content, creative, industry

Creativity In Content Marketing

I was recently invited by DMAi to speak at Global Marketing & Advertising Week (#GMAW15), on creativity in content marketing. Below is an adapted version of that speech.


A few years ago, when I was working at one of India’s most well-known content marketing agencies, life was very different.

Back then we really struggled to sell the idea of content marketing to clients. The idea of engaging audiences all-year-round with words, pictures and videos, with metrics that were tough to define, was always a struggle to sell.

We failed more often than we succeeded. But we succeeded just often enough to help bring content marketing into mainstream conversation.

We’ve come a long way since then, I think. We’re all working hard to come up with content to engage audiences in a connected world. To ensure that we look at all our communication through a content lens. To make it part and parcel of our marketing communication DNA.

We now have a few years’ experience behind us; we’re learning through trial-and-error and experiments that often fail; we’re learning from markets that are ahead of us; we’re getting better at this game.

So what do today and tomorrow hold for us?

A couple of years ago, I’d begin every brief by sitting down with my pen and scribble pad and saying, “Right. Let’s lead with with a blog post. That means I’ll need some social media posts to get people to it. Ooh, a hashtag would be nice, let’s do one of those too! #IsThisHashtagTooLong”

On my worst days, I’d even write down “run a contest” on that sheet of paper.

I could then walk away feeling pretty satisfied, pretty nice about myself. Time for a coffee break.

But today, when I’d look at that sheet of ideas the night before a presentation, I’d start sweating.

Because all of these have become hygiene. Because having a blog, or creating a hashtag, or running a contest, isn’t a content marketing idea. It’s become a format, another box you just tick.

Today, brands like yours are churning out this kind of content day in and day out. The Internet is flooded with it. As are my social media feeds. We’re already churning out content calendars and figuring out how to spark brand conversations during the Cricket World Cup.

It’s come to a point where each brand sounds absolutely no different from the next…and I can’t tell which is which just by looking at the content. Which, as you’d all know, is really not a good thing.

And so I ask myself, “In this sea of infinite content, where on any normal day of the week, 8 of the top 10 trending hashtags are brand conversations, where each headline is more click-baity than the next, what the hell is going to make my brand and my content really stand out?”

I’ve always believed that content is the ‘pull’ of marketing communications, rather than the ‘push’.

I believe that good content gets people coming back because it entertains, it inspires, it touches an emotional chord, it makes them rant and rage. Or it simply provides a utility or gives them information or education that they weren’t getting before.

Good content is also immensely shareable – because of the reasons I mentioned just now.

One huge, and often ignored, role of content is to generate positive earned media for the brand. There are huge synergies emerging between content marketing and PR, not just in terms of story dissemination but also in terms of story packaging.

I also believe that one can’t restrict content to words, pictures and videos that just wash over people sitting in front of a screen. Interactivity is key. And technology is the answer to immersing audiences deeper into a brand. Apps, games, platforms, devices – they all have a role to play in creating great content.

So, with all those filters in my head, I go back to “How do I stand out?”

The answer I’ve got to over the years is this:

Actions speak louder than words.

It’s a simple human truth, right?

We judge people – our friends, our leaders, our doctors, our wedding photographers – by that yardstick. By what they do, not what they say.

It’s the same for brands.

In a parity environment, what a brand does matters more than what it claims to do.

So, at this point in my life and career, I look at it this way:

Advertising is what you say.
Content is what you do.

Now, what do you mean by ‘do’?

I could, as a content marketer, ‘do’ a video. I could ‘do’ a blog post. I could ‘do’ an influencer engagement or ‘do’ a tweetup.

But that’s not what I mean. That’s just playing with words, right?

To me, ‘doing’ means refocusing on your core brand promise, and then living up to it in front of your audience. In whatever manner works best.

It means proving, every day, that you’re true to your words and promise. That you mean what you say.

It means focusing less on changing perceptions by making a claim; and more on changing perceptions by fulfilling or exceeding expectations.

It means being less of an interruption in people’s lives; it means positively impacting people’s lives through your products, services and brand.

One way brands can stand out in a cluttered, parity environment is to create content that proves – honestly, credibly and creatively – what they stand for. And thus start owning that space.

Across any screen you can think of.

Let me show you a piece of work from one of my favourite content marketing campaigns. Chrome Experiments were begun to push the limits of Web technology, to push the limits of Google’s Chrome Browser. And, to noticeably demonstrate how good the Chrome browser is.

The Chrome team didn’t just talk about being faster, or having more features, or being more developer-friendly. They just kept creating pieces of content that proved it. Over and over and over again. And today, many Chrome Experiments are being created every day by developers all over the world, who are not Googlers. Just people pushing the limits of what the technology can do.

One of my favourite content marketing brands in the world is Red Bull. Everyone knows that they stand for giving wings to athletes. But they don’t just support these athletes morally, or emotionally or financially. They create platforms for them to shine. They identify athletes, work with them and then co-create content that makes those athletes world-famous.

It’s easy for a food industry brand to stick to the conventional food industry metaphors. Blendtec has always been different. They have a core brand promise; they stick to it; and then they deliver on it in the most amazing, culturally-contextual ways possible.

India’s favourite beer is known for their baseline – The King of Good Times. Kingfisher have embraced technology to create content and experiences that offer a memorable good time to their fans.

It isn’t just B2C marketing that can benefit from this kind of an approach. Every year, around Christmas, the Publicis Groupe create a Christmas card that they put up online. Last year’s card was an interactive experiment designed to entertain – and also to subtly prove Publicis’ strengths in creative digital marketing.

I’ll end with a story that’s very close to my heart. Everybody’s talking about the great Indian e-commerce boom. Billion-dollar valuations, transactions-per-day, the payment ecosystem and an ever-increasing user base. Nobody – I repeat, nobody – was talking about the wheels that make this economy turn. Last year, during GOSF, we decided that we should do something special for people nobody cared about. To get them into the conversation and recognise their efforts. Because we believe that the web exists to improve the lives of all people.

So, the next time you brief your agency on a content marketing campaign, don’t ask them what you can say.

Ask them what you can do.

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