Commentary

Under Pressure: 3 Tensions To Tame In Content Marketing

Insatiable consumer expectations. Massive content creation. The promise of new technology. Brands contend with these forces every day, yet the holy grail of content marketing remains elusive.

A landmark study over the past two years by Accenture revealed that 100% of senior marketing leaders felt that content was important, but fewer than one in five felt their organizations did it well. What’s more, brands are fighting an increasingly uphill battle for relevance and attention, as the average person is exposed to 577 marketing messages a day.

To stay competitive, brands have expanded agency rosters and built their own in-house studios, while making massive investments in CRM, targeting, dynamic creative, and omni-channel personalization.

Despite these well-intentioned investments, improvement has been slow. This year, just 18% of marketers in a Content Marketing Institute survey felt satisfied with the results of their content technology investments. How can marketers gain ground and satisfaction when it comes to these challenges? 

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DCO vs. human creative

Dynamic Content Optimization (DCO) technology arrived with great promise for direct response and lower funnel advertising. By creating, placing, and testing multiple variants of content against one another, it seemed to be the dream technology that could drive personalized creative at scale. These platforms are now a dime a dozen to the point that YouTube is bringing the concept directly to its platform through YouTube Director Mix.

DCO by itself has not delivered on its promise. The best creative is first derived from knowing your consumer intimately and finding a meaningful and relevant way into their lives. Moving forward, marketers will have to strike a balance between their technology outlay and the human ideas that inspire people to action.

Media-led creative vs. creative-led media

In digital marketing, media buying tends to precede creative thinking. Brands first purchase the media placements and then assign the creative team to fill in the blanks. Brands that commit media dollars in advance are extended discounts or savings on those commitments.

But financial efficiency does not always translate to effectiveness. If you’re trying to fit into a pre-determined box, great ideas can lose traction and be abandoned in favor of ones more congenial to the set constraints. Alternatively, creative agencies without media expertise may come up with ideas that are difficult to scale or do not take into consideration targeting and message-sequencing opportunities.

Waterfall vs. agile

It’s surprising how many brands still use what we might term “waterfall” content creation. In this process, the first and most important activation is a TV commercial. It comes with highly stylized assets shot in mass quantity so that they can be used homogeneously across all mediums for an entire season or campaign. Digital and other channels then modify the original assets, focusing on execution rather than original thinking.

In practical terms, this means many assets are often wasted because the original shoot did not consider specific needs of digital, social, or mobile. As a result, new content must be shot separately, adding cost and inefficiency to the process. The same Accenture study found that 20% of all content produced is never distributed.

The other, contrasting approach embraces agility and iteration. Rather than leading with TV, some brands do multiple shoots throughout a campaign with digital mediums considered at the start. Video is shot for digital and above-the-line throughout. They take channel-specific needs into consideration and use data to assess the performance of each element and feed learnings into successive shoots.

Where we're headed

The emphasis on content will continue, even as consumers tune out traditional messaging.  

Brands must fill the gap with richer, more personalized, hyper-localized, and hyper-relevant content. But success is more than just appealing to the consumer as a reason to buy. It’s going to require a revolutionary change in thinking about, and a deep commitment to, how meaningful content is generated, emphasizing a reason to believe in the brand itself.

Marketing leaders will have to deal with loud, contending voices coming from the traditional approach. Tension between meeting the content volume demands and making true connections with consumers will continue, but the marketers who break through will find ways to balance these pressure points and create digital-first content that hits a nerve with their consumers.

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