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Last July, I wrote a blogpost about what makes or breaks branded content. One of my learnings and tips for successful content marketing read:

Be Brave: have a point of view. This will help reinforce your USP.

Since then, I have been exposed to many brands on a daily basis. And until only recently, I can’t honestly remember any of them coming to my attention for taking a stance on a worthy cause. Yet it is what we as consumers have come to expect – quoting the 2013 WARC Trends report:

Brands need to show consumers they are trying to help solve the issues society faces. (…) That may mean a greater focus on corporate ethics and authenticity.” 

In other words, brands need to make a positive difference to society, over and above selling products and services. This means identifying the social mission at their heart, showing true commitment to it and letting it be known.

The fact is that brands that go the extra mile like Patagonia, the outdoor apparel company, or female antiperspirant brand Secret, remain a minority still. Patagonia is not afraid of taking a political stance to help protect the environment. Secret famously fought for the rights of female athletes to be allowed to compete in this year’s winter olympic ski jumping games.

Then, this month, something magic happens. Hopefully, a sign that brand activism is slowly but surely becoming the way one does business.

4 brands unexpectedly grabbed my attention for taking a stand very publicly. They stood up for a cause worth fighting for. For what they believed was right and true to their mission. And by doing so, they have won me over. Or rather, they have won my gratitude as a consumer. As a result, I am more likely to buy from them and spread the word, with competitors fast disappearing in the back of my mind.

Google with its Sochi Olympics-themed doodle in support of gay rights was the first of such brands to come to my attention.

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Scottish Craft Beer company BrewDog also stood up for the Russian gay community by simply mocking Putin’s anti-gay laws and Putin himself. They created a special edition beer “not for gays” called “Hello, my name is Vladimir” – hilarious and useful; you can buy it online here. This only shows what a powerful weapon humour can be against oppressors.

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On a smaller-scale yet in the same spirit, hats off also to Russian snowboarder and Olympic Athlete Alexey Sobolev, who defied his country’s government by flaunting his Pussy Riot-themed board during the competition.

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Coca Cola celebrated a multicultural America in one of its Super Bowl ads this year. Simply, beautifully and very openly with more than 100 million viewers exposed to it. A bold, commendable move from a great, iconic American brand. We want more of these please.

And as I am wrapping up this blogpost, I came across one other brand that publicly supports diversity and inclusion. This time, a brand closer to home.

ANZ, one of the top 4 Australian banks, has been one of the major sponsors of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras since 2006. This year it became Principal Partner and to celebrate this, it turned its ATM’s into GAYTM’s on 23rd February:

Some may see seasonal brand activism (around major events only) as opportunistic and a mere PR exercise only, bringing into question the authenticity of the brand’s commitment to the cause – as opposed to being deeply integrated into their business model and company’s DNA (Raven+Lily and ecoATM are both great examples of this).

Regardless, seasonal or not, if it helps the community, it is a good thing. It may also be the start of bigger things to come or the manifestation of a long-term yet punctual commitment (ref. ANZ example).

Finally…

I thought of ending this post on a high… At first. Ending it on a low however is just as effective.

Subway grabbed my attention for the wrong reasons this month.

First, for its lousy Super Bowl ad – why spend millions of $$ on a made-for-TV ad at the Super Bowl?

And most importantly, shame on them for using the same chemical in their “freshly-made” sandwiches as the one used in shoe soles and yoga mats – yes, you read right.

The company has since withdrawn the chemical following a petition from 50,000 consumers. In my view, it should withdraw itself from the market altogether for making us eat plastic in the first place.

This simply reminds us of the enormous power we also have as consumers to make positive changes and punish (banish?) brands behaving badly.

Now… Any brands close to your consumer heart, that stand for something big and you want to give a shout out to? Or any brands you love to hate for the right reasons?

Let us know by hitting reply!

By Cecile Ferre

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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