Simon Michaelides, UKTV: Content affects brand perceptions much more than clever marketing

Content marketing is all the rage. But how well do we truly understand this space?

The traditional brand imperative of making and keeping a promise through consistency of message and experience is more difficult to do when working with content. Content is dynamic. It is much tougher to control the parameters of a creative product than it is for a product that rolls off a factory line. No two pieces of content are ever identical, making the relationship with the brand the content is intended to serve more fluid and much less predictable.

Understanding the role of your brand as an editorial curator, and having a clear point of view on the world is therefore critical. This is exemplified by news brands. News is news – you can’t change it and it’s difficult to differentiate. It is a ‘commoditised’ category, yet we all have a preferred provider determined by our affinity to that brand’s personality and editorial point of view.

Similarly, it is essential for non-media brand owners to understand what your brand stands for in relation to content. That requires the translation of your brand promise into a clear editorial proposition, with a compelling consumer insight at its heart. Red Bull is a shining example. Arguably one of the most successful content marketers, Red Bull has successfully translated ‘Gives you wings’ into a compelling editorial proposition that underpins everything from airshow Flugtag and soapbox races to cliff diving and X-Fighters.

The effect of such content on a brand is defined by the consumer experience it affords. For consumers, content will always have a much more significant impact on brand perceptions than any clever marketing messages. With content centric brands, anything that looks or smells like ‘advertising’ runs a high risk of failure. You only have to look at how we engage with TV to see this at play. Channel brands play an important role, ensuring a consistent consumer experience that results in us forming a personal repertoire of ‘destination’ channels. However, no-one picks up the remote because of a desire to watch a channel over a specific programme. In the case of UKTV’s Dave channel, saying that we’re the ‘home of witty banter’ counts for nothing unless the content itself delivers a witty experience.

Content marketing behaves in the same way as TV programming, in that it must be inherently entertaining and or informative in order to successfully engage its target audience. That means focusing on an ‘editorial idea’, not an ‘advertising idea’. In many respects, successful content marketing is more akin to sponsorship in that the win comes from associating with a great consumer experience, as opposed to the explicit communication of any advertising messages. There is a fine line between what we as marketers traditionally seek to do – creating advertising that is entertaining, versus the approach required with content – creating entertainment that implicitly advertises.

Content marketing is consequently a slow burn tool that relies on cumulative effect over time, requiring a long-term commitment both financially and strategically. In the case of Dave, it has taken five years of consistent investment for the brand to shift consumer perceptions and begin to throw off its heritage as a ‘BBC repeats’ channel. Successful content marketers like Red Bull and Lego have also had to acquire new skills, including finding the right external partners. Content requires brand owners to think and act a lot like broadcasters. To create content is to create new products that exist outside the domain of your core category.

Content is a different beast from other forms of marketing collateral. If you want to succeed, learn from those that have gone before you, seek out partners with a proven track record and, most importantly, enter into it with your eyes wide open.

Vision_100_adobe_breakerThis is part of a series of columns written by our Vision 100 inductees, who will share their experiences, best practice and thoughts on what makes visionary marketers and organisations. Marketing Week’s Vision 100 in association with Adobe is an exclusive club of the brightest, best and most visionary executives.

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