Brand custodians! Just do a quick check to see if your brand is entertaining, educating or empowering consumers in your target group. Is that the kind of content that your consumers really care for and keep coming back to?
1. How does 'Content that Cares' work for a brand?
The first successful instance of content that cares (content marketing) dates back to 1895, in the form of a printed magazine, The Furrow. The intent was not to sell John Deere wares through brochures and adverts, but, instead, to educate farmers on new technology and how they can use it to become more successful business owners and farmers.
The Furrow did not have explicit brand logos, product features/benefits/advantages or creative, promotional messages. It was put together by an accomplished set of journalists, storytellers and designers, and covered topics that farmers really cared for and wanted to know more about. The goal of the content was to help farmers get better returns from the farm. And the story was clear - if farmers trust you, they seek your advice on every aspect of farming, including equipment and farm machinery.
Is this dated strategy still relevant for today's brand managers?
In a recent content marketing project for a market leader in rural India, we found three key themes that resonate with consumers across regions and markets: One, an overwhelming desire to get out of the village for a better and more consistent life, away from the vagaries of agriculture. Two, a fair amount of disbelief and scepticism in brand and product-specific communication, and an acute display of 'switch-off mode' behaviour towards mass media advertising and activation programmes. Three, we saw a serious quest for cost-saving and easy-to-implement solutions, which could improve their income or quality of life.
The latter two themes would resonate even more in an urban scenario, beset with information overload and trust deficit. This is why leading brands are apportioning higher investments in content that cares.
2. How does one get the content mix right?
Most brands start with the product. Flip your thinking and start with the needs and lifestyle of your audience. How can you improve people's lifestyles, save them money and solve their problems? Furrow is just a great example of doing this the right way; its success is visible in its longevity, as it has lasted the test of time, with its print and online versions.
Johnson's Baby, a brand for infants, distinguishes between the brand communication for its product range and the content strategy for its online property Babycentre.in, a portal that caters to the needs of moms-to-be and new moms. The site is a great source of information for young parents. The paediatrician, a strong 'influencer' in this segment, recommends it to hyper, newbie moms and helps them solve their own, and baby-related, issues. If you are a brand leader, you need to take this position before a challenger brand does that. Study the lifestyle, needs and interests of your consumer, and create compelling content the same.
When you strategise on your annual brand plans, do you also spend time on the content strategy and plan for it?
Spare some serious time strategising about your content strategy which should be well linked across platforms for consistency, and should have a heart - and soul - of its own. Give it a personality. Also weave the messaging as per the relevant content distribution platform. Promote the content, and the platform, as it needs to draw interest. If the content strategy is bang-on it will get its loyal fan following and advocates.
Once you have documented the strategy, the measures will be clearly articulated - enrolments, repeats, time spent, database quality, etc. Regular tracking will display what aspects work well and engage better.
4. What is the role of independent content platforms?
There's a case in point for creating independent content platforms packed with what consumers really want to hear. Consider Kan Khajura Tesan (an entertainment property on mobile by Unilever India) and Hello Krishi (agri-advisory on mobile by Tata Chemicals). Both were created for rural consumers, with the help of content specialists who develop engaging and relevant content.
5. What about my brand's visibility?
Brand Managers are trained to get the branding elements right - a visible logo, a clear brand message, proper placement of brand mandatories, the attractive pack shot and so on. But when you are strategising with content that pulls in consumers and has longevity, you need to trade-off your branding with authoritative and compelling content. Keep the focus on content and ensure that the branding is subtle and minimal. We recommend the 80:20 Rule for Content:Branding.
Worry about enabling, engaging and empowering your consumers with content that cares. This strategy will have far greater pay-offs for the brand. As per Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs' fifth Annual Content Marketing survey for 2015, measuring and producing content are the biggest challenges faced by marketers (it increased from 36 per cent to 51 per cent in a year). And the solution clearly lies in verbalising your strategy, on time.
Brand managers and account planners, hope you are listening... to your consumers.
(The author is consulting partner at BrandStory Consult, a brand strategy and content marketing consultancy)