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Market Research

Brands as Content Curators

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by Jake Wengroff
Global Director, Corporate Communications
Frost & Sullivan

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"We don’t have an information shortage, we have an attention shortage. There’s always someone who’s going to supply you with information that you’re going to curate. The Guggenheim doesn’t have a shortage of art. They don’t pay you to hang [a] painting for a show, in fact you have to pay for the insurance. Why? Because the Guggenheim is doing a service to the person who’s in the museum and the artist who’s being displayed." --Seth Godin, The Curation Chronicles

Traditionally, brands did not create content. They were quick to sponsor content, buying TV and radio commercials, newspaper and magazine ads, billboards, text and banner ads--even the naming rights to sports stadiums. 

Brands started to get into the content game with the advent of advertorials and infomercials; magazines and cable networks eagerly began to accept sponsor-driven content, which would appear alongside editorial or original content delivered by the media outlet’s staff of journalists and producers. Such branded content would, however, be marked as a “Special Advertising Section” or something similar.

But with the advent of social networks and Web authoring tools, companies and brands have found ways to circumvent the traditional media spend and instead engage in product placement, branded integration, brand underwriting content, content syndication, and sponsored communities. “The one thing this makes more important than ever is the necessity for transparency and authenticity from brands on what they are sponsoring and where information may be biased,” cautions Rohit Bhargava, senior vice president of Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence. “When brands underwrite content and blur the editorial lines that once existed, transparency and disclosure become the new metric for trust.”

But do consumers or potential buyers care about trust anymore?

Take the World Cup. An avid sports fan is more likely to visit FIFA.com than to go to ESPN or read Sports Illustrated. The major sports leagues have achieved a level of viewer engagement and loyalty that many major broadcasters and publishers envy. The goal is to not reach the widest possible audience, but rather to offer the deepest engagement for an inside circle of fans and consumers to inspire word of mouth--and loyalty. 

Since we now experience more branded content rather than brand-sponsored content, what will the future look like? Two trends emerge:

>> Deluge: Every minute, 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, 36,000 tweets are posted on Twitter, and 600,000 pieces of content (Web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) are shared on Facebook. To say a glut of content is being created and published online seems like a serious understatement. Some experts predict the information on the Internet will double every 72 hours in just a few years.

>> Rise of the Content Curator: The next big social media job will be that of content curator--“someone who continually finds, groups, organizes, and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online,” according to Bhargava.  He believes this concept has been growing organically, given the fact that most people use their Twitter, Delicious, and Digg accounts to simply point out interesting news articles, observations, or tidbits of information to their networks.

From a B2B standpoint, Pawan Deshpande, CEO of marketing technology company HiveFire, believes the content curator will emerge as the steward of thought leadership, deftly picking through hundreds or even thousands of pieces of information pertinent to a company and presenting it all in an intelligent, orderly, and compelling manner to the right audiences. Handpicking will give way to automation

Brands currently do this and “partner” with other sources, organizations, and providers to tap additional content and readers. Some brands might also reap additional revenue. For example, in search of a wider audience, in 2008 venerable/reviled domestic brand Martha Stewart--an empire that boasts four magazines, three television shows, a radio broadcast, and nine blogs--launched Martha’s Circle: “a collection of exceptional lifestyle sites and blogs handpicked by our editors,” according to the site. Martha’s Circle actually behaves like an advertising network, using content curation and commingling as a means to secure additional advertising revenue.

Now hailed as a win-win for everyone, this is a far cry from the days of media ownership and exclusivity. In 2007, instead of partnering with Dow Jones & Co., Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. simply bought the company outright. Currently, the only content available on the Wall Street Journal Digital Network is what’s published--and owned--by Dow Jones.

What Does This Mean For Brands and Marketers?
Expect a shakeout. Thousands of companies will realize that all of their original blog posts, tweets, videos, podcasts, e-books, message boards, fan pages, and communities failed to live up to their promise of delivering millions of eyeballs or thousands of sales leads. In fairness, such companies did agree to allocate resources and people to create such content--and this is commendable--but in the end, they should just pull the plug.

Of course, this is not entirely their fault: The content avalanche often prevented the right content from being presented to the right individual. The fight against search algorithms is often futile.

As such, companies will consider partnering, linking with other organizations that have presented content and information more strongly and effectively. Companies and brands that have retrenched from the content game will serve as the prime targets for this new class of content curators. These curators will have a lot to pick through, but they should consider those companies that have made sizeable investments in their content generation strategies but decided to cut back.

As such, perhaps the flood of content will dry up a bit.

About Jake Wengroff

Jake Wengroff joined Frost & Sullivan in June 2008, and is responsible for branding, media relations, client-facing messaging, webinar programs, social media, communications training, and internal communications.

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