‘Brand content doesn’t have to suck’

Discussion
Nov 02, 2015

The headline is a quote from David Carr, The New York Times’ late media critic, according to Tara Fuller, content strategist, T Brand Studio, the branded content team in the newspaper’s advertising department.

Ms. Fuller spoke last week in New York City at the Conductor C3 event, a conference focused on organic marketing and web presence management. Her topic focused on the best ways for brands to mine "meaningful stories" consumers will find authentic and engaging.

While brands often ask for a "big splash" or something that’s "never been seen before," the efforts often develop into confusing ads or blatant advertisements.

Offering the famed quote by advertising legend Howard Gossage, "Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad," Ms. Fuller said her team pushes brands to "dive far beneath the surface" to find something meaningful.

Her five components for developing strong brand content:

  • Strategy
  • Relevance
  • Turning complexity into clarity
  • Compelling storytelling
  • Leaving a lasting impression

Women inmates

Source: The New York Times – “Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work”

Mr. Carr’s comment related to the relevancy created by a promotion around Netflix’s "Orange is the New Black" series. The campaign featured actual women in prison discussing their regrets and anxieties, including many who had to leave their children in the care of others.

Ms. Fuller said relevancy means letting the reader not only "know what’s going on" but become "part of the conversation."

Turning complexity into clarity involves making the message easy to understand. Simple incidents are often more readily compelling than one involving numerous facets. She added, "If it isn’t a story, don’t tell it."

A compelling story invokes emotion and fully immerses the reader. As an example, she showed a Cole Hahn short supporting a new ballet shoe that featured professional ballerinas discussing their fears and exhilaration around show time.

Finally, leaving a lasting impression involves changing perspectives and perceptions, ultimately inspiring or teaching something new. As an example, she offered a Holiday Inn short that told the story of a mother with cancer who dies in the middle of a year-long quest to travel the world with her husband and two young daughters. While tear-jerking, the story also spoke about perseverance and the wonders of discovery.

Ms. Fuller’s key takeaways included listening to as many people and experts to vet potential meaningful stories. Brands should be ready to "get your hands dirty," or get personally involved to maximize the story search. Finally, brands should be set "to pivot" or change the whole storyline if a better one arrives. Ms. Fuller said, "Let the story be the story."

Why is online brand content often lackluster? What advice would you offer to brands around creating compelling content?

Braintrust
"The problem often is that while CMOs, marketing departments and their agencies all agree that there should be no blatant selling and that they should act as storytellers, somewhere between their intentions and their output, there’s a huge disconnect."
"The content shouldn’t be just about the brand. It needs to be about the customer. Don’t be overly promotional. Sometimes don’t be promotional at all."
"Instead of just creating content, brands should also try "finding" content. People are telling stories through many channels and platforms. If brands find content, they can then amplify compelling stories that will resonate with consumers."

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7 Comments on "‘Brand content doesn’t have to suck’"

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Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Branded content is often lackluster because it is selling, rather than presenting a compelling story. The human brain is hardwired to listen to stories. Brands need to make theirs meaningful and relevant. Too often content is used to push products on consumers.

A brand should first identify its unique core story and the emotions it brings forth, then provide content in the context of those emotions. The stories don’t need to involve the brand, just the emotions associated with it.

Tell consumers a compelling story, then ask to engage in a dialogue.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Certainly I don’t disagree with what Howard Gossage said.

The problem often is that while CMOs, marketing departments and their agencies all agree that there should be no blatant selling and that they should act as (and believe that they are) storytellers, somewhere between their intentions and their output, there’s a huge disconnect. It’s like they fall back into the same old ruts of creating thinly-veiled ad copy, possibly because they’re afraid that without a pitch or a call to action, potential customers won’t make a purchase.

At the very least, more brands need to have the courage to create content that focuses on consumer interests, how they use a brand’s products or services and their experiences, nothing more. If they do, they may in time see that shoppers are smart enough to connect the dots and make the desired purchasing decision.

Brian Kelly
Guest
1 year 11 months ago

The need for relevance isn’t unique to online content. It is true for all content and always has been. Understanding the need of your target remains as critical as ever, perhaps even more so as there is SO MUCH content now that each and every MOMENT has been identified as an opportunity to intrude with an unwanted message. Just because “search” says she is looking for holiday gifts on November 1 doesn’t mean that all the inserts must have a lackluster holiday message on them, right?

Or as we like to say, “retail ain’t for sissies!”

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

The content shouldn’t be just about the brand. It needs to be about the customer. Don’t be overly promotional. Sometimes don’t be promotional at all. Create content that adds value and that becomes your promotion. And don’t just post content. Engage and respond to comments. Ask your customers their opinions. Create dialogue and conversations with your community. The best content marketing could be called content conversations.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Retailers have spent many years focused on the product. How do we show the product in the right light that someone will buy it? How do we compel the consumer to buy this product?

Some retailers have now turned their heads toward the customer. But it is still very much about the product. What does my customer want to buy from me? Who is my customer? How do they like to shop?

Still not good enough. What if I was to tell you that what retail really has to offer is information. Information at ever level. Content, customer, service, experience. Just think about it.

But don’t take too long. Smart retailers are already catching on.

And that’s my 2 cents.

Scott Hooten
Guest
Scott Hooten
1 year 11 months ago

Branded content can be very effective for brand building. Great content that helps consumers connect with a brand can be very valuable for long term growth. The key is not to focus on the quick sale with this type of content. Think about long term brand development. If the content is valuable to the consumer they will engage with it and grow affinity with the brand. A good example is a video series by Hoka athlete Sage Canaday. For Hoka’s target audience of runners, this content is very engaging and valuable. There is no direct sell of the product, but the content creates an affinity for the brand that will lead to sales down the road.

Matt Schmitt
BrainTrust

Instead of just creating content, brands should also try “finding” content. People are telling stories through many channels and platforms (YouTube video, Instagram photos, Medium written word). If brands find content, they can then amplify compelling stories that will resonate with consumers.

Let the users tell their stories, then bring these stories to more people.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The problem often is that while CMOs, marketing departments and their agencies all agree that there should be no blatant selling and that they should act as storytellers, somewhere between their intentions and their output, there’s a huge disconnect."
"The content shouldn’t be just about the brand. It needs to be about the customer. Don’t be overly promotional. Sometimes don’t be promotional at all."
"Instead of just creating content, brands should also try "finding" content. People are telling stories through many channels and platforms. If brands find content, they can then amplify compelling stories that will resonate with consumers."

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