Watching Coca-Cola outline their move from ‘creative excellence’ to ‘content excellence’ in a series of videos felt like a seminal point in the evolution of content marketing.
In it, Jonathan Mildenhall, the snappily titled Vice-President, Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence, and the person responsible for leading Coke’s global creative vision, explains the changes he wants to make in a fascinating insight into how big brands see content marketing. I would urge anyone interested in how content is used as a marketing tool to spend the time watching it. If nothing else, it’s a well-executed piece of content in its own right.
It does, however, have some passages which descend into marketingspeak and is approaching 20 minutes of your time if you watch them both.
For those who prefer their knowledge in condensed form, I’ve put down the seven lessons we can draw from the content plan put forward by the world’s number one brand.
1. Big Brands are Content Publishers – You don’t have to be a traditional “media” organisation to publish content. There is a historical precedent for this with brands from the likes of Nike (think the classic 1998 Brazil footie ad at the airport) and Pepsi (think the 1980s high-profile ads with Madonna or Michael Jackson), but it is now more commonplace, diverse and large-scale. A glance at the comScore rankings shows Walmart, Amazon and Sears in the top 50 US online publishers. Red Bull produces web TV, web radio, online games, news and much more across over 900 domains worldwide. Coca-Cola is not looking to follow the 1990s Nike model, but a more engaged, diverse and democratic content plan. Brands want to use content to engage with, not dictate to, their customers.
2. Engagement not Interruption – Marketing has moved from interrupting the audience – in the 30-second advert or the direct mail shot through the letter box – to engaging them. Content is at the heart of this transition, allowing big brands to build trust and awareness across their product lines.
3. Content is Collaborative & Complementary
– The production process is not done in silos and traditional divides are dissolving. First, content is collaborative: the content team spans editorial, post-production, marketing, SEO and social media experts. It also includes the audience. Professionally produced content sits alongside user-generated material, while ideas and inspiration for content can come from inside or outside an organisation. Second, content is complementary. Different pieces of content are part of a wider vision and a broader structure. You might produce a video, publish a blog post on how it was made and run follow-ups based on the reaction on social media, but they all work around the central message.
4. Content Production Does Not Finish at Publication – As Coca-Cola puts it: “Iterate, iterate, don’t just replicate.” Even if a piece of content is part of a bigger batch of similar material, it will be unique in the way it is produced, published and disseminated. When content is published, it permeates different channels, formats and media, providing a wealth of information. Your next move will be shaped by this ‘live’ process, as you mine the data from your initial publication and publish fresh, unique material.
5. Content is Changing Organisations – At a structural level this is about the need for a more dynamic, collaborative, project-focussed approach to content, instead of the traditional segmented departments. In terms of the nature of content, the ‘live’, interactive nature of publishing also requires a different approach. You can no longer ‘switch off’ your content, ‘pull an advert’ or control your brand’s public reception. Instead you have to listen and iterate.
There is also change at a more fundamental, cultural level. The mission statement is making a comeback via the magic word ‘engagement’. A company’s content reflects its identity and vice versa. Creating an organisation which has an authentic, consistent and coherent persona is crucial to engaging with customers online and offline. Take a look at SEOMoz’ TAGFEE ethos
, which covers everything from their blog posts to their venture financing initiative
for a great example. Coca-Cola’s aim – or ‘North Star’ in their language – is to make the world a better place and this is intended to inform every aspect of their content and their organisation.
6. Big Brands Still Think Strategically – If content is changing organisations’ make-up and, in some instances, their identity, it is not because Coca-Cola’s executive board had decided to wear flowers in their hair and set up a commune. Content is another tool to be used in corporate strategy. It is fascinating to see the language of engagement (“big audacious impacts”, “creativity”, “bravery”, “conversation”, “creative culture”) married to the language of investment (“resource”, “leverage”, “qualitative testing”). In their 70-20-10 analysis, which suggests 70 per cent of content is ‘low-risk’ ‘bread-and-butter-content’, 20 per cent is more innovative but still with broad scale, and 10 per cent is high risk, which is brand new ideas, Coca-Cola explicitly apply investment principles to content development. Content is part of a big brand’s corporate strategy, not something that exists outside it.
7. Content Marketing is Long-Run
– Content marketing is not about plugging a hole but building foundations for lasting success. Coca-Cola’s vision might not be the 100-year strategic plan
some Japanese businesses go for, but its 2020 vision is longer range than Stalin’s five-year horizons.
Nathaniel Bertram, Head of Content