The proliferation of online channels is changing the way brands create and publish content. Here, Emma Winchurch-Beale of The Washington Post and Shaun Austin of insights agency Future Thinking explain how.
‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ So goes the famous opening line of L P Hartley’s novel The Go-Between. They are words that could be uttered by any content marketer today when considering how stories were published and customers were engaged with in the pre-digital age.
Digital has created new channels, and changed methods of content creation and delivery. Content is also simultaneously required to be more broadly applicable across markets and demographics, and more niche and targeted to individuals. Digital is having an impact on the type and form of content that is being created – indeed, it might be said that ‘the content of content’ is changing.
“Content is becoming increasing visual, so multi-platform, more interactive, and social sharing are key trends,” says Emma Winchurch-Beale, president of the World Media Group and international sales director at The Washington Post.
A consequence of this revolution in content creation is that the writer of the story is no longer the central role it once was.
“Sponsored content, produced by writers, editors, video producers, and so on, are designed to communicate a marketer’s message through editorial-like content, is on the increase,” says Winchurch-Beale. “Great journalists are a prerequisite but we are also seeing a strong demand for video/film teams as brands increasingly see video as an engaging and powerful way to showcase their story.
“As campaigns increasingly include some element of digital, they are also increasingly measurable and it’s important that we should be able to prove their value to clients.
“Data analysts are increasingly important in the mix, not only to help bring the story to life with data that helps add substance and interest to content, but also to help in measuring the success of campaigns against the KPIs we are set.
“Similarly, there are now more designers in content teams as the look and complexity of the content is also developing. Interactions, live polls and infographics frequently feature in some of the best content campaigns.
At insights agency Future Thinking, research director Shaun Austin cites the use of social media among young people as one of the biggest drivers of change within content creation.
“Snapchat and Instagram are making a march on traditional social channels,” says Austin. “Millennials and Gen Z have shorter attention spans and switch seamlessly between screens and methods of communicating, so visual marketing is much more likely to grab attention and be shared.
“Imagery on messaging apps will continue to grow in importance, with memes and gifs joining emoticons as the most common way for people to convey emotion when communicating with one another. Long text messages, ads or posts aren’t resonating. Many consumers now buy into punchy messaging with images and video. With video there are also opportunities for brands to provide more immersive experiences through augmented reality and 360 videos.”
“With Facebook Live, live streaming on Twitter and YouTube set to introduce live video very soon, the opportunities for brands to create engaging, user generated and shared live content will also grow in importance,” says Austin.
“Live sports content shared across social is going to experience a huge surge in popularity, too. Twitter has been busy screening live games of Thursday Night Football for the NFL, while there are rumours that a Premier League football game will be streamed via one of the online giants very soon.
“With this shift in audience behaviour, the opportunities for brands to put more budget into social and online, over TV advertising will grow.”
As channel proliferation continues, and visually-led content begins to come to the fore, a big question for marketers will not just be about what content to create, but how best to deliver it. Content campaigns, Winchurch-Beale says, shouldn’t be planned around the type of content that advertisers are interested in. Instead, she says, strategies should be built in light of “how that content is going to be consumed, which platform it will be accessed from, and ensuring that it is optimised for that platform in order to build better impact”.
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