In an effort to attract a younger market to its range of life and health insurance products, increase the nation’s happiness and save the company some money on claims, life and health insurance provider Sovereign rebranded around the line ‘Life. Take Charge’ in late 2014. And rather than just talk about itself, it aimed to create healthier Kiwis by equipping them with a range of practical tools.
Its above-the-line campaign included a reconditioned van (AKA the Action Unit) travelling around the country dispensing helpful advice and products and ambassadors Pua Magasiva and Nicola Smith helped spread the message. But Sovereign wanted to extend the campaign further, so it briefed a number of media owners to create content around health and well-being.
“It was one of those group briefs, where everyone’s in the same room and nobody wants to ask questions,” laughs Bauer’s commercial manager Paul Gardiner.
Make it count
Increasingly, brands here and around the world have seen the value in providing utility for consumers, rather than simply running ads, so Gardiner says Sovereign aimed to “put consumers’ health in their own hands” and in so doing move up the ranks of New Zealand’s most preferred health insurance companies.
Being seen as a leader in health and well-being is easier said than done, however. It takes a concerted effort over a long period of time (and complete buy-in from the organisation). But Gardiner says working with a publisher that has an established reputation and an existing audience in that space is a short cut to gaining credibility.
Still, in a world filled with too much content, creating more of it could be seen as slightly counter-intuitive. Of course, whether content gets consumed depends on the quality of it—and the distribution strategy—and the most interesting part of the campaign for Gardiner was that Bauer ensured the content would be good by conducting two really big health and well-being surveys through its own research panels. It then used the insights from those surveys as the basis of the original content that appeared in print.
“We pitched the insights to the various editorial teams, they developed the stories off the back of those insights and Sovereign was quoted as the research provider.”
Bauer was able to segment the audience and run bespoke content in print that was relevant to each title, whether premium brands like North & South and Metro, or a mass market weekly like Woman’s Day.
It is generally seen as being more difficult to run branded content in news and current affairs titles because they trade on their editorial integrity. But because the editorial teams had total control over what was written, Gardiner says that integrity was able to be maintained and, in his opinion, it was the first really interesting branded content that was suitable for North & South.
“They trusted us to create the content and to run it in a contextually relevant environment. And that led to the win-win-win: it’s a win for readers because it’s great content, it’s a win for
us from a commercial perspective and it’s a win for Sovereign.”
The insights from Bauer’s research were also used to generate PR for Sovereign that could run in other titles, so it was able to get “those meaningful insights to work even harder”.
At the time the campaign launched, Bauer hadn’t launched its digital hubs Homes to Love or Food to Love, and its online audience was relatively small, so, to reach Sovereign’s audience targets, it partnered with Yahoo, which built a microsite and re-purposed Bauer’s content to fit.
In print and online, Bauer’s editorial team created 50 pieces of content and Gardiner says it had really strong numbers through Yahoo’s microsite. Two stories received nearly 5,000 clicks and there were 4,000 clicks on the homepage billboard on yahoo.co.nz. Over the course of the campaign, the hub had 200,000 unique users, with an average time spent on the page of around two minutes.
It also created a quiz about health and well-being and 2,000 people completed it. Bauer then produced a 28-page personalised magazine about taking charge that featured content tailored to the answers the users gave in the quiz and a 30 day action plan to help respondents focus on exercise, happiness, sleep or nutrition.
Let it go
Marketers generally find it difficult to give up control over their communications. And for those who just can’t bring themselves to do it, Gardiner says they can still always run ads or supply content for advertorials. But the smart clients know that “if they want something that’s meaningful and contextual, they leave it to the publisher”. And if that’s the favoured approach, he says it’s important that clients brief publishers a lot tighter if they want the best results.
“In the old days our editorial teams would never engage with an advertiser. But now they have to. It’s part of the client relationship and it’s the new way of doing business. It’s a necessity.”
And while he says there has been some hesitance in the past from editorial staff, and a belief that church and state should remain separate, there has been a realisation that they can help “create quality editorial and get paid for it”.
He says there’s also been a realisation from some clients that content marketing is a more efficient way of getting their message out. Gardiner says clients have long employed PR agencies to write stories about their business, approach media contacts with those stories and then cross their fingers and hope those stories get picked up and run for ‘free’. While some content does run, there’s no guarantee—and if it does, it might be changed or augmented with reporting. So working directly with a publisher and being assured that the right message is going to find a relevant audience is just taking out a middleman, says Gardiner.
“When you talk to them about that they understand it … I know which option I’d choose.”
And he’s confident more marketers will choose that option in 2016.
A fine balance
Sovereign’s chief officer of marketing and strategy Chris Lamers says this campaign was about “dipping a toe” in the waters of content marketing and he says it got fantastic amounts of engagement. And Bauer’s ability to conduct research brought a fresh perspective to its business that it wouldn’t normally get.
“The internet is full of great content that people never read, but working with a publishing partner is a great way to create content that people actually do read.”
While media owners are always keen to talk about brands stepping back and having faith in their ability to engage audiences, Lamers says it can sometimes go too far and be too subtle. Like any marketing investment, there needs to be attribution back to the brand for it to be effective, but it can’t be too salesy or it will turn people off.
Gardiner says the new world of content marketing is very fresh and a lot of clients are getting into it for the first time. That’s a promising trend for publishers, but there are lots of fish hooks around trust, sign-off and what brands want to achieve. So he says it’s important to be clear about the outcome from the start.
“And the KPIs need to reflect that.”
Lamers agrees. But he admits marketers often want the best of both worlds. They want the phone to ring and they want an increase in brand preference.
He says this campaign has given it enough confidence to continue to experiment with content marketing, which “undoubtedly has a much brighter future than display advertising with the way click through rates are going”, but he says it will probably aim to take a more sustained approach over a longer period and create clearer branded properties in the future.
While the digital realm allows marketers to look for proof of engagement, simply seeing an ad (or an interesting sponsored story) still has an impact. And likeability is a key factor in customer decisions. He points to the often irrational choices consumers make about wine (for example, choosing Dog Point because you have a dog), or the power of Fly Buys, where he worked previously, to influence shopping behaviour.
Some of those decisions come from deep in our sub-conscious and when he looks at some of its softer marketing activity, such as its naming rights sponsorship of the Tri Series with Triathlon NZ, there is an “unequivocal” correlation to sales. And he thinks content marketing is in a similar category.
Gardiner believes the softer sell of content often works well when combined with the harder sell of traditional advertising. And as Burson-Marsteller Asia Pacific chief operating officer Margaret Key explained: “Advertising is telling somebody over and over again that you are a great lover. PR is hiring someone else to tell people that you are a great lover. Content marketing is telling people a story about why you are a great lover.”