Davis Brand Brief: July 2014


The Davis Brand Brief team recently embarked on its own journey with content re-launching our site Unbound Edition. In the process, the team spent a lot of time thinking about the role of content and how it has gone from cutting edge idea to fully embraced strategy by many major brands. This month’s Davis Brand Brief takes a closer look at content – an element of marketing that brands can own or borrow, exploring how brands use storytelling and subject matter expertise to engage consumers. Which brands are connecting with consumers and which are challenged by this new environment? Want to weigh in on the conversation? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter, #contentmarketing



Content Is King

As soon as the innovation report from the king of content, The New York Times, was leaked a few months ago, the conversation about content shifted. The Times called it out in black and white – “the business side still has a major role to play, but the newsroom needs to claim its seat at the table because packaging, promoting and sharing our journalism requires editorial oversight. Content is still king but how it is packaged and delivered is queen. The fact that the Huffington Post, a site that primarily aggregates and repackages content, tends to have higher traffic than The New York Times is a case in point.

From a strategic perspective, brands using content to attract, engage and inspire their consumers have to strike a balance between authenticity and interest. The evolution of how consumers interact with content has led to the ability to predict consumer interests based on how they interact with people, places and things. The imperative is to turn content into a “thing” that produces and tracks data.

We see well-established brands like Coca-Cola and Unilever mastering the strategy behind content marketing. What is even more exciting to see is how companies like Red Bull, Go Pro and Chipotle have built much of their brand awareness on careful content marketing strategies.  Why do they succeed? They all have a clear approach to content in common.

But, as the conversation about content evolves brands must pay attention to trends when planning how they engage with their customers and stakeholders.  This environment is dynamic. 



The Content Economy

Consumers engage with brands they perceive as providing superior value.  In the past, that value was almost exclusively related to product function and performance.  What content marketing has done is create ways in which consumers make spending decisions that go beyond the product. Content marketing leverages the principles of the network economy, in effect, the economy of content. Paramount in this exchange is that the content enhances both the value of the brand and the perceived value the consumer receives with each interaction.

The results speak for themselves. Spending on content marketing is no joke. And more than 50% of businesses and brands plan to increase their content marketing budget in 2014.  Successful brands make clear investments: personnel, content production and content distribution. The value that the content provides is undeniable as it benefits both the bottom line and the consumer. Where brands get the biggest bang for their buck, however, is when they own the content they put out there in a transparent and authentic way.

Using content in a genuine way increases trust. Trust leads to purchases. Communicating and educating consumers in the stages of gaining that trust by providing educational and forward-thinking content builds a more credible brand and reflects an vested interest in the customer. Prominent examples include the financial services industry. American Express, for example, has been focusing on deepening relationships through content for many years and others like Mint.com have built their credibility on the content they provide to their customers.

As brands determine the value of their investment in content, they are measuring the deepening connection with the consumer and diversifying how consumers interact with them. Often times, this leads to a more educated consumer who makes smarter purchases, and with brands like Autotrader, and Neflix, these efforts positively influenced sales and brand performance.

Publishing an average of eight pieces of content each day, Autotrader has seen a clear ROI with  a 108% increase in Facebook fans, a 231% increase in YouTube subscribers and $10M in incremental revenue from customers acquired through some form of content.

Is orange the new black? Well, Netflix certainly thinks so! And it literally is. Boosting revenues by 37% in the 2nd quarter (the same quarter they subtly rolled out a new logo), Netflix leadership credits their biggest content marketing effort to date as a key element in these results. Along the way, Netflix has been instrumental in the way current and future generations consume media.

As highlighted in our May brief, millennials are currently the country’s most powerful and influential consumer generation, so connecting with this generation is on the minds of most brands. Millennials crave social connections and content marketing is a ready approach to engage with them.

Consider Urban Outfitters. In addition to utilizing a robust mobile strategy, the brand encourages fans to post pictures wearing their clothing for an opportunity to be featured on its site. By giving their customers an incentive to engage with the brand in an authentic way, they drive engagement. #UOONYou.

