Brands tackle the content conundrum

The growth of mobile and social media has made the issue of producing always-on content more complex than ever before, writes Stuart Derrick

Brands tackle the content conundrum

Whatever time it is, somebody, somewhere is talking about your brand. Nowadays, they might not be sharing their thoughts with only a few friends, but instead be part of a global discussion from which brands cannot afford to be excluded.

Digital platforms offer companies more options and greater flexibility in how they interact with consumers, but also mean brands can no longer simply shut off communication.

Brands are expected to be available 24/7 and to come good in their part of the consumer-brand dialogue by entertaining, educating and informing. It’s a long way from the broadcast model of the past. Brands must take a meaningful narrative to consumers, and marketers must cast themselves as storytellers.

At the centre of all this is content, referred to as ‘the C word’ by delegates at Marketing’s roundtable examining how brands meet this storytelling challenge. The comprehensive, controversial and creative event, sponsored by integrated marketing agency Five by Five, discussed how brands can keep the attention of consumers and achieve cut through.


The new consumer

Frost The rise of mobile means consumers are consuming messages in a different way, on a plethora of screens. The consumer journey is different for everyone buying a mobile device. Some people will get a call direct from a network, while others will spend three months researching online and speaking to friends. As they get closer to purchase they might see a TV ad – it’s all complementary. We need to make sure our story is the same across all platforms.

Holdway Mobile is developing so rapidly. At the moment, mobile and tablets are an offshoot of the site, but is that the right way round?

Burgess Brands can no longer take it for granted that people are watching TV, so working out the right blend of media channels is a real issue. We don’t know the answer, so we are playing with brands such as Lynx, which has done tablet app stuff, but it’s still catch-up.

Tucker Lots of customers visit our site via smartphones and we are just about to launch our first app. Some people are more comfortable doing things online, but we have to maintain all channels for them.

Brooks Ideally, Coke should be channel-neutral and come up with a solution that works everywhere. I hate the word ‘content’. It’s ubiquitous and meaningless. To us, it’s more advertising-led storytelling. But if we are putting a TV campaign out, we have to be aware consumers might be on their mobile at the same time.

The ‘C word’

Lazopoulos A big question is ‘what is content?’ We see it as a channel-agnostic vessel that carries an idea. It’s about a story and how you tell parts of a story, being aware there is an overarching narrative. The consumer should always be at the centre of things.

Brooks Consumers are not sitting waiting to hear a brand story. They do not necessarily expect brands to be in the entertainment sphere, but they are no longer surprised when we are. Younger consumers especially have a grasp on the value exchange. They will listen to an advertising message if you give them points for Farmville, say.

Holdway We have two main audiences: DIY enthusiasts and tradespeople. The trade doesn’t want help and the DIY audience wants loads. If we had ‘how to’ videos, then it says to tradesmen that it’s not the store for them. Adding content to our site is an obvious thing to do, but it’s very dangerous.

Are you talking to me?

Burgess At the heart of brands that will survive for the next 30 years is a conversation that people want to have. Dove is a vehicle to facilitate a conversation about what beauty really is and has gathered 1m Facebook followers in a year and a half because people want to have that conversation.

Brooks When our Christmas campaign went live, Twitter went crazy. We had a global TV campaign and it wasn’t the Coca-Cola trucks, which led to lots of complaints.

Burgess I wonder whether Waitrose has made a mistake by not making a ‘proper’ Christmas ad. They’ve stopped the conversation. Brands don’t belong to companies. All we do is steward them and facilitate conversations.

Causes for concern

Brooks Losing control of our brand. For example, we have a great association with Christmas, and we know that people love our trucks and our TV ads. One guy has set up a Coca-Cola Trucks account on Twitter and he’s doing a great job building a following, but there was a risk consumers could think he’s an official Coca-Cola account rather than a fan account. The lawyers were nervous, but rather than close him down, we’ve worked with him to tweak the way he posts so it’s clear he’s a fan. That way he can carry on tweeting and we’re more comfortable that consumers aren’t being misled.

