Brands as Publishers
Following a recent publication from my current employer, OLIVER, on brands as publishers (i.e. branded content creation), they hosted a breakfast briefing to explore and develop their findings in more depth, with the help of our own content & digital teams alongside external speakers Peter Markey (from Post Office) and Alex Naylor (from Barclaycard). So, being a very keen newbie at the company, I thought I’d summarise the key points I took from the talks, and consider my own stance on branded content.
The talks considered the growing realisation amongst brands of the importance of content creation, not just as an afterthought, but as a central aspect within marketing strategy. The brands doing it best were those with dedicated editorial teams, giving proper consideration to the research, strategy, design and distribution of their content. On the other hand, those simply ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ without proper consideration were at risk of harming rather than helping their brand image and customer relationships.
Considering this, the talks (and report) distinguished between ‘content marketing’: where a brand’s marketing team creates ad hoc content and distributes it via their own social channels; and ‘brands as publishers’: where a dedicated team of editors, writers, producers and creative take content creation and distribution to the next level.
So, moving onto the main themes I took from the talks:
· Content is important, and that’s not going to change anytime soon
· Content isn’t new, but it’s purpose is changing
· Don’t limit yourself to one content concept or channel
· Take your time, strategy is crucial
· Are agencies practising what they preach?
Content is important, and that’s not going to change anytime soon
OLIVER’s Head of Digital, Dwain Thomas, highlighted the growing role of content within digital marketing, appearing consistently as a top digital strategy trend alongside (and often connected to) ‘Big Data’. Brands are increasingly realising that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to marketing is no longer going to work as ever more information on consumer lifestyles and habits unlocks an age of hypersegmentation and micro-targeting. This is causing a shift from large scale ‘above the line’ advertising to smaller scale (often online) communications that speak directly to and engage with customers, either specially created or easily adaptable for each small audience segment.
Carina Jeppesen, also from OLIVER, showed us how this movement isn’t coming only from brands, but being increasingly expected and indeed demanded by consumers. She took statistics from the Brands as Publishers report to prove consumers are becoming more willing to engage with content, and even seek it out themselves. In the UK, 58% of consumers would be willing to share content and 56% are likely to use it to express their opinions. Upon coming across good branded content, 41% say they actively seek future content by the brand, and 37% purchase products/services. Therefore, Carina explained, brands are increasingly being seen as sources of knowledge and entertainment, and branded content is increasingly being shared by people in order to share opinions, entertain friends, and participate in events.
To quote the report itself, I believe this point is well summed up by: “Digital means that our customer journey often begins with a question or a search for more information. Brands that pre-empt these questions and create content that attempts to answer them have the best chance of being found first”.
Content isn’t new, but its purpose is changing
Brands producing content beyond core advertising is not a new concept, with examples such as Disney’s decades of dedicated TV channels and theme parks discussed. However, this is not to say brands’ approach to content has changed over the years, and Dwain’s talk explained how its purpose has gradually shifted from driving sales to a more complex process of developing relationships with customers and building loyalty.
To explain this new purpose of content, Peter Markey from the Post Office used his case study of the role content has played in refreshing the public’s perception of the Post Office. Despite being the 2nd most trusted brand in the UK, opinion was fairly stale, with the majority of customers unaware of the full range of services and products on offer. Changing this wasn’t going to be achieved by churning dull information out, and content needed to tap into the brand’s core purpose of making lives easier, thus all content had to be useful and focus on real life everyday interactions with the brand. This involved creating how-to videos (ranging from the serious to jokey, e.g. tips on Christmas wrapping) and engaging and offering help to customers via social media. It also meant considering the usefulness of content positioning, not just creation, leading to a complete website redesign which put customer experience and needs first.
Expanding on the importance of useful content, Alex Naylor from Barclaycard also reminded us of brands’ tendency to overestimate their customers’ willingness to take interest in or engage with their content. There is an increasing trend of customers wanting solely financial incentives, or nothing at all, therefore brands need to take a step back and consider what people actually care about. He used his own experience with Barclaycard, creating content that keeps up with relevant cultural trends, but also offers help to their customers. For example, in the lead up to Black Friday last year, they produced a series of tips online for how their business customers could cope with the rush.
Don’t limit yourself to one content concept or channel
The focus of Brands as Publishers was helping brands become hubs of entertainment or knowledge by using publishing models. The term ‘hub’ is important here, as it suggests a network of channels and ideas convening on one core purpose. Identify a strong purpose and direction of your content (to be explored in more depth in my next point), but keep your options open and think outside the box when creating and distributing content. This will enable you to take advantage of the hypersegmentation movement in marketing, reaching as many different audiences as possible.
Content isn’t just a series of ‘witty’ tweets, nor a stab at a viral video. Indeed Alex Naylor from Barclaycard reminded us how unlikely going viral actually is, thus questioned how much sense there was in having that as your main goal. Once you begin to think outside the box, many other paths to relevant, useful and engaging content will begin to appear. For example, Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube channel uses a simple formula of easy and inspiring recipes alongside a range of other food-related content, going from 200,000 to 1.7m subscribers in 2 years, and his more recent venture Drinks Tube (in partnership with Bacardi) is already the biggest cocktail platform on YouTube. These channels also prove that great content doesn’t have to be digital, with regular sections in TimeOut magazine providing useful and entertaining material to readers whilst also promoting the brand.
Take your time, strategy is crucial
The need for a solid understanding of your objectives and strategy before beginning to create and distribute content was a consistent theme throughout the morning. Alex Naylor reminded us how important maintaining a strong grasp on your core brand identity, explaining that losing sight of this was often the reason for content ending up in the “digital landfill”. Brands are often plagued with FOMO, and rush to ‘jump on the content bandwagon’, which often leads to a misalignment between content and brand strategy, and ends up with “the content tail wagging the brand dog”.
Therefore, it is crucial to establish a clear set of objectives for how you’d like your content to unlock and develop your brand identity and purpose. What story do you want to tell, and what do you hope to achieve with it? What is important to your customers, and how can you help them through your brand lens?
Finally, distribution can be just as important as the creative. As content’s purpose shifts from driving sales to building relationships, brands must consider how they’re going to take people on a journey through the idea, and this involves considering how, when and where they’re going to encounter, engage with and remember it. Alex warned us against being put off by starting content distribution via existing brand channels and communities. Not everything has to be cutting edge and daring, and drawing on ecosystems that have proven to be solid can be a great place to start your venture into content.
And finally, are agencies practising what they preach?
Whilst all this buzz around content is happening within the marketing industry, and often led by agencies, I thought it was worth adding a final considering of my own: what are agencies doing to create their own content? How are they promoting their own brands, and using content to both help and build relationships with their clients?
It is not enough to just have a few agency social media accounts, where jokey posts of office socials are dumped. What about a monthly email on relevant industry trends and campaigns? Events and publications like OLIVER’s #BrandsAsPublishers? We need to practice what we preach, and lead by example if we hope for our clients to take our advice on board and begin developing content plans of their own with our creative help.