“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.” Given recent debates, you may think this quote is a new one but in fact it dates back to 1996, and is the opening gambit of Bill Gates’ legendary essay, “Content is King”.
Nearly 20 years later, and the marketing community is racing to adopt content as a means of getting its message across to consumers. In the third in a series of articles, DecisionMarketing asks our group of experts whether the rush to embrace marketing content has turned into an obsession.
St Ives Group group marketing director Helen Robinson has certainly witnessed it, putting it down to a case of content being “the new big thing”. She added: “The market is being driven by mobile phones so companies have be wary of the sort of content they produce. If they have no mobile strategy a lot of this content will be useless.”
One brand at the top of its game
And, Mike Cavers, executive creative director at The GIG at DST, is also in little doubt. Having previously asserted that “brands are not just dazzled by digital, they are dazzled by digital content”, he nevertheless cites one example of a brand which is at the top of its game.
“Red Bull was doing content before anyone knew what is was, mainly through sponsorship activity. It has been running events for years, linked with music festivals, which has engaged consumers by giving them something tangible.”
And he is not alone in bigging up the Red Bull Stratos space jump. Seven years in the planning, the company began building audience anticipation via its YouTube channel back in February 2012, uploading teaser videos on a weekly basis, which accrued over 27 million views before the live event. Red Bull also used Facebook and Twitter to build hype around the event, sharing photos of the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s preparation and a computer-generated simulation of the leap.
Benefits of mass TV and webcast coverage
The event was carried on nearly 80 TV stations in 50 countries. The live webcast was distributed through 280 digital partners and racked up 52 million views, making it the most-watched live stream in history.
According to the company, it sold 5.2 billion cans worldwide last year, a 13% increase over the year prior. In the US, sales jumped 17%, while markets as varied as South Africa, Japan, Saudi Arabia, France and Germany also saw double-digit sales gains.
Cavers enthused: “That’s got everything, it’s got branding, content, sponsorship and a sales boost. Talk about embracing the digital age, that did it.”
But while Google UK industry director Ian Morgan agrees that this was indeed a great example of content powering a brand, he sees the real challenge lies in replicating this success across the marketing industry. He said: “Increasingly, consumers are engaging through digital technology, it’s now about creating content that consumers want to engage with rather than just pushing advertising messages.
“Yet how does a brand with a relatively boring product – take for an example insurance, that no one wants to buy – put a spin on that to make it compelling? For me that’s the next key battleground.”
Building a glow around the brand
For Jacob Bailey executive director Lucy Stafford the crucial element of any content strategy is building an emotional attachment. She explains: “Look at the Christmas campaigns from last year – John Lewis (which Cavers called ‘a brilliant bit of film’), Sainsbury’s, M&S even – most showed no products. They just built a glow around the brand.”
And Stafford begs to differ with Google’s Morgan by adding: “Low-interest brands like financial services have already woken up to this, you can’t get much more engaging than Comparethemarket’s Aleksandr Orlov…”
But Acxiom European marketing director Jed Mole, and TNT Post’s managing director of DoorDrop Media Mark Davies both believe traditional media can provide just as compelling content.
Mole, who is never more at home than when he is playing guitar in his band, explained: “How many guitarists do you know who have just one guitar? Every quarter I get a brochure from a guitar company which is excellent. It’s a really good example of compelling content – it pulls all the right strings, emotionally and physically. Seeing those guitars in print makes me lust after them.”
Print is still good for content
Meanwhile, Davies believes the basic human norms of music and imagery still hold great sway, whatever the medium. “The Internet hasn’t stopped people reading, ebooks haven’t dented traditional books. Print is still an excellent way of getting content across, just ask Ikea how successful its door-dropped catalogues are. The Internet is brilliant at sign-posting where to go but traditional media is a great way to start the journey.”
Even Stafford, a self-confessed queen of online shopping, notes that despite buying most of her clothes over the Internet, she still receives a printed catalogue from nearly all the companies she buys from. “They must be making money from them, otherwise they wouldn’t send them out.”
The trick, all our panelists agree, is to get the message to fit the medium and not shoe-horn content in “for content’s sake”. As Cavers concluded: “We’ve gone from receiving about 500 marketing messages a day, to more than 5,000. But we’re all Homer Simpson these days, because we know exactly how to blank out the crap.”