What I learned at Advertising Week: How to improve branded content

Brands are getting better at creating content. Next, they need to collaborate.

Seraj Bharwani, Visible Measures; Ritu Trivedi, AOL; Chris Perry, Weber Shandwick; Joe McCambley, The Wonderfactory
Seraj Bharwani, Visible Measures; Ritu Trivedi, AOL; Chris Perry, Weber Shandwick; Joe McCambley, The Wonderfactory

Advertising Week was chock-full of interesting topics and speakers – from Caroll Spinney, who plays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, to actress Zoe Saldana. But the discussion that made the biggest impression on me was about improving the branded-content experience.

During the Can Creativity Be Programmed? session, Joe McCambley, cofounder of digital design agency The Wonderfactory, said native ads and branded pieces are better than banners "but are still garbage."

He described his native advertising "dream experience," which I think many consumers (including myself) would love to see come to life. On McCambley’s Apple News app, articles are delivered based on his preferences. For instance, an article popped up on screen about how to cut down your running time by 20%.

One upcoming trend in this space will be deeper links between apps, he said. For example, the running article could include a place where McCambley’s Nike+ running data could be uploaded, or information from The Weather Channel about his runs on particular days. All of the data could be used to make a personalized chart about how he could improve his running time.

McCambley also runs when he travels, so he suggested TripAdvisor could reveal running paths near hotels where he’s planning to stay. And let’s not forget music. Spotify could help him pick songs for a customized playlist based on the best tempo to protect his knees.

This individualized thinking is called "scaling to one," where brands focus on a consumer’s personal needs and deliver services based on them, McCambley added.

Using data and analytics to create meaningful content for consumers could be vital for the future of marketing, especially when people are continually taking control of what they ingest with ad-blocking services and DVRs. A personalized spin makes people feel special, which might be why BuzzFeed quizzes are so popular. Even if a quiz unveils something trivial like your spirit animal based on your favorite color or what you had for breakfast, it still individually engages each user.

The theory is backed up by data. In Edelman’s second annual Brandshare report, released last year, the firm found that if a brand addresses consumers’ desires, emotional needs, and societal demands, the likelihood to purchase increases 8% and the probability a user will defend a brand jumps 10%.

Delivering enduring value to consumers through useful information was another key point from the panel, moderated by Seraj Bharwani, chief of strategy and analytics at Visible Measures.

Chris Perry, chief digital officer at Weber Shandwick, said content marketing or publishing has "some huge pitfalls in the entertainment route" because it’s such a crowded and competitive space.

Yet Weber was able to create a branded program in 2014 for client Excedrin by taking what the product does best – getting rid of headaches – and showcasing it in various ways. The firm created videos, emails, articles, and graphics about different types of headaches, their causes, and remedies.

"A program that is very focused on delivering value improves trust, purchase intent, and impacts sales, and at the end of the day, that’s what these programs have to do," he explained.

Ritu Trivedi, VP of packaging strategy and solutions at AOL, said publishers usually go to media agencies for ideas about branded content and native advertising, but that is shifting. Publishers have a chance to add value to content with data and insights, which is why AOL will probably collaborate more often with content and creative agencies, she said. 

Bharwani wrapped up the session with three keys to native advertising and branded publishing success: create compelling content that piques consumer interest and passion points; pull readers in on both niche and mass media platforms; and dominate share of attention to boost sales.

When I think about native ads, the ones that stand out check all three of those boxes, such as the Netflix-sponsored interactive article in Wired about the convergence of technology and TV or California Almonds’ post on BuzzFeed about tips to stay energized at work. Both offered me useful information on topics that interest me and were delivered on media platforms I frequently use.

And while the California Almonds piece was fun, I’m waiting for the company to partner with other brands to give me a personalized list about how to stay energized at work based on data from my workout and diet apps.

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