Since brands wised up to the power of digital and social it has been very en vogue to talk about consumers ‘wanting to have relationships with brands’ or wanting to ‘engage in conversations’. The way this is framed is in the language of enthusiasm, but does this remotely resemble the real world?
The result of so many brands being told that they have to be in the social space is seemingly that all of a sudden, any piece of marketing communication has been labelled as ‘content’. In fact, the focus for some brands to churn out the content has seemingly replaced the very real need for brands to develop a genuine and insightful creative editorial strategy.
This current trend is succinctly summarised by Steve Parker, strategy partner at M&C Saatchi: “Content has become the answer to a question that no one is asking.” With the explosion of digital platforms that has taken place in recent times, too many brands are guilty of ‘binge-creating’ content. In short, they are so caught up in the task of filling an ever-growing array of channels that no one is stopping to ask the pertinent question of whether they should.
This proliferation of content is completely at odds with consumers’ desires and behaviours. In many ways, a lot of social content is closer to Tinder than traditional advertising because consumers are going to give you a split second before deciding to engage further or swipe past you.
Part of the issue lies in the bombardment of information that clients have to deal with, made even harder in the digital and social sphere where nothing is remaining still for any length of time. They attend meetings or watch seminars where the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter all urge them to ‘make sure they are creating content for their consumers’. And so, all too often, that becomes the brief. To create content. The question of what would actually offer the consumers real value, or what would drive real world business results for the brand, is often all too conspicuous by its absence. The word content has become a ubiquitous catchall and there is a real concern over how many of the people who use it actually know what they are really asking for.
Moving to a ‘content first’ approach fundamentally changes a number of things. One of the most important—and in my experience, often the least considered—is what this means you are now competing with for your consumers’ attention.
Your digital content is not just competing with your traditional business rivals. When you venture into the most personal of media channels—someone’s social newsfeed or someone’s mobile—you have an entirely new competitor set. Better Call Saul, Clash of Clans, Game of Thrones, the Rugby World Cup, everything that is being created by friends (rather than brands) … This is the digital content that consumers are seeking out and engaging with. This is what you are setting up your stall to compete with. When you understand just how big a task it is to create truly ‘thumb stopping’ content when this is the competitor set, then you can start to understand the need to move (rapidly) away from an approach of ‘always on’ and instead to one of ‘creative selectivity’. In short, make sure you have something damn well worth their time before you open your mouth (and spend the money) to push it out into the world.
While ‘Zuckerberg’s Law’ (the concept that every 12 months consumers will double the volume of content that they share) still holds true, there is an ever-greater selectivity being applied by consumers, and an ever-increasing volume of brands, games, shows and films (not to mention all the real world friends that these social platforms were designed to connect) that are vying for those shares and that attention. It is also crucial to note, that while consumer content consumption is increasing, the volume of content being created is increasing about 100 times faster. With these volumes, the reality is huge amounts of content have little exposure and no impact.
Now, this is not to say that content cannot provide a huge commercial opportunity for brands. As Google UK’s head of marketing, Nishma Robb, points out, fashion/beauty blogger Zoella alone has more subscribers than the combined circulations of the top five UK women’s magazines.
“We see huge amounts of branded content, and brands have an opportunity to break beyond the restrictions of the commissioning editor,” she says. However, marketers must be willing to collaborate and relinquish more control to truly embrace this. They must be consumer-centric and create things that offer genuine value rather than just occupying space with marketing messages for the sake of it. This approach offers no cut through and no chance of being remembered.
Brands who have the courage to take a deep breath and move away from the over populated content calendar for long enough to create something genuinely deserving of consumers’ precious time will be the ones who emerge from the era of content marketing ahead. As marketers, it is our job to refuse to let brands fall into bad habits or be kowtowed by bad/ineffective KPIs. Digital media is an enormously powerful tool at driving real world benefits for a brand. We just cannot forget that the best way to do that is through offering the consumer something meaningful along the way.
- Neville Doyle is the digital planning director at Colenso BBDO. [email protected]
- This story was originally published in the July/August edition of NZ Marketing.