Marketing's New C-Word


Last year when we spoke at the BrandMAX Summit, we were the only people to use the C-word.

To do so at an event about marketing, for marketers, certainly broke established conference conventions. But this year, at the same event, use of the C-word was not so much tolerated as actively encouraged. Not just by us, but by all sorts of wise and respected folk, for whom content (of course...) had finally arrived at the top of the marketing agenda.

Each year BrandMAX covers the topics that marketers most want to hear about and debate. And, if last year was the year of ‘big data’, this year’s dominating theme could be seen as content, big or little, and how best to use it.

We gave some direct advice on that very same subject, which you can absorb here, here and here. But to me it was most gratifying to learn that we weren’t the only people to have seen the light. Examples of effective content marketing came from so many other speakers too.

Just Eat
Mat Braddy, Chief Marketing Officer at Just Eat, talked about how content with a clear brand idea and tone had helped them grow the brand on a relatively shoestring budget. Just Eat’s guerilla-esque anti-cooking manifesto gave the marketing team a memorable positioning on which to act. Whether or not you call it an editorial positioning or a brand idea, ‘Don’t cook’ is more than just a fleeting ad campaign thought. It’s clearly a distinctive attitude and opinion against which to judge communication ideas, and it’s a start point for inspiring content. It’s given the brand a licence to do a whole range of things, from curating content on Facebook about the folly of cooking disasters (no doubt an inexhaustible well) to kidnapping chefs, and filming their torture, brainwashing and eventual conversion to the cause. The point here is that your content can and should be exceptionally varied, as long as it’s united by one common attitude or theme.

Sarah Mansfield from Unilever also referred to the importance of content in their media mix. Using the brilliantly observed recent work from Marmite she showed how content can offer a richer and more rewarding exploration of a good idea. The TV ad spots tease the idea, and communicate the message succinctly, but online those ads are extended to short films to grip the brand superfans with all of the best bits. But it’s important to note here that online content doesn’t necessarily = longer version of the ad. The idea of an animal rescue spoof came first and was then adapted to make best use of the available channels. Extending ads conceived first as ads is no recipe for content success. The last thing anybody wants is longer ads in more places.

Between Sarah, Mat and us at Red Bee, Dove also got a mention for great content. But once again it’s no coincidence that their fascinating Real Beauty Sketches film with its record number of views (over 100 million), came from a brand with an established editorial positioning or idea. It’s a positioning rooted in a mission, opinion or belief rather than in the intricacies of product performance. As such it leads to emotive content that has a natural appeal to audiences. It’s not something the viewer has to think too hard about because it’s not packed with unsolicited information or a complex and implausible plot wound too tightly around a product feature. The Dove film works on a more emotional, human level, piquing our intrigue and empathy - two of our most powerful and least conscious emotional responses.

And it was on that subject of emotive rather than rational response that the final speaker of the day really got my neurons sparking on the secrets of great content and its potential power for brands.

Can content get under the brain’s radar?
Phil Barden, MD of Decode Marketing, spoke on the subject of the neurological and psychological science behind consumer decisions on buying and brand preferences. For brevity I’ll spare you the explanation about brain operating systems, decision pathways (his book covers that) and how brand rejection requires a lot more brain activity than brand preference. Because ultimately he posited a simple yet radical notion: that a brand’s greatest ambition should be to be selected without conscious thought. And if that’s a path to success, could content’s real opportunity lie in creating emotionally appealing, easily digestible stories, with a very, very light touch from the brand on its message and its product? Time will tell, but I think it’s an experiment worth trying. Let me know what you think. But be aware you’ll burn more brain energy disagreeing with me than agreeing…

Michael Reeves, Business Development Director, Content.