Content is King

Companies can foster communities of engaged consumers through the 'socialisation of content', where branded material meets social media

You can't turn a corner in medialand these days without bumping into the "bought, owned, earned" model of marketing. It divides communications strategy into bought media (advertising, sponsorship, search), owned media (branded content and platforms) and earned media (social networks such as Facebook) - and shows how these drive, and are driven by, one another.

This model goes a very long way to explaining why content is finally king - and why this phrase no longer has the hollow ring of cliche that it did ten years ago.

Check out Sony Ericsson's Pocket TV. This began life in spring 2009 as a made-for-mobile/online branded music programme fronted by the "new Simon Amstell", Matt Edmondson. Presumably frustrated by a lack of return on sponsorship activities at the V Festival, Ibiza Rocks and elsewhere, Sony Ericsson chose to engage consumers directly by delivering 90-second "mobisodes" via a mobile browser site and three-minute clips on a branded YouTube channel.

Pocket TV has gone from strength to strength: it's now also available as a YouTube mobile application and on the Vidzone digital jukebox on PlayStation 3. In July, Channel 4 acquired the rights to broadcast the latest Pocket TV shows on T4 and 4Music.

It is fascinating to see content that started off on mobile and social media "trade up" to terrestrial TV, in contrast to the traditional "TV-to-web" phenomenon (check out Old Spice).

Key to understanding an engagement model like this is recognising its core elements. These are: exciting, credible and well-targeted content; an experience that is recommendable and sharable, through YouTube of course, but also through integration with Facebook and Twitter; and an on-demand experience made available across a number of platforms, allowing users to view and interact at a time and in a manner of their choosing. At the time of writing, the YouTube channel alone had achieved 472,000 hits, with nearly six million individual pieces of content viewed.

For Que Pasa, it's the interplay between branded content and social media - the "socialisation of content" - that defines what engagement is becoming: no longer just a set of tools neatly labelled "data management", "direct marketing" and "CRM", but an ecosystem that uses fantastic content to stimulate the creation and growth of dynamic communities of highly engaged consumers.

Of course, "new" and "old" engagement are not mutually exclusive - and nor should they be. In this new and largely digital world, it's even easier for brands to capture data, incentivise and reward consumers, recruit "ambassadors" and drive online and offline sales - while also tracking the efficacy of their actions, both via conventional metrics and through online "buzz measurement" tools.

At the very least, a brand should consider integrating its web and mobile sites with Facebook and Twitter. This allows peer-to-peer promotion to an audience that's potentially in the millions by letting a visitor share and recommend brand assets with a simple click and without leaving the host site - as long as that brand has something worth sharing, which brings us back to the need for highly engaging content.

At its most exciting, this content may have the customer at its very heart. Nowhere is this better seen than in Red Bull Bedroom Jam, a year-long campaign involving young and emerging rock bands striving for their 15 minutes - or more - of fame.

It is predicated on the simple insight that a core Red Bull audience of music-loving late-teens may often not be sufficiently late-teen to watch or play a gig in licensed venues - premises where Red Bull may typically be stocked and promoted.

No gigs? No problem. Red Bull Bedroom Jam takes engagement out of the venue and on to the web. It allows bands to record and upload videos of their home performances and gain the chance to play live, streamed gigs, make festival appearances on Red Bull stages, grab support slots with established artists on tour in the UK and record an album at Red Bull's studios.

The Red Bull Bedroom Jam website is home to a plethora of compelling performances from the best of Britain's young rock talent, while branded channels on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are used to seed content and converse daily with communities of fans and advocates.

Nike is another brand that has an innate understanding of an engagement model that combines content and experience. Its Most Wanted series of football training academies, which played out in video episodes over mobile and web in the summer of 2008 (a kind of "football Pop Idol") pointed the way to more recent activities such as Nike+. This allows runners and joggers to record their training stats using a Nike digital recorder, an iPod or an iPhone and submit them to the Nike Running website. Here, users can create training profiles and fitness challenges, monitor their performance and share content with other runners.

Mobile and "geosocial" channels in particular are increasingly being used to serve branded content to those on the move. Benadryl's hayfever app gives users pollen-count warnings and tells them where their nearest stockist is, while Lynx's Wingman serves mobile content to help lads "get the girl". But the biggest wins will come in the form of location-enabled networks such as Foursquare and Facebook Places. The potential for retailers, cinemas and music and sports venues to deliver exclusive content and rewards to customers is immense.

Yet advertisers must remember the golden rule: these channels are a means, not an end. The engagement model of "content-powered marketing" only thrives when the content at its heart is great.

Great content drives loyalty by appealing directly to consumers' passions - and their love of sharing them. It gives brands an authority, personality and relevance that moves beyond conventional engagement activities.


- The interplay between 'owned' and 'earned' media is a hugely powerful engine that can build and grow communities of loyal advocates

- Compelling branded content must lie at the heart of this value exchange

- The proliferation of digital and social channels dictates that brands use content to build dialogue with consumers

- Brands have opportunities to create marketing, shopping and product experiences powered by social technology

- To build brands that thrive in the Social Experience Economy, agencies require new skills, moving from user interface design to social experience design.

Hugh Burrows is the planning director at Que Pasa Communications

(From Campaign's "What Next in Engagement" supplement, October 2010)

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