More and more brands have become mini-content creators. This development deserves a word of caution: It’s a long game, and morphing into an editorial outfit requires the commitment and dedication of an experienced content staff. This is not for kids just out of school, not for a copywriter with spare hours to bill — it’s for content experts with backgrounds in broadcast or editorial.
A quick look at today’s most successful content creators (AMC, Gawker Media, NPR, Buzzfeed, Funny Or Die) highlights a trend: Once fledgling upstarts with little support, they’re now shining examples of what-to-do-to-succeed-at-content. Let their success embolden you: starting small is healthy and will pay off. There’s a reason I didn’t mention HuffPo or other aggregators; they’re not whom you want to emulate.
The good creators have their own distinct voice and consistently provide content in ways that no other outfit does. Red Bull Studios is a great example. The content it makes is epic, at times outdoing the guys who make extreme-sports films for a living. Google infotains with the best of them, too, by turning their products into stories about life. To succeed requires a unique element, ample time and the editorial freedom to find the voice that makes your content worth reading, watching, clicking and sharing.
Because content has been around forever, one would think we’d live in a world enriched by brand content. But that’s not the case. Most brands fall on their faces during the content-creation and aggregation processes. The reasons are nothing new: misunderstanding of what makes good content, ROI pressure, lack of clarity on what the digital voice should sound/read/look like, and fear of taking a risk in a new space.
Our belief is that brands should define the filter that fits the product/brand, one that not only delivers content people want but also adds value to the brand, even if it’s not in a direct ROI kind of way. This also avoids having your content directly compete with every single content provider out there. We call it the value exchange.
Assuming you’ve got a good team in place, there are certain items to keep in mind as you develop your content strategy. The first: You’re not going to do it as well as the professionals, so be realistic with your benchmarks. Getting as good as Red Bull takes years, so give your content team time. Setting the bar a little lower will remove unnecessary stress and help you adjust to the bright light of this new world. Next, keep your goals simple. Your aim is to be more interesting than you were yesterday. Like the first time you went to yoga, the first few (hundred) moves will be uncomfortable. Give it enough time and you’ll be teaching the class.
As you develop your content, liberate the brand voice by being enthusiastic and human. This probably feels scary and counterintuitive, and your branding agency may not like the idea of straying from specific words and phrases. However, there’s a wide trench between great content and the way you explain your brand in the About section of your website. Don’t sell. People go to sites they love because Site X offers something Site Y doesn’t. Know what your “thing” is (it’s not your brand/products — it’s how they enable the world of experiences they’re letting people be part of) and grind that thing into the ether of your content.
Finally, take risks. This is really Journalism 201 — beyond the basics, but still pretty baseline. One reason marketers have such a hard time getting things written about their work is they have little understanding of the news cycle, up-to-the-minute audience tastes and the value of being bold. If you’re running a safe brand, stay away from content, because it’s going to be boring and a waste of money. But if you’ve got a challenger brand, go for it with the knowledge that if you do this right, your brand will one day be the example everyone else wishes it could be.
Liron Reznik is CCO at Vitro, a full service ad agency based in New York and California.
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