From advertising contests to journalistic pieces, from companies to agencies, everyone is emphasizing the importance of content done right. Both “sides” of the communication world (companies and agencies) are hiring or contracting talented project-based content creators who can speak their target’s language and feel and understand them better than anyone.
By Romanita Oprea
Over the last two-three years, marketers and advertisers have repeatedly stressed the “content is the king” message, saying that content marketing is what fuels companies and bring them to their target’s attention in a very close and personal manner. The content is adjusted to the needs and wishes of the public, which dictates the way brands should behave and interact these days. Creating the right content for the brand and target helps agencies and companies gain long-term results and the hearts of their consumers, they say. Moreover, in the case of a website, good content engages the visitor and is useful for the conversion of visitors into customers.
How much has the importance of digital content grown in the last few years? According to Ion Cojocaru, content director at MRM//McCann, branded content resonates extremely well with consumers, achieving higher brand recall than traditional advertising. Viewers are already accustomed to blocking out the disruptive promotional videos that play before their selected content. “Branded content, on the other hand, is something that consumers intentionally seek out. Accordingly, branded content outperforms traditional advertising. Hence brands have begun to take note of the incredible power of branded content and their marketing budgets reflect that change. It is no secret that globally brands are spending more on branded content production rather than TVCs for example,” said Cojocaru. Why? Because, he points out, when people are watching Netflix and HBO they stop scrolling down their social media feeds. They have become addicted to quality content and that’s the challenge brands are facing now.
In her turn, Adina Ionescu, communication manager at Group Renault, emphasizes that ten years ago, people spoke about the digital divide, the gap between the nations accessing technology and those that didn’t have the chance. Nowadays digital has conquered all, including people, but to different extents. Just the act of going to a concert shows people’s different perspectives on digital. “Here they are: Generation X, enjoying the moment, taking photos, knowing lyrics by heart and singing along with their favorite band. Checking in on Facebook. Trying desperately to glimpse the stage, amid a myriad of mobile phones raised up, ready to stream live, and a crowd of Gen Y or Z with their backs to the artists, in order to pose for the best selfie. Of course, for them Insta and Snapchat are the only acceptable conversations,” outlined Ionescu.
Moreover, in Romania, the most used device is the mobile phone, and the internet penetration rate is extremely high. “Digital refers to a whole new lifestyle, ruled by the smartphone and influenced by big data targeting and tracking. Both internet-born teens and digital immigrants – Generation X – are scrutinized when using digital. Their preferences are translated into insights through robotic process automation,” said the Group Renault communication manager.
According to Sebastian Lüba, head of social media at Kubis Interactive, the simple existence of a brand is now conditioned by its presence in the digital world. “But having a profile, channel or some media banners is not enough for consumers to acknowledge your activity. Original and innovative content, real time marketing, influencers – they are all part of the mix brands have on their plates in order to make their voices heard. Luckily for everybody, content and creativity are infinite and so are the opportunities,” said Lüba.
Moreover, brands are expected to be responsive and to offer dialogue on demand, no matter the topic. “In terms of corporate content, stakeholders ask for meaningful stories, compelling arguments, easily understandable visuals and videos. “Google me” is already passé; our photos must be Insta-friendly or else. Recently I was a juror for an international PR competition where a GenZ-focused campaign was highly praised because it had introduced an offline experience about a product to an internet-born audience. I felt somehow puzzled because trying something real turned out to be innovative for a whole generation of wonderful people, who could not imagine life outside their digital bubble,” commented Ionescu.
The power of a writer
But not everybody can be a good content creator and bring real value to a campaign or website. That’s part of the reason companies are sometimes willing to pay a lot of money for a certain influencer that knows how to draw his / her audience the right way towards a certain brand and create personalized content for a certain campaign or activation. Or hire writers that aren’t the face of the campaign, but whose talent is impressive and also creates value for the brand. Because if the content is relevant, powerful and enjoyable, it will stick and be remembered.
Which invites the question: what qualities does a good content writer creator need? “Storytelling. Storytelling. Storytelling. I can’t emphasize enough the power of storytelling in branded content. Since the beginning of time people have fallen for stories. Storytelling is a very powerful tool for content creators. They can influence people’s emotions while promoting the brand’s values and get those precious likes and shares. The value of branded storytelling lives on the edge between the hook, tension and the insight the story is built on and how meaningful it is for the brand or product value. Everything else centers around it,” outlined Cojocaru.
