Expert Predictions 2013

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Branded content marketing is evolving rapidly, so I asked several expert practitioners share their thoughts about the future of this field for Volume I of the Best of Branded Content Marketing ebook.

1. Its ability to generate advocacy will make branded content more important to a brand’s health 

Andrew Canter, CEO, BCMA: People don’t have time for interruptive advertising, but they’ll share what they love via social media and new technologies – fast and in real time. In the future, more brands will integrate their messages into compelling content that people will talk about, share and even co-create, ultimately turning consumers into advocates who generate digital word of mouth and influence.

Morgan Holt, Chairman, BCMA: Establishing closer relationships with your customers at a time when media companies are finding it more and more difficult to build business models around holding on to audiences, and at a time when advertisers are finding more and more of a need to come closer to their consumers – that’s the incidence when content makes a difference to brand building.

Chris Sice (CS), Managing Director, Blended Republic: Brands now need to create ideas with the potential to inspire audiences via different marketing disciplines. And then know how to blend the right mix of disciplines. The idea is the key thing, and whether it lends itself to creative that will engage – by whatever route/s are most suitable.

2. Branded content curation is a key role that will change the agency model 

Sarah Wood (SW), COO, Unruly Media: With 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute and a billion bits of content shared on Facebook every day, content discovery and curation is as large and important a task as creating content in the first place.

Ian Farmer (IF), Digital Strategist/Planner, Havas Worldwide: Developing a robust content curation strategy now requires awareness of time, device and location.

Richard Spalding (RS), CEO, The 7th Chamber: Content curators will have more impact on their audience’s brand endorsements than a brand film made by an agency.

3. Advertisers will find better ways to build trust 

Paul Bay (PB), Founder, Citizen Bay: Regarding content curation and brainpicking, the gap between promise and delivery is still wide – advertisers are still less trusted than politicians. Brands using branded content need to keep this trust issue at the forefront of their minds. Through a better understanding of what people want, brands will begin to act in a way that endears them to people and builds trust.

4. With the democratisation of content, customer stories will become more important than brand stories, and will change the media content model

PB: The term ‘storytelling’ implies that brands or their agencies are still the authors of the narrative. This downplays the increasingly important role that the customer narrative plays, particularly as more people create their own brand-related content – whether it’s a Harlem Shake video clip or a product experience shared on Twitter.

IF: Branded content will benefit from this kind of disruptive influence to the current method of producing, selling and licensing content.

PB: Branded content marketing will become less about pushing content and more about listening to your customers’ stories and amplifying these.​

5. A ‘Cost Per Engagement’ measurement will help determine the ROI of branded content marketing campaigns 

SW: Research proves that content that is shared exponentially generates brand advocacy and leads to a direct increase in product sales. Brands want to learn how to create share-worthy content repeatably and at scale, rather than crossing their fingers and hoping for a viral hit. There will be an increasing focus on testing what works and in particular what drives active engagement and word of mouth, rather than measuring merely views, which can be bought, and are a measure of media spend rather than a measure of content quailty or effectiveness.

IF: This new Cost Per Engagement metric will incorporate the lifetime value of the engagement.

6. Brands will invest more in creating an emotional connection

SW: Testing what works and optimising the performance of branded content isn’t just about using data to make decisions and refine campaigns in real-time; it’s also about emotions. We make purchase decisions based on how we feel about a brand. The brands that succeed in the future will be the ones creating content that elicits a powerful emotional response from their audience.

IF: This experience extends to media placement as well. Stumbling upon something new produces an addictive emotional benefit, so marketers are always on the lookout for new product placement locations. Advertisers will make an even bigger investment in understanding the science of ‘serendipitous placements’.

7. Myths will be busted 

SW: As academics and professional research companies develop a body of research around branded content, there’ll be mythbusting galore. For example, in the early days, marketers thought you needed to hide your brand if you wanted to make your content viral. Myth. Studies have shown that this is not the case – it’s fine to have the brand front and centre of the content, as long as the content hits the relevant emotional triggers and the brand presence feels relevant and authentic.

8. The continuous client will finally come into being 

SW: The best available device culture is already in full swing, with users demanding the content they want, when they want it, on the best screen they happen to have to hand at that moment. Content makers from the Wall Street Journal to Wired are selling cross-platform subscriptions that enable content to be pulled from the cloud onto multiple devices. This culture is likely to lead to the introduction of a ‘continuous client’ (read A Modest Proposal byJoshua Topolsky, Engadget, 2010), where our devices talk to each other and we can place-shift from screen to screen without the hassle of logging in and out.

