Content marketing takes center stage

On a quest to discover innovative approaches to content marketing, I came face-to-face with a drone sent to South by Southwest Interactive from 60 years in the future.

On a quest to discover innovative approaches to content marketing, I came face-to-face with a drone sent to South by Southwest Interactive from 60 years in the future.

OK, it was actually sent to SXSWi from the team at Vice Media, the rapidly expanding global media network and content machine that, among other things, helped send Dennis Rodman to North Korea.

The drone was one element of “Drone Day,” a multi-layered experience the team built to promote Tom Cruise's upcoming film, Oblivion, during its nine-day SXSW installation dubbed, “VICELAND.” Other activities included a rapid-fire aerial show, a roundtable discussion about the future of flying robots in America, and a chance to go to “flight school” in a controlled indoor flying space. As head of business development for Vice Ben Dietz explained, the event added deeper dimension to the plot of the film, immersing consumers in the experience.

While Vice made its name for edgy immersive journalism, the company now works with some of the world's leading brands – e.g., Intel, GE, Red Bull, Nike, and Diageo, just to name a few – to engage their audiences through content marketing. In Dietz's words, they design campaigns that “make products adjacent to great content,” in contrast to traditional marketing, which leads with a product message. “Brands need to reshape the way they market to consumers – particularly Millennials. They need to talk to audiences like they talk to each other.”

I asked Dietz for his take on how brands can be better content marketers, and he offered some great advice:

  • Recognize that you can't control the message. You are co-owners in the public sphere.

  • Make great content the vehicle for true engagement with consumers. Place it at the “center of the wheel” of your marketing strategy.

  • Be entertaining. Show genuine interest and passion for the topics your audience cares about.

  • Add value and share new information at every single consumer interaction.

Content marketing may seem relatively easy in the film world, where content is core to the offering. With traditional consumer goods, however, it takes a little more creativity. For Palladium Boots, a 60-year-old manufacturer of classically styled, utilitarian boots, Vice helped engage consumers through a content-marketing strategy centered on urban exploration. The company produced and distributed a series of “Explorer” videos including Detroit Lives, a film about the positive aspects of Detroit narrated by Johnny Knoxville. The films used compelling stories to attract consumers and delivered a clear brand message: Strap on your Palladium Boots and explore a new place.

As another example, Vice worked with Intel to conceive, produce, and promote “The Creators Project,” an initiative that supports artists who are using technology in innovative ways to push the boundaries of creative expression. The campaign includes a blog, online community, documentary videos, content-creation studio, and series of events around the globe.

At SXSWi, many people are arguing that content marketing is the future of all marketing. Since PR has always been in the business of “earning” audiences' interest and attention, I'd say we are uniquely positioned to seize this opportunity.

So what does it take to be effective content marketers? An intimate understanding of your audience and what matters to it, massive creativity, and an ability to leave all self-centered notions of branding at the door.

Brooke Hovey is EVP of the digital practice at Cohn & Wolfe in the Americas.

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