“Brands must be made into ‘media properties'”, announced Unilever CMO Keith Weed a couple months ago. Keith oversees the second largest marketing budget in the world at $3 billion, so his words carry a lot of weight.
Brands are in the midst of recasting themselves as publishers. This shift conjures examples of self-serving advertorials, which were invented in the Mad Men era. Brands bought advertising and drafted articles to look like independently written editorial, like this toupee advertorial from the 1960s.
Today many brands default to the advertorial model when thinking about content marketing. They go into pitch mode, touting their features and benefits, whether on a Facebook page, a blog post, or an email newsletter. Content is treated solely as a means to sell product. They treat their audience as if their audience is captive.
Yet consumers can see through this in a heartbeat. And audiences are no longer captive. For content to be worthwhile, it must be worth sharing. It must have intrinsic value that is broader than the features of the brand.
When I worked at method, we published a book called Squeaky Green, a guide to detoxing a home. The only time the book mentioned the method brand was on the cover and there were no specific method products inside. The entire method book was about the philosophy of keeping a healthy home, including tips on buying a vacuum cleaner or carpets that don’t off-gas, topics without any direct method pitch.
Writing a whole book made sense because method stood for a purpose, not just a brand promise. It stood for a happy, healthy home. That purpose allowed method to write a book that was broader than cleaning products. We later serialized the content from the book in blogs and social media. Creating content worth sharing helped cast method as a trusted editor.
A content strategy is rapidly becoming a more important part of any brand identity. Morgan Spurlock parodies this shift in his new film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. His April TED talk is well worth the 20 minute watch, as he makes fun of the world of brand marketing, particularly the evolution to media properties.
9 CommentsJoin the Discussion
Although brand management is too important, their losing sight of customer relations. As you state, they “default to the advertorial model” when customer centricity is what gained brand equity to begin with; it’s as simple as value proposition. The cartoon speaks for itself, well depicted! I couldn’t help but notice only one mention of “Another Satisfied Customer”!
Thiago Esser says
I think this article bellow has something to do with that:
UX is 90% Desirability: “create the right environment for desire and the products will sell themselves” http://t.co/OIOOeAI
Craig Bida, EVP Cause Branding, Cone says
You make a great point that brands shouldn’t take communication about themselves TOO far. But brands should also beware of committing a sin of omission by being OVERLY MODEST.
Consumers today increasingly want to know what brands stand for. In a world in which trust in companies continues to erode (As an example, only 43% of Americans trust that companies are telling the truth about environmental messaging) it’s all about AUTHENTICITY. A full 75% of consumers say it is ok if a company is not environmentally perfect, as long as it is HONEST about its efforts.
So, instead of the shameless self-promotion exemplified in this cartoon, brands should instead strive to communicate in REALISTIC, PRAGMATIC ways what they stand for, what they uniquely do in this world, and where they are headed.
Omar, CEO, Brand Hotline says
Facebook is chock full of self-promoting brands that are seen as such by the people who duly ignore them. The only brands that are really connecting with their fans are the ones who take the time to build a proper relationship. An excellent example is Naked Pizza, check it out. They really seem to have some clued up people manning their page.
Igor Mironyuk says
A voice in a crowd, a hardly one to be heard, Tom…A man from unilever, you are mentioning, is not building brands – he is managing a 3 bio budget, thats a different task…which does not require a marketing accumen…unfortunatley here different skills are in demand. Great jod Tom with your resource, keep on your fresh eye on marketing. And thanks for your job!!!
Everyone thinks marketing is easy. We can all look at an ad and tell you if we like it or not. Good marketers are few and far between. I was disappointed, but not surprised to see the VP of Marketing for a national brand give the deer in the headlights look when asked to state what her brand means. Then her staff proceeded to ramble on about technology and features. The customer didn’t enter into their explanation at all. Spurlock did a far better job of focusing on their customer than they did. They all ought to be fired. The comment above about managing a budget being different from skilled marketing couldn’t be more true.
Josh Resnik, CEO, Wild Idea Buffalo says
This is a really interesting debate that I grapple with a lot on my business — how you balance the pure story telling with making a sale. I think you are right that many brands go too far and all of their information out to consumers is in a push format that consumers have no interest in reading. At the same time, I think you can risk going too far of telling a good story, but not moving the needle. Tom, back at General Mills, we talked a lot about those brands with very entertaining ads that people loved, but nobody could remember what the product was for, and ultimately they were not effective. At my specialty meat company we have several thousand subscribers to a monthly newsletter that our founder (who is also an author) writes. The stories are great, but 2/3 of our newsletter subscribers have never ever ordered product from us. I am not sure what to make of that, I love the consumer connection with the brand, but feels like we need to convert more of those people to customers.
Many thanks for weighing in with your thoughts on this topic! Great points all around this week.
I agree that the balance of storytelling and making a sale is a tough one. For me, the question is less “how” you balance it and more “when” you balance it. As a brand, you ultimately have to do both, but I don’t think you have to do both in every tactic. I think long-term storytelling creates a stronger connection with consumers when there’s not an overt pitch, but there’s a time and a place to make that pitch. Maybe the model is to keep it separate like church and state, as if the brand is “sponsoring” the content it produces. The content can then have intrinsic, unadulterated value, but it is clearly “sponsored” by a brand that makes a sale at other times.
In the case of the Squeaky Green book, method kept the content separate from making a sale (and we relied on other marketing activities for the sale). But, by having that content, it created tremendous “indirect” value for the brand. That approach inspired people like Nathan, a consumer who started a full-time blog (http://www.methodlust.com) called “Method Lust: One Man’s Unsupressed Lust for All Things Method” who went on republish many of the stories we wrote. We wouldn’t have made such a strong connection with Nathan (and benefited from his advocacy) if we hit him in pitch mode out of the gate.
This week’s winners are Craig (on the blog) and Trish (on Facebook). Thanks!