Sir Martin Sorrell has made his first investment at his new company in a shop called Media Monks- which “is a creator of agile and dynamic digital content” What Sir Martin does, the industry talks about. So, let’s not break the habit of a lifetime

  • Is this a hot investment ?
  • Why is Content an important thing for brands to understand?

The word itself is not a good start- it suggests yet more digital detritus pushed out to widespread indifference. As you start Googling you are probably not thinking “gosh, there is a shortage of information here”.  In 2004 Google indexed 38 Trillion pages on the web.

A new book, The Definitive Guide to Strategic Content Marketing by  Laz Dzamic and Justin Kirby that grapples honestly with what it takes to be good at Content. It is an insider’s guide based on interviews with people in the business. It even has a chapter of highly articulate detractors who say that this is all just modish nonsense  (Declaration of interest- I worked with Laz at Google).

Here are some of insights I took from the book: –

Creating stuff people choose .What people want online is stuff that they choose to look at or use or participate in-this is a decent working  definition of  Content.  You have to stop seeing marketing as something that is done to people – but done for people’s benefit. ( it is an appealing idea right now as digital advertising is going through a bad patch- seen as a form of pollution as evidenced by the rise of ad-blocking)

Use data for empathy  Brands need to being really good at analysing and using data differently. As people go about researching, choosing and buying (in any given category) they send off “signals” about what interests them and what they might be receptive to in those moments. These “data signals” are the starting point for human empathy. In that moment do you just try to sell to them or do you imagine what they will find fascinating or irresistible or useful. Very few companies are good at this kind of data analysis, and you know who they are: Google, Facebook, Amazon. Most probably, you will have to work with their data and, in all probability post your content on their platforms – and pay their advertising tax to attract people to it

Content is easiest with existing customers in high interest categories .Because you know who they are, what they have bought and they have given you permission to use their data. ExampleSo, you have just booked a holiday – in that moment you are probably open to Content. TUI did just that – new bookers were delivered a sequence of useful stuff about, for example, check in, destination information other services such as car hire and excursions.  (See P 136 of the book ).This kind of Content is really an extension of service and is a more sophisticated and digitally delivered version of something companies have always done.

That said, digital makes it different because it increases the number of occasions when your customer is in contact and therefore available to Content. In practice it leads to a detailed map of customer contact moments and a Content delivery plan.

Learn about your customer every day .It could be the best thing you can do- as it will force you to learn what really interests your customers and what they really want. Every day you will be looking at data that keeps you honest. If you create Content (say information or advice or entertainments) that people don’t bother to look at then you will have to improve because lots of others are vying for your customers attention. It’s hard work and requires constant energy and investment. Truth be told is it is very difficult to create Content that the general public wants to look at – ask any newspaper editor, film maker , song writer, novelist, successful blogger or vlogger. It is a full time job. Even then you have no guarantee of success- so what chance does a brand have ?

Brands have to partner with people who know how to do it .Brands start way back in the race to create great Content. In order to get to the start line they probably have to partner with people who already have an audience and a profile. Famous folk often. When I was in the Zoo at Google I spent quite a lot of time advising brand owners on how to set up YouTube channels. I came to the conclusion that most should not try unless they were prepared to invest in a regular stream of great films and partner with successful YouTubers in order to boost their audiences. And there is no point in doing this if you are not clear on why you are doing it. In fact it could look like a rather desperate attempt to cling onto someone else coat tails so…

Be credible The Internet can often feel like a vast ocean of unreliable but endlessly fascinating stuff. If you are going to add to this you need to answer the “why” questions. Why are we doing this and why will our Content be valued by people? In fact, these are probably the first questions you should ask.

So is Content marketing the answer ? It can be very powerful done well- but it is difficult to do well – as illustrated by each of the six points above

Sure, there are the famous “viral” hits – from videos of stunts or amazing pieces of film or great ads or some magical piece of new technology (VR is the great hope right now)- but these are few and far between and difficult to repeat. So don’t fall for that snake oil.

Creating great Content is a major investment in strategy, planning, data analysis, partnerships and creation. You have to think and behave like a media owner – which most brand marketing companies are not set up for.

But if you are going to do it, this new book by industry experts is required reading. It gives you the inside track on what’s needed, the pitfalls and who you might want to work with.

And what of Media Monks? Well, my guess is that they will also be doing a lot of advertising (if they don’t already).  That is where the money still is. The big players-Google, Facebook and increasingly Amazon- will have to muck out The Augean Stables of digital advertising. They have to, as it’s their business model. Oh, and by the way, it funds loads of free services that we value.

Words get stripped of their meaning if used too often.

There is a phrase for this- semantic satiation: a word progressively loses its potency through over repetition. The marketing business positively over flows with such words and phases as Brand, Engagement, Target Audience, Core Values and, my particular bug bear, Content.

The C word is very hot now and turbo charged by all manner digital marketing.

Does this overuse of certain words matter?

I think it does – because we stop thinking about what words mean. They cease to have a personal impact and pass into the territory of important sounding positive buzz words that we can intone in the sure knowledge that we will not be challenged to say exactly what we mean.

Words become something we can hide behind or just a way of a particular group of people signaling that they belong the same professional tribe.

Flatulent language leads to sloppy thinking. So at the risk of farting in church ( as  one Australian Creative Director  put it to me ) I am going to suggest some  alternatives to our most overused words.

Can we ban the Brand word?

Probably not- Brand is written into the valuation of too many companies. Yet Brands are things companies own with famous logos that people can hide behind.

What if we used the word Reputation more often?  Reputation is personal – it is precious thing and can be won or lost depending on how you behave. “Your reputation is at stake” sounds like something I should worry about. “The brand is at stake” sounds like something that other people might worry about.

 Can we ban the Values word?

It is a very high-flown word for an activity, which should be daily and down to earth. Going on about Brand Values is all very well if you are John Lewis or Apple but most companies do not have clear brand values that staff can understand and live up to. What if we used two old fashioned words like civility and decency.  Decency as Orwell said is that “intuitive sense of morality that exists among common people.” It was what we expect and hope for from each other – it’s therefore a guide to behavior that anyone can understand.

Engagement used to be lovely word (as in “engaged to be married”) but now it has been taken over by agencies who are using it a version of “soft selling.” Most people can spot the difference between pretend engagement to make a sale or the real thing.

Real engagement normally starts with listening or empathy because you cannot engage without understanding.  This may lead you to offer advice that is objective, timely and helpful. Or it may lead you to give pleasure and entertainment as a release from the grind of daily life. It may be a genuine act of generosity with no immediate expectation of a return. Most people can spot a bribe -it is a transaction not an engagement.

Which brings me to my pet hate- the C word- Content.

It has never been a good word. It suggests yet more digital detritus being pumped out to an indifferent world.

Would you like more branded content, madam?

No thanks.

What I really want is something that interests me or is relevant to me – like entertainment, rewards, advice, ideas, pleasure, excitement, things worth sharing, the inside track.

But please not more Branded Content.

Now ,It is not easy to replace the C word as it is a portmanteau term without a ready synonym. But it manages to be both bland and flatulent. My modest proposal is that we ban it.

There is a free lunch on offer to anyone who can come up with a better word.