The Content Growth Story and How It’s Shaping the Future of Marketing

Green Park Content’s event series came to London’s Pullman St Pancras Hotel this week, attracting over 300 guests with a typically varied mixture of sessions: provocative keynote from the world’s most admired CMO, advice on content amplification and debate on using content to drive growth.

Sven Lung, the CEO of Green Park Content, welcomed the packed audience with a summary of the sessions to come, emphasising that the event would help marketers in “connecting the dots from content to commerce”. He then introduced the morning’s keynote speaker – Keith Weed, sometime Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Unilever, and current President of the Advertising Association.

Keynote: Has Content Killed Advertising?

Keith Weed’s speech focused on drawing lines between, as well as connections across, advertising and content. He started by outlining the key challenges faced today by brands and marketers, before describing the opportunities presented by the various forms of content, and the potential for the future – especially when it comes to harnessing the power of customers in creating this content.

First of all, he asked, does the growth in content mean that traditional advertising “is finished”? Unlikely, according to Weed, but he did highlight, linked to his role as AA President, the “Seven Deadly Sins” that advertisers need to address to reverse a long-term decline in trust in advertising.

  1. The reduced quality of advertising. 50% of Brits agree that TV ads annoy people.
  2. Inauthentic activity: buying fake followers and likes.
  3. Concerns over personal data being exploited. 73% of people across Europe are concerned about data and data security.
  4. Advertising that funds bad activity, such as unintentionally being served on websites linked to terror groups.
  5. The rise in fake news.
  6. Poor use of personalisation. More than 50% of people 35+ find personalisation annoying.
  7. The average consumer is exposed up to 10,000 brand messages today.

He asked: “Is this the end of the road for advertising? Absolutely not, but it’s the end of the road for how we used to do it. At it’s best, it’s fabulous, engaging, and builds brands, and it helps people know what’s out there.”

Weed then described how Unilever separated its activity into two “parallel worlds of brand communication” – one that interrupted people based on their passions, and another that provided “seek out content” focused on people’s needs.

Examples of the passion-based approach included Dove’s entertainment partnership with Cartoon Network, to boost the self-esteem of young girls; and Wendy’s ‘Keeping Fortnite Fresh’, destroying burger freezers in the video game to highlight the brand’s use of fresh, rather than frozen, meat.

On the need/utility-based side of things, Weed focused on Unilever’s All Things Hair platform, developed with Green Park Content, which transformed a YouTube channel into an online destination through clever used of SEO leading people to content that helps them to do new things with their hair.

In terms of generating income from content, Weed mentioned e-commerce and the need to improve the experience for shoppers of a brand: “There are whole challenges around product shots being terrible, and finding new ways of delivering content, talking about products to provide real information… and thinking about [e-commerce] as a way of engaging people rather than just selling product.”

Weed said that the future for content involves “a blessing, and a curse – we can reach audiences everywhere, but the challenge is the vast amount that we need.” However, he had a solution – “turning consumers into creative departments”:  “There are two ways of delivering content. There’s high quality/low volume, but we can then use consumers to provide low quality/high volume. Our customers are the fastest-growing channel we have right now, and they have both the tech and the talent at their fingertips.”

The inevitable conclusion, according to Weed, was that the rise in content hasn’t killed advertising but has changed the landscape significantly: “Brands need both – they need content and need advertising. Great content and advertising build trust. And, if we build trust, we can build and grow great brands.”

Panel 1: Amplifying Your Content

Following Keith Weed’s keynote, the audience heard from the first panel of the morning, chaired by Caroline Marshall, the former editor of Campaign. Focused on issues such as forward and reactive planning, creating effective content across channels, and impacting the purchase journey, it featured:

  • Ian Colvin, Global VP of Digital Marketing at PepsiCo
  • Georgie Harmel, former Senior Digital Marketing Manager – Beauty, at Johnson & Johnson, and incoming Digital Transformation Lead at Bayer
  • Athar Naser, Platforms Director at Green Park Content
  • Lee Thomas, Head of Content at Dyson

Kicking-off the conversation, Marshall asked Ian Colvin for tips to make content more efficient:

Find some decent insight and be true to your brand. Marketeers often don’t peel the consumer onion or even go out and meet consumers. If you don’t then you miss that empathy with your customers. Go deep, find the hidden truth, and do something true to your brand and its purpose.”

Georgie Harmel focused initially on the importance of good calendar-based and reactive planning: “Find your key themes around passions and needs and then plot them into a content calendar… Reactive content is equally as important, that sounds like a contradiction but putting planning and processes in place to create great content makes it spontaneous. Such as, who’s the brand contact to provide sign off, the creative lead to jump on it, and the media lead to amplify?”

