It’s time to fall in love with brand content – not only is it a growing revenue stream for publishers, but new technologies like VR and AR are offering fresh, exciting mediums to tell stories. Sounds pretty dry? The heart and soul still lies in great creative that customers adore, as M&M Global finds out.
Of late, the industry’s relationship with brand content has been increasingly flirty, all sideways glances and hushed whispers. 2017 is the year that publishers, brands and agencies finally devote themselves to a steamy three-way with content. This is no fleeting ménage a trois, this is a long term commitment.
And, hey, it’s easy to see why it’s time to settle down. On a percentage basis, content is more often than not the fastest growing part of publishers’ budgets, and this growth is showing no sign of slowing, according to Forbes Media chief revenue office Mark Howard.
To rise to this demand, a whole new Forbes’ operation based around its BrandVoice content offering was created in 2016 to unify those working in order to fuel this rapid growth. “There is certainly the traditional channel of selling to people with advertising budgets,” says Howard, “but there are also plenty more people in the marketing organisation who have content initiatives that aren’t necessarily tied to advertising.”
With this in mind, Forbes can now work with publishers on whichever model floats their boat, and whoever possesses the budget, from brand to corporate comms teams.
Howard stresses the importance of targeting customers with content they care about, through their personal favourite platform. He feels that mobile video is “absolutely going to be the workhorse in driving marketing communications going forward” but also mentions the company’s partnership with Podcast One.
While everyone has their eyes elsewhere, audio has slipped back onto the scene and is set to be an area of growth.
A coming together of formats
The key to a happy, balanced relationship is sharing – in this case, across platforms and formats.
Sky Media head of creative solutions and branded content Jason Hughes feels that, in order to transcend what people see as traditional content on screen, TV and VOD, it has been necessary to tie across social media with broader themes around global drama, scripted content, spin offs, sport and news for real time interaction.
For Hughes, the dream content employee’s lonely heart would be a “bit like a Venn diagram”, with the ideal candidate able to cut quick impactful commercial content in the vein of 70s TV commercials, whilst also understanding compelling, beautifully-made editorial “in the traditional sense”.
“I think if you can, get those two worlds sharing experience and ideas,” he says (watch the full interview below). “What they’re trying to do is create short, impactful content that’s shareable.”
Looking at mediums, he thinks that a “metropolitan bubble” exists around digital, but that brands need to think broader and consider the wants and needs of their target audience. “TV will give it the fame, the push and the experience while platforms such as Facebook, Facebook Live, YouTube and Twitter create a broader spectrum and a brilliant space to allow that interaction and engagement with the audience,” he says.
Hughes adds that, in order for VR and AR – which he compliments as compelling, engaging platforms – to find their place, the barriers to entry needed to come down so they can truly blossom.
“Ultimately our job as media owners in the brand content industry is to continue an education piece and evolution piece,“ he says, describing discarded, unloved content being picked up, polished and retargeted to get compelling storytelling to audiences.
It’s not the quantity, mate, it’s how you use it
An interesting point of contention comes from the debate of quality versus quantity. Playbuzz vice president of content Shachar Orren advocates the making of brand content at scale, criticising the man power that publishers like the New York Times invest. The company offers a platform allowing brands to create content using simple tools “without a video editor and ten designers”, in an effort to curtail production costs.
On the other end of the spectrum is Beatrice Imbert, managing director of global clients for Optimedia Blue 449 Paris and World Media Awards 2017 judge, a passionate lady who credits the huge rejection of advertising to an excess of “bullshit” content flooding the market.
“There is so much content all over the world,” she adds. “You have of course all the figures regarding the number of videos posted every second, it’s totally crazy. There’s a lot of bad content that is not so interesting. You should always think about are you really informing these guys through this content about the maison, about the product.”
“When you have beautiful ladies buying jewels, they don’t want to change their hair”
With Millennials commenting that 87% of advertising from luxury brands is not relevant to them, Imbert stressed the need to find new ways to communicate whilst avoiding ad blocking.
“If you want to engage people, either you make them laugh, either you make them cry, either you make them dream,” Imbert added, describing “le registre de la séduction” movement in France which promotes the return of humanity and strong emotion. “If there is no interest for the audience, there is no interest for the client.”
