The Future of Branded Content Marketing: What Will Change – Part 2

- in ARTICLES, FEATURES, Strategy & Planning

This is the second in a series of articles I’m writing for the Cambridge Marketing Review that draws on my research for the Future of Branding Content Report published in second edition of the ‘Best of Branded Content Marketing‘ ebook I curate in partnership with the BCMA It shares part of my findings from Industry experts around the world on what they expect to see change in the next five years. You can read part 1 of the series here.

What Will Change

There is a growing consensus that branded content will be at the heart of every marketing strategy. For Pereira & O’Dell’s creative head, PJ Pereira, that’s
because the ability of content “to draw
people in naturally through entertaining,
emotionally engaging messaging” helps
 to “develop deeper relationships with
audiences”. Others cite the growth of digital
technologies and social media as drivers, as
well as stand-out examples of branded content marketing campaigns such as Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches and the Red Bull Stratos jump to Earth by Felix Baumgartner.

Branded Entertainment Online’s (BEO) Sandra Freisinger-Heinl also thinks that there will be more “standardised procedures”, which will help encourage the adoption of the approach. Certainly, lessons are being learned from successes, failures, and even happy accidents. In the meantime, branded content is still mostly being commissioned in isolation, often in response to client briefs for more media neutral solutions. But more joined-up thinking is on the horizon and Red Bee Media’s Michael Reeves thinks that this will eventually lead to branded content becoming the “central articulation of a brand or communication idea.”

Others, including CIPR’s (former) president and Ketchum‘s head of digital and social Stephen Waddington, believe that broader “content development” will move beyond marketing communications to “become the communication norm for all operational areas of an organisation”.

There’s also a host of new, open and collaborative agency models being predicted, such as publishers becoming agencies. The launch of Guardian News and Media’s branded content division and their seven-figure Unilever deal is a recent example. This forms part of a trend for the production of continuous content by those who understand editorial and programming, such as publishers and broadcasters, rather than just big campaign ideas with legs. But if the evolution of contract publishing is native advertising, where is it being done well, and how is its success being measured?

Ogilvy Group UK’s Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland points out that collaborating with content creators is a lot less risky than competing with them. As he explains, you only have to look at Hollywood to see how many flops and duds are supported by a few successes. Another option he recommends is deviation, where brands (possibly in partnership with others) create or curate content that is of huge interest to their customers, but is not of interest or commercially viable for more traditional content curators to produce. Perhaps that’s why Forrester’s Ryan Skinner predicts more agency-facilitated brand alliances, and why more and different kinds of celebrity partnerships are being formed, for example Sean “Diddy” Coombes’ recent JV with Diageo. As Social Media Consultant Jadis Tillery (now advisor to Oakley Capital) explains, these celebrities not only bring a loyal and sizeable fan base to the table, but also are “dynamic content creators and media owners in their own right”.

Given how the lines between brands, media owners, agencies and even consumers continue to blur, we’re also likely to see more game-changing innovation occur – perhaps until there are no longer any lines.

However, new models will require new skillsets, particularly in terms of understanding social behaviour and culture better. That’s why OgilvyEntertainment’s President Doug Scott (now at WME | IMG) thinks agencies need to hire behavioural economists and creative technologists as well as individuals who truly understand social interaction. For Doug this is about shifting consumer preferences and changing behaviours, rather than hiring a “social media specialist” to simply increase the number of retweets of a post.

Some digital strategists such as Mike Arauz at Undercurrent argue that there’s also now a need to know a lot about a lot, rather than just a little about a lot and a lot about a little. For Econsultancy’s CEO Ashley Friedlein, it’s more of a left and right combination about being able to analyse the exponential growth of data and apply insights creatively across various marketing disciplines. Tenthwave’s Gretchen Ramsey (now at UM) thinks that a cultural understanding is often missed, particularly as far as planning relevance is concerned, and that this needs to be taken to a new level given how quickly and dramatically specialist digital areas change.

The marketing industry’s obsession with real time is likely to add to the pace of change, and this is likely to be fuelled by new tools that help support brands transforming into what Unruly’s COO Sarah Wood describes as “newsrooms for their niche”. Digiday’s John McDermott hopes that brands will move away from the opportunism of tweeting nonsense during the Super Bowl, and instead create something more mesmerising like Volvo Trucks’ ‘The Epic Split’ feat by Jean-Claude Van Damme, or something legitimately helpful like the ‘Fix in Six’ Vines #lifehacks videos from US DIY chain Lowe’s.

Interestingly, the importance of storytelling was the most consistent theme to emerge from industry experts. So perhaps there will be more scope for brands to invest in creative experimentation rather than just think of being agile in terms of real-time responsiveness.

This may be a virtue of necessity, because – as Paul Bay at Citizenbay pointed out – the gap between promise and delivery is still wide, which is why advertisers are still less trusted than politicians. The point being that one way of rebuilding trust is to create more uthentic and entertaining story-based content with messages that are clear and unambiguous.

Storytelling also helps to engage audiences with content that resonates emotionally, and there are tools on the horizon to help pre-test this in order to refine the impact of the content in terms of its share-worthiness as well as its targeting.

Whether this will lead to brands “becoming media”, as some predict, will depend on the risks they are prepared to take. MEC’s Chantal Rickards thinks brands are becoming more adventurous, particularly in terms of funding longer-form content such as movies and documentaries. The success of ‘The LEGO® Movie’ is seen by some experts as a sign of brands becoming significant funders and distributors of original content. Stan Joseph at Ochre Moving Pictures even sees brands taking “their place at the table alongside broadcasters, distributors and IP owners.”

It’s worth pointing out that the Lowe’s ‘Fix in Six’ videos mentioned earlier were produced on a budget of US$5,000, so you don’t need big budgets and movie stars to engage audiences. There are also plenty of opportunities to meet the consumer demand for more visual content that the BCMA’s Patrícia Weiss predicts by using platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, etc. – particularly now that you can watch high-quality video on the go via your mobile or tablet. This is only likely to increase the growing content clutter, which is why Doug Scott points out that creating good stories is more important than ever in order to cut through.

But UM’s Chief Content officer Scott Donaton thinks storytelling changes everything about how brands go to market, so brands are going to have to do what they don’t like doing and make some major changes to their processes, the skillsets of the people they hire, the timeframes they work within, and the way they allocate and think about budgets.

Scott also thinks that brands need to change their definition of creativity. This is interesting because technology platforms are increasingly being seen as the “solution” to content-based strategies.

In the next edition of the Cambridge Marketing Review, I’ll share my findings about how platforms are becoming more algorithmic, programmatic and predictive in order to help personalise and optimise content across an increasing number of channels and devices. I’ll also explore predicted changes in measurement and analytics, and the rise of empathetic, emotional marketing. In the meantime, you can read interviews with the following cited in the article above: