Making Branded Content For Humans (Part 2)

In Part 1, we discussed the influences leading to the Customer Revolution and the major shifts in marketing thinking over the past generation concluding with the tendency to misattribute and measure the impact of social content. So, what have we learned? While the act of engagement is unlikely to drive direct sales, social recommendation certainly does.

Through research executed in conjunction with Facebook and Datalogix, we discovered that for many consumer brands engagement doesn’t directly translate to sales.  For the engager, it’s really more an appreciation of the content rather than a sign of their intent to rush out and buy your snack brand.  Liking a brand's posts on Facebook, watching their video on YouTube, or sharing their funny meme is no more accurate an indication of purchase intent, brand affinity or loyalty, than when you wish a high school acquaintance “Happy Birthday”, tell a distant friend that their newborn is adorable, or like that your Uncle Ron had a birthday.

However, while we found that the act of engagement is unlikely to drive direct sales, what happens after the engagement in the form of social recommendation certainly does.  As good content is frequently shared from and consumed by trusted sources and friends, we learn from his engagement that our friend Mark is a fan of GoPro through the video he shared, and we become inspired to record our weekend hiking trips and buy a GoPro a few weeks later.

The purpose and significance of branded content

Why is this important to making effective branded content? Because, at its essence, I believe that branded content – like any artistic endeavor – is meant to serve a greater purpose.  As opposed to many art forms, which could be said to serve the soul of humankind, branded content’s purpose could be said to serve the mind of the customer.  By educating, enlightening and entertaining them, often at the same time, branded content provides brands with the opportunity to tell stories and paint pictures that provide insight into who the brand is, what it stands for and why it exists.

So, what makes branded content different from any other form of content? Any goodcontent will be steeped in the expression of something that motivates, intrigues and/or inspires people. That is what makes it good.  If you buy into the old advertising premise that any brand mentions are good marketing, then certainly any good content that interjects your brand into an experience is a positive thing.  If the estimates are true, about US$25 billion are being spent each year inserting brands into entertainment content.

Sometimes, the placement reinforces the brand persona, as with the exhilarating automotive placements that have become as much a part of the mystique of the James Bond films as the gadgets and villains. Albert R. Broccoli, co- creator of the James Bond franchise, is often credited with the popularization of product placement for his pioneering use of the desirable cars, luxurious beverages and cool gadgets used for over 50 years by the coolest super spy to grace the silver screen. For automotive brands that wanted to portray an ultra-cool, high-performance lifestyle that people everywhere love, it’s hard to beat that sort of brand integration.

In 1974, for the film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, American Motors Corporation paid $5 million USD for the rights to showcase their cars. Since that time, the price to play has steadily increased with BMW spending about US$25 million per movie in recent years.

However, much of that US$25 billion is spent on less meaningful, impression-measured product integrations that aren’t really intended to further brand development as much as they’re meant to reinforce general awareness. When a character on screen takes a sip of a particular brand of beverage, it’s not meant to create love, desire, or even a mild re-evaluation of that drink’s role in our lives.  That, to me, is one primary difference between branded content and brand integration – purpose.

Going beyond Big Data to understand why customers make decisions

Why are we, as businesses, doing this? Does our role in the content expand an idea or further a cause that’s important to us? Is our relationship with the customer better for having put this content into the world? Does it meet the criteria of educating, enlightening and/or entertaining people?

This is where being ‘customer obsessed’ comes in. If good content motivates, intrigues or inspires, then surely the key to making good content is understanding what creates those emotions in people, our customers.

In the September 2015 article 'The Lowdown: 'Joy' Marketing Is Hot Thanks to Psychologists', Ad Age wrote about brands applying psychology to strategic and creative planning: “Soon after Diageo's Johnnie Walker used a psychologist's insights on joy to inform a new whiskey campaign, here comes ConAgra's Reddi-wip, which has enlisted its own psychologist to help sell the whipped topping. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, pitched in on a research survey to, as the marketer puts it, qualify the current state of joy in the U.S.”

The idea of integrating psychology into marketing is nothing new, at least not to the accomplished brand strategist. We live and breathe strategies that bring to life psychological concepts proffered by the classics like Maslow and the contemporary ‘Psychology Today’ bestsellers like Cialdini.

But the future of good marketing is destined go beyond applying basic psychological tenets and superficial research to find opportunities to inject brands into identified behavioural patterns. Copenhagen-based business consultancy ReD Associates defines its mission as “putting a deep understanding of real people back at the center of business decision-making”, and that feels more appropriate for 2016 and beyond.

We’ve defined ourselves as ‘The Customer Obsessed Digital Agency®’ and our mission is to find insights, moments and actionable strategies that matter to a brand’s customers and its bottom line. The customer obsessed explore data, economics, psychology and sociology to get to an understanding of why we do things.

To put it simply, in 2016 and into the next generation, you can’t be a leading brand marketer and not be customer obsessed. More importantly, you will never be customer obsessed without a dedication to all the social sciences that serve to better understand people as people. This includes economics, anthropology, environmental sciences, geography, history, politics, sociology and of course psychology. While that is a hugemouthful to swallow, much less digest, we know that what makes us human is defined every day by many factors impacting our decisions to buy, not to buy, to advocate, buy more and try new things.

Understanding what your customers want, need and care about – and why it’s important to them – will separate the customer obsessed from the lagging rest.

People are infinitely more complex and consumers are wildly smarter than they are often given credit for in the pitch room and planning session. At the same time, they can be wildly predictable if you take the time to test the options and understand the social confluences that help people make decisions.

Today, the data we’re capable of obtaining and mining about our customers is staggering. And that Big Data is an electric spark that can quickly illuminate a room of marketers wanting an easy answer. Yet – even with the advances in analytics platforms and customer listening tools – most marketers are still not going beyond the dashboard and topline demographic profiles to understand their customers’ behaviour. Big Data might tell you the ‘what’ ‘where’ ‘when’ and ‘how’ of your customers’ decisions, but it usually doesn’t tell you the answer to the most important question: ‘why’. 

What are the most important questions your company is looking to answer? For the majority of businesses, they will revolve around a better understanding of your most important relationships (customer), business decisions (product /service offering) and strategic business options (paths to success).

A dedication to collecting and understanding the customer data available to you, and observing it through a social sciences lens, is a strong start to unlocking answers to those tough questions.

Through that discovery of the ‘why’, we will better understand what motivates, intrigues and inspires people so that we can educate, enlighten and entertain them with good branded content.