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Takeaways on Elevating the State of Brand-Funded Content

Elevate, the industry-building retreat for brand marketers and their partners, was designed to address the opportunities and challenges facing marketers in a media environment where interruption is increasingly less effective. The Elevate Trails addressed these opportunities and challenges, each featuring a group of hand-selected advisors and partners whose strengths lie in the investment, support, distribution, and measurement of brand-funded content. Each of these topics was introduced and discussed on stage by an expert panel, followed by breakout sessions in which small group conversations amongst industry leaders aimed at developing best practices, strategies and tactics took place.

I took the opportunity to sit in on these discussions and hear what the people at the heart of the content marketing world are really talking about, from what excites them to what’s holding them back and everything in between. The following is a distillation of the discussions on the subjects of investment and support into the most salient points necessary for brand marketers to be effective in their pursuit of creating effective brand-funded content for a marketing purpose.

As interruptive messaging becomes less effective, how do we choose what to invest in? How do we evaluate content, formats, medium? This discussion focused on how to make the right investment decisions. There are a lot of choices out there for marketers with constant innovation and an ever-expanding palette of mediums and formats – contributors discussed how to evaluate the landscape, from content types and formats to partners and platforms:

  • Last year, conversations revolved around 6 second video and keeping content short. But in that time, things have changed. Today, more brands and creatives are getting away from social only bite-size video and are focused instead on longer form “legitimate” content.

  • While format and platform trends have changed, the content goal remains the same: to connect emotionally with the consumer.

  • An idea alone is not enough to present when seeking investment

  • ​Doubling down on data at the investment stage brings strength to a pitch.

  • Measuring performance and recycling it back into data collection can provide long-term value for additional projects.

  • Building in a monetization component will appeal to the C-suite as well as improve the ability to measure content performance upon completion.

  • Leading with what you intend to measure and how by setting objectives and KPIs is essential when pitching the C-suite.

  • Be clear upfront – brand-funded content and commercials are not the same, and therefore shouldn’t be budgeted the same way.

  • Setting clear intentions about the content itself will help justify costs, high or low as they may be.

  • The emergence of new creative shops is matched by the number of in-house teams being developed, and with that the internal debate about what gets done in-house and what gets contracted out is likely to occur. The decision can be tough but should be made on a case-by-case basis.

  • Putting TV spots online isn’t enough.

  • Content should be designed for where it intends to live and should be invested in as such.

  • Direct-to-social, OTT, etc. should be planned for and invested in expressly from the outset.

  • The old adage still applies - you have to spend money to make money.

  • Appropriate early investment with intent to spend on amplification is important.

  • Specify your audience.

  • ​Identify your brand’s “fandom” and build an investment and content strategy around it.

  • Although the trend has swung in favor of longer form content, the debate over long form vs. short form content is inevitable.

  • Consider the shelf life of the content being produced as well as the half-life of the distribution platform when making this choice.

  • Short-term content strategy and investment may require an appeal to the C-suite, but times are changing and so is leadership. Long term content plans may very well outlast the C-suite.

  • Don’t forget that brands have power in the rights and production process, more than many realize.

How are brands building their internal teams and how do they expect their external teams to be staffed? How do we look at human capital in the face of efficiency from both a cost and time perspective? This discussion revolved around organizing content, creativity, and how brand stories are planned for and produced in the new world of people, platforms and technology, understanding the opportunities and challenges that executives face internally as much as externally, and ways to frame the best approach for brands:

  • Know your audience: when troubleshooting perception problems, a better explanation of the audience is required.

  • A misunderstanding of the target audience could result in not winding up with an RFP.

  • At the end of the day, people want to work with companies that share their values.

  • Look to find common ground early and establish it.

  • Know the difference between collaborating and meddling and call it out when you see it (constructively, of course).

  • This tends to happen when brands and creatives collaborate in the pre-production phase.

  • The key is to identify and diffuse the situation. Try giving the “meddling” party something relatively inconsequential overall but pertinent in the moment to focus on so that they get their win.

  • The support step can be simple when everyone on board is of the current culture, but often times agencies and other groups are still coming from the world of traditional advertising, television, etc.

  • Brands and agencies alike need to stop approaching collaborations from the television point of view and see the multifaceted new media landscape for what it is. Help them do this.

  • Build great arguments – utilize the news, data trends, examples of partnerships or other brands to help the c-suite and agency partners see the value in and bet on branded content.

  • When outfitting a creative team, pull in support from your personal connections.

  • Seek talent that aligns with your creative and marketing vision for achieving brand-funded content for a marketing purpose.

  • Take control of the situation by exercising aggressive prioritization in order to do the best of what needs getting done more efficiently.

  • When faced with adversity in the conference room, put the consumer in the middle of the conversation.

  • It’s hard to argue with what’s best for the consumer when that should be everybody’s bottom line.

  • When internal team members make their exit, hire digital centric, customer centric replacements that understand the vision for the new media era.

  • In time, the majority of your team will convert to the new media mentality or will have had it upon entry.

  • “Rent with the option to buy” – seek out individuals on a project basis that have the potential (once vetted) to become full-time team members.

  • A well-rounded support system for generating branded content means having the production end that’s flexible and open to the new media model, creatives and writers who can tailor bespoke content for brand-funded campaigns, and team members whose sole focus is on the client experience for troubleshooting.

  • It’s imperative that creatives from both sides of a partnership collaborate.

  • It’s a direct pathway to enhanced communication between partners and often yields the ideas that best fit both ends of the partnership.

  • Make an effort to reduce the number of briefs changing hands.

  • Briefs should be content-specific with budgets, mandatories, etc. tailored to the capabilities of the partner.

  • Opening a dialogue with fewer briefs to focus on will almost always get you to a more desirable result more quickly. -- Next Week: Part 2 ft. the best of "Distribute" and "Measure"


About Jordan Kelley

Jordan Kelley (Content Director, Brand Storytelling) is a writer/editor intent on mapping new media trends and disseminating the most relevant information in the world of branded content.

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