A Content State of Mind: Don't Get Customers to Listen, Get Them to Care

Three Strategies for Marketers to Shift Their Thinking on Ads vs. Content

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'The Most Interesting Man in the World'
'The Most Interesting Man in the World'

Very few words in the advertising lexicon create more passion and confusion than "content."

The difference between advertising and content comes not from its media type, the channel where it was deployed or anything else about the work itself -- it comes from the intent behind making it in the first place. Ads, no matter how compelling or entertaining, are primarily intended to be interruptive paid media placements to try to catch consumer attention at a moment when it has no competition, whether that's a commercial break, a pre-roll or an interstitial. Content, however, is created to compete for consumer attention in an environment with other unbranded content, like a social feed, a content site or even regular TV programming.

Now the split between ads that don't need to compete for attention and content that does is disappearing. Unless a brand's advertising dollars are being spent on something that can earn consumers' attention, those media dollars are being wasted. To take advantage of this trend, marketers need to shift their thinking from "Why will they listen?" to "Why on earth will anyone care about this?"

Here are three tips to make shifts in content:

1. Listen to what consumers are saying.

The first step is stronger consumer insights -- not just broad strokes of demographic and psychographic information, but also detailed, insightful tribe analyses. These not only reveal what consumers think about a brand, but also their passions, dreams and feelings about prevailing cultural issues of the day.

Traditional modes of research remain valuable, but social listening and search-based research can allow marketers to hear consumers in unguarded moments. People will use a search bar or a tweet-compose window as a type of therapy to share things they wouldn't in an ethnography interview or online survey.

It's critical to understand the types of content and channels an audience tends to consume -- is there a prevailing tone, interest area or platform the audience favors? Ultimately, brands that succeed in content creation are brands that are utterly obsessed with their consumers and the content they prefer.
For example, Old Spice recently partnered with Imgur, a consumer hub for content that drives internet pop culture, providing image-hosting for Reddit, among other places, where memes and trends are born. Brands have underused the platform in part because its tone is freewheeling and sometimes absurdist. Because Old Spice embraces that tonality in its work, it could align the types of content being produced with the forum to create work that resonates perfectly with the community.

2. Define a brand personality.

Many marketers who think they have a deep and nuanced understanding of their brands have often seen that manifested only in traditional advertising. Bringing a brand to life in digital and social requires a fully developed brand personality that marketers can use to react and respond to consumers in a lifelike way. This will also help marketers develop a consistent brand voice and visual aesthetic across different platforms. Consumers gravitate toward brands with cohesive values and voices.

This personality work begins with understanding the role a brand plays in people's lives and how it makes them feel. Brands can then develop an archetype character to be shared with everyone responsible for communicating on behalf of the brand.

Often brands with strong personalities invent spokespeople that carry the brand tone of voice forward. One of the strongest recent examples is "The Most Interesting Man in the World" for Dos Equis, whose tone was so compelling that the ads Dos Equis paid to interrupt people with became content people sought out. Today "The Most Interesting Man in the World" continues to be a pop cultural icon, with people creating memes using the "I don't always … but when I do …" construction.

3. Go ahead, get all emotional.

Marketers then need to make entertaining, provoking, educating or emotionally moving consumers a communications priority. This is a big shift in mindset for marketers that focus efforts on things like key message repetition and product romance shots. These communications often aren't enough to break through and resonate with a disinterested and distracted consumer.

Traditional marketing focused on proof points that showed the brand could deliver what it claimed. But in today's environment, crowded with products and brands that all offer compelling reasons to believe, the emotions that brands inspire in people come to the forefront and are imperative. The key differentiators for a brand are the values it espouses and the emotions those values inspire in consumers. Figuring out that feeling for a brand and letting it lead communication is core to creating content that will draw people in.

Our client Nestlé, for example, ignited authentic social conversation about weight and value perception among women with an emotionally powerful video that inspires women to weigh their accomplishments rather than pounds, helping consumers to see Lean Cuisine in a new light.

Remember, to get to great content, rather than ask "Why will consumers listen?" start asking "Why will consumers care?"

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