Brands, as we all know, rely on the effective and creative delivery of messages. And clever, creative messages can indeed create real value, and furthermore, truly elevate and distinguish a brand. Clever messaging can also deepen a brands connection with its customers and, in return, deliver big financial rewards – beyond short-term sales.
So how is messaging and delivery changing?
We should all be aware of the debate surrounding the death of push marketing. This debate is also interlinked with “media creep”, or what I view as the new media zeitgeist – a shift from paid, to owned and earned. This new marketing world order highly prizes the influence of the consumer, and furthermore recognises the power of the individual. This “post-push” era is firmly upon us – how it evolves remains to be seen, but social media platforms are truly empowering the individual. What is present now, however, is how business-critical it is for brands to learn to play ball within this context, more specifically how a brand can effectively (and creatively deliver) messages to a customer to truly delight and cause a rewarding reaction.
What are brands competing for?
Brands, I believe, are now competing for a much bigger, and arguably more intrinsic prize, when it comes to a return on their marketing investments – it’s more than recall, it’s more than an individual campaign’s hard ROI (i.e. real pounds and pennies) – it’s in the value of real customer engagement. Successful brands (like global giant Vodafone, for example) are taking note of highly prized soft measurables (and what are often referred to as “nice to have” measures), such as the Net Promoter Score (how likely are you to recommend us?). These qualitative values (a measure of warmth and receptiveness to a brand) are now becoming critical short, medium and long-term signposts and, in many cases, are valued as much as or more than unachievable large-scale mass broadcasting deliverables.
Delivering engagement via content.
Going beyond the debate over the death of the so-called advertising model and percolating up to a boiling point, is now the subject of content. Brands are now recognising content has a strategic place within the marketing mix. Why is this? Because content (via magazines, blogs, apps, online or gaming, for instance) has the power to leverage consumers, to create an emotive and physical action and ultimately (ideally) make them feel good about a brand.
Happy customers deliver good deeds.
Content is a means to customer engagement and customer engagement unquestionably drives a brand’s market position. We all know that engaged customers are happy customers, and happy customers spend (more than unhappy ones), it’s simple logic. Furthermore, a certain tier of really happy customers will go on to spread good cheer – they bring other customers to you and, if you are lucky, even eulogise your brand. Happy customers thereby help grow your business.
Brands who reap rewards from content
Not surprisingly, as a result of the shifting balance from bought, owned, earned media landscape and the importance of “tickling” customers to “delight” them, the agency world is now becoming obsessed by content. Fueling this fever pitch, or scrum frenzy, is indeed the result of marketers reassessing spend and redirecting it to such areas as social media and content strategies. Brands (like ASOS) are critically gearing themselves to excite, motivate and “woo” customers – ultimately, to spend more with them than with their competitors. But lets not forget there is an exciting bi-product of such an investment – a lucrative own media channel.
Let the battle commence!
PR, publishing agencies, newsstand publishers, digital agencies and big advertising agencies are redefining themselves to deliver content, because it now represents the emerging critical mass (in terms of briefs). Whether the value is there (in monetary terms) remains to be seen.
But who are the experts to deliver great content?
Well there is no simple answer to that question and to an extent it will depend on the brief, brand, sector and appropriate channels. But as a large-scale, multi-platform content specialist, I will always say it is agencies like us (the agency finely tuned and resourced to deliver it), an agency that also has that editorial and marketing excellence as its core offer, but is platform-neutral.
So my point about all of this is – great content enables a brand to really get in with its customers. Having championed the value of content for more than 10 years in agency world, it is very pleasing to be working not as the poor cousin of agencies, but as a critical partner. We create content that customers want, value, enjoy and use. It is also very pleasing to witness an industry-wide recognition of content and as a key segment of the marketing mix. If planned well, content can prove incredibly powerful and influential to a brand.
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There has been much debate lately about who is best placed to deliver effective content (from a brand’s voice to a customer base), and also what comprises good content. What I will say about this is – content should be well considered (strategically led), well crafted (experts in that field) and effectively executed (via the right media channels). How it works for one brand or sector over another will vary.
Consumers are now being hit by a wide range of content (not simply delivered from a brand). It is being delivered from both free and paid sources, and from highly authoritative and expert curators or publishers as well as social and anecdotal commentators and individuals. It is one great big melting pot out there – more so in the online and mobile world.
In this pot, commercial (sales-led) content can jostle alongside credible or specialist and highly authoritative and creative sources. Possibly the worst thing a brand could do is blur any one of these boundaries, or distinctions, or simply cut corners. Great content is indeed well curated, well balanced and well considered, but fundamentally it also values the importance of our individual needs, and right of access and refusal to participate.
Let the content battle commence! So, what comes after a tectonic, techno-media shift? A battle for the middle ground. By middle ground, I mean the zone firmly wedged between above-the-line advertising campaigns, and through-the-line promotional activity – it’s that lovely “sweet spot” that branded content occupies – or does it? I’m sure there will be debate around this.
