Content marketing has become an essential ingredient in the marketing mix as brands seek to deepen relationships with their consumers and promote their own story.
Above: Disney has an enviable source of characters and stories for content but works hard to make that content shareable
As consumers know full well, brands are doing their best to reach out to them at every turn. While supermarket shelves bark and billboards scream, a more subtle form of marketing emerges in the guise of valuable information and entertainment delivered via videos, websites, blogs, social media and more. Content seduces consumers into a brand’s story in a more understated and engaging way than traditional advertising.
“Digital media, particularly blogs and social media, allow us to connect with our audience on a daily basis, enabling us to say something different and more extensive about our brand, and allowing us to build a relationship with our consumers,” says The Walt Disney Company’s UK chief marketing officer Anna Hill.
“When thinking about content we are inherently thinking about platform too, and most importantly the overall experience the consumer is having of our brand.” Disney is recognised worldwide as a company that makes an emotional connection with its audience through its stories and characters. We deliver content to our different consumers in the way that’s most relevant to them,” says Hill. “If we’re talking digital, then it could be either through blogs, Facebook or Oh My Disney.”
Featuring short bits of shareable content, the Oh My Disney website is a strategic example of a brand repurposing its content and draws on an enviable archive of stories and characters. Everything on the site is designed to be enjoyed and easily shared, for example stories such as ‘Disney Royal Babies’ and ‘Which Golden Girl are You?’.
Disney might be an entertainment brand but this online zone is not just built to please, rather it proves that content has to be something people can engage with and act upon. The blog’s original content is designed to be shareable on a range of social networks. “Our vision is to provide the consumer with seamless digital experiences, which allow our audiences to engage with our content on different platforms,” explains Hill. “And from a business perspective, navigate consumers around our content in a way which builds a deeper relationship with them and guides their path to purchase.”
If your friends are a lot like you, it makes sense that you get your information and entertainment from them. As author and former Kodak CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett points out, ‘friendsourcing’ is a hugely influential concept when it comes to sharing information or receiving recommendations. “The trusted sources have now become what your friends are watching, seeing and doing,” he says. “It’s always been the case for receiving recommendations but now this concept has been transported into media.”
Content’s shareability is high on the agenda at Microsoft too. The software provider uses content to demonstrate the core brand value of marketing that is relevant to consumers and encourages audiences to engage with it on their own terms. “We use content to help demonstrate the value of our services and how they can come to life,” explains Philippa Snare, UK CMO at Microsoft. “For example, in the recent Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) campaign we developed [a character called] Brandon Generator, asking film director Edgar Wright and comic book artist Tommy Lee Edwards to get involved with a story that people on the web could build themselves.”
Based on insight into the target audience of web browser users, the campaign involved consumers in creating the animated web series. People were invited to shape four episodes of animated shorts by suggesting characters, plots and entire scenes. Wright described the HTML5-powered experience as equal parts interactive movie, animated comic, choose-your-own-adventure and “internet head trip”. Brand strategy-wise it aimed to show the immersive new web experiences available through using IE9.
“Microsoft is trying to help people live their lives, get more from their lives and make things easier,” says Snare. “If people know about us and understand what our products and services can do, then that is a great thing.”
London Designer Outlet, 350,000 sq ft of retail space next to Wembley stadium opening in October, is another brand that knows the value of putting user-generated content at the heart of a campaign. “Because it is a new designer outlet in London, we want to get endorsement from the opinion leaders from within the food and fashion bloggers,” says its head of marketing Deborah Owen-Ellis Clark. “We are recruiting a stylist, a food critic, a music fan and a sports ambassador who will endorse us as a good place for fashion, food, music and sports.”
For online fashion brands, content arguably plays a far more crucial role. Being at the intersection of content and commerce, publisher ShopStyle brings shopping into its fashion and celebrity content and vice versa. “As a pure-play online company, having engaging editorial content online is key, as this is what our customers expect,” says its EU managing director Genevieve Kunst. “We align online editorial content with our PR and SEO efforts as well.”
