A lot of us, asked about the importance of content, tend to say that content is King. Not a lot of us, still, continue the sentence with “but context is King Kong”.
When I joined Google more than a year ago, I thought I knew a lot about content. Then I sat among my ZOO colleagues – Google’s creative think tank – and realised I couldn’t find a simple answer to a simple question: what is content, actually? So, not a long-winded exposition on the nature of real-time – that’s not specific enough; and not ‘everything but ads’ (ads could be content as well).
But my ZOO colleagues could. They had the benefit of the insight into how people use content-rich spaces such as YouTube. They could see what people actually search for and watch. And they used that information to create probably the best and most useful content framework I know of. It gives everyone a clear direction on what to create, so that it resonates with their particular category, their particular consumers, their particular brand.
Simply speaking, there are three big ‘buckets’ of behaviour on YouTube. Three kinds of content people really want to watch. Each of them is a permission for a brand to behave in a way that achieves both reach and engagement. Each of them is also a specific kind of fame – as brand fame seems to be the long-term correlator with brand success, at least according to the IPA’s seminal study ‘The long and the short of it’.
The framework – and the staple of the YouTube strategy – is known as ‘Hero, Help and Hub’. Or, in the ZOO parlance, HHH. Or 3H, in my stencilled version.
Hero: the brand as broadcaster or entertainer
Hero encapsulates things we know so well: big moments of storytelling we share with friends, we talk about at watercoolers, we use as examples of great creativity, if and when created by and for brands. The Nike extravaganzas, the WREN kisses, the Dove ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ humanity, the Always ‘like a girl’ prejudices and the Volvo Trucks ‘Epic Split’ humbugs.
Hero content – almost always video, unless we’re ‘dunking in the dark’ – is what traditional creative agencies eat for breakfast. It’s a permission for a brand to behave like a broadcaster or an entertainer, amplifying its message through big ideas and adequate supporting spend without TV’s restrictions of expensive seconds. It’s the Hollywood kind of fame, the blockbuster fame, usually earned through cinematic jewels that last minutes.
Help: understanding needs and earning trust
At the other end of the spectrum lies the Help content. It’s the land of native YouTube creators and a growing number of ‘immigrant’ brands that are either mimicking or partnering them. The amount of Help content – not just on YouTube, but on the web overall – eclipses everything else.
Help is, simply, content people look up when they need help with something, when they want to learn. It’s tutorials and ‘how to’ videos and articles. How to braid a particular kind of plait, how to make a perfect crocodile BBQ, how to learn Serbian, or how to achieve a specific make-up look. It’s a permission for a brand to behave like a friend, to guide, to earn trust. It’s also the BBC kind of fame, the documentary fame of someone who really, deeply
understands people’s needs around a particular issue, category, or product. Search for ‘All Things Hair’ on YouTube and see how Unilever surfs the Help wave in a textbook fashion.
Hub: regular doses of magic redefining the nature of advertising
Finally, once a consumer comes into a brand’s gravitational field, by discovering it either through Hero or Help content, she may like what she saw and may want more. She clicked on the ‘Subscribe’ button; she’s expecting regular doses of magic. Do you have it? If you do, then you have activated the Hub strategy layer.
The Hub is where YouTube celebrities are made, the stuff of ‘formats’, and it’s still not very populated by brands. It’s episodic content, created and launched in regular instalments, based on a specific field of interest and on what a creator has to say about it. The Hub content is a permission to be a fellow nerd, to explore the sweet spot where people’s interests meet a brand’s competence and a unique tone of voice, indigenous or borrowed from YouTubers. It’s the HBO series kind of fame.
As for formats, native YouTubers have figured out a nice, neat trick articulated by Google’s Derek Scobie. The formula is: topic, action, surprise. Pick a topic (say, everyday objects), do something with them (say, explode them), but in a surprising way (say, 10,000 fps). You get the SloMo guys with 6.5 million subscribers. Or, take science, explain some concepts, but ask some not very scientific questions, such as “What would happen if all the people on Earth jumped at the same time?” You’d get Vsauce with 9 million subscribers.
Why is this important? It provides brand new avenues to be discovered and fewer ways for them to be skipped. It gives an agency new canvasses to paint on and tell a story. It answers the question: “And what do you do above, beyond and between your campaign windows?” Finally, it redefines the nature of modern advertising.
If the old way of advertising was broad, all about efficient reach and ‘mental availability’ and largely based on emotional punch, new advertising has to have the additional depth component, based on intent utility. In other words, what people care about and search for. New advertising is T-shaped, tapering into a wedge that cracks open the door to discoverability.
For that, we need the meeting of content and context, the matching of story with consumer signals.
Consumer signals are the new creative gold
Consumer signals are specks of gold dust of our intent and behaviour left in the digital space. This is where content marketing starts meeting programmatic – the real-time, lightning-fast and hugely diverse approach to targeting and messaging based on consumer signals detected by algorithms.
But rather than use consumer signals simply to provide better targeting online in programmatic ads, we can use them as a new way to tell a better story. Instead of traditional campaigns fired out one by one, we’ll have swarms of micro-stories, each flowing from the same brand source, but each targeting a particular set of signals, like this early Brazilian example for Axe, or this PEDIGREE ‘Found’ example.
Creating and disseminating content within contexts like this will require a new way of working, a change in structure for agencies, the development of creator teams that may include not only planners and creatives, but also technicians, behavioural experts, producers, digital creators, and maybe even consumers themselves.
Recognising and embracing the fact that the content King bows to the context King Kong is a great opportunity for marketers to continue thriving as the magicians and drivers of brand fame – Heroes, Helpers and the people who run the Hub.
This article was original published in the 2015 Global Edition of the Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM) series (see Edition Digital version below). The author Lazar Dzamic (Creative Strategist at Google ZOO EMEA) also lectures at Singidunum University, Belgrade.
He kindly participated in JOBCM academic and industry collaboration co-faciliated by BOBCM’s curator Justin Kirby, and hosted its first UK meeting. You can read more from those who participated in the collaboration here.