Today, the talk of the town amongst marketers is the potential for brands to act as publishers and media companies, going direct to their customers or consumers in the fight to earn attention. It's a lofty ambition but worth pursuing as there are three drivers changing how we spend our time and attention.
Increasingly, we are getting our information from the smaller screen. It's always on us—it's portable and connected to the Web. It plays video and all other sorts of media and apps have transformed how we interact with it.
Specifically newsfeeds. In addition to e-mail, we increasingly get our information in a newsfeed format (arguably e-mail was the original mobile newsfeed). Today it's Facebook, Instagram, Linked In, Twitter... the list goes on. What each one of these has in common is that it's dominated by content, and sharing is only a button tap or click away.
Google continues to tweak its algorithm to favor quality content vs. redundant links and phrases which try to trick it. Because of this, it favors quality over quanity and becomes more difficult to game.
The first wave of social was dominated by engagement and how to engage at scale. The second is dominated by engaging at scale plus content distribution and integration with marketing programs. To fully realize the promise of brands as media companies—we must first understand and classify content. There are five ways I've been thinking about content:
Media companies have always curated the best information available and customized this for the audiences they want to grow and keep. For brands, it's no different and is one of the most practical places to start. Take IBM's Smarter Planet Tumblr, for example, which curates some of the most interesting stories around intelligent technology. By doing this, the brand becomes an authority on the topic.
The biggest mistake I often see brands make when thinking about content is to forget that even content can be a participatory experience. Take AMC's Dead Yourself app, which combines the aforementioned game changers (mobile + social) and empowers fans to zombify any picture they can capture on their mobile phone. Where does the content end up? Social newsfeeds. Take that, display ads.
Brands now have the opportunity to create original content that is own-able and can't be found anywhere else. This requires a great deal of planning as the content needs to be naturally connected to the brand. Original branded content can be utilitarian or entertaining or both (see *Skylanders Boomcast). It can also be done in a semi journalist tone. We recently worked with Kellogg's on this type of "Brand Journalism" as part of their Olympics sponsorship. In this example the brand is part of the story but does not play the leading role.
Personal publishing, which arguably came before brand publishing, has empowered millions of people to post an infinite amount of content into the digital realm. Consumer generated media rivals that of media created by the professionals and when tapped appropriately can authentically reinforce what a brand stands for. A recent example that I really like is what Disney is doing with their consumer generated content contest, Disney Side.
Likely the most hotly debated form of content, sponsored content also goes by the name "native advertising" or, specific to social, "promoted posts." Simply put, there are three versions of sponsored content: the traditional version (like display ads), paid options from digital platforms like Facebook or Twitter, and sponsored editorial working with a media company, ranging from Buzzfeed to the Atlantic.
It's time to move the "brand as media" discussion into more actionable territory. As attention shifts to newsfeeds and mobile streams—the stories we tell there need to be all the more compelling.
*Activision is an Edelman client