Tucker AdWords is a huge expense for us and the rules are constantly changing. Social is also changing quickly, so have we missed any opportunities? I could spend all of my time reading updates.

Frost Our product launches are like movie launches, but budgets don’t go on forever, so interest can wane. The big push is the easy part, but six to nine months down the line, when fresh products are around, keeping the consumer engaged can be tough, so content is important. You have to keep inventing stories about the product.

Evans Brands could shrink the budget for the big splash so they can have a reactive, flexible and creative approach between the spikes.

Content or advertising?

Frost I don’t see where content ends. It’s everything we put out there. You see TV with social-media tags that you can interact with to have a different outcome at the end of the segment. We rely on our agencies to be experts on what’s new. They need to be given the opportunity to flourish and you direct it.

Tucker We find that a lot of advertising simply does not get a response if we use it in the social sphere. We are trying to find supporting content which gets across the brand values, but not in an overt way. We have tried hard to use the TV ad characters, but people don’t engage. They’d rather see a picture of a cat eating pizza.

Burgess I’m bewildered by what individual agencies do these days. They all seem to do everything. Above-the-line agencies are always trying to get into digital when they are not experts – they are experts at the idea. There is a battle over who does what. There are great content ideas coming from PR and social-media agencies, so it gets complicated.

Lazopoulos If something doesn’t add to your long-term objectives, then it isn’t content. The word doesn’t really help us.

Customer expectations

Tucker Our customers expect to be able to talk to us on any channel and get things resolved quickly. Within the hours of operation, we have dedicated social people in the call centre.

Frost I don’t think people have expectations about us putting a message out there, but they do have expectations on things like after-sales service, and that has content implications.

Lazopoulos More mature brands stand for something. If technology was just down to the features, then you would buy on who’s fastest rather than what the brand stands for.

Brooks There’s a difference between product and brand marketing. AdWords for Just Eat and trade activity for Motorola is product marketing. I would choose to buy Dove because of its values and what it has to say about beauty.  

Burgess The real challenge is measuring brand attributes. With digital, buzz monitoring is more appropriate for an ‘in the moment’ indication of how the brand is resonating. I have media dashboards, which I get measured against on brand-equity scores, and they are six months out of date and measuring something that is no longer relevant. We don’t know quite where we’re looking for any more. Our measurement partners are only just catching up.


Content kings – what recent content has impressed?

Brooks The Red Bull Stratos space jump was the most exciting recent content as it lived up to the brand values and made proper TV news. There was a live element and a comeback and look-later element, and although I would not normally be interested in the brand, this was fantastic.

Lazopoulos I love what happened online following the sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney. The consumer-generated content was great.

Burgess My favourite piece of content is the Mr Hyde email from Shortlist. It’s met a need for me that I didn’t realise I had.

Frost The James Bond franchise consistently reinvents itself to be current and it’s still extremely strong. Skyfall has been used by lots of brands to help themselves.

Tucker Coke Zero and James Bond.

Evans A Virgin Mobile ad in Australia with Richard Branson and comedian Paul Foot in conversation. The style matched the brand and made me want to see more, and it didn’t feel intrusive.

Holdway The Google Earth BA tie-up for the Olympics was very brave. Essentially BA’s summer campaign was telling people to stay at home. It’s incredible it got sign-off. The online integration allowing you to have a BA jet taxi along your road was a small piece of genius.


Around the table

Marcus Frost senior marketing director, Motorola
Gareth Evans business development director, Five by Five
Stuart Derrick writer, Marketing
Tony Holdway brand director, Wickes
Philip Smith head of content solutions, Haymarket (chair)
Jude Brooks digital activation manager, Coca-Cola Great Britain
and Ireland
Christian Lazopoulos senior planner, Five by Five
Matt Burgess brand building director, personal care, Unilever Great Britain and Ireland
Tess Tucker head of digital marketing, Just Eat


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