Top brands bet the house on content

"Content is king" is a hackneyed adage that is increasingly en vogue as marketers realize they can be media owners in their own right and bypass the mainstream outlets where they traditionally communicated their messages.

“Content is king” is a hackneyed adage that is increasingly en vogue as marketers realize they can be media owners in their own right and bypass the mainstream outlets where they traditionally communicated their messages.

Delegates at PRWeek's PESO Principles Conference on Tuesday were treated to an exposition by three of the finest practitioners of branded content that truly represent contemporary best practice.

Target CMO Jeff Jones; Nissan's head of global marketing and communications Simon Sproule; and Coca-Cola's director of social media and digital communications Ashley Brown all gave presentations that were worth the price of admission in their own right.

While admitting that Coca-Cola didn't launch its Journey site to sell product, rather to tell great stories, Brown did point out that one of its most popular pieces of content was a Coca-Cola Cake recipe, which was downloaded 1.5 million times. He observed that if just 10% of these people ended up making the cake that alone would result in the sale of 150,000 bottles of Coke.

But Brown cautioned brands content is not an easy option. “Don't underestimate how much work it is,” he said. “It has been a lot more difficult than we thought it would be. Building that newsroom muscle is not something that comes quickly.”

At Target, Jones is certainly not abandoning advertising, but the retailer is following a strong gut feeling that the relative importance of each element of the PESO mix is fundamentally changing. “Paid impressions still work to drive our business,” he said. “But we believe an earned impression will exceed the value of a paid impression in the future.”

And all three speakers noted that their owned content strategy drives earned and shared impressions. In January, Coke responded to a negative editorial in The New York Times on its Journey content portal and saw the response picked up by 100 traditional media outlets. Target attracts 150,000 unique visitors a month to its owned channels, and many of these stories are subsequently picked up in mainstream media.

Sproule's initial impetus to set up a full broadcast suite staffed by experienced media pros at Nissan's Yokohama HQ was “to reach the media, because we felt our stories weren't being told.” Global news bureaus were moving out of Japan to places like Beijing and Singapore and Nissan wanted to use content creation in place of a press release. “We now have a world-class content studio that bears comparison with anything ‘broadcast media' is producing,” added Sproule.

There is also a paid media aspect to Nissan's owned offerings aimed at socializing the automaker's content. “We know some pay-to-play will be needed to achieve that,” said Sproule. “Why not substitute high-quality content on a few sites for a banner ad that cynics would say no one clicks on anyway.”

Elsewhere at the PESO event, we heard about UPS' plans to set up a leadership portal that will contain very little mention of the global package delivery company; rather, it will position itself as a thought leadership platform. And ConAgra explained how it worked with Google Glass to imagine what augmented reality shopping would look like, engaging customers of its frozen food products.

The content issue is about far more than hiring a few journalists and setting up a website, though clearly that is a prerequisite of most strategies. It's now about producing effective, engaging, high-quality content that fully integrates with everything else you are doing.

Our engaged delegates enjoyed a stimulating and packed day that moved the hackneyed debate about content from “should brands be doing it?” and “how do you measure it?” to “how should you do it best?” and “what is the right way to integrate it within your paid, earned, and shared media mix?”

For smart communicators and marketers, it is no longer a case of “Why?” it's “How?”

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