Blogs and video are an obvious way of showing the personality and colour behind the brand. Content gives ShopStyle the chance to demonstrate the variety and depth of its offering – an opportunity to talk about beauty and homewares as well as fashion. To be truly appealing and engaging, ShopStyle needs to keep its content aligned with its brand and unique selling point. Through ShopStyle, users are offered the chance to shop a variety of stores in one place, so the content needs to reflect that. Things like behind-the-scenes blogs, videos of fashion industry panel discussions and London Fashion Week photos enhance the experience.
Behind the scenes
While some brands are working hard to project a personality, others are thinking about corporate reputation as much as brand values. Visa’s way of doing this is to design its website and social media channels to allow business customers, stakeholders and end users to not only experience the formal brand campaigns but also go behind-the-scenes.
“It is important that we also tell stories about our corporate values, which the Viewpoint blog section on our website enables our staff to do,” explains Mariano Dima, CMO at Visa Europe. “We also create brand imagery and infographics and deploy them on our social channels. Such ‘glance-able’ content helps us cut through on social media timelines and share our stories and values.”
Visa’s recent campaign on new ways to pay is supported by a mix of web and video content on consumer-facing sites such as www.visa.co.uk. Meanwhile, on the corporate site and social networks it opts to put its business in context. Infographics, such as one that celebrated the millionth contactless transaction on London’s buses, are proving popular and tell strong stories. “These content projects illustrate how Visa Europe is evolving to be a more innovative company,” argues Dima. “They showcase the latest technologies in an accessible way with humour, and leverage the opportunities for everyone to be part of these new ways to pay.”
A very long engagement
Brands that do content marketing well engage effectively with consumers, scoring high on brand consideration and sparking interest from consumers. At its core, good content hinges on its ability to tell an engaging story.
Global brand Ricoh is primarily known for office equipment, but also incorporates specialisms in film cameras and IT services. An integrated programme of online content is a valuable way of simplifying that complexity for the consumer.
Ricoh works with content across a number of platforms to make it easier for people to understand what the multi-faceted company offers. Its marketing strategy draws on an internal ‘Content Council’ to deliver carefully curated content, which can help consumers do everything from getting to grips with the intricacies of a particular document management service to raising awareness of new Pentax photography products through entertainment and reward.
Ricoh tells the same story with a number of formats and platforms, and with the aim of making its marketing communication work harder, gives audiences a consistent experience of the brand. “Our opportunities are in how we push content as a currency,” explains Javier Diez-Aguirre, director, corporate marketing at Ricoh Europe. “Content is a real value-add that marketing – with its rich customer knowledge and in-depth insight – can achieve.”
One important aspect of this approach is providing engaging ‘thought leadership’ content. A range of social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, become the vehicles to promote the brand values. An important challenge the company carries forward is how it combines content with influencer mapping: how it ensures there is alignment with the thought-leadership work it does on social media and other areas of content and, crucially, that the brand remains credible across every touchpoint.
For global recruitment specialist Hays, being seen as an authority and thought-leader on LinkedIn is very valuable. With brand values focused on being an expert company that is inquisitive, ambitious and ”passionate about people,” its content strategy focuses on generating opinion articles and valuable statistics on the world of employment. The ‘Hays Journal’, a bi-annual publication produced by content specialist Wardour, and in-depth research study the ‘Hays Global Skills Index’, produced in partnership with Oxford Economics, are instrumental in this.
As Hays knows, it is important to have a strategy in place on how you deliver the content after you build it. Its two core content projects both seek to establish the brand’s added value insight around recruiting and developing talent. LinkedIn then becomes a place to spark debate and commentary.
“Engagement is the Holy Grail when it comes to social media, and for us that means generating content in the form of some killer fact or insightful observation,” says Hays group marketing director Sholto Douglas-Home. “You need to present this content in such a way that you genuinely engage, inspire and relate to your customers.”
