Content is absolutely everywhere you look, from written materials like articles, to tech platforms, videos, television, games, gifs, memes, AR filters, as well as retail environments, experiential brand events, product packaging and more. With such a high saturation of content and consumers’ ever-shrinking attention spans, creating relevant and engaging content is key for brands looking to cut through the noise.
Research from McKinsey
shows that over half of consumers now use three to five channels on their journey to make a purchase or resolve a request. That journey gets increasingly complicated when you consider the nuances in behaviour and channel preferences between markets — especially within a region as diverse as APAC — and consumers’ increasing expectations for personalised and privacy-safe content.
Producing content for all these channels and touchpoints is something that requires meticulous planning, a deep understanding of your audience, creative finesse, in-depth analytic capabilities, and a framework enabling you to do all this at speed and scale. The insights generated also need to feed back into the process, closing the loop. Enter the content engine.
What is a content engine?
At its core, a content engine is a framework of people, processes, and tools that enables brands to streamline their content creation, management, and delivery in a consistent manner across formats and touchpoints. A content engine can be tailored to each individual organisation’s needs — but one commonality among the most effective and well-oiled content engines is that they’re purpose-driven and goal-oriented.
Taking into account shifting consumer behaviours and emerging channels from the last few years, the best content engines have evolved beyond the classic “create, manage, deliver” directive to become something more all-encompassing, according to Trent Agnew
, COO and head of creative production, APAC, at Tag, a newly acquired Dentsu company. “To me, a content engine now has more areas, more complexity, and a deeper engagement than we’ve had before,” said Agnew.
In his view, a sophisticated content engine — built for our age of content-hungry, channel-agnostic consumers — should comprise “six or seven complex and ever-evolving parts.” That includes the creation, origination, management, automation, personalisation, and distribution of content, as well as analysis of asset performance, all of which come together to achieve brand consistency.
Ideally, a well-functioning content engine should serve a variety of functions, like raising brand awareness, offering different touchpoints, building relationships with target audiences, and providing personalisable and engaging content that can stand the test of time. By implementing a content engine for day-to-day content, seasonal campaigns, and internal comms, agencies can offer brands an easy-to-use content ecosystem to seamlessly navigate through and deliver connected experiences across all touchpoints without having to leave.
For brands creating their own content engines, “the real key is to have multiple streams,” advises Agnew. “From origination, you have to then look at channels across social, digital, and physical while also connecting that online and offline customer experience,” he said. “You’re trying to influence the customer at every point of that path to purchase.”
For a masterclass in influencing consumers across touchpoints, just look at the marketing from this year’s Barbie movie. In an interview with Variety
, Warner Bros. president of global marketing Josh Goldstine described how the film’s marketing team started with a “breadcrumb strategy” to give people “little elements of the movie to stimulate curiosity and that created conversation.” Enabled by paid media like out of home ads and video spots, the team cleverly utilised interactive offline experiences like Barbie-branded photo backdrops and social media engagement to further drive momentum.
Though that campaign eventually snowballed into a cultural phenomenon through licensing deals and organic word-of-mouth, a core factor for its early success was delivering content that demonstrated a deep understanding of its customers. In essence, that’s exactly what a content engine should do — deliver the right content through the right channels to drive effectiveness and therefore, efficiency.
How can a content engine drive efficiency and effectiveness?
With a content engine in place, efficiency naturally follows. Instead of multiple different siloed teams producing their own content for different channels and needs, a single content engine working across the entire organisation can reduce inefficiencies and ensure individual tasks are assigned to the correct teams or partners.
Just consider how many digital creative assets are required for a single global campaign. With an effective content engine featuring a built-in data asset management tool
, teams across the world can access the same piece of master content and localise it instead of starting from scratch, ensuring brand consistency at scale while accounting for cultural differences, content consumption methods, and more.
Furthermore, building in comprehensive performance analysis enables a brand to optimise its content with ease, ultimately contributing to the company’s overarching strategy and delivering value and growth, while accounting for team skills and balancing production and effectiveness in a cost-efficient manner. Because each content engine should be built with company strategy in mind, its output — not only in terms of the work, but also the data collected — will ultimately contribute to that strategy.
While this may seem like a tall order at a glance, Agnew emphasised the importance of making sustainable, gradual changes, especially in an agency-client relationship. “What you have to do as a partner is to continually paint the picture of what evolution looks like. You also have to identify what the true currency for that client or brand is, because it is not always a monetary saving — it might be in the time you give back to their organisation. It may be brand consistency or new channels. No client will be ready for everything on day one. It’s about creating a roadmap together, identifying the challenge, putting a solution in place, and then tracking how you’re achieving your goals,” he said.
The way Agnew sees it, a good brand-agency relationship requires “a level of engagement and open dialogue.” By framing the work as a journey taken together, the right partnership — one based on trust and “the willingness of both parties to try something new” — can help revitalise tired brands both internally and in their messaging.
He shared that one Tag client was able to halve their effective hourly rate and convert an 88% failure rate of assets to a 98% success rate after reworking their process to remove inefficiencies over the course of a few years. “Where the content engine philosophy comes from is listening to the client, responding to them, identifying upcoming opportunities, and aligning task to talent. That’s when the engine really starts to kick in,” Agnew concluded.
At its essence, an effective content engine needs people, platform, process, partners and efficiency, effectiveness, and evolution — all at varying degrees according to organisational needs. Over time, having such a framework in place enables brands and agencies to easily identify areas of improvement or opportunity, feeding back into the content engine and improving its output over time.
Agnew highlighted another client who previously tasked Tag with creating one-hour pieces of thought leadership content. “Really quickly, we started to get data saying that people were switching off at three minutes. And their C-suite asked, ‘What do we do now?’ The answer is to produce three-minute content. Having that data that tells us what people want takes the subjectivity out of content creation and allows us to produce the content that’s appropriate, rather than a passion project that might not align with audience behaviours,” he said.
For brands, implementing a framework that delivers this level of change ultimately creates a deeper connection between brand and agency. “Our job is not just about creating the content — we’re changing workflows for people who have relationships and partnerships, and we need to manage that change programme so there’s no disruption to BAU. A lot of what we do is not just output production, but also process optimisation and the change management programme that sits around that,” said Agnew. “We re-engineer that process where it’s much more tech-led, where the quality of brief directly correlates with the quality of output, but we’re also delivering that great experience to the brand and marketing teams that leverage the service.”
Perhaps the most crucial part of building an excellent content engine is the understanding that it’s not a linear process. By nature, it evolves with the goals of an organisation, the technology available, and the people involved, and its exact makeup and scale will vary from business to business. Whether you’re creating a content engine in-house or working with a content partner, it’s important to be able to balance all the right elements to fuel the engine, and leave room for organic evolution.