The age-old ethos that content is king still holds true, and over the last few years brands have been proving that with content strategies that go far beyond simply setting up a blog and regularly updating it. Today, many of the world’s most influential brands have essentially become publishers, pushing out a wide range of multimedia content to a vast array of platforms. Is this the best policy though? What can brands hope to achieve from becoming publishers? And most importantly, will it actually help them sell any more products?
Time for a story…
Part of the reason content marketing has become such an intrinsic part of the modern marketing landscape is storytelling. Narrative advertising has been around for years, with the most famous examples being the romantic entanglements of the Gold Blend couple, the adventurous derring-do of the Milk Tray Man, and Coca-Cola’s offer to buy the world a Coke. These campaigns are regularly voted among the most famous and best-loved adverts of all-time, and have become so popular that elements and catchphrases from them continue to be referenced to this day.
It’s not hard to see why such storytelling campaigns strike a chord among creative agencies and the brands they work for; nor is it difficult to see why they’ve made a comeback in the last few years. Digital technology allows brands to communicate their narrative in a number of highly engaging ways across a number of compelling, innovative platforms. An advert isn’t just pasted on a billboard or broadcast during Coronation Street anymore; it’s an always-on, interactive call to action that evolves and interacts with the consumer.
Case in point: Cadbury’s recent revival of the Milk Tray Man. The character had been off-screen since the year 2000, with seemingly little hope of returning; he was too old fashioned for modern audiences. However, the brand has taken advantage of the multitude of digital options to refresh its history and make the Milk Tray Man’s story relevant with a campaign that focuses on the search for a new Milk Tray Man (or Woman). Hortense Foult Rothenburger, Senior Brand Manager at Cadbury’s owner Mondelez, said: “The hunt for the iconic Milk Tray Man has really captured people’s imagination. While a sense of adventure is still key to the character, times have changed, and today’s Milk Tray Man is thoughtful and goes the extra mile to put a smile on our face.”
Indeed, that concept of thoughtfulness is very much the driving force for Cadbury. For years, Dairy Milk has been synonymous with last minute gifts, but with the brand’s 100th anniversary approaching, Cadbury is aiming to push quality. “The centenary is the perfect timing to announce the return of the Milk Tray Man and the brand itself is still very popular,” Mondelez’s Head of External Communications Tony Bilsborough said. “The concept of gifting is still with us and in many respects has grown so before where Milk Tray would simply have been a box of chocolates given by a man or boyfriend to his lover, thoughtful gifting is so much wider and there is a need to reflect that with a new Milk Tray Man.”
A storytelling campaign filled with rich content opportunities is the perfect method to deliver on this aim, and with some £4 million being pushed behind it, Cadbury is keen produce an evergreen stream of engaging content. But what kind of content? An announcement advert signalling the beginning of the search for a new Milk Tray Person kicked things off, and before the end of 2015, a second ad featuring a host of celebrities auditioning for the role was pushed out. Mark Boyd, founding partner at ad creators Gravity Road, said the campaign’s focus is very clear: “This is a very social film for social media, that we hope talent and audiences will want to share… It is designed to stop people in their tracks as they’re scrolling through social feeds which are already crammed full of more ‘stuff’.”
Indeed, the ‘Battle of Stuff’ is paramount in the minds of all brands who start wading into the publishing waters. Social Media has made it easier for everyone to get eyeballs on their brand, but making those eyeballs count, making them focus on your brand ahead of your competitor’s, is more difficult. Coca-Cola has led the way with its Coca-Cola Journey activity, which pushes the brand’s value in a number of areas, including style and fashion, food, or charity. This approach has been replicated to varying degrees across the majority of the brand’s digital platform, so to visit a Coca-Cola site is to consume a vast wealth of content covering everything that the brand holds dear and considers important to consumers.
Nestle’s Nespresso product has taken the publishing concept to a whole other level with its Nespresso magazine. A high-quality digital magazine, Nespresso’s offering features articles about food and drink, travel, and culture, focusing on a different major world city in each issue. Adding to the sense of prestige quality and exclusivity, users must download the magazine’s app to their iPad or Android tablet to get the best experience. Like Dairy Milk, Nespresso’s aim is to enhance reputation, positioning itself not as a cheaper and convenient alternative to café coffee, but a genuine rival for quality.
Meanwhile, Fosters has focused on multimedia with its #Helluvatour campaign, which has seen it send a group of lucky winners on a round-the-world tour. This has produced a wealth of video and pictorial content that’s been published across its Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram channels, all with the aim of grabbing attention and diverting people to its digital properties. With its videos racking up millions of views and hundreds of interactions each on Facebook, it’s certainly won the eyeballs it was vying for, but what does it all mean? What does content publishing activity like this actually give brands beyond that initial burst of engagement?
Making it Matter
That’s the million dollar question, and it’s not an easy one to answer – which is half the problem. Tracking engagement on multimedia content is pretty simple and regularly delivers favourable results; a picture is, after all, worth a thousand words, and in the digital age roughly the same number of views. But once those people have seen your picture, or watched your video, where do they go and what do they do? Do they continue to stay engaged with your brand or product, or do they skip on to the next update in their feed and continue to enjoy more (of someone else’s) ‘stuff’?
If you’re an eCommerce brand, this problem is much easier to solve than if you’re not. By tracking your digital assets on a web analytics platform, you can get a clear picture of just how many people are actually following up on their initial interest in your content with interest and purchase intent in your product. Return on Investment becomes easier to work out, and so does the value of your publishing. Becoming a publisher and pushing a hefty chunk of budget into that switch becomes much less of a risk then.
However, when the transaction process takes consumers from the online to the offline, it becomes much more difficult to understand if that content is having an effect. All brands can do is track the engagement that the content receives, and perhaps understand the next step: did users follow the social feed they saw that content on? Did they visit the brand’s website? Did that visit produce any quality engagement? Without the ability to gather answers to these questions, veering into publishing is more of a risk, and it poses the threat of ploughing significant budget into a dead end, or even worse, a dead end that seems fruitful, purely because social engagement and viewing figures are high.
As ever with questions like this, there’s no single right answer, no clear best course of action. Brands must understand what works for them specifically before taking the plunge into the world of content publishing, discerning not just if they have the resource to produce the content, but whether or not consumers will respond to it, and perhaps most critically how they will respond to it. Will it lead to an increase in sales, a jump in online awareness, a shift in consumer perception? All three are monumental tasks that hold different levels of importance to brands, and so content isn’t the only king when a brand transforms into a publisher: measurement is too.
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