Warby Parker may seem like an average eyeglass company at first sight, but their approach to content has people talking about more than just their eyewear. Even the way Warby Parker shares their economic results in the annual report are considered part of their content strategy. Warby Parker has become synonymous with hip, affordable eyewear. Extending the relationship to their customers virtually, the brand encourages consumers to post photos and videos on Warby’s Facebook page as a way to share with friends and interact with their experts.

Brand performance and reputation is way past the days of lip service and hip, cool ads. They now operate in an environment where consumers, particularly millennials, expect real value and real engagement, which in turn can make a real impact on a brand’s bottom line.



The Social Life Of Information

Context is everything when it comes to content, so why should it be different when it comes to content marketing? Brands must now leverage social context to help people understand what information means, when and why it matters and how it enriches their lives.  This social life of information is what drives consumers to respond.

The exchange of content also gives companies the opportunity to build a cultural community around their brand. Think Nike, Starbucks and Harley Davidson. The fact that brand loyalists share similar affinities and interests is part of the reason, but if the product is not stellar and the connection is not strong, that would not be enough. Relevant content in multiple places gives consumers reason to stay connected to brands and each other.

While many brands utilize content to drive performance and engagement, some brand campaigns also mirror key cultural moments in time. For instance, Honey Maid took advantage of an opportunity to elevate the conversation with consumers about what it means to love – #thisiswholesome. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign has affected the women’s empowerment conversation for the past 10 years, inspiring many others to follow suit. The Davis Brand Brief team’s recent personal favorite: #LikeAGirl.

Most recently, though, the battle of the sportswear brands played out on the pitch at the World Cup. Who won? By all accounts, despite the fact that Adidas had the winning team on the field, Nike was the winning team with experts and consumers.

Oftentimes it is the cultural context that drives meaningful content that leads to important conversations. All of this deepens relationships, connecting consumers emotionally to brands through social stories.



Content as Art

Given the competitive landscape, how are brands using creative expression in their content to capture consumers’ attention?

It makes sense that the Art Institute of Chicago would be a great example of how a brand uses creativity to capture audience. By leveraging the already wildly popular and well-known #tbt (throw back Thursday) hashtag, the museum has effectively repurposed content from past exhibits and events. Museums, notorious for “do not touch” and “do not interact” have made great strides in recent times, leveraging digital technology in more than one way.

Quite possibly the most amazing example of long-form content marketing happened this past spring with the release of the Lego Movie. Yup. Lego does it again. Not only have they captured the love of children across the globe, they have now added to the amount of money they have captured from the wallets of their parents. And it really was a great storytelling moment that happened to also be a genius idea.

Stories are at the heart of content. Regardless of the topic – real or make believe there is a story involved. A brilliant example of just this is the recent launch of Microsoft Stories, bringing personal emotion and connection to a brand that has struggled to go beyond functional benefits for a long time.

The visual elements of content are also critical to crack the code to consumer engagement. This is an imperative for communicating with younger generations who speak in hashtags and see in Instagram photos. Delivering images, videos and stories in unexpected ways that visually capture the imagination and attention of the consumer across platforms are increasingly critical to success.

Some who already do it well? Consumers are now asked to #shareacoke in a unique and personal way – right down to the name on the bottle. Four Season’s Extraordinary Experiences Campaign brings travel stories to life, extending their travel content with beautiful imagery – #ExperienceFS. Airbnb — and not talking about the drama their new logo design created – released a short film directed with Twitter and shot on Vine – #AirbnbHV.

Lastly, brands with utility and information that customers need — in addition to want — are in a unique position. The Home Depot has always had a consumer-centric culture, and they successfully apply that thinking to engage their customers with relevant content on multiple channels with videos, images and photos.

What is clear about content marketing is that it has taken many brand strategies to levels of engagement that have not been seen before, raising the standards for marketing and the expectations of consumers.

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