(Authentic) Content is King Again

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By Scott Zakheim,

In reflecting on some of the prevailing themes and discussions at Landmark’s Dealmakers @ CES events last week in Las Vegas, one particular exchange with my good friend Bryan Specht of Salient Group, resonates the most. I had the opportunity to interview Bryan on CES’s Eureka Park (the main stage for global startups, which was very cool) and he dedicated a lot of time to evangelizing the importance of brands investing in their content in today’s very crowded and noisy digital media environment.

Bryan’s insight was totally on-point: after years of focus on the digital channel “boom” – brands trying to find the most targeted, relevant, and effective channels to reach customers – the ecosystem has finally settled down a bit (fragmentation into consolidation). Now, most brands are very well educated on where to find their target customers (e.g. younger ones) and how to get to them; there are no more secrets about where to find those these audiences — when you’re spending on digital, you’re spending on Google (YouTube), Facebook (Instagram) and Snap.

In fact, in another prevailing theme of Landmark’s CES panels, brands are getting to these audiences in the aforementioned channels autonomously, without the use of their digital media agencies. Technology companies (like our friends at Albert.Ai) are shifting the digital media buying paradigm and allowing brands to leverage AI to buy ads on Google and Facebook while cutting out the middle man. Pretty cool.

Back to Bryan’s point though – – all the major brands have gotten the memo: everyone knows where the millennials and gen Z’ers are hanging out digitally these days (and the X’ers and Boomers too, for that matter). Brands are no longer sneaking away to advertise on new, emerging, cheaper channels where these groups are popping up. The supply side and the demand side of the digital media equation have all finally settled into their homes.

So now what? How does a brand advertiser win?

If everyone’s consuming content in the same place and all brands are spending their ad dollars in the same place, they’re going to have to win the way they did when there were 3 network TV channels: by captivating and connecting with their target audiences through smart and relevant content. This content must not only appeal to the consumer, but more importantly, and directly to Bryan’s point, align with the brands core values. Ironically, the former might be easier to execute than latter.

Brands have endless amounts of data and technology at their disposal, and can quickly test content against specific audiences to get the right message to the right person at the right moment. Consumers demand authenticity and expect the brand to stay aligned with the core values of their products. Bryan spoke to Skittles use of Seattle Seahawks Running Back Marshawn Lynch as a brand ambassador over the last few years: Lynch’s irreverence and non-conformity adhered perfectly to the values of Skittles and their younger, independence-seeking audience. Bryan warned of brands who have gotten too caught up in the hyper-targeting and hyper-optimization game, losing sight of the core value of their brand, and in turn, the authenticity of their message.

The content optimization revolution has spawned a wonderful new ecosystem of technologies that enable brands to create content that appears organic, authentic, and statistically proven to resonate with their desired audience (having data to back you is still good!). Companies like Vidmob allow brands to build video content based on intelligent analysis and testing of content against target audiences. In the paid social media space, emerging creative agency/tech hybrids like Social Method are allowing their brand partners to leverage their content libraries (ads and UGC) to create authentic, sticky, actionable (aka “DRified”) content for social channels.

As Bryan cautioned though, leveraging great tech partners like Albert, Vidmob and Social Method will only get you so far. The onus is still on the brand to make sure the underlying message – no matter how perfectly delivered, no matter how personalized – is aligned with that brand’s core value. Otherwise, you run the risk of something like this.

I look forward to continuing the conversation when Landmark reconvenes its Dealmakers event series @ SXSW in March.

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