The opening panel delved into the online integration of brands, influencers and authentic content, as audiences increasingly shift away from traditional media channels to mobile platforms and social-media networks.
Jim Ribbans, head of business development at Beach House Pictures said that companies need to worry about how good the content is rather than the brand. “The brand should come second,” he advised.
Digital content and collaboration consultant Stuart LaBrooy said that it’s not impossible for brands to do brave things, but the fear of doing so stems from a lack of a way of thinking about it that “feels strategic”.
“It’s that lack of thinking that holds brands back, as marketers are not sure what the role a piece of content plays in the overall picture,” he added. “Existing rules need to be unlearnt due to the complexity of the ecosystem, and a new systematic model to content creation hasn’t been established yet.”
Andrew Trimboli, head of content strategy for APAC at SapientNitro, said that when it comes to content creation, the story cannot be forced onto consumers.
“It needs to come from a place of insight,” he added, “Brands have to be ‘in the content’ but it can’t be the hard-sell positioning, they have to find their place within the story.”
Josh Black, CEO of GroupM Content said that in many cases, that lack of bravery comes from the fact that the people signing the cheque are not the marketers—leading to situations where budgets restrict what can be done.
“Margins are so slim on some projects that you genuinely can’t put your best people on it,” he added. “GroupM recently lost pitch to competitor, who were managing media on a 1 percent margin. What kind of people do you expect to hire on that? A bunch of interns and junior staff?”
Black said that the gold standard for how a brand has successfully built and expanded a branded content strategy is Red Bull Media House, but not everyone can take from that playbook.
“Everyone wants to be Red Bull Media House but a $4 bottle costs like 10 cents to make—the margins on Red Bull will stagger you,” he said. “But everyone else doesn’t have margins like that to invest and build everyone in-house like them.”
The need for agency models to change as well was raised, with LaBrooy stating that it’s important for digital and content experts to be “on the floor from the start.”
“The agency models need to radically change, to enable the multi-faceted conversations that need to happen,” he added. “And brands need to be able to understand what their agencies are telling them. No one has cracked that code quite yet, apart from brands that are going fully in-house.”
Black pointed out the multi-agency collaboration already occurs within the WPP group, such as the formation of Team Blue for Ford.
“There’re like 15 different agencies sitting together in a very small space,” he said. “Eventually there will be inter-group collaborations as well.”
During another panel discussion, Nick Fawbert, managing director at Brand New Media, said that he tells clients that “content fails all the time.”
“But the important thing is to be flexible and fast,” he added. “If something’s rubbish, you don’t put more money behind it, you move on to something else.”