content marketing. Yet, for the vast majority, their efforts are more often than not met with mixed results. I have been looking into why that is.

The learning curve appears to be steep on a number of levels still for most advertisers.

First, content creation remains an art that simply most haven’t mastered yet, with only few brands having become experts at it, at both a strategic and executional levels (Red Bull is famously one of them).

Many need guidance on how to develop a content strategy in the first place, including advice on how to identify what content will resonate best with their target audience, how to achieve content relevance and stickiness whilst staying on brand, or where and how often to publish their content for maximum reach.

The prevalent state of play was summed up recently in the UK Outbrain survey: it revealed that whilst 93% of client-side marketers expected content marketing to become more important, only 38% had a strategy in place.

So whilst the intention to get serious about brand content is there, how to go about it is where the problem lies more often than not.

Additionally, the resource advertisers are prepared to commit may not be adequate – the dollars may be insufficient or the investment strategy short lived, with strategic, creative and editorial skills poorly represented.

Overall, the trial-and-error approach prevails, with a great deal of debate around who should own the content creation process: the brand (and within the organization, which team: marketing? social media?), the creative agency, publishers, content distribution platforms or a combination of all 4?

As the approach takes time to fine tune, and the brand learns what content works and doesn’t work over time, the lack of an immediate ROI makes the business case for continuous investment hard to defend in most organisations.

As I was reading about Virgin Mobile’s own journey and its test & learn approach, one particular comment piqued my attention: “The obvious risk, as with all brand content, is it does nothing for the brand” the article says.

An argument that Virgin Mobile’s head of brand marketing Ron Faris refutes however by saying that the company has data that proves that “creating fun content people actually like helps improve people’s perception of the brand — and the likeliness that they will then listen to its sales pitch”. Faris goes on saying “The more content they see the more they’re willing to consider us. You have to be more patient than with display advertising.”

I agree. Brand content is no fast way to your consumers’ hearts (and wallets); but a slow-burn approach to guiding them down the purchase path. Its sales impact builds up over time as it primarily drives awareness and consideration.

Where to from there then?

Listed below are the key learnings from my investigations to date on what to expect with brand content marketing, what works and what doesn’t:

#1 – Have a clear content owner and champion within your organization (e.g. your marketing team or social media team), who will become the guardian of your content strategy and give all your content across multiple channels a single-minded focus.

#2 – If new to content marketing and/or lacking the in-house strategic, creative or editorial skills, partner up with your creative agency on defining the content strategy that best aligns with your corporate and marketing objectives.

#3 – Let your creative and media agencies assist with setting up content partnerships with publishers. Publishers may be vying for your attention (and budgets) and approach you direct. Best you let your agencies broker the deal on your behalf: they will research publishers (incl. their audience demographics, quality and relevance of content being offered, engagement levels etc.), evaluate how well their offering matches up to your corporate and marketing objectives and work out the anticipated ROI for you.

#4 – Have a content plan. Some of the content may be organic or created in real-time in response to topical events or issues as they arise. Some of it should be planned for in advance through the development of an editorial calendar.

#5 – Create content that your audience wants to consume. Is your content entertaining (e.g. high adrenaline extreme sports content for Red Bull fans)? Is it genuinely useful to your audience (e.g. American Express’s Open Forum provides small businesses with content they want and need)? If the answer to either question is no, then drop the idea.

#7 – Be brave: have a point of view. This will help reinforce your USP. Patagonia, the outdoor apparel company, does this very well.

#8– Where your content lives depends on the target audience and the audience reach you are aiming for ultimately. It may be seeded on the social web (e.g. Red Bull YouTube channel), live in a dedicated destination (e.g. Virgin Mobile Feed), be embedded within a publisher site (e.g. Virgin Mobile on BuzzFeed), or a combination of all.

#9 – Your advertising itself can be a source of brand content – a great example of this is the TVC developed by Wieden + Kennedy for UK mobile network provider Three that went viral at the start of the year – a fine example of how content can entertain.

#10 – Or your brand content may become your advertising – Carlsberg does this very well as it started turning to its fans and the wider public to create its ATL advertising. Famously, its biker stunt ad has successfully helped reposition the beer as the reward for an act of courage (in line with its new 2011 strategy and tagline “That calls for a Carlsberg”). The results were impressive: 11 million views on YouTube within 8 months of the launch, Facebook shares in excess of 1.5 million, 364K mentions on Twitter and free publicity in more than 900 blogs, 150 news sites, numerous TV shows, newspapers and magazines with a 98% brand attribution (source: mashable). All of these led to a 4.3% increase in sales volumes in the 6 months following the campaign launch according to Carlsberg.

#11 – Arm yourself with patience and be willing to test, learn and optimise.

This list is by no means exhaustive; just a good starting point in my view. It will no doubt evolve over time as we all become more “content-savvy”, and roles and responsibilities change as the content production and publishing industries mature.

For now, don’t hesitate to let me know of any more must-have’s from your point of view we ought to add to our list!

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