Eighty five percent of brands are using content in some way, shape or form – it’s no longer a buzzword but an accepted part of a brand’s marketing repertoire. And yet despite a few notable exceptions, most brands have done a poor job of creating content that captures attention and builds audiences. Why? Primarily because they have only flirted with the concept, treating it as a way of offsetting the diminishing returns of paid media, an extension of the advertising idea or just another ‘channel’ on the media plan. Their focus is still on creating ‘better’ advertising campaigns to put in between or around established content.
We know that people have less patience and more control than ever over what they give their time to. A recent Microsoft study confirmed that our attention spans have dwindled from 12 to 8 seconds in recent years. That’s officially less than your average pet goldfish, which can manage a solid 9. It’s in this context I believe there’s a huge imbalance in the current attention/value equation.
We are putting too much of a demand on people who just have less time. We keep asking them to watch, read or, god forbid, ‘participate’ with brand messages they have no real interest in. Our communication strategy has to change its focus – to helping brands create more value for people in exchange for their precious attention. Only then can we hope to inspire their behaviour.
Putting content first
That means thinking ‘content first’ – delivering value by creating good old-fashioned entertainment, rallying people to a cause or providing utility that no-one else can offer. We have to do things and create stuff that people want to read, watch, talk about and share. Paid advertising and media needs to play an essential role in signposting and distributing that content, but it can no longer be the sole focus. Brands such as Red Bull, GE and American Express have shown how embracing a new content model can demonstrate significant results for both the brand and bottom line. It’s not necessary or feasible for every brand to become
a publisher that monetises its own content, but by putting content thinking at the heart of their communication strategy brands can create better relationships and greater long-term value.
So what does a communication strategy model that puts content first look like?
Prioritising people’s interests
It sounds obvious but the best brands identify what their audiences are interested in and then work back to their brand story. If you prioritise the audience, you create content that people will want to share across their networks, rather than self-serving advertising that gets forgotten or relies on paying people to see it.
Sharing is about communicating our identity – it tells others a story about who we are, expressing our personality in the same way our choice of clothes does. So if we want people to share our content, we need to consider what they might want to use it for, not only how informative or entertaining it is. That’s why at Drum we focus on identifying the sub-cultures that make people who they are, then cluster our content ideas around ‘tribes’ of interest – gamers, Star Wars fans, entrepreneurs or foodies.
Creating experience, not media plans
In the future, creative, context, user experience and distribution channels will have to blend together to create a new type of media plan – one that plots a content ecosystem, not media channels. Creating valuable content for people means we cannot only rely on the creative concept – we have to think about how, where and when it will be consumed at the very inception of the idea. People won’t just find your content however ‘good’ it is (there’s a million to one chance of someone stumbling across your video on YouTube).
To avoid disappearing into oblivion you have to give it a kick-start – whether seeding, partnerships, influencer deals or advertising. And once you have worked out how people will find it, you then have to consider how people will experience it. When planning HP’s live entertainment format The Fox Problem, Drum and m2m designed the entire experience of how the content would not only be discovered, but also interacted with and shared amongst groups of friends. We could then work out what types of subsequent content to follow it with in order to further drive brand reappraisal.
Creating platforms, not campaigns
Creating value means creating long-term content platforms, not short-term campaigns. As Les Binet and Peter Fields’ publication The Long and Short Of It has shown, sustainable value for brands is created over the long not the short term – which demands creating and sustaining long-term memory structures. And that means creating big, long-term editorial content platforms that create an inspiring vision and purpose for brands to fulfil in the lives of its audience.
The platform becomes your benchmark but it’s only the starting point because a content-led strategy can never be finished in today’s chaotic and rapidly changing landscape. You have to constantly evolve in order to keep creating the most value you can – trying new things, analysing the data, scrapping what doesn’t work, and pushing forward fast with what does.
BuzzFeed, which knows a thing or two about creating spreadable content, has described its editorial direction as “whatever the data tells us is going to go bonkers on the social web”. In this new world where the battle for attention rages, brands can learn much from this ethos.
Brands have a choice to make in the future. They can create more noise – increase spend to compensate for diminishing returns, be more efficient with media, use new technology to reach people, make ‘better’ ads to put in between or around content. Or they can create more value – choosing a content-led approach that sits right at the heart of a brand’s overall communication strategy, creating things that people want to read, watch, talk about and share.