Watch out, brands and the agencies that service them. The competitive environment for engaging content is becoming fiercer than ever before. And why is that? Content is becoming mainstream. At the heart of this are radical changes in the way target audiences consume forms of media. And as the need to create engaging content increases, there’s a shift in the paradigm that brands need to take into account as the need for more engaging branded content increases.
Advertising pushes but engaging content pulls
An article from The Drum cited that the Branded Content Marketing Association, in a recent report, noted that the three factors that will encourage users to engage could be based on its “entertainment, information, and/or education value.” As content marketing is becoming a bigger piece, brands have to change the way they think regarding their marketing campaigns. Advertising, which is the more traditional modus operandi for brands, operates on a push strategy. This is because advertising pops up during the content the audience wants to engage in as an interruption. You watch How to Get Away With Murder for Viola Davis, not for the commercials. In the US market, some people will only watch the Super Bowl for the halftime show and the commercials, but this is an exception and not the rule.
In contrast, branded content is based on pull logic. There’s no interruption involved, and so instead of the content being thrust upon the target, the audience is empowered with choice. The Drum notes that by choosing the content, they need “ to choose and “pull” branded content to be able to engage with it. The difference, according to the report, is that while advertising normally has paid for distribution, branded content can earn more distribution in the form of a content video that has been promoted then re-tweeted by a friend, and can earn higher levels of earned distribution through shares – something traditional advertising cannot do.”
While branded content’s strategy works based on the pull context, you can integrate branded content for a push use. Sometimes, if the audience is attracted to it based on an inspirational or emotional connection, then you still have the engagement that is the fundamental facet of branded content. But at the same time, it could still be considered as advertising. But if the content doesn’t engage, then it’s not branded content.
Not even the world’s biggest brands are immune from the threat
As the closure of Channel Us, McDonalds’s youth-oriented YouTube channel, tells us, the world’s major advertisers have to adapt the way they reach the consumer. According to Steve Ackerman in an article discussing the Channel Us closure on Campaign Live, “[t]he challenge that all brands (and their agencies) face in creating compelling video and TV content is that for the first time, they’re taking themselves out of the ad break or the pre-roll and placing themselves as the content itself.” And in the case of Channel Us, several characteristics proved it was ill-equipped to survive in the competitive realm.
First off, according to Ackerman, the first fatal flaw was the channel’s description. Channel Us was declared to be “an entertainment channel,” but with a generic label comes a much broader competitive umbrella. Instead of the channel competing with just regular YouTube channels for Burger King, Taco Bell, and KFC, pretty much any YouTube channel is vying with your target for your attention. Top that off with all the other social media sites with feeds (think about how many videos you end up finding because they casually showed up on your Facebook news feed), websites all over cyberspace, and TV channels. This reflects what brands are now going to have to contend with given content’s increased ubiquity in an overall marketing strategy.
And with that increased competition, this means that the factors needed to get your content to stick need to be flawless since your target needs to work through a lot of noise to get through to you. What would that entail? That means, according to Ackerman, that “[t]he proposition needs to feel unique, unify with other forms of social media and have a clear sense of purpose.” And a brand’s new competitors in the content realm since these well-seasoned experts have the upper hand when it comes to hitting the mark, decades of cultivating these skills compared to pure novices. And even though this particular foray into content failed, Ackerman’s sure that McDonald’s will throw its hat back into the ring. The next offering will build on the lessons it’s learned from the failed pilot, just like any creator of a major network sitcom can attest after their show doesn’t make it past the pilot and two more episodes.
What the biggest editorial powerhouses can teach brands about creating engaging content
As brands push into creating engaging content, much can be learned from what has made editorial powerhouses so successful. In the case of VICE, even as it began as a magazine business, it has successfully adapted its model to hone on the power of video. In an interview with the head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising, VICE UK Managing Director Matt O’Mara said that CEO Shane Smith successfully foresaw in the mid-90s that “ people would eventually crave high-quality content.” And this is at the heart of their business model: “…make the best content for as many people as we can through as many distribution points as possible.” Their adaptability regarding format, from online videos to their new 45-minute HBO news program is a real testament to how well VICE has been able to hit the pulse for having off-the-chart engagement levels.
In the case of the BBC, they have their content marketing arm, BBC Storyworks, within BBC Advertising. Established in 2015, Storyworks says it’s “[t]he creative studio with newsroom values.” They’re able to encompass the uncompromising editorial quality from compelling storytelling while helping brands communicate the message they want to target to their audience. The BBC, as a widely reputable news organization, has 13 brands that can be potential partners for brands, from Top Gear to The BBC World Service. Brands also can choose whether to create branded content, partner content or sponsored content. Brands can thus gain the insights and expertise instead of having to go it alone potentially.
The BBC also went so far as to conducting a study with CrowdEmotion facial technology, titled “The Science of Engagement,” to gain the insights about the benefits of engaging content. According to the press release regarding the study, “ Richard Pattinson, SVP Content, BBC Advertising and Head of BBC StoryWorks, said: “In a time when advertisers’ are increasing their spending on content-led marketing, it is important that they also feel confident in its effectiveness, and understand the significant positive impact this kind of content has on their brand. We believe that this study will enhance advertisers understanding and confidence in these campaigns, and in the value of high-quality content-marketing delivered in premium environments.” ”
Red Bull: The Star Student of Engaging Content
While VICE and The BBC have honed their prowess in creating engaging content from their experience in media, Red Bull is truly the star student when it comes to brands and creating that content. Tiko Digital noted that instead of merely focusing on the product, Red Bull’s strategy has been based on its ability to cultivate a brand based on the lifestyle and interests of its target. The products get mentioned on the site but they’re not the centerpiece and can be seen as more of an afterthought in comparison to all the other content hosted. The topics covered are deliberately chosen because they’re seen to be what will be of most interest to Red Bull’s target audience. They want the target to enjoy the entirety of their interaction with the brand and have apparently kept this at the core of their web site’s content. They’ve also been wildly successful at creating a portal, RedBullContentPool.com that lets media outlets use high-quality stock photos and videos for an editorial purpose, while actively putting the Red Bull logo into full view of course. This allows Red Bull to increase its reach beyond those who were already actively part of their universe through the coverage of the events they sponsor in the media. Tiko Digital also cites the Red Bull Stratos event, when Felix Baumgartner jumped from the stratosphere in 2012, as a true epitome of content marketing done right. The live stream had 8 million views, and through the stunt, shattered the record on YouTube, was able to embody the brand slogan as Baumgartner performed the first freefall to break the sound barrier. Red Bull most certainly gave him wings.
What to keep in mind as you take a whack at making engaging content
So as you go through your content audit for the next year, what should be your primary learning objective? VICE’s O’Mara says that one of the significant caveats of the existing content put out there by advertisers is that “[c]lients need to learn that you can explain what your brand is or showcase a product benefit without artificially forcing it into the narrative.” As for strategy, take to heart what VICE has as its bread and butter of its video operation: “Make your content entertaining, thought-provoking and authentic. Whatever you deliver has to be something audiences love and want to share with others.”
And remember, we at Stark Crew have the tools to help you make that happen.