NewFronts: Content Is Great, Attention Is Better

Media Brands That Help Marketers Emotionally Connect with Audiences Will Win

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In the midst of rapid cultural and technological change, the modern marketing world continues to transform in ways that generate equal parts anxiety and optimism. At the forefront of this shift, content continues to emerge as a major disrupter, empowering brands to reach, connect with and energize audiences at scale through the power of rich storytelling and experiences.

Historically, storytelling offered marketers a direct pathway to drive deeper levels of emotional impact with audiences. However, as we quickly pivot toward a marketing reality where attention has emerged as a critical yet increasingly scarce natural resource, we need to evolve our thinking toward a more ambitious construct -- one that embraces multi-layered narratives and experiences that develop over time, designed for multiple screens and feeds, and socially engineered for the participation generation.

In an era where democratized content creation appears to have fully emerged via Vine, Instagram, YouTube and SnapChat (oh yeah, Periscope, too), marketers are now uniquely equipped to build upon and extend the brand story in ways that are truly distinctive, experiential and elegantly tap into the speed and energy of modern digital culture.

This concept becomes particularly interesting as we approach the latest edition of the annual NewFronts. Although the industry canvas continues to evolve for brands, publishers and content creators alike, the fundamental formula still very much resembles the traditional TV upfronts. Yes, we will indeed witness the expanded presence and maturation of multi-channel networks, as well as other emerging disrupters including Buzzfeed and Vice -- progressive, next-generation media brands that continue to strike an emotional and cultural chord with younger audiences.

That said, what's the real distinction for marketers? What will help brands drive real business impact and breakthrough with increasingly elusive audiences? How will Buzzfeed harness momentum from the "Blue Dress" and apply its magical formula of creativity and predictive science to future brand briefs? What first-mover opportunities will emerge from the Vice and SnapChat partnership? On that note, when will SnapChat and Oculus Rift join the NewFront party with new slates of original programming?

As an industry, let's challenge ourselves to get more out of the event -- let's progressively expand our creative horizons with multi-sensory experiences (i.e. sight, sound, motion and interactivity) that fully harness the potential of original programming, emerging technology and shifting audience behaviors to drive greater cultural relevance for our brand partners.

Let's aim for additive brand experiences that genuinely delight and better align with an increasingly mobile-first marketing reality. Let's also push for greater performance accountability, measuring the true impact of these efforts on audience "attention" -- by looking deeper at time-spent analyses, digital high-value actions and of course, the depth of social engagement and sharing.

As we all know, brands like GE, Oreo and GoPro continue to trail-blaze the category, but new players are emerging, reinforcing the notion that we're all one great idea away from entering into this elite class. Airbnb's visually provocative Instagram experience combines beautiful original and UGC photography with simple interactivity to create a new point of entry for booking activity. Sour Patch Kids' ambitious SnapChat strategy embraced the ephemeral nature of the platform and helped it establish its distinctive brand identity with an authentic, influencer-led activation that delivered exceptional social engagement and broad industry recognition.

Ultimately, the performance currency all marketers are vying for is attention, and the brands that emotionally connect and socially energize their audience with experiences that tap into their passions and behaviors will win their loyalty and long-term advocacy. Although the bar has been set high, new market dynamics have leveled the playing field and never before have brands been as empowered to disrupt as they can today.

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