As these diverse brand stories show, the valuable engagement that is fostered through clever content needs to lead to participation, whether that be understanding about a service and how to get it, or to raise awareness of new products through entertainment and reward. Relevance is always the key element and good content should stimulate interest, satisfy curiosity and inspire confidence.
Viewpoint: Barnaby Dawe, chief marketing officer at HarperCollins
Content has become a key component of the marketing mix as brands seek to cement deeper relationships with their customers. Take Range Rover’s recent launch of its new ‘Sport’ model using Daniel Craig as its centrepiece to set the tone. A film of epic proportions was created just for the launch, which acted as a catalyst for the PR machine and as a destination for hungry fans. High street retailers like Next and Marks & Spencer are at it too, as are consumer brands like Coke, dreaming up great content initiatives with which to engage consumers.
All media marketers have ever done is market content because that is our product, whether we are chasing ratings, circulation targets, box office or book sales. Our understanding of how to engage with consumers stems from our commodity of a share of time that is a very different skill to the traditional retail goal of a share of wallet.
Increasingly, collaborations and partnerships are being formed between retailers and content companies, as retailers grapple with the concept of content as part of their proposition and media entities fight to enter a transactional relationship with their consumers. And these partnerships are mutually beneficial: retailers get access to talent and packaged content and media companies get to have their content and brands appear in retailers’ real estate.
Consumers have a longing for content if it’s relevant and entertaining – going behind the scenes of a product or brand brings more meaning to their purchase and their relationship with the brand. And, if they get it right, brands can gain from a more engaged and trusting customer who is willing to spend more as a result.
We see the worlds of content and retail colliding in the digital space. Sitting at the axis of these two worlds, the future looks bright for both the consumer and the brand.
Q&A: Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer TripAdvisor
Marketing Week (MW): Why is content important for TripAdvisor?
Barbara Messing (BM): Content is at the core of the TripAdvisor brand proposition. We’ve collected over 100 million traveller reviews and opinions covering more than 2.7 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions, and we currently receive over 70 new pieces of content every minute.
Travellers love having this wealth of fresh content, because it enables them to make the right decisions, make the most of their precious holiday time and have great travel experiences time and time again.
MW: What trends do you observe in the ways consumers consume content online?
BM: For one thing, we’ve seen the travel research process online become longer and more complex. Travellers now use a combination of desktop research, tablets and mobile devices to find exactly what they want, not only when researching their next trip but also when actually travelling.
This has opened up new media opportunities for our clients as they start to target users at different phases of the travel cycle. In terms of value, it is generally adding to what we do and often opens up new sectors for us to work with. For example, as a result of our growth in the mobile space, we are now working with many mobile operators as well as handset manufacturers.
MW: Why do you view content building as a cost-effective and coherent means of engaging with consumers?
BM: We believe in building great functionality for our travellers to use on our site and combine this with the wealth of content we receive every day. For example, our new hotel price comparison search is a brilliant user experience, showing people where to find the lowest price among numerous online travel agencies.
Now, combine this with our Facebook integration, where we showcase reviews written by people’s actual friends, and they can not only find an amazing hotel their friends recommend but also book it at the lowest price.
MW: In your experience, what kinds of content strategies do and don’t work?
BM: In contacting the community, we are most successful when we personalise the message and showcase the value they are providing.
First, we say thank you. We show our gratitude to our community of contributors around the globe by thanking them for every review posted, and they appreciate it.
We also show our reviewers what a difference they’re making – we offer tangible proof of the value of their contributions such as how often their reviews have been read, how many travellers have voted their reviews as “helpful”, and how global their readership is.
We especially like to give our contributors recognition. We’ve developed a ‘badging’ programme that recognises contributors based on the number of reviews they have posted over time. We also like to send our reviewers little thank-you gifts including TripAdvisor luggage tags, car magnets and t-shirts.