And the more we’re involved in the branding and content worlds, the more we’re seeing a distinct trend: clients tend to be preoccupied with brand evolution, or creation and they undercook branded content.
Defining and creating a brand is a great challenge. There’s lots of research and contextual understanding required. Heavy chin stroking and workshops fill flip charts, digital wipe-boards and post it notes.
Because it’s relatively easy to create a brand in a vacuum isn’t it? It’s interesting and collaborative and not subject to the normal pressures and scrutiny of the day-to-day business. The brand process is akin to a pregnancy. There’s a nine month preparation period before the action actually starts. And this isn’t wrong, it’s just important for all protagonists (client and agency staff alike) to remember that that giving birth to a brand isn’t the end of the process - it’s the beginning.
Not wanting to repeat myself, but we spend too much time on the branding and not enough on the planning of branded content. Brand gets all the attention and content is kicked into the long grass. If brand is the best-selling debut album, content arguably suffers from the difficult second album syndrome.
Like that make-or-break debut album, it’s important to get the brand right. It should be underpinned by ownable and distinctive values. It should be built off a powerful language platform and it should be executed beautifully. Of course it should. That’s what makes the next stage - arguably the more important stage - easier to plan for. The creation of branded content is a huge aspect of modern marketing. And most of it is digitally focused.
It’s understandable that clients fall for the creative process of branding, and overlook the ‘publishing’ aspect of content creation - or consider it the easier of the two challenges. But it’s not. Content is hard. There’s sometimes a belief that corporate comms or HR will take care of this stuff - “we just need to give them the brand platform”. This is wrong, and we as the agency partner must take a stronger line with our clients to stress just how challenging it can be to create really good branded content.
I look at the process we’ve been through ourselves and it often serves as a benchmark for the clients we’re working for. We have three core elements to our branded content creation:
- The blog: written thought pieces focused on our areas of expertise.
- The podcast: a discussion focused on our areas of expertise.
- Case studies: examples of our work displayed on our website - written in a way to showcase our areas of expertise.
When I write it down it looks really simple. It is really simple. But it took us years to get to this level of clarity about what we produce, for whom and with what cadence. That’s what your content strategy should be.
It all pivots off this content strategy statement which helps guide anything we want to publish…
To demonstrate the strategic thinking behind our creative work, we’ll provide useful, straightforward content that helps marketers make better decisions and that positions us a useful partner in the future.
This keeps us focused. It stops us talking about us - which is a familiar agency pitfall “look at all the lovely creative we’ve done” - and flips it on its head. We talk about the stuff we think is keeping our clients up at night. From a human nature point of view - if we demonstrate understanding and recognition of their challenges - the chances are they’re going to listen up.
This begs the question - who creates the content? And it’s a good question. Our view is that you can’t subcontract the important stuff. It’s a perfect forum for thought leadership, opinion forming and provocative points of view. These can only come from the more mature, experienced people within an organisation.
There’s also a school of thought that says you can hire a 22-year-old graduate to pump out content onto social media and that equates to ‘content’. Well, you can. And it does. But the challenge is it won’t be as rich or as engaging as the content coming from the senior team who are fully engaged in the strategy. It’s likely a cultural issue within the business, so our advice is get senior members on board early and committed to supplying good quality content. Those recent graduates and others within the organisation are valuable as editors, ideators and technical troubleshooters – by all means, make it a team effort. And once you get into the swing of things, it’s actually hugely fulfilling. There’s something very satisfying about setting out your thoughts in a written piece - it helps crystallise your own views and thoughts as you write.
So there you have it. An admission from a brand consultant that the value is in the content that’s built around a brand, not necessarily in the brand itself.