AdWeek just released a fantastic story about taking the “brand out of branded content” and I couldn’t agree more.
Eight years ago I left my post as head of the Global Strategic Media practice at Weber Shandwick for several reasons. Top among them was what I saw as the future of content: brands emerging as the leading studios or content purveyors of tomorrow.
Traditional PR and marketing has rapidly evolved since then from a transactional form of push communications to an interaction driven tool of quality engagement catalyzed by compelling content. However, it has taken us until, perhaps this moment, to realize that the best content created by brands is content that informs, entertains and delights , and has less to do with the brand producing it, and more to do with the experience it generates.
According to the AdWeek piece penned by Molly DeWolf Swenson:
“If a story is moving, no one is going to care that it’s brought to you by a brand. Rather, they’re going to be happy the brand brought it to them.”
I could not have said it better myself. For too long we have been listening to the phrase that for brands “content is king,” with few delivering on the promise. As we move into an age where leading organizations will be pushed to follow in the footsteps of brands like RedBull who have emerged as much as content brands as they have titans of their respective industries, embracing the need for not just content, but quality content, will be imperative….and taking the “brand out of branded content” equally as vital.
Just as all brands were pushed to become technology companies over the last twenty years, as technology became as much about day to day business strategy as means of infrastructure, a similar paradigm shift is ensuing around content. As a result, sooner rather than later, all top companies will be pushed to become as much producers of the world’s best content, as purveyors of top shelf products and services.
As this notion continues to take root, it is vitally important to understand how to harness storytelling as a powerful business competency, as opposed to mere tool of awareness generation.
With that in mind, following are a few quick and easy rules of thumb for any brand or entrepreneur to follow with an eye toward creating content that wins, and rivals any traditional network or studio:
1) Move storytelling to the heart of the innovation process.
Historically, storytelling and other means of marketing and communication have resided at the very end of the supply chain. Products and services were created and then pushed down to the communications team to be shared with the world. Today, storytelling and content creation must sit at the inception of the invention process and be a critical tool in the day to day business strategy arsenal.
Case in Point: RedBull is known as much as a top media house as they are a producer of energy drinks. Through their deep cultural immersion with extreme sports, and the content that drives the platform forward via the RedBull Bulletin or RedBull TV, generating quality content is a driving force behind the brand’s business strategy and consistent growth as a leading consumer products company. In fact, they are viewed as one of the top brands in the world who has reached their level of prominence through little, if any advertising, yet a huge double down on storytelling and quality content.
Note: Take this short survey for a free audit of your brand’s approach to purpose driven storytelling: Free Brand Purpose Storytelling Audit
2) Infuse your content with purpose.
The dialogue on the need for businesses to step up and be more purposeful in ways that continue to serve the world as much as the bottom-line has grown louder and more forceful in recent months, and much of that is less about pomp and circumstance and more about real need.
As the public sector continues to struggle to activate meaningful changes that will help society better deal with the transformative times we are in, the private sector is being tasked with picking up some of the slack where they can. Consequently, brands who can produce quality programming that addresses challenges before us such as better inclusion of the disenfranchised in all we do, obesity, or even environmental issues, will create meaningful connections with consumers that transcend mere transaction and become memorable interactions.
Case in Point: Apple is known as much for its inventive marketing and storytelling as it is it’s amazing technologies. The Think Different ad produced by Steve Jobs two decades ago is still among the top pieces of content produced by a brand.
Why? Because it’s less about Apple products and more about the possibilities they offer to change the world. The new Apple content series called Designed For carries this legacy forward, showcasing inclusion at its finest, and is a terrific example of this notion.
By highlighting the multitude of different people Apple products are carefully designed for with an eye on giving everyone, regardless of race, creed, age, gender or physical ability the opportunity to use technology in ways that make themselves and the world better, the company sheds as much light on its new product and services as it does the emerging cultural climate of equality that is upon us.
3) Tell stories that connect emotionally.
The best content always elicits a deeply emotional response. When you remember your favorite movies, TV shows, books or ads, it is likely you recall the emotion attached with it, as much as the story itself. For example, if you ask women of a certain age about Terms of Endearment, they will be able to tell you how hard they cried at certain points, as much as they adored Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in their iconic roles.
Case in Point: Dick’s Sporting Goods has produced some of the most terrific content created by a brand EVER, and none of it has anything to do with the cleats, bats, balls and sports attire it makes its money on. Starting several years ago leading up to the 2016 Olympics, Dick’s has made us laugh, cry and understand the power of champion spirit and contribution that lies at the root of sport.
Whether it was their Who Will You Be content push encouraging a new generation to be their best, or their Why Sports Matter series that showcases the great work done in impoverished areas to activate change through sport, Dick’s has both informed and entertained us, with a hearty dose of empathy and emotion at the core of their content, and virtually no discussion of themselves or their wares.
So what does this mean for us as marketers and entrepreneurs in the weeks and months ahead? It means we all have the opportunity to say curtains up! and action! as the age of “executive producing your brand” is clearly upon us.
Note: This post was originally published on Billee’s Forbes blog.