Antoine De Trogoff: the Only Marketing Left
AND THE BUZZWORD OF THE YEAR AWARD GOES TO… CONTENT.
Over the past few years, content has gradually crept up in our media buzzwords list, now reaching compulsory status as the header on each of our presentations. It has moved from being the holy Grail to reality. It is no longer merely a buzzword as it needs to be clearly defined. The challenge is in dealing with this all-encompassing umbrella term.
This is a wakeup call for brands to stop shuffling their feet and start being more proactive in regarding content as a pillar in their marketing strategies.
In the evolutionary cycle of adapt or die, we are now at an inflection point. Globally, ad-blocking technology grew by 48% in 2015, becoming a major disruptor for digital advertising and costing publishers over USD 22B a year (Figure 1). The issue is of such concern that Google’s Senior VP of Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, considered it a “matter of survival”.
Our consumers are masters of their own online destiny. They have complete control over what, when, and how they consume media. This has triggered the shift from linear TV to Video on Demand (VOD), as evidenced by the rise of players such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple TV, and Rok challenging TV’S supremacy as the main entertainment hub.
MENA is ranked second globally in terms of Youtube watch time, fueled by 90 million daily views from Saudi Arabia. Yet even on Youtube, pre-roll ads are basically an itchy finger contest of who can press the Skip button first. In fact, Youtube is launching its new premium
service, Youtube Red, on October 28th in the U.S, and globally next year. For $10 a month, you’ll be able to watch videos without ads!
This is an existential crisis for our industry and, at UM Studios, we believe the way to tackle it is through a fundamental turning of the tables, by placing content first. Here’s how.
USE TARGETING POWERS FOR GOOD, NOT EVIL
Our industry needs to take a good, hard look at itself. Take a time-out in the corner for using programmatic techniques to re-target consumers with products they’ve already bought, and popups that take over your screen (Figure 2).
Even with more sophisticated tools to target the right audience, irrelevant content to the right people is still an irrelevant impression.
With greater power comes greater responsibility. More information about our consumers should be given a raison d'être, instead of being used to target for the sake of it. Brands need to think smartly about using this capacity to deliver ultra-personalised content that taps into signals of intent. This should lead marketers to develop holistic content plans that map directly to different parts of the purchase funnel with a different set of creative assets deployed.
There is no such thing as a captive audience. All media is earned media. Even when marketers pay for media, we have to earn people’s attention.
Moments for brands to expose their message have become limited. Earning people’s attention needs to begin by serving them content they find relevant.
GET WITH THE TRENDS
If we take a look at the current numbers, we should assume that brands are shifting their budget to invest more behind branded content. After all, the audience in this part of the world (particularly millennials) is ultraconnected, always on, and shows no signs of slowing down. Smartphone penetration in MENA is over 80% (higher than the US) and set to continue growing next year.
Consumers are accessing most of their content on the go, and 42% consider it is important to watch TV and video content wherever they are. The smartphone has become the bridge to content consumption. And yet, 37 of the top 100 sites in the UAE are not mobile friendly, rising to 44% in Saudi Arabia. The hard truth is that advertisers often consider content an add-on to their current plan, and not as a central pillar to their strategies.
Clearly, brands need to be in the right place, at the right time. But that’s not nearly enough. Instagram is now opening its doors to brands. The stakes have never been as high to ensure that advertising becomes part of an organic experience that feels native to the user (Figure 3).
We’ll probably see a lot of brands reusing assets from other social campaigns and treating Instagram like an
extension of Facebook. I think they will come across as clueless parents entering their teenagers’ rooms (Figure 3).
In 2016, start thinking about content first. How can your brand serve native advertising that is subtle, authentic and feels like something your consumers would want to look at anyway?
The debate between short-form and long form is not the focus here. It depends on the quality of what you’re producing. Consumers will hang around for long content, as they did during the Redbull Stratos experiment. But more often than not, they’re looking for snackable content on the go, in the form of 15 sec videos or 140 characters. Old Spice for example continues to win at content-first strategy with their latest Instagram campaign. By using the tagging function on the social platform, the brand is giving users the choice of creating their own version of the story from post to post (Figure 4).
A successful native advertising strategy will depend in part on a solid collaboration between your brand and your publishers. Narrative brands are the way forward. They have the credibility and knowledge to create content that works. Brands need to reinvent themselves as storytellers, but making good stories is not easy. They will have to change the skillset of the people they hire and the budget or timeframe they work with.
LEARN FROM THE COOL KIDS
Brands can learn a great deal from this generation’s biggest engagement pioneers: micro-influencers. Over the past few years, Youtube stars have become household names: Alaa Wardi, Huda Kattan, and others around the region claim a loyal following of thousands from the highly coveted youth segment.
These influencers are well trusted and much more flexible than brands in producing content on-the-go. They tune into the latest trends and can respond within a day or two, adding their own take on things in an authentic manner. Vloggers have a competitive advantage over brands in that they are not trying to emulate the connected consumer; they are the connected consumer (Figure 5). These influencers represent a golden opportunity for brands to collaborate by becoming worthy alternatives to what used to be the pool of potential brand ambassadors. In other words, the power to influence is really changing.
From a consumer perspective these new rules of engagement could offer the best of both worlds. The driver behind a brand and influencer collaboration
has to be an authentic fit for the partnership to work. Consumers can identify more intimately with the brand then, leading to higher quality engagement (Figure 6).
Unless brands become more agile, think smaller, and away from mainstream media; long lasting relationships with the consumers will become more difficult to build.
DON’T HOG THE CONVERSATION
Huda Kattan, at the Dubai Fashion Forward in October, took to the stage to discuss her rise to fame and her social media strategy (Figure 7). The main takeaway from this influencer was: turn the spotlight onto the followers. Customer stories have become more important than brand ones and advertisers need to tackle UGC and start planning earned media the same way they planned paid media.
Also, brands have to create personalised content at scale. A great example of this was from American Express partnering with Digigraph to send personalised digital autographs from Pharrell to fans who live streamed his concert.
Content should become a more participatory experience, inviting the audience into the content creation process. The Hunger Games successfully built buzz for the Mockingjay movie by launching the trailer on Twitter once enough fans had 'unlocked' it with a retweet.
JUST DO IT
For most of these examples, it is often a matter of making the decision to innovate, to test, to fall and get back up taller, to just do it. Narrative brands are already ahead of competitors by understanding the value of a contentfirst approach.
After investing in a more content-led approach, the next step for these narrative brands is to monetise their initial investment. Gopro, for instance, has unveiled its premium content licensing portal this summer. The platform offers high production content. A Creator Community Hub aggregates inspiring images or videos taken with Gopros for licensing in advertising, news and entertainment.
Our changing landscape is certainly triggering the emergence of narrative brands. Brands have to be adaptable in a moving market and embrace Seth Godin’s analysis that "Content marketing is the only marketing left".
Figure 1. Ad blocking
Figure 2. Reasons for using Ad Blocking plug-ins
Figure 3. Instagram advertising
Figure 6. Brand engagement