What does traditional media bring to the branded content table?

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I spoke last week at the Digital Media Expo 2015 hosted by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN – IFRA), as well as participating on a panel. I also presented at a more intimate internal gathering at Bauer Media (see below), where I kicked off a day of speakers offering different perspectives on what branded content is, where it’s at and heading.

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The presentations were pretty similar and you can see the version I presented at Digital Media Expo 2015 below. It’s an adaptation of my presentations for the Osservatorio Branded Entertainment (OBE) Summit in Milan last month and the Golden Drum ad festival in Slovenia last year.


In summary, I explained that despite the prediction that branded content will be at the heart of every marketing strategy, there’s still a lot of confusion about what it is. This isn’t helped by the array of competing terms being bandied about by practitioners, such as “branded content”, “branded entertainment”, “content marketing”, “brand publishing” and “native advertising”.

The Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA) have attempted to address this with the following definition that formed part of research they commissioned from Oxford Brookes University in partnership with Ipsos MORI:

Branded content is any content associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder.

This is a useful first step, although it does not explain the business problem that branded content seeks to solve, how this is different from advertising, or the strategic considerations:

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One of the reasons for using case studies in the Best of Branded Content Marketing(BOBCM) book series I curate is that it helps show how brands and their agency partners are addressing these considerations. This also avoids getting bogged down in protracted debate about definitions.

The ‘Three Circles of Branded Content Marketing’ diagram above is a useful tool for not only analysing case studies, but also for thinking through the strategic considerations of a branded content marketing strategy.

The other reason for highlighting great work is because it provides inspiration, and here’s a list of some I presented and why, based on input from industry experts from around the globe:

But where does traditional media (particularly radio and publishing) fit in the converged media landscape and when in the customer decision journey?

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Inspiring examples aside, I tried to provide some pointers about what traditional media brings to the branded content table at a time when the lines between media owners, agencies and consumers continue to blur.

1. More case studies required:
In the Bauer Media presentation I specifically highlighted the lack of great case studies in radio, particularly given the point made below by Folded Wing’s Karen Pearson:

9 out of 10 people listen, engage and interact with radio, and do so across an ever-growing selection of digital platforms. So branded audio content of the future needs to engage with audiences across a wide variety of different platforms, including DAB, mobile, tablets, podcasts and online platforms.

2. Collaboration with content creators less risky for brands:
As Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland also points out, there’s a strong argument for brands to collaborate with content creators because it’s less risky than competing with them:

Brands need to be realistic about competing with content creators, unless they’re prepared to risk allocating budget that could result in failure. The Hollywood system is an example of a few successes bankrolling a large number of duds and also-rans. I’d recommend collaboration, or deviation, whereby the type of content you create is not necessarily of interest to conventional content creators, but is of huge interest to a client or group of clients.

3. Demand for more continuous content:
Traditional media owners are also well placed to service the growing demand for those that understand editorial and 
programming in order to produce more continuous content, which Somethin’ Else’s Steve Ackerman highlights:

The big change that brands have to understand is the need to have an ongoing conversation with their audience, rather than just short bursts of campaign activity. The production of continuous content requires more of a (broadcast) programming and editorial mentality.

4. Collect Customer Stories at Scale:
Content Marketing guru Ann Hanley at MarketingProfs gives a possible glimpse of where traditional media owners might want to start thinking about how they can collaborate with brands given that customer stories are becoming more important than brand ones than ever before.

Find a mechanism to allow you to collect customer stories at scale. For example, Airbnb recently launched a platform where people can submit their own stories at Create AirBnB.

Ann discusses more about how Airbnb are killing it in branded content here, but other relevant case studies of collecting customer stories at scale include Guardian Witness for EE by Guardian Labs, and also work for Duncan Hines by my colleagues at Tenthwave that’s has been winning a slew of awards.

5. Understand more about what part you play in people’s lives
As my Tenthwave colleague Eric Schwamberger mentioned in the last edition of BOBCM, brands need to stop “disrupting what people are interested in” and try to “become what people are interested in”, shifting marketing value from brand impressions and message frequency to brand engagement and experiences.”

Given the wealth of data that traditional media have on their audiences, my recommendation was that they use this to help find insight about the role they play in people’s lives to work with brands on branded communication programmes that people want to be a part of.

Forrester Marketing RaDar model, or how some agencies have evolved it, might be a useful starting place for traditional media owners to think through the part they play in consumers lives and where in the customer journey:

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6. Look beyond your competitors for inspiration
My approach to strategy is informed by human-centric design thinking and tools, and the Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM) series was partly inspired by UX Designer, Forrester Analyst and author Leah Buley’s recommendation of keeping an inspiration library in her UX Team of One presentation at SXSW 2009.

Another related tool is the Comparator or Comparable Analysis I first encountered in Rosenfeld & Morville’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web book from 1998 (the Polar Bear book), which is pretty much the rallying point for what is now the UX Design ‘industry’.

The reason for mentioning this is that one of my recommendations was to look beyond direct competitors for inspiration, a point also made by TUI Travel PLC’s Muttu Sridhara:

We continue to scan the market to see what our competitors are doing, and by competitors we mean anyone who is out there potentially servicing customers in a better way. Your best experience is your best experience and it doesn’t matter whether that’s in travel or if it happened in a shop, or it happened on a web site.

And what does good native advertising look like?
Based on feedback from delegates at both events there’s a discussion to be had about whether Native Advertising is just another term for branded content or something different. For example, is JWT’s 5-Star Filmed Reviews on TripAdvisor for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company below great branded content, great native advertising or both? 

I finished both presentations with this example in order to link the point above about seeking inspiration from comparators. The idea also being to provide a trigger for what good native advertising might look and sound like in traditional media, so that their owners can help better leverage their properties for brands in the same way that the new digital entrants are doing with theirs.

Special thanks to Ryan Skinner at Forrester for introducing me to the WAN – IFRA team, and to Dan Jennings for inviting me to speak to his colleagues at Bauer Media.