Dennis Troyanos (DT): Game Changers Live is sponsored by The Troyanos Group. Retained executive search and management consulting in the marketing arena.
Hello and thank you for tuning into this edition of Game Changers Live. This is your host Dennis Troyanos. Today I am joined by David Brown who is viewed by many as a genuine trailblazer in the content marketing field. David has held senior leadership positions at OgilvyOne and most recently Meredith Xcelerated Marketing where he was the EVP and General Manager. David agreed to talk to me today about the future of content marketing.
David, thank you for joining us today on Game Changers Live.
David Brown (DB): Thanks for having me Dennis; it’s great to be here.
DT: David, you’re one of the most experienced content marketers in the industry. In your opinion, do agency leaders and CMOs really “get it” when it comes to “next generation” content marketing or is content marketing still in its nascent stage in the marketing world?
DB: It’s a good question. It’s really early days so in terms of development stages – content marketing is probably more like puberty at the moment rather than next generation. I think the majority of CMOs believe that content is the future of marketing. Interestingly the majority of those clients, they don’t have a strategy – they’re just starting to develop content to fuel all of the channels. What I’ve heard recently is that the majority of clients actually don’t want to work with agencies on this. They don’t want to work with their ad agencies- (be that digital or their media agency) and I think it’s because agencies are actually misreading what content marketing is about. Agencies view content marketing as a creative exercise or they view it through a paid media lens and that’s wrong. Content marketing is much broader than that, it’s much more strategic. If you ask a big New York agency what content marketing is you’ll probably have them running to Hollywood to try and re-create BMW films, but actually it’s much more strategic, more operational than merely creating film.
DT: So, it’s the early stages of companies and clients finding their way through the maze here. In terms of agencies creating resources (human and technical) around being ready for this onslaught of content marketing – what can they do from a strategic point of view to find the kinds of people that will fuel the growth of content marketing in their organization? Obviously we are in the recruiting business so I am interested in your point of view on this.
DB: Yeah, it’s another good question and a question I get asked actually every day by people in the agency world because to my last point, the clients believe they can do content marketing themselves but that’s overly optimistic. So they are going to reach out to agencies who have content marketing specialist skills and I think what agency leaders need to do is start to develop subject matter expertise for their clients and for the customers of their clients; in my experience the best starting point is making sure they understand the customer journey of their clients and of their brands because content has to be developed in a way which ties back to the customer journey. In my view, agencies should define content as broad as possible. It’s not just service journalism. It’s not just advertising. It’s really everything which a consumer touches, and if they do that they can take a very broad view.
DT: I want to talk a bit more about the customer journey, because if a client is focused on getting relevant content to the consumer at the precise critical point in that journey, it presupposes that they have great insight into that customer, and into their mindset, including the way they migrate around the web, etc. How important is analytics and data in understanding and optimizing the customer journey experience?
DB: Well it’s really one and the same thing. Big content, big data – you can’t have big data unless you have customers engaging with content. So the development of content is one thing. The amount of data which gets thrown off is actually the engine of optimization. So for every content creator you hire, you’ll probably need to hire an analyst or analytics manager to understand how engaging that content is and then to be able to give a brief back to the content creators to create more content which is even more relevant to the needs of the customer.
DT: I was at a client the other day and they had a big plaque on the wall which read; “This business used to be run by mad men, now it’s run by math men”.
DB: That’s right, I think the god of the agency world or the goddess used to be the creative director. It’s really now the analytics director and in pitch settings it is increasingly the analytics director who has the highlight of the pitch. The creative director really fulfills the vision which the analytics team is showing them so, in the drama of the pitch the analytics person is no longer the person who gets bumped at the end of the meeting because they have run out of time, but he / she is now really leading how a story should be told to a client.
DT: When it comes to the hierarchy of things that are important to a client, is content marketing right at the top of the priorities list today? Is content what clients are focusing on when it comes to driving their brands and their consumer engagement?
DB: I think…no they’re not. I don’t think they are at that stage yet. I believe what clients are really focused on is improving their business, business outcomes, more sales, more hard results across the board and content is one of the tools they have. They’re worried about the increasing cost of media. They’re worried about the decline in talent in the agency world, and I would say that content has emerged in the last year or two as a really interesting experiment which is in the process of becoming mainstream, but is actually creating a lot of stress within marketing organizations, because marketing organizations typically are not set up to deal with thousands of pieces of content. They’re set up to deal with TV ads, print ads, digital plans, which are one dimensional relatively simple. The scale of content needed to really fuel relevancy and personalization creates a lot of demands for clients – work flow, legal approvals – these are things that clients are now wrestling with how to create the marketing organization of tomorrow.