Dyson’s Lee Thomas highlighted the need to provide value and develop an on-going conversation with customers: “We’re moving on from origins and now we’re about being a technology enterprise, providing a vast array of products across categories. Actually, that gives us a lot to talk about and, of course, that’s all packed with ingenious tech.”

“Our inspiration comes from our engineers, who are all absolute boffins. We have a ton of stories, all resulting in making people’s lives better. To find these, we have ‘beers with engineers’, get them together to find stories to use today.”

Athar Naser provided a clear focus on how content marketing can help marketers to reach customers at different stages of the purchase journey: “The massive disconnect here is also an opportunity. When you think about the consumer journey as a series of moments open to influence, then you have to be there to provide that influence, and tell your story. Yet there’s still an underinvestment in this in the content space, budget is limited to looking after a few content assets rather than a whole marketing activation based on content.”

Naser revealed that Green Park Content is working on research that will help to bring paid media and content together “in a more agile way” and to “demonstrate the results.”

To conclude, Marshall asked each of the panel to share a thought on where content marketers should push the boundaries in future.

Athar Naser: “Content marketers taking the lead and breaking down siloes in terms of what they do on page, with their own properties, and what they do away from their own properties, and bringing this together.”

Lee Thomas: “Make sure communications are served in such a way that they’re succinct and consistent. Dyson has gone from creating 50 to 5,000 piece of content, so it’s a scaling problem. The future would be AI solutions taking the due diligence and time out of that.”

Georgie Harmel: “Personalisation, telling relevant stories to the right kinds of audience.”

Ian Colvin: “Increase your media understanding, appreciate the possibilities of personalised marketing. Don’t leave this at arms length with your media agencies, because it’s the key to future success with content marketing.”

Panel 2: Content to Commerce

The second panel session at the event, chaired by Claire O’Brien, Head of Effectiveness & Performance at ISBA, concentrated on ways for brands to drive revenue through digital content. The panel included:

  • David Beebe, Branded entertainment producer and Storyteller-in-Residence at Unilever
  • Joel Palix, Strategic Brand Advisor, and previously CEO of Feelunique, and CEO of Clarins Fragrance Group
  • Estelle Giraudeau, MD UK & Northern Europe at ClubMed

O’Brien set the scene for the conversation with an outline of the key issue: “The growth of content marketing means that we’re on the point of uncovering new forms of revenue, but brands have never, or rarely, invested in marketing with the aim of making money from content they’ve created.”

Both Joel Palix and Estelle Giraudeau described how businesses they have led, Feelunique and ClubMed, went on a journey from significant investment in traditional advertising to a model that prioritises content and boosted revenues.

David Beebe then outlined how, with branded entertainment, marketers can move this from a cost centre to a revenue stream: “If you set it up to be story first, and then the brand enables the story, you’re making an investment, but you own the IP. When creating the world of Red Bull, the first thing was to identify the narrative space – sports. And then place a focus on rich programming, in which the product enables a story to be told but doesn’t interrupt it. If it’s truly story first, and that might be humour or drama, then monetisation and revenue streams follow.”

But what are the issues in terms of bringing wider management on board with this? Estelle Giraudeau said: “There’s a challenge to find the complement between a global brand strategy, and needing to be consistent across the world, with what might be funny and works locally. You need to challenge yourself creatively, finding the stories where you put your British client or Asian client at the centre of the story and make them real. That’s a challenge because the hero is not your brand anymore, it’s your client [customer].”

O’Brien asked Beebe about the viability of developing inhouse studios to create entertainment content, as he did with Marriott: “With Marriott, French Guest was a love story about a business traveller – it got people to think about travel. Then we thought, ‘what is the opportunity to add a sales component?’ After watching the film, viewers were offered a sales package, a meet and greet, which drove $500,000 sales to that hotel in two months. Then Marriott owned the IP and sold it – to airlines, to subscription TV channels. But you’ve got to think about content and entertainment less as a campaign – it’s a five year gain, not getting your money back in year one or year two.”

The subject of influencer marketing came up near the end of the debate. Joel Palix argued that it’s vital to establish clear guidelines here: “It’s very important they’re local, and that cultures relate to each market. At Feelunique we also segmented according to level of the influencers. We had ambassadors, with 500,000-plus followers, micro-influencers, 50,000-plus, and nano-influencers, 5,000-plus. We were paying for the ambassadors, and never found a true return. We were gifting micro and nano influencers, and found they were very supportive.”

O’Brien ended the panel session, and the event, with the point that “content is complex but incredibly exciting, and provides new opportunities in how to market, how to fund, and how to involve audiences.”