IF: The Mobile Web has reduced part of the ‘plan ahead’ step in content gathering, and the reason scenario mapping of consumer journeys has the added complexity of flexible and often impulsive triggers. The logistics principle of ‘just in time’ is gaining adoption for many content segments, and with users enjoying the flexibility of multiple access devices, it’s important for branded content to incorporate a process to optimise the experience.

9. More content will be designed for multi-screen consumption

SW: Content-makers are already getting creative with transmedia strategies. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus did this particularly well in 2012, uploading a TEDtalk from the future (2023), that then became the past-tense and back story for a blockbuster film set in 2093. It’s not just the big screen that’s getting in on the act – with as many as 44% of TV viewers using a companion screen while watching TV, we’ll be looking to more brands, particularly broadcasters, making companion content designed for smartphones and tablets. Plus, the impending introduction of 4G in the UK will mean that consumers will be able to view videos faster on their smartphones than on their desktops, which will place increasing pressure on brands and advertising networks to find out how to make smartphone content work. A smartphone is a very intimate device so there’s lots of scope to create a different type of content.

Doug Scott (DS), President, OgilvyEntertainment: We don’t live in a channel-based environment. It’s not about going for this channel or that channel. If it’s a show I want to watch then I’m going to find it whether it’s on the Discovery Channel, or on demand, or on iTunes for $1.99.

I think it’s heading to a place where first and foremost it’s not about a TV screen but any screen, and it’s not about a singular experience, but a shared experience. It’s going to be ‘plus screen’, so if there’s a group watching a game, they can now also ‘lean in’ via their iPad or smartphone and pull up more on the players, as well as chat with other fans, find out about other games in real-time.

10. The definition of branded content will change, blowing away the 1:9:90 participation principle

RS: Long-form content is currently King of brand engagement. For example, see Red Bull’s “Art of Flight”. People want to be entertained by brands. They are willing to make content for brands – (see eyeka.com for crowdsourcing branded content) – and they prefer to immerse themselves in long-form branded content, not just be shouted at with 30-second ads.

11. Every type of content will be able to add value to a brand

DS: We are going to see the rise of a whole host of new content formats. We are going to see the rise of a greater value proposition to the brand as it relates to content in some cases, as we are seeing with Red Bull right now.

IF: Brands will actively find ways to enhance the value of branded content with new layers. For example, the added value that Mint.com gave to the humble bank transaction statement is empowering their march up the consumer ownership and trust hierarchy.

DS: Microcontent can be pulled out of the cloud, enabling people to get more knowledge about a certain topic or be entertained for longer because they are going deeper into the topic, and I believe that microcontent potentially will be brand-funded. So just as a certain TV programme is brought to you by a certain brand commercial-free, the content you would typically be charged 99 cents or £1.99 via Apple iTunes would be presented by a certain brand.

12. Brands will realise that they need to think about distribution (globally where relevant), not just content creation

CS: Just because a brand can create great content, doesn’t mean anyone cares. Right now, brands are placing too much emphasis on creating content, but are ignorant of distribution. The boundary-less nature of Facebook and YouTube, for example, presents huge opportunities for international marketers to engage global audiences with branded content.

To attain the desired ROI, brands need to learn to act like media owners: understand their target audience; know intimately what makes great stories to engage that audience; know what formats to present these stories in and which platforms to tap into to reach that audience.

13. Some brands will effectively become entertainment companies

DS: We are going to see brands that are truly entertainment companies who have entertainment adjacencies or extensions to them that truly own the lifestyle. Nike is one of those brands that I predict we should see something like this come out of. Coca Cola is moving in that direction. I think they have the relationships and sponsorship franchises to do that over time.

CS: Brands like Coca-Cola and Diageo are leading the way in embracing branded content. They embed content thinking at the heart of their marketing planning from

“the outset, which gives them the potential to create an authentic, inspiring content vision that can work across borders and deliver huge international ROI.

14. Data will become the new creative 

DS: The idea that the brand starts to ‘learn’ the customer and enable them with content – whether it be educative or entertaining – that is of interest to them really drills us down to the idea of data being the new creative.

Luca de Fino, Head of Social, Ogilvy & Mather: The understanding that content drives users’ behaviour forces us to have the skill to transform that behaviour into users’ actions that are measurable and linked to clients’ business goals. Today effective strategies can change behaviours and generate actions when they are media compliant.

Do you agree with the predictions? Do you have other predictions to share? Please let us know what you think by using the contact form.