Content is king

Companies are leveraging content as a unique selling point in a new era of social and digital media.

Companies are leveraging content as a unique selling point in a new era of social and digital media.

In today's busy world of mobile apps, tablets, and social media platforms, it is challenging for brands to engage consumers and tell their own stories, but to break through the clutter, many marketers have learned the key is content creation.

Companies used to focus solely on selling products or services, but now they are also looking to form relationships with consumers and increase brand loyalty by producing and sharing content, which can include videos, microsites, blogs, events, and contests.

Content creation stretches across a vast number of industry sectors from pharmaceutical companies show-casing their breadth of work to sports media channels engaging fans beyond games to car brands introducing themselves to new consumers. And, in most cases, the integrated approach of PR, marketing, social media, and digital working hand in hand is incorporated to ensure the right content reaches the proper audiences.

Biopharmaceutical organization Genentech creates content to reach a wide range of audiences, including media, patients, doctors, and scientists, and the strategy is focused on making the content compelling enough for all readers in such a regulated and conservative industry.

In December 2012, Genentech enhanced its website,, to feature more content and make it user-centric, says James Musick, director of  Web communications and social media for the company. The revamped site helps users easily access and share content. All of the videos on are also on YouTube and infographics on the home site may be linked to Pinterest.

“We think of our digital assets as a content ecosystem,” Musick notes. “The idea is that any channel, such as, is going to have content on multiple sites.”

Another aspect is to take a topic that may be “hard to understand” and make it less scary and digestible, says Musick. On the issue of access to care for uninsured patients, which is often a subject people don't want to discuss, Genentech made a video to show people how to get help and where to learn more. The video received more than 14,000 views from November to December last year.

For 2013, Musick says the company's goals in terms of content creation are to highlight unique disease awareness efforts, to showcase Genentech's corporate culture, offer science-focused pieces in a comprehensible way, and empower reporters with shareable resources.

Genentech's new website is more user-centric, allowing for easier sharing of content.

Innovative initiatives
In addition to engaging external audiences, content is key to Genentech because it allows employees to understand the impact of the company's research.

“It's important to understand you're making a difference in someone's life,” explains Musick. “A big part of content creation is showing the connection from the very beginning of basic research to the process you have to move through over several years to get a fantastic medicine.” 

Throughout the content-creation process, Genentech's digital, PR, and marketing teams work together to en-sure they reach several audiences, whether through traditional outlets, social media, or one-on-one interactions.

Ford's Lincoln brand, which renamed its division as Lincoln Motor in December 2012, is creating content to introduce its revamped image to a new set of consumers, while not losing sight of  loyal fans.

With its new MKZ midsize sedan and MKZ Hybrid, the brand is engaging a younger set of luxury customers who are progressive thinkers and make decisions based on their passions, says Connie Fontaine, manager of Lincoln's US marketing communications. According to the brand's segmentation research, those consumers make up 25% of the luxury automotive market.

“We have great previous heritage from the '20s all the way to the '60s,” explains Fontaine. “But there's baggage where people think of it as their grandfather's car or the car they take to the airport. There is this big story we have the ability to tell through content creation.”

For the Introducing Lincoln Motor campaign, the brand created an exclusive Lincoln Makers program for people who pre-ordered a 2013 MKZ, offering them personalized items such as a kit to blend your own whiskey or a device to fit sunglasses to your face.

Thinking outside the box
The brand created content around the program, giving consumers an inside look at the products involved and the makers behind them, such as a video about the whiskeymaker or a story about the sunglass company. Lincoln, which also shares stories, videos, and photos about its own car designers and engineers, posted the content on its Facebook page and

Mobile plays a big part in the automaker's content-creation efforts. The brand launched its Experience Lincoln mobile app to give fans the same experience on a smartphone or tablet.
In February, Lincoln is airing its first commercial at the Super Bowl, written by comedian and television host

Jimmy Fallon. Fontaine adds that to build and continue buzz around the ad, the brand has a crowdsourcing microsite,, which is populated with content from Fallon and his team and allows fans to help write the Super Bowl script.

To create and raise awareness about its content, Lincoln works with Hudson Rouge, the WPP Group-owned creative marketing agency based in New York, as well as Team Detroit, the interagency firm within WPP that has served Ford's marketing needs since 2007, says Fontaine.

She notes the brand also allocated a social media production budget for the first time last year, which was an important piece of the relaunch as the team can help create stories. “For a brand like Lincoln that is seeking awareness and building opinions, content creation is an opportunity to tell our story and make it interesting and engaging,” she adds.

A video of ESPN's John Clayton wearing a fake ponytail went viral within three days.

Engaging fans
ESPN is a content creator by nature with coverage that spans TV, radio, online, mobile, and more, but when it comes to enhancing its brand and interacting with fans, the sports network leverages its marketing content.
“In order to build our brand, we're creating content that really engages sports fans,” explains Carol Kruse, SVP of marketing at the multimedia sports company. “We view ourselves as a sports fan just as everybody else, so we like to talk to our fans as another sports fan.”  

The network has two longstanding campaigns, It's Not Crazy, It's Sports, which has been running since 2006, and This is Sports Center, which was established in 1997. Both initiatives continue to use marketing content to engage fans in unique ways.

In 2011 for It's Not Crazy, It's Sports, ESPN launched a Fanwich contest, inviting fans nationwide to submit their sports-themed sandwich to find the best one in the country. Kruse says people submitted photos and videos. Even radio shows and local delis got involved.

ESPN likes to look at what fans are talking about and use those insights to create content, explains Kruse. In September 2012, that's what the network did with a rumor about senior NFL writer and commentator John Clayton.

Wieden+Kennedy, ESPN's agency partner, heard chatter that fans suspected Clayton had a ponytail because the camera never shows the back of his head. Playing to the myth, ESPN created a video with him wearing a fake ponytail. Within a half hour, the piece was trending on Twitter. Within three days, the video went viral and garnered more than a million views.

In 2013, the brand is modifying its strategy to focus less on TV spots and more on social interaction. ESPN is going to concentrate on year-long fan-engagement opportunities with various social platforms. Kruse says the network usually launches a TV commercial and then builds buzz around it on social media. While it will still do that, it is putting more emphasis online, as its videos often go viral very quickly. “That kind of content and the inclusion with our fans is part of what the ESPN brand means,” she adds.

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