Q&A: Brad Cressman on branded content
September 26, 2013 | David Thomas | Comments
On the eve of its Content Marketing conference in Toronto at the Four Seasons, Marketing‘s editor-in-chief David Thomas discussed branded content with Brad Cressman, who is head of content at AOL/Huffington Post Canada.
Everyone’s talking about branded content but it means different things to different people. You’re in the content business, what does it mean to you?
I would define what “branded content” is by what it achieves – it allows the advertiser an opportunity to tell authentic stories. You can sell a product’s benefits, and limited time offers may have their place, but this is different. If you create interesting stories, not ads, you’ll see that consumers engage with your brand in ways that were previously unavailable and even unfathomable.
It is more straightforward if a brand is already a publisher of content as part of its core business – but what kinds of strategic advice would you offer other brands, to help them execute branded content campaigns that truly engage users?
There are two things you should focus on out of the gate. The first is experimentation. Try the entire social graph, from new players to established stalwarts. Your audience is everywhere and anytime so it can be hard to know where best to reach them without trial and error (just remember to fail forward). Secondly, partner with people who know what they are doing. We have been in the audience engagement game for years, and as a publisher we have spent a lot of time learning the who, when, how and why of what resonates with the audience. Don’t be afraid to partner and get your brand out there where the conversations are already happening.
Brands tend to be cautious by nature. If I’m a brand and worried about stumbling, what are the basis rules to live by that will allow me to minimize that risk?
Keep two words in mind – content and context. There really is no magic answer here because you need to understand you aren’t competing with other advertising. You are competing with pop culture and inputs from a consumers’ own social circles and tribes. The first is authenticity in the content you create – give your consumer some credit. The second is context. Content and context must go together in a way that makes sense to your consumer. Great content is great content and I believe consumers don’t care if it’s from their friend, a publisher or a brand as long as it is authentic, relevant and reliable.
How should marketers measure success of these types of campaigns?
This is probably the most important mindset to change, but also the hardest. To significantly invest in this arena, marketers want to be able to measure success and ROI which is understandable, but the benefits are evolving faster than the benchmarks and they will lose touch with their audience if they use outdated measurements like click through rates. Attention is the new currency, so we measure success through engagement and what we call social actions. When thinking of their message or campaign, what marketer wouldn’t want their core audience to “pass it on”?