Brands Are Upside Down On Content

A dangerous paradox threatens brands in the content age.

Everyone needs more, and better, content than ever — signal, not noise, that resonates with people today and creates a ramp for more content tomorrow. It’s an expanding mandate for advertising I call quantity quality.

But most brands have the same, or smaller, budgets to invest in it. So marketers tighten scope by hiring production companies to do one-off projects that aren’t connected to other brand advertising. Or they tighten control by bringing everything in house, risking myopia that exacerbates competing internal silos. Or they tighten targeting with programmatic content, which can still only serve the “best” version of whatever material is already available.

In each case, they end up investing more resources — time, money and people — in content with limited application, a limited future, and a limiting effect on the brand. In financial terms, they’re upside down, paying increasingly more for increasingly less utility and value.

The underlying reason: They’re trying to solve a fundamental problem without making fundamental changes to how they do advertising. It’s easy to understand why. Big strategic shifts transcend the comfort zone of most marketing managers. They’re risky, hard, and public. Tactical shifts can be downplayed, even hidden, if they don’t move the needle; and programmatic churns out metrics that seem like everything’s under control. 

And so, we end up with small variations on the traditional advertising model, which fail to ensure the exponential output content increasingly requires. What’s needed is a real reset. We can’t meet the quantity quality imperative without truly changing our approach.  

Stop making one-offs. A spot or a video or a white paper misses the point, no matter how “efficient” it is. We need to make strategic assets so we always have a strong content foundation for edits that meet emerging, real-time needs. I’m not talking about shooting inventory, the always-on camera technique common in production and social media that can produce lots of representative, but not necessarily resonant, imagery. I mean making the foundational material from which to continually create fresh pieces to support brand “Ahas!” across specific channels for the foreseeable future. 

Stop thinking about strategy as a step and start thinking about it as an environment. We can’t “set it and forget it” in a marketplace that turns at the speed of social. We must be fluid and flow according to a constant and consistent why. Why does this matter here and now? Why and how does it fit the brand’s real purpose?

Stop assigning limited (and limiting) accountability. The minute something becomes “someone else’s problem,” it becomes the brand’s problem. Let people that design shoot. Let people that direct do client service. Let people that write edit. And beware of those who seek limits on responsibility, they might just be looking for cover in case things go wrong. You need a strategic environment, where creative and production work parallel paths, and everyone knows, appreciates and augments what the others are doing. Provide the freedom and support to follow through, and they’ll achieve “iterative collaboration” so well that those two overused words need never actually be spoken.

Prioritize flexibility over specialty. We can’t meet content needs that change every day if we follow the sequence of agency specialties. We need everyone to bring all their abilities to the collaboration and do whatever they can, whenever it’s needed. When everyone’s attuned to the strategy and the production, the team moves as one. Writers edit, directors work with social media, producers work directly with the client, and so on. It might drive HR nuts, but the end-product benefits. That’s what ultimately matters to both creative people and the client's business.

A reset will take something more from clients, too. It’s not enough to want to make things — a lot of targeted things — fast and great. You must be willing to put brand results over project wins and the symmetrical pairing of client and agency personnel. True brand momentum takes the everyday conviction of an aligned team that’s connected, challenging, and exponentially productive. You must be ready to get in the mix. Your participation is required.  

The best content is relevant, responsive and kinetic. We can’t create it when our notion of marketing and agency structure is standing still.

This GCF editorial originally appeared in MEDIAPOST.

 

Content StrategyJohn Trahar