I spent much of the past week on one of my many pilgrimages to New York City – the media capital of the world. From the YouTube Brandcast event that highlighted the amazing effort Google is making to advance video content on the web, to the much more modest dinner roundtable event that my company hosted in the Village to discuss the dynamic between content context and audience targeting, I left the Big Apple more excited than ever to be a content publisher – that is, to be in the content-creation and audience-engagement business.
Why would that be the case especially in today’s increasingly sophisticated “ad tech” world where everyone constantly strives to commoditize the relationship between content and audience? Well, think of it this way. For hamburger lovers, the beef matters – the fact that it’s got a fresh bun, the appropriate condiments and is delivered on time is taken for granted by the consumer. What really matters is the beef – is it a great-tasting burger that leaves a lasting impression or something generic that just fills my stomach for a couple of hours?
For brand marketers, content is the beef – the higher the quality, the better the connection with the consumer. Even better is that with all the brains in the ad tech world, advertisers today get to augment great content experiences in the same way that a great burger spot delivers a more resonate culinary experience.
Okay, so why does content still matter in real terms? Because content creates meaningful brand connections with consumers – the kind of connections that ultimately lead to long-term affinities and relationships between these consumers and the products that brands hope to put in their hands.
How will this happen in an ever-evolving ad tech world?
For starters, it’s about association. I’m no neuroscientist, but I know that when a consumer associates a great content experience with a great brand, there’s a connection. Visa’s connection with horse racing has created an almost default association among fans associated with every horse racing event. I’m not sure I can recall a time when Visa wasn’t associated with horse racing’s Triple Crown or the Breeder’s Cup. Other examples of deep-rooted associations exist in sports between fans and brands – from NASCAR to the NBA.
Content creators need to be mindful of how they enable these associations – literally creating the opportunities for these associations to exist in the form of visual adjacencies so that the audience can experience the brand alongside great content. The “sponsor” model is an accepted approach in sports content that increasingly finds its way being extended into other content verticals like entertainment, music as well as business and finance.
Second, it’s about emotion (or as the digital media industry likes to call it, “engagement”). Association gets a brand noticed by a consumer in the context of content, but emotion is what really gets those neuro pathways firing. How much more do fans think of Visa around horse racing because of how emotionally engaged they are with an event like the Kentucky Derby (mint juleps notwithstanding)? Sports in general may benefit most in this regard amongst all content genres – the passion of the college football or Premier League soccer fan tied to the emotional relationship a brand creates with those sports only solidifies the brand’s place in the psyche of consumers – so long as there is a sustained relationship between the brand and the fan.
This is key. And we’re not talking just blanketing a sport with generic media buys. Brands need to figure out where fans are most emotionally connected – which in today’s media world goes well beyond the TV screen and penetrates new forms of media like desktop, smartphone, and tablet interfaces. Sprite has potentially more opportunity to connect with a young NBA fan via an iPad or iPhone experience than it does through a TV spot. What’s more, the emotional connection created between fan and brand is highly driven by the brand’s creative spot. Developing “sponsorship” experiences with fun, cool and memorable brand messages creates emotional connections with consumers just like content experiences do.
So what about the brilliance of ad-tech then? Is the connection between great content and brand resonance devoid of any augmentation by smarter ad technologies? Is ad-tech limited to the world of direct response advertisers and blind audience buying?
Nope. The exciting future work for many of the ad-tech companies will be exactly in this area that will bridge the value of association and emotion that content context delivers, with the refined measurement of brand affinity creation and purchase decision making. Think of it this way, TV and print advertising has worked for decades not because it was the only option, but because it builds brands by creating “emociation” – an emotional association between a content experience and a brand. These same “emociational” connections will increasingly be delivered by digital publishers and brands across digital publishing experiences, and, with the help of increasingly sophisticated ad-tech applications, brands will deepen the relationships with consumers they value most over the long run.
So chew on that the next time you’re enjoying your tasty, grass-fed beef hamburger!