Ogilvy's Greg Whitham on brands becoming publishers

  • Opinion
  • June 11, 2014
  • Greg Whitham
Ogilvy's Greg Whitham on brands becoming publishers

With the burgeoning amount of content now available to consumers, we find that less is more — that is to say long content formats just don’t get traction as they ask too much of consumers' time. So we’re seeing a big trend towards ‘atomised content’ that is shrinking the core outtakes of the content into bite-sized chunks as small as possible so that consumers can easily digest it. This is why the appetite for infographics and vine-type, six-second video clips is so huge – they can convey a lot in a very little space/time duration. We subsequently do a lot of short-format online video for the likes of Countdown and some of our other clients. 

Smart brands are seeing a decline in the effectiveness of campaigns that only exist in one channel—the modern consumer flits from one platform to another, one screen to another, and frequently multi-screens. Expecting to have their sole attention at any one point of time is increasingly unrealistic. To get cut-through, brands need to be present across multiple touch points and this often means that they have to a) show up in a way that is contextual to the space and mindset of the consumer and b) provide some sort of value-based exchange to the consumer – interruption doesn’t work anymore when the consumer has multiple other media options available to them at any one time. So brands need to offer more than just statements of their availability, price or promotion - they need to offer some value if they want to own that consumer attention—and this is often easier to achieve through quality content that either entertains, informs, or offers something that enhances the experience that the consumer is already having.

There has been much made on the ‘value’ of a ‘share’ and ROI on social and content marketing – all of which I think is still pretty much up for debate. Digital channels are easier to measure with respect to analytics but this has led (I believe) to a few unreliable KPIs with respect to effectiveness. Unfortunately things that are easy to measure tend to get measured but this is not always an accurate barometer of the effectiveness of the content-marketing strategy. So, just because something gets shared profusely online, doesn’t mean it will be putting sovereigns in the tin for a brand somewhere. We encourage our clients to focus on the quality of the engagement over the number of shares. 10 people sharing, talking about and endorsing a brand’s content is far better than 100 people randomly ‘liking’ a post and then forgetting about it. 

We see content-marketing risks as more relevant to content strategy than what consumers actually do with a brand’s content. For example - having a solid content strategy and a highly efficient content production facility is key. The biggest risk you can make is producing content that has no context, no value to the consumers you are targeting. That said, you can never hope to get it right all the time. I often tell my kids, “The opposite of success isn’t failure, it’s doing nothing.” Failure is something you often have to pass through on your way to success. It’s a lot like that with content marketing, you need to test the market’s appetite with smaller quick-and-easy-to-produce content pieces to learn where their interest/appetite lies. So we have a ‘fail fast, fail forward’ mentality - test with a low-budget production capacity, find out what resonates, and then mine that.

Content writers and producers can ultimately be anyone. Sometimes the polish and craft a journalist or writer will provide just isn’t valued by the market, that said, atomising content is definitely an art that seems to be at the convergence of journalists, copy writers, bloggers and commentators. There is a great free-to-view documentary called ‘Press Pause Play’ that’s worth a watch. It covers the very interesting subject of the democratisation of creativity through access to cheap and available digital tools - in music, filmmaking and writing.

The conclusion—which admittedly is indecisive—is that on one hand it’s great that now everybody can create content but the downside is that we are now swimming in a sea of mediocrity—and that is one of the challenges the communications industry faces going forward.

With more and more content being produced every day, there is now more content available than there are people to consume it. Faced with that you can see that content marketing is going to become increasingly competitive and traditional interruptive advertising just isn’t going to stand a chance if it can’t offer some value quotient to compete.

One insight we know that definitely helps is that brands need to be more human. The content that brands publish should obviously be relevant to their brand values, but ideally they should be humanistic or at least be clearly created by real people just like the consumers they target.

Sponsored posts are a start, and a start is always a good thing but they have a long, long way to go to reach the efficacy they will need to have to remain competitive against other content channels in the future.

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