Originally published in Ad Age
Are you betting big on branded content? Whether it's because you've caught the content marketing bug or you're trying to escape the horrors of "Adblockergeddon," you're not alone. While content marketing is complicated, knowing two rules at the outset can make the whole process much more effective: Build trust and get out of the way.
Your partners who produce the content may not say this so bluntly. After all, they want your money. But this month alone, these two themes have come up constantly, including at events hosted by AwesomessTV and OneSpot, in the press, and in daily conversations.
Here's why these are the two universal rules:
When something isn't working with content marketing, trust is often the essential element of what's missing.
Ad Age wrote about a symptom of this issue in its recent article, "Did the Cannes Lions Unveil a Crisis of Content Creativity?" Ann-Christine Diaz's story discussed how the festival hasn't bestowed the top Grand Prix to any entrant in the branded content category for the past two years. One reason for this may be that branded content is a relatively new discipline, especially when it comes to brands significantly investing in this with agencies, publishers' content studios and other partners. Building trust takes time.
It takes even more time to determine how well branded content works. One of the most touching branded videos I've encountered is Purina's "Dear Kitten," which now has nearly 24 million views on YouTube and about 75 times as many likes as dislikes. When trying to research the business impact of such videos, all I could find was a story from September 2014 in the Wall Street Journal saying that Purina might not know the impact on sales "for at least a year." Perhaps Purina finally has its answer.
Those creating content (whether, for a brand, these are internal or external parties) need to learn and internalize the brand's values. Content creators must be able to demonstrate that they can produce great content that adheres to the brand's most important goals. Coming to some agreement on what success means is crucial for any lasting relationship, and it becomes more important as content marketing matures.
For a sense of just how much you should value great content creators, consider how Snapchat shut down its original content arm, Snap Channel, this month. Snapchat hired some experienced executives to run it, but Snapchat didn't have the same credibility as the premium publishers featured in the Discover tab. Even hiring top talent and distributing media freely to hundreds of millions of people is no guarantee of success. Content creators with a strong track record are in high demand.
Get out of the way
As brands and content producers trust each other, the next step is for brands to get out of the creatives' way. It's something that constantly comes up in conversations with content creators. When The Onion's senior VP-content Rick Hamann gave a keynote talk at OneSpot's Unify summit this month, his first rule of branded content was, "Let the funny people be funny." Swap out "funny" with any other adjective, and the rule is true for all content creators, especially when you're working with those that have a built-in audience. You know your brand, and they know what should resonate with viewers. In-house teams and agencies should also have a strong command of whom they're trying to reach and what matters to them.
A common complaint of the content creators is that the brand lead wants to pretend they're James Cameron or Tina Fey (yes, agencies are guilty of this, too). Instead, marketers should be relieved that they can delegate all the hard work that goes into content creation, while marketers focus on ensuring that the content remains on-brand.
The results of successful partnerships are pretty easy to gauge, as they lead to content that people want to view and share. When the partnerships are unsuccessful, it's usually for one of two reasons. One reason is that the content isn't that interesting and it's ignored. Far worse is when it's so ham-handed that it tarnishes the reputations of the brand and everyone associated with creating it.
What content creators sometimes forget is that trust is earned, and that usually takes time. What brands need to realize is that once they find trustworthy partners, it's the brand's job to deliver the brief and step back to let the creative process flourish.