Six Blind Men and The Branded Content Elephant

- in 2015, ARTICLES

Planning this year’s Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM) ebook – volume three of the annual 150-page journal that showcases the best branded content and entertainment ideas and output from around the world – includes gathering the latest insights from industry experts. Here’s a sneak that I  put together as an article for the new content-focused print and digital mag being produced by Smart Digital Publishing Solution provider Edition Digital. It identifies key and emerging themes that are changing the face of marketing, which follow on from my The Jury’s In: the challenges of evaluating your branded content article in The Drum and my earlier WTF is branded Content? It’s complicated one for Contagious.


In a preview of his new ebook, justin kirby explains howcontent marketing is moving beyond definitions to find a shared lexicon:

For the second year in a row since its inception in 2012, the Branded Content & Entertainment jury at Cannes Lions did not award a Grand Prix.

Debates in the jury room still revolve around what is and what isn’t branded content, and how it’s different from advertising. This is a reflection of the challenges faced by the industry generally as it responds to the disruption caused by the changing media landscape, and it explains why attempting to define this rapidly evolving approach is like nailing jelly to a table.

I’m reminded of the parable where six blind men bump into an elephant and each think they’ve encountered something different: the one that touches the trunk thinks it’s a snake, the one that touches a tusk thinks it’s a spear, and so on.


Illustration by renowned Slovenian artist Marusa Kozelj

The difference being that, in the marketing world, there’s at least growing clarity that content will be at the heart of every marketing strategy. That’s why BBDO Worldwide’s Chief Creative Officer David Lubars, who was president of this year’s Cannes BC&E jury, thinks that we’re looking at something that transcends category, which is also true of digital and even social – now they’re just part of what marketing is and how it’s done.

In short, we’re talking about the future of marketing and this means that there won’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to solving client problems with content.

It also means that clients are unlikely to find any one supplier that has the answers to all their challenges, which suggests that the days of generic content experts are likely to be numbered as the industry begins to fracture  and divide into more specialist areas. This is likely to require a new language to describe the different areas, rather than the current confusing array of terms being used interchangeably by practitioners as they try to articulate which part of the elephant their offering represents – branded content, branded entertainment, brand publishing, content marketing, etc.

Benchmarking who brings what to the table, when and where

It’s not just a shared lexicon that’s needed, but also a better understanding of who actually brings what to the table.

There’s a Wild West right now with new agency models and disciplines merging, such as publishers becoming agencies. There’s also an increasing number of new routes to market. This includes celebrities and rising social stars who are moving beyond simple product endorsements to become content publishers that bypass traditional media and even become joint venture partners. Then there’s

the growing number of platform providers listed in reports by the likes of Altimeter and Forrester, which suggests that investors see another gold rush where fortunes can be made by selling algorithmic picks and shovels.

But trying to map the territory, let alone stake your claim, is a bit like trying to stick signposts in the shifting sands of a desert. For example, how do you compare editorial-style content delivered through a publishing platform with branded video entertainment might need longer-term investment in very different content strategies to win hearts rather than just price- comparing minds.

The rise of brand culture and purpose beyond profit

The explosion in data will transform measurement. But, as Chris McCarthy at The Zoo (Google’s dedicated team of creative technologists) thinks, brands also need to consider their communication strategy in terms of cultural strategy (brand culture), not only editorial strategy (brand content).

McCarthy was the president of the new Brand Culture award jury at the Cristal Ad Festival in 2014. He sees the introduction of this category as an important development, because “brands need to understand that connecting with people is a social exercise” that “is conducted through the messy, murky construct called culture: the stuff we consume, talk about, watch and interact with.”

The backdrop is a growing realisation among brands that they have to play a more positive role in society, and a role that’s relevant to people so that they actually care about the brand.


5 Levels of Brand Leadership, Survival to Significance by Jeremy Waite

In his new book, From Survival to SignificanceJeremy Waite at Salesforce presents a progression through what he calls the “5 Levels of Brand Leadership,” which outlines the challenges faced by brands at each step and what it takes to get to the next level. At the highest level, it’s no longer enough to be simply customer- centric – to become a truly significant brand that inspires people requires having a social purpose beyond profit. This is how Jeremy thinks brands achieve the kind of “loyalty beyond reason” coined by Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts, which Jeremy believes provides businesses with the foundations for ongoing success and longer- term sustainability.

P&G’s #LikeAGirl campaign from their Always brand is one manifestation of a social purpose beyond profit. It also illustrates McCarthy’s point about using content to have a cultural-level conversation – in this case, about how we regard and treat women in the world. Another example is Chipotle’s award-winning work that helps communicate their anti- agribusiness point of view, which resonates emotionally with their customers, so they avoid having to compete with 99-cent burrito promotions.

Thick Data – the cure to the content clutter headache?

Despite the Big Data hype, there’s a growing acceptance about its limits, as highlighted by Barney Worfolk- Smith at Th@t Lot who observed that the disruptive spark that gave us cars rather than faster horses is not to be found in an algorithm.

Using historical data can help us understand more about the when and where of human behaviour, but provides no inherent insight about the why. That requires brands to become more customer obsessed– they need to go beyond the desk and dashboard to get a deeper understanding of their audience using the Thick Data derived from more ethnographic research. This helps bring about not only inspiring products and services – including those that customers didn’t know they needed – but also the insights to develop better and more creative content strategies, including the kind of platforms talked about by MarketingProfs’ Ann Handley that help customers tell their stories at scale.

With more content being produced now than ever before, how brands use the insights gained from Thick Data in order to refine their analysis of Big Data looks set to become the antidote for curing the content clutter headache. This will result in better targeting and refined storytelling. It will also help brands understand more about their worthy existence or social purpose, particularly businesses that buy into author Simon Sinek’s idea:

“People don’t buy what you do; people buy
why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have.
 The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe”

There’s more great articles that you can read in the digital edition of Edition Digital‘s new magazine that’s powered by their Smart Digital Publishing Solution.

Vol III of Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM) is due to be published at the end of November and there will be a launch at Mother’s offices in London, which will include a panel with the D&AD‘s Tim Lindsay and others to be announced soon. Feel free to contact me if you’d like an invite, but in the meantime check out the Slideshare version of the Best of Branded Content Marketing 2015: Germany, Austria and Switzerland book below, read more in this series on BOBCM or come and join the conversation in the #BOBCM LinkedIn Group: