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It is becoming increasingly clear that marketers and advertisers have been divided into two camps. There are those that embrace the idea that they are share equal responsibility for their brand with their consumer.  They see themselves as co-brand managers, in a world where customers can shape and share their opinions about brands faster than ever before.  In this world, companies have to see themselves as media companies - publishing varied content to meet the needs and expectations of their savvy and vocal audiences.

And there are those that don't.

Only one of these groups has a future.

"New marketers see a real opportunity to craft real, authentic content - to be storytellers,” starts Luca Penati, Managing Director at Ogilvy Public Relations. "They know that the idea of 'pushing' content, or interrupting their audience is fundamentally over. A good story should engage the audience. It should be relevant and create a call to action. This is the perfect match for consumers who demand to be both 'entertained' and 'informed. And often, to be part of the story itself.”

Content Bridges Brands and Consumers

Consumer behavior for content is so varied and so complex these days. It is no longer just the complexities of reaching a multi-device audience.  The audiences’ demands vary day by day, or are even altered at different times of the day. What they read on their tablet to start their workday is very different than what they will digest on the weekend or on the couch after a long day at the office. This flexible demand adds a layer of complexity as to how brands deliver their messages.

Smart brands are looking toward telling stories - in line with their business strategy - to deliver their message.  These stories are digestible and are shareable.  They allow for more entertaining and more informational messages to be relayed to their audiences.

Luca continues, "Consumers have a choice between your message and hundreds of similar message.  They make quick decisions to engage or move on.  If your brand's message is not compelling - that combination of information and entertaining - you run the risk of them moving on, probably to a competitive message."

Luca agrees that the next 5 years will see a shift in how organizations think about creating and publishing content.  "It is too early to tell if the title 'Chief Content Officer' will stick, but there is this trend to oversee the entire breadth of stories brands aim to tell and then to measure how the audience perceives those messages and engage with them."  There is no shortage of nay-sayers who fundamentally don't believe a word of any of this and have no intention of changing.  The rest have come around, but are stuck with the operational question “how do I implement this?"

How To Implement This

There are 4 stages to transforming staid, traditional messaging into digestible, sharable stories for your audience.

1. Strategy: Many companies succumb to hubris and just start publishing. "Big mistake," says Luca. "Always start with the audience and the behavior you wish to modify, and then determine your goals for that group. Content strategy needs to be aligned with business strategy."  Instead of just diving in on new content, do you have existing content you can repurpose, or edit into a new usable format?  "Many companies miss the opportunity to craft some great content because they don't look at their existing library - they jump in creating ‘the new’ which causes an unnecessary delay in delivering the message into the market."

2. Create: Once you have your goals and your existing content repurposed, now start creating new content to fill those gaps.  Don't mistakenly think "true" content does not rely on great creative and stunning copy.  These are just as important now as they ever were. It is a question of how to use these resources.  Think about taking the audience on a journey based on what they want.  Address their needs through interesting stories that are relatable to your audiences.  If you have a sound strategy, creating the content is a straightforward process of empathizing with that target audience.

3. Publish: Even if you know who your audience is, you may not know everywhere they will react favorably to your content.  "You may have to kiss a few frogs before you find that perfect marriage of content, channel and audience," intones Luca.  This is where step #4 is so crucial.

4. Measure: As you publish, think about how you will measure that piece's effectiveness. No matter what channel you chose, can you get accurate measurements for that story.  Measure and evaluate every piece of content.  It can be time consuming and many brands look for shortcuts at this step.  However, insight into what works is your gateway to optimizing your strategy.  You can quickly move into channels that are working and abandon low-return alternatives.

Putting it all together

One great recent example Luca shares is a company who created a series of really poignant, high production value videos.  However, their budget and resources were spent almost entirely on the content creation, leaving publishing and measurement as an afterthought.  It was no surprise in the final analysis that the videos failed to reach an audience, meaning the brand failed to reach their audience.

Luca leaves us with "Companies tend to be drawn to one or two of these areas because it is in their culture, their DNA.  Few are natively good at all four.  Some are great strategy companies, but struggle with measurement.  Or, they can create amazing stories, but struggle in finding their audiences. We find you are better having a balance across all four then being great at just one."

Old world brands haven’t yet realize that everything from the old way of messaging to outright lying brings repercussions (see this case study where the National Advertising Division, which falls under the Better Business Bureau, found statements so egregious they stepped in and took action).  Smart brands engage their audience and take a collaborative approach to partnering with customers (see a great case study here by The Bloom Group with 4-5 better run companies who think this way).

Who do you want to be?

Is that even a question?


To learn more about how collaboration with your audience really means "you both win," follow Todd on Twitter @toddmwilms or connect on LinkedIn.