DT: Does a client need a content agency of record – is that kind of where the world is going in your view?
DB: I think clients need another agency like a hole in the head! They already have too many agencies and the trend is toward less agencies not more. But clients need at least one agency with genuine expertise in content and chances are that it will be the same agency who has expertise in digital or social marketing. The majority of content is needed in those channels.
DT: As agencies evolve to match and meet the demands of important clients, how does their structure, their framework, their talent needs and their strategic direction morph going forward? If you were the CEO of an agency, how would you structure the quintessential content agency?
DB: That’s another great question. I think the pillars of a successful agency with content at the heart would be a client leader to manage the relationship who is an outstanding collaborator, because to be successful in content you have to be able to work across all disciplines and all channels to allow the content to travel, so your account director has got to be one of those brilliant diplomats who can allow that to happen. You need to have a strategist who is a strategist in content. You need to have a content director who would be the creator of content, and then you need to have an analytics director who would optimize the work being done. So those are the four pillars and they would scale as your business grows, but the pillars would remain the same.
DT: In your experience, where is the content marketing talent of the future going to emerge from? What industry or industries are these people being grown at now?
DB: I think the industries where content plays particularly well is where there’s complexity in the buying process and where the customers or consumers need a lot of information to navigate through that complexity. So the industries that come to mind are the ones where considered decisions or purchases are being made – automotive, insurance, healthcare. The whole emergence of Obamacare has led to a lot of complexity which means that millions of people now need to buy insurance every year and make their own decisions; but there’s a whole language and ecosystem which both the companies and consumers have never navigated through, so that’s really perfect for content to help consumers navigate through. This will reduce the burden of customer service teams on the client side to actually take a phone call to say well what exactly is a PPO or an HMO, deductible and maxing out a deductible and specialty pharmacy – what’s the difference between specialty pharmacy and pharmacy? The kind of questions where there’s complexity in an industry which is really emerging for the first time.
DT: Before we sat down at this session we talked about the fact that you have teenage children. Is this generation of consumers engaging in content at the teenage (or maybe even younger) stages to make purchase decisions?
DB: I think it’s a bit scary to see what’s actually going on. I think that generation is content creators already. And they’re using tools in ways which adults probably can’t imagine. I think what’s interesting is that both young and old people are getting more sophisticated. One of the stereotypical views is that “boomers” are not connected, but the average number of devices which a boomer has is 3 devices, a millennial has 3.7, a teenager has 1 but I think that all generations are getting equally connected. This isn’t a millennial trend, increasingly boomers are getting as connected. I think many people with parents in their 70’s or 80’s have given them IPads, have set up Facebook accounts so that grandparents are connected as their grandchildren these days and I think that’s helping the generations in the middle, Gen X and Gen Y, just to keep up with the Jones’.
DT: Should content strategy connect with brand strategy overall?
DB: It has to, because the content strategy can’t be self-serving. It’s not good enough just to have a great content strategy. It’s got to connect to the business and improve the business results and the brand strategy. It is the bridge to the business goals. There’s a great opportunity for content strategy to really muck up a brand strategy. Brand strategies – the best ones are very single minded, are very consistent. Content strategy is much broader and much more varied. Multiple pillars, multiple stories, multiple topics – but they all have to ladder up to what the brand strategy is, so that the overall impression, and the tone of voice is consistent with how the brand communicates. I think what’s interesting is some of the best brands in the world are actually some of the best content marketers in the world. If you think about companies like Adidas, Apple, Ford – these companies are building really interesting reputations as storytellers and the best brands have stories to tell you. You just have to dig and dig to bring them to life. The advertising agency world is very good at finding those stories. Their limit in the past has just been that they’ve only had 30 seconds to tell those stories, but now the amount of real estate, the amount of channels that are available allow those stories to be told in a much more deeper, broader way – but it all has to connect back to that brand strategy and I think that’s a role for the ad agency to play is to make sure that the content strategy doesn’t go renegade, doesn’t stop recreating brands or creating different brands which confuse the consumer in the market place.
