Stop Thinking Content First
In an age of voice activation and intelligent assistants, developing an integrated connections idea and identifying the need for creating content is changing the publishing process, says UM's Rob Hersey.
There are 95 million photos and videos being posted on Instagram every day, 300 hours of video content being uploaded to YouTube every minute, and 3 billion snaps created per day. It’s safe to say there’s no shortage of content which begs the question, does the world really need more?
As Creative Director for UM Studios, creating content across some of UM’s biggest brands, this may seem like a pretty radical question. On the contrary, it’s not about creating less content, it’s about making sure we are identifying the right approach that will help inform the type of content we are creating.
With so many channels and formats it’s easy to go straight to saying things like “let’s use influencers,” or “let’s create a series of long form vignettes on YouTube” or “ooh, how about 6 second videos? Those are slick!” The real challenge is identifying why we need this content to begin with. What’s the powerful insight or idea that can inform the role of content? With that said, if we’re leading with content first, we could be missing the larger point – and critical steps in between.
Upon writing this, I happened to attend an Advertising Week panel discussion called “Substance Will Be Viral” where Armando Turco, General Manager, Vox Creative, Jeannie Chu, VP Global Brand Content for American Express, and Alex Bodman, Global Creative Director for Spotify discussed this very issue.
In the session, they addressed the fact that there is a disproportionate amount of poor content to premium content and that maybe we should reevaluate both the volume of content, and its purpose in the first place. It was a serendipitous moment of “Yes! This is exactly what I’ve been taking about. I’m so relieved I’m not the only content person that thinks this.”
It was particularly insightful to hear Armando voice his frustration with the way many brands are currently briefing content publishers. Often publishers receive an RFP that focuses too much on the assets that need to be created as opposed to the idea behind it. I’m sure most content publishers or agency partners have received a brief at one time or another that sounded something like “we need one :90s video, two :30s cut downs, four :15s teasers and eight social posts, and here’s our campaign.”
This was concerning to hear considering that the primary focus of my job is to develop and identify ideas that will help inform the need for content, the type of content we should be creating, and who are the right partners that can help create this content. Coming to partners with an idea that they can build off of rather than a shopping list of assets always produces better results. We have to get to a better brief and treat content partners like partners – not simply asset creators.
However, developing an integrated connections idea and identifying the need for creating content is a different process than developing a tagline or brand campaign. Sometimes content is needed to simply amplify the core campaign message, sometimes content is needed to translate the campaign idea into the voice of the audience, sometimes there’s a gap in content that needs to be filled, or sometimes content is used to demonstrate the elasticity of the idea. Taking a content first approach without considering the role it plays often falls into potential danger of becoming just a longer form version of an ad that’s less to the point.
If there are two guiding principles in the quest for content creation, the first one is to identify a powerful insight and idea that is big enough to transcend content format and work across various lengths and channels.
As Alex Bodman from Spotify said “if you have a powerful idea the content opportunities become endless.” Trying to cut down long form content into shorter formats or retrofitting content intended for broadcast into social can often be challenging, but a big idea should be able to stretch beyond traditional content formats (:60s, :30s, :15s, etc) and into new and emerging mediums (:06s, voice, experiential, etc).
The second guiding principle is to identify “what do we want the brand to do” vs. “what do we want the brand to say.” People expect more from brands than ever before and with more media channels they expect brands to be shaping culture by “doing” things not just “saying” things. With that said we need to ask ourselves “what is it that we are doing as a brand that creates rich content opportunities and stories that need to be told?”
When Spotify launched their “I’m With The Banned” campaign they could have easily just said, “Hey, let’s create a branded content series that tells stories of artists affected by the travel ban.”
If they did, I’m sure those stories would have still been compelling. Spotify however, didn’t just tell stories. They did something powerful by bringing two artists together that were affected by the travel ban from different cultural backgrounds to Canada where they could collaborate on original songs and unite their two fan bases over such a polarizing political issue.
This wasn’t just a powerful act, it was a powerful idea that manifested itself in many different content formats and media channels. Big ideas that put brands into action doesn’t just capture attention, it creates better and more authentic content.
So, is it really a question of creating better content or better ideas?
The answer is probably both but it starts with establishing a big idea that drives a clear vision for the role of content to begin with. After all, in today’s fleeting world of content abundance with a billion hours of video consumed on YouTube everyday it’s hard to remember all the content we consume on a regular basis, but powerful ideas are tough to forget.