And, although there are no recipes for a perfect content creator, Lüba believes that there are storytelling creators, comedy content creators, niche creators, innovative, and creative content creators. Some are really good visually, some are good video creators, some have a gift for words. Each has the potential to be successful with a certain audience. “Creatives are the cells that bring campaigns and ideas to life. They are the heart that pumps creativity all around us on a daily basis. You remember that manifesto that convinced you to support a cause? Or that 20-second video you shared with your closest friends? How about the post you shared this morning on Facebook? They all come from at least a creative mind that knows how to inspire you and ignite your imagination in just a few seconds,” said Lüba.
Returning to the theme of storytelling, Ionescu believes that once you are a good storyteller, you have covered the basics. “But the channel is equally important, nowadays. The first eight seconds decide if your story lives or not, as this is the attention span in the digital world. There is no fixed recipe for success; even the best stories sometimes get killed by sensationalism or negative news. I believe that a good content writer is passionate about life, about people, and has the courage to shape an idea in such a way that it will not be forgotten. Good stories are meaningful and we are responsible for making them last,” argued the Group Renault representative.
The MRM//McCann representative added, “Branded storytelling is not a brand message that is positioned as content. This is a trap that inevitably leads to content that feels like advertising, which few people fall for in this era of authenticity and choice. Content needs to provide value for people beyond whatever it is the brand or product does. This fine line between the native look and feel of the content and its value for the brand it’s been produced for makes the story difficult to get right and that’s where a content writer should put the craft in.”
Journalists. Bloggers. Influencers
So who are the people chosen by companies and agencies as the creators of this content? Besides creative talents in house, how much do they work with talented writers and content providers (journalists, bloggers, influencers) to help them boost their content value and their influence on the market? How have the influencers changed this industry and how do insiders expect it to evolve?
When it comes to Renault’s corporate digital content, the company counts on good-quality content, written by passionate people. For instance, to explain Dacia’s brand story, this year the company has been celebrating its 50-year anniversary with a campaign called “Always in Romanians’ hearts”, through which it has sought to generate emotion and engagement, on all its digital channels. At the same time, it has tried to be consistent in its messaging, which is aligned with the brand promise. “Automotive is a special field, where passionate people know the whole history behind a certain model or even a specific feature. They share their experience in valuable stories, worth telling to communities who are engaged. Like all communicators, I love creativity and innovation. I keep track of the good solid stories, well told in the digital world, but with a heartfelt connection to reality. I am willing to spend time reading a complex article and look for a certain level of quality in someone’s writing,” added Ionescu.
At MRM, Cojocaru runs a content division dedicated to producing what the company calls “serialized content worth watching”. What makes it worth watching is a good story. “A story that comes in different and new formats, yet built on human insights. Digging for a good insight is the ultimate respect you can pay your audience, which is willing to devote less and less precious time to watching your content in the digital world. I don’t fall for trends. Trends come and go, and so do influencers, but a good story built on a strong insight is timeless. Our mission is to create premium short-form branded entertainment formats while keeping the same quality people are used to. Think Netflix, but shorter!” commented Cojocaru.
Coming back to influencers, according to the Kubis Interactive representative, influencers have claimed a much desired spot in the digital ecosystem and are here to stay. “The ideal partnership combines brands’ longed-for source of native advertising and authentic communication. The biggest disadvantage mainstream influencers now face is being overused and overexposed, so they lose their unique personalities. And then, micro influencers come into play,” said Lüba.
In this universe of macro and micro influencers is a whole debate about what an influencer is. “We even wonder what his or her power to shape consumer behavior is. However, worldwide known B2C brands admit their sales are related to influencers’ recommendations. Powerful B2B brands have joined forces with well-known opinion leaders to generate buzz, engagement and, in the end, sales,” said Ionescu.
As much as we might try to learn to focus on the present, all specialists’ eyes turn from time to time to the future, searching for trends and what is to come. So where do the experts see the future of digital content in the years to come? For Lüba, for now, digital is where ideas are heard of and reach those who are likely to find them relevant. And this will not stop in the near future. What is to be expected, in his opinion, is for users to be exposed to even more personalized content, crafted for their personal interests and needs. Is that good or bad, efficient or boring? Let’s just wait and see, he says. And, most importantly, adapt!
“Can we imagine artificial intelligence becoming part of our lives? If yes, maybe there is only one feature that still makes us unique in a digital world: the capacity to express emotion creatively. I am counting on our passion to make our campaigns memorable, in a big data world,” concluded Ionescu.