As marketers, we pour a great deal of time and energy into positioning, creating, and publishing our clients’ brand messages.
Yet, as consumers, we share our target audiences’ disdain for branded messaging that detracts from our desired content experience. For content to be successful, we need to exceed the ever-rising bar of quality and quantity. We all recognize that our new role is to “think like publishers,” but what do we really mean by that?
For starters, we have to put culture and context above product shots and brand messaging. And the end result needs to support a customer content need. Be it bite-sized humor, actionable information, entertaining storytelling, or just pretty pictures, it needs to provide a value to the customer. If your current content is simply telling the customer about your great content–it’s back to the drawing board.
To help marketers transition to a more effective approach, we’ve identified three basic steps that will put them in the publisher’s mindset. For each step, we’ve singled out a brand that is successfully creating great content around their products, not about their products. Let’s take a closer look at each of these brands as they relate to the steps below.
Identify Product Personality
Seemingly simple but deceptively difficult, distilling your brand/product personality is an essential first step. It will define what content is appropriate for your brand to produce, what topics you can speak on, and what channels are most appropriate. Is your brand youthful, sarcastic, funny, or serious?
Think about how Starbucks would answer the question. The company is artful, intelligent, and contemporary. It could speak about art, music, or democracy (get out the vote support) on channels including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. It creates great visual content around its products, not about its products.
Is it any wonder that the company’s Instagram feed includes photos of beautiful drawings on Starbucks cups? If you check out the company’s YouTube page, you’ll see how Starbucks uses the channel to create a community of coffee enthusiasts. The content ranges from new product videos (YouTuber Tyler Oakley introducing the mini frappachino scored more than 1.9 million views in less than a month); Coffee Q&A (a lot of inquiring minds want to know how to brew iced coffee); Meet Me at Starbucks (Starbucks is more than a coffee shop, but a space for people to meet, connect, and reminisce); Giving Back (videos on how Starbuck gives back to the communities it serves); and Starbucks Jobs (an inside look into the people that work at Starbucks–from your local barista to corporate positions).
What Starbucks does well is deliver the content that users want to see, content that adds value to the experience, and content that is authentic to the brand it has authority to speak on.
Seek Audience Understanding
What type of content is your brand’s audience consuming on a regular basis? What channels and devices do they consume it on? What other brands are they going to for content? By answering these questions, you will find the content leaders your audience enjoys and be able to form an “aspirational set”—that is, the content producers outside your brand’s competitive set that consistently deliver on your audience’s content needs.
For this step, let’s examine Nike and the content it is creating. Despite having multiple consumer segments for its various products, Nike focuses on doing one thing really well, as defined by its mission statement: “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete.”
Let’s look back to the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London. Nike was not a sponsor, but the company still managed to remain highly visible with its “Find Your Greatness” campaign. The goal? To inspire the everyday athlete. What better place to launch such a campaign than at the gathering of thousands of sports enthusiasts from around the world, celebrating the best athletes? And while competitors and the world focused on the best of the best, Nike did the opposite–turning the everyday athlete into an everyday champion.
The campaign film premiered online and was supported through digital, social, and television; the globally promoted hashtag #findgreatness allowed athletes everywhere to connect and share their stories. Just how effective was this campaign? Well, Adidas—Nike’s top competitor and a brand that paid to be a sponsor of the 2012 Olympics—ran a campaign that encouraged people to #takethestage. According to Socialbakers’ CheerMeter, more than 16,000 tweets associated Nike with the 2012 Olympics, compared to 9,295 tweets for Adidas.
Hone In On Themes
Your brand has 100% authority to speak about itself and its products, but how far away from that core can you theoretically stray? What other themes and fields does your brand have the expertise to speak about? The goal here is not to create a tenuous crossover that only makes sense in theory, i.e., the J.D. Power Consumer Reports. Rather, it is to start broad and explore new spaces in which your product is secondary or tertiary, but still relevant.
A good example of a brand leading the way here is Oreo. Oreo’s themes revolve around several key areas, one of which could be called “Come play with us,” using creative and humorous expressions of the feelings that the product elicits. Two additional themes are tied together by their juxtaposition to each other. First, the tagline “Milk’s favorite cookie” is a theme in itself and is all about the fun of dunking your Oreo in milk. The counter theme to this is “New ways to enjoy an old favorite,” which focuses on new and exciting uses for Oreos that you may not have thought of before.
While examining each of these brands alongside content considerations is merely a hypothetical exercise, the reality of applying this process to your own brand is no short or easy endeavor. It may very well force you to face some hard truths about your brand, your audience, or both.
However, in the end you will have a new North Star to follow, a goal that all your content aspires to meet. Then you will have the not-so-simple task of reorienting your brand’s content engine to drive in this new direction. Change like this is difficult organizationally.
With such fundamental shifts, often the hardest tasks are staying the course, shucking old habits, and staying true to your newly chartered course. It starts slowly, but you will begin to see results as your new content gains traction, volume, new users, and increased shares.
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