This critical middle ground is becoming the big battle zone for marketers (and agencies, for that matter). It’s a zone, or space, that customers feel really ok with engaging in. Why is this? Because, in that zone, you get a whole lot of great stuff going on – including branded content.
It’s all about WIFM! I will always argue that the success of branded content relies squarely on the concept of WIFM – What’s In it For Me? If a brand is willing to give me something and it’s something I can benefit from, enjoy or share, then I am more than receptive to it. Of course, the assumption is that whatever the product is (magazine, site, app, for example), it is a product that has value, expertise and authority and is meaningfully aligned or connected to the brand (giving it to me). I’ll leave the debate on authority and authenticity for another day.
One important ground rule to highlight, however, is that customers are made clear about the commercial context of any branded content – that the selling is well defined, and the informative or entertainment value is well meaning and makes sense when coming from that brand (or its association). Sometimes the commercial and entertainment value combine seamlessly, like an exciting architectural fusion, but mostly they better exist in distinction.
So, what is the secret to creating the best content or, even better, where to start when considering your content strategy? Well, now, that would be telling. But if you do want to speak to an expert, give me a shout @AgencyBelle. I will be more than happy to help out ;)
In the meantime, here are few starting points.
1. Know your customers.
2. Think about the kind of content you would meaningfully align or want associated to your brand.
3. Think about how you want your customers to interact with your content.
* Be educated or informed
* Be entertained
* Play with it
* Share it
* Be inspired by it
4. Consider the content mix:
* Pod & Vodcasts
* Case studies
* Interactive games
* Mobile content & apps
* Social content
* Research and surveys
* White papers
* Newsletters (electronic and print)
5. And check out my blog – Does your brand need a content MOT here:
6. This is also a great blog on 3 key pillars to successful content:
Does media fragmentation leave you with sleepless nights (sigh)?
Are you overwhelmed by the thought of integration (double sigh)?
Here are Seven’s seven guiding thoughts about why you should be considering a content strategy MOT and, hopefully, a way towards attaining a more restful state of mind.
What could an MOT stand for?
M = Mounds Do you have piles and piles of content? Is it becoming unwieldy? Is it aligned to your core strategic plan? In many cases, too much of the wrong (and sometimes right) content could be diluting your message and potentially reducing revenue opportunities. Are you maximising it to its full potential?
O = Out of date (often unnecessary content) Get back to basics. What do you really need and where should it be for your customer to access? Create an up-to-date structure and content plan to move towards a more integrated content strategy and, most importantly, one that considers your customer at its core.
T = Throw the old rule book away! Consider that the root of the issue could be how your organisation is set up, which is preventing you from realising a truly integrated content strategy. The effect of a siloed organisation can have a debilitating impact on your content strategy. Take a step back and consider what you need to do to make it all happen. A third party will inevitably be able to see this more clearly.
And here are some further, potentially helpful thoughts for you to consider:
- Content MOT thought 1: Get an objective expert in to do it. There is a very good reason why a third party is better placed to provide you with an objective view of what your content currently looks like to the outside world, as well as being able to provide you with some sound recommendations.
- Content MOT thought 2: It’s important to take stock of what you have. A complete content audit is the first step – before you do anything else.
- Content MOT thought 3: Identify all the key stakeholders. The audit really needs to spread throughout the business and right out as far as your customers.
- Content MOT thought 4: Know your customer journey inside and out. Important stages include: before they consider you, while they engage with you, and when they leave you. You can always win them back!
- Content MOT thought 5: Build a content strategy that has your customer at the core. This point should really speak for itself and should form as a result of the in-depth review, analysis and understanding of the critical business objectives.
- Content MOT thought 6: Create great content. Create a plan. It’s a wise approach to develop content based on key and timely triggers within your business (you will know what they are). It is also vital to keep a store of a reserve content to help you fill in any gaps when needed. Don’t work hand to mouth!
- Content MOT thought 7: Never rest on your laurels. It’s vital that today’s achievements are a part of a continual process of improvement to deliver on your business objectives.
With content, like most things in our lives, it is pretty easy to get into a state of unrest, particularly in our challenging and media convergent-times. But, as an eternal optimist, I will say this: there is always a great solution in reach, there are experts to deal with solutions (simply and cost-effectively), and moreover, solutions to our complex problems are usually never insurmountable. In fact, and in my experience, they tend to be a lot simpler than we had originally conceived.
@AgencyBelle works for Seven, a strategic content agency based in London, UK. Seven develop content strategies for leading global brands who are media owners, or who want to invest in content to drive increased customer engagement and maximise profits. Seven also deliver content across all platforms, including print, mobile apps, web and email. Seven are industry leaders in monetising content via third-party advertising. More about us here: Seven.co.uk
For a confidential consultation about your existing content, contact @AgencyBelle