DT: You know, not a week goes by where we don’t spend time with an agency leader who talks about the importance of storytelling. Yet, quite frankly, the art of storytelling is not really as advanced as one would think. The fact of the matter is when we look for marketers who are great storytellers they are few and far between. So tell me… what makes a great storyteller; someone that can convey and engage with brands and connect with consumers? What do great storytellers have that’s special?
DB: I think that the interesting thing about storytellers is that they are great listeners. They are able to draw out the ingredients of what makes a good story whether they’re interviewing clients or interviewing consumers or getting into the fabric of a company. And then they have the ability to turn it into a story which is memorable. I’m a great believer that memorability is the secret of success; if the story can’t be recalled it’s not going to have impact which isn’t going to affect business. But, if the story gets remembered then it has impact for a longer period of time, and I think the great stories get remembered. It’s kind of an obvious point but you’ve got to find a way to tell the story which means that people will remember it the next day, the next week the next weekend so that when they go searching for that car brand or they go searching for that food or that insurance product they can connect the dots and remember it. I think there’s some tricks of the trade to do that – to use sound, to use color, to use texture, to use smell to allow a brand’s story to be remembered. I remember speaking to a CMO of one of the major hotels – hotels brand through smell. So if you go into a Westin – a Westin has a very particular fragrance, or if you go into a Hilton a Hilton has a different fragrance. That’s their brand strategy, it’s the main ingredient. When you walk into a hotel you can recognize it literally through your senses.
DT: Amazing. David, I know you are a trusted advisor to CMO’s. If you were sitting down with a CMO who said- “I would really like your advice on what I need to do to be a more successful leader in the content marketing aspect of my overall Chief Marketing function”. What advice would you give him or her?
DB: I think the CMOs I’ve been talking to who are all wrestling with a variation of the same issue which is the proliferation of content is creating a lot of stress in their organizations which are typically placed around products or channels. They have their product teams, they have a brand team and they have a digital team, an advertising team, a media team and these are all frankly silos and silos are the enemy of strategic content. I think the forward thinking clients are recognizing that this is a moment in time to reorganize and to become a true marketing organization and to be customer facing and maybe rather than having teams which are based on channels or products to have teams based on customers. Procter & Gamble started experimenting with this, maybe a decade ago, where they developed an organization around cohorts around their important audiences. Now I don’t think that structure survived but I think it was the right idea and I think client organizations in the future are going to be based around audiences, around customer groups, and then the channel teams are going to drop down a level and be more delivery based. The strategic work is going to be done around developing insights around customers so the products, bundles, marketing, communications can be developed in a very relevant and collaborative way.
DT: David, The Troyanos Group has worked in the personalization area for several years now. Help clarify for us where “content” falls in the “personalization” hierarchy. Is content a subset of personalization ?
DB: I think it’s a good question that connects to the question what’s the difference between customization and personalization. Customization is what a customer does to make things relevant on their own. Personalization is what a company does on their effort to make something more relevant to the customer. But the future of content and personalization is really one and the same thing because there’s no shortage of content in this world. You can find content wherever you want it for whatever you want it for. If you’re a new mom you get saturated with content. Personalization – taking a new mom as an example, a mom wants to know the relevant content for her baby at a particular point in time. An 8-week old baby has very different needs compared to a 1-day old or a 3-month old. The content needs are completely different and the marketer’s responsibility is to make that content as relevant as possible and personalization is the way to do it. Every direct marketer listening will know that the more you personalize, the higher the response rates. Personalization never reduces response rate. The only question is how much increase it will get for the cost of personalization because personalization isn’t cheap. It’s expensive to develop the content you need to really fulfill a personalization engine but you can find the sweet spot by testing your way through that. To personalize, monitor, see what the increase in response rate is and then make sure that your investment in personalization gets the return on investment. It’s a concept which I call Return on Personalization or ROP.
DT: You’ve been listening to Game Changers Live. Our guest has been David Brown. David thank you for being on Game Changers Live and helping us understand where content marketing is going in the world of brand marketing.
DB: Dennis, thanks very much for having me.
David Brown leads The Content Catalysts, a strategy firm that helps companies and brands establish an effective content strategy and ensures the right content structures are in place, across people, processes and platforms. Prior to this, David led Meredith Xcelerated Marketing, the 2014 Content Marketing Agency of the Year. He can be reached at email@example.com