In order to make this desirable content, she stresses the importance of investing in good creatives and the time necessary to create strong creative. With regards to medium, she feels display is “dead” as it is “always intrusive”, but is still strongly enamoured with TV, cinema, inside air flight models as well as print, albeit through a smaller number of key titles.
“When you have beautiful ladies buying jewels, they don’t want to change their hair,” she comments on un-chic VR headsets, adding that AR feels less intrusive and “more gorgeous in terms of experience”.
While Seven chief executive officer Sean King describes both VR and AR as still feeling quite on the benches, waiting for someone to ask them to dance, he expresses that the formats could get their moment in the spotlight with car brands. “I think we’ll see growth, all be it I don’t think it’ll be huge.”
Don’t play games – keep it simple
According to King, a bigger trend would come from clients seeking clarity. “I think they’re wasting a lot of internal time trying to make a patchwork quilt because everyone’s trying to throw their hat in the ring,” he adds. “A lot of people are converging on content causing a lot of confusion in clients so I think we’re seeing clients looking for clarity.
“You’re an ad agency, you are fantastic and amazing at understanding the brand, helping to develop what the brand proposition is. You are the media agency, you understand audiences and how to reach those people they’re trying to target. You are a content agency, you understand what people want to engage with and how they want to engage, where they want to engage,” he continues.
Another question of clarity for King arises around whether brand content is being created for the clients or the audience. “We are probably creating less content but spending more money making sure that what we create, there’s a genuine need, it’s targeted and also that we’ve got the distribution budget and plan that sits behind it, because otherwise you’re just creating stuff that doesn’t go anywhere.
“Joining up data, insight, content creation and distribution is something we’re spending a lot more time on, looking at what the audience needs.”
Looking at the rise of in-house content operations, King comments that every brand has some internal capability but very few are 100% self-sufficient. “Even if you’re ASOS and you’ve got 100 people working in your own content team, you’re still working with agencies to do content campaigns, not advertiser campaigns,” he added. “Most in house teams have limited capability.”
According to Vice UK managing director Matt O’Mara, the fallout and subsequent uncertainty from 2016’s hugely disruptive socio-economic events has caused an unprecedented margin pressure across the industry. “As a result, I think we can expect to see more in-house studios emerge this year as brands look to cut costs in certain areas,” he adds.
However, O’Mara stresses whether this will adversely affect quality is still very much up for debate, describing the ideal content producer as a “creative alchemist”. He feels there is an “inevitable drop off in quality” as the industry collectively catches up with the increasing need to make video well.
“Not everyone can make something both commercially and culturally relevant, but effectively, storytelling drives both of these components of Vice so we’re constantly looking for original, creative thinkers who can craft compelling narratives which resonate with audiences,” he adds.
“The challenges for brands and agencies is how to meaningfully bridge the gap between themselves and consumers.”
Love your audience and they will love you back
Emma Winchurch-Beale, newly-appointed president of the World Media Group and international sales director at The Washington Post, feels the growth of in-house stems from publishers being best placed to know their readership and understand how they consume editorial. “This can be relayed into how custom content will be consumed and on what platforms and at what time of the day or week,” she says, continuing that this had led to a more collaborative approach between publishers, clients and agencies.
“The three-way partnership between client, publisher and agency is still extremely important in creating the best content programmes, all working together right from the beginning of the process.”
Winchurch-Beale advocates a clear understanding of the brand and the KPIs, as well as having a comprehensive brief and passionate brainstorming session. Looking to the future, she stresses the importance of content becoming increasingly visual, multiplatform and more interactive for social sharing, as well as an increase in audio and mobile first.
“Finally, I think 2017 is when we are going to see clients, agencies and media owners becoming really proud of their branded content campaigns,” she concludes. ”It’s important for the industry to understand the great richness and quality of today’s branded content and the huge value it can create for brands.”
So, at the end of the day, like everything in life, it’s all about love.
Love the content you create. Love the audience you create it for. Love the people you work with and the new technologies that enable you to make your content as good as it possibly can be, whether that’s be increasing its reach and targeting or creating innovative new platforms to tell your story.
Come on guys, let’s hug it out.