News & Views

A glimpse into the future of branded content marketing

by Contagious Contributor
Over the past six months, Justin Kirby, VP, Strategic Content Marketing, Tenthwave, asked a diverse group of marketing experts from around the world what they think will be different about branded content in five years’ time and what they think will remain the same. 

The responses range from 140-character slogans to Proustian-length epics, and they’re collated in a report in the newly published Best of Branded Content Marketing: 10th Anniversary Edition ebook, part of a series he curates.  

Kirby shares four of the key themes and some of the insights and opinions from his research:

Branded content at the heart of every marketing strategy

The ability of content to draw people in naturally through entertaining and emotionally engaging messaging to develop deeper relationships with audiences is why Pereira & O’Dell’s Chief Creative Officer PJ Pereira believes more clients will adopt more branded content as part of their marketing strategies. 

Others see this adoption being driven by digital and social activities as well as prominent examples, making the approach less isolated and more integrated, rather than an afterthought whereby engagement is simply bolted onto an above-the-line campaign. 

The CIPR’s president Stephen Waddington even sees branded content moving beyond marketing to become the communication norm across the organisation. But there’s some consensus that more risks still need to be taken before branded content truly lies at the heart of every strategy.

New (open and collaborative) agency models will emerge

Ogilvy Group UK’s Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland thinks that brands need to be realistic about competing with content creators, unless they’re prepared to risk allocating budget that could result in failure. As he points out, the Hollywood system is an example of a few successes bankrolling a large number of duds and also-rans.

Instead, he recommends collaboration, or deviation, whereby the type of content you create is not of interest to conventional content creators, but is of huge interest to a client or group of clients. 

Others like Forrester’s Ryan Skinner predict more agency-facilitated brand alliances with those that understand editorial and programming, such as publishers and broadcasters, in order to produce continuous content rather than campaigns based simply on ideas with legs. 

Some see contract publishing evolving, so that the content creators become agencies themselves. 

There’s also more game-changing innovation foreseen, where the lines between brands, media owners, agencies and consumers become so blurred that there are no lines any more.

Strategy still starts with data, but will go beyond the desk and dashboard to find real insight and opportunities

As Tenthwave’s managing partner Drew Rayman explains, being customer-obsessed and digging deeper enables brands to out-innovate their competitors by offering more authentic, relevant and personal customer experiences. Big data might help you to understand the ‘where’ and ‘when’, but it’s unlikely to show you the ‘why’. 

OgilvyEntertainment’s President Doug Scott also talks about the need for smart rather than big data, and one route to this might be taking a leaf out of UX to conduct more ethnographic-based, face-to-face research in order to help foster empathy that leads to a deeper understanding of the customer.

Measurement, personalisation, optimisation and beyond

Some experts predict that the evolving approach will become more programmatic, algorithmic and predictive, with the likes of Idio’s technology helping to personalise and optimise content across multiple platforms. 

A general reliance on historical data is challenged by those who think that marketers must also give people 'what they don’t know they need', and that’s not something that can be deduced from big data. 

Ian Wright at Tapestry Research points out another challenge posed by the fragmented media landscape, even before brands start looking at wearable tech and the ‘Internet of things’. Put simply, brands are now faced with a dual challenge of not only trying to understand how individual channels or touchpoints work on a micro level, but also how they all fit together on a holistic level to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. 

Pointlogic’s Tim Foley goes further and postulates that market research is about to get turned on its head by the explosion of more data. The upshot is that we won’t be aggregating audiences around their demographics, but will instead be 'valuing individuals based on purchase probabilities'. This would radically change how media works, as well as who should be on the team to deliver and evaluate it.

Plus ça change…

Some developments look likely to remain the same, not least the importance of storytelling – although UM's Chief Content Officer Scott Donaton thinks this changes everything about how brands go to market. 

At the same time, it’s worth heeding the warning from author and analyst Charlene Li at the Altimeter Group: 'We can’t be blinded by the light of bright shiny objects to ever, ever forget that relationships are paramount.' 

It’s also likely that brands will still be struggling to join all the dots as consumers continue to care more about themselves than brands, and switch to new media properties and platforms. 

Finally, experts will continue to disagree about what the future holds, not least whether we’ll ever figure out the secret of branded content success. 

Share your thoughts in my ongoing horizon scan into the future of branded content marketing by joining the group discussion on Linkedin.