Unbound Edition. Meaningful conversations about brand, from Davis Brand Capital.

4 Key Questions: Content Marketing

I recently caught up with Tom Gerace, founder and CEO of Skyword, as he was wrapping up a rare weekend of rest on Cape Cod. He had taken a breather after being intensely focused on closing a significant round of financing, completing a new video platform acquisition, and aligning the work of his Boston, Pittsburgh, Palo Alto and New York offices. His objective in all of it is a bold one: to deliver the holy grail of content marketing – a sustainable, scalable approach to original content. It’s taking an alchemist’s mixture of editorial talent and technological innovation to make it real.

We shared breakfast, just as he was preparing to depart for this year’s Content Marketing World conference, and engaged in a provocative and promising discussion about what’s ahead for CMOs, brand managers and content marketers as the rules of the game continue to change.

Our discussion marks the first in a new Unbound Edition series called “4 Key Questions,” which asks industry executives to consider their work from the strategic, economic, cultural and creative angles.

Patrick Davis: So, Tom, you are headed to Content Marketing World, where registered attendance has doubled from last year and big names define the roster of speakers, from actor Kevin Spacey to Progressive CMO Jeff Charney. What do you think will be the major areas of strategic focus coming out of such a high-profile event?

Tom Gerace: It is a big year of changes. The easy boxes have been checked. Now, 2,500 people are converging because the stakes are high. Marketers must learn very fast how to engage consumers with meaningful experiences, rather than interrupt them with advertising. The job of marketers is not to interrupt, but to build relationships. Content builds relationships. This year’s strategic issue will be how to create content that is original enough, relevant enough and valuable enough to create genuine emotional relevance and resonance across search and social. You can’t buy that; you have to create it. Doing so means that brands will have to take some new risks, like having a true brand voice, a real point of view and taking a stand on certain issues.  Those who do it well can win disproportionate rewards from their consumers.

PD: On that topic of rewards, then, what is at stake economically for the brands that will be at the conference? Many of them spend hundreds of millions – even billions – on advertising. Is there a new cost-efficiency or the need for a major shift in media spend you’re making the case for?

TG: From my perspective, it goes well beyond that. Economics, of course, are reflective of other social shifts, so we need to take a broad view based on human behavior patterns. At Skyword, we see a macro-shift underway. It’s one where the consumer expects something of greater value than the self-serving interests of traditional advertising. Worthwhile, original content has real value. It informs, educates, entertains, empowers.  The consumer perception of that value must now be part of the return, not just calls or clicks. Did a brand use its power and its voice to help create good for consumers, not just get a sale from them? I think our IBM client, for example, does a phenomenal job with their Security Intelligence property. The IT professionals who read it know IBM advances broad understanding of all security issues, rather than pushing IBM solutions. The content creates a more informed group of professionals, who are better ready to serve us all. That is the value I’m talking about.

We are making good early, strides in measuring this type of value exchange.  We can measure the value of influence. We can track distribution and engagement. We are getting much closer to seeing where the right piece of content drives buying behavior. There needs to be and will be a new metrics for the content age.

PD: What we are talking about here is as much about a big cultural shift, as it is a marketing shift.  The consumer is engaging differently as brands become their own storytellers, and as traditional news media is under pressure. Why should consumers trust content marketers to not just be self-serving?

TG: One of the areas where we all have low credibility is when we talk about ourselves. It’s the same for brands. Traditional advertising equates to brands talking about themselves. Brands build great credibility when they engage in original storytelling from the adjacent spaces where they have authority.  IBM addresses security, as I mentioned.  Purina helps families decide what breed of pet is best for them, rather than pushing a certain type of food. Brands that have genuine knowledge to share know that transaction-focused advertising isn’t enough. They need relationship-focused content.

PD: It seems you are saying that content is still king, but that context is the crown jewel.  How do you see that context being created now? What’s possible creatively from platforms like Skyword, or from the in-house newsrooms big brands are building?

TG: Original storytelling is the hardest thing. Not just for marketers, but for all of us. What is our own story? Our unique take on life? That can take – should take – many forms. It is narrative, image, song, data, video, real life, an event. What it is not, assuredly, is aggregation of other people’s stories. I honestly worry for brands that take an aggregation approach to content marketing. Think about it: how can you possibly create a real, valuable relationship with your customer using someone else’s content? That leads to brand conflation, not brand differentiation. Differentiation requires an original voice. Apple will do the best job of this in the world when they release iPhone 6. It will be an event, a presentation, a video, a set of photos, an updated site, media, social. It will be original. It will be an experience. Experiences are content.  And content must create an experience. After all, if your story doesn’t move someone, was it a story at all?  We don’t think so.

PD: Here’s to great storytelling, then. May you share a good one at Content Marketing World.

TG: Thanks so much.


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