Online Content Can Make or Break a Brand

Digital technologies are changing the marketing landscape and some companies are learning faster than others.

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In this Feb. 28, 2010 file photo, a worker prepares a booth of IBM at the CeBIT in Hanover, northern Germany. International Business Machines releases its quarterly financial report Monday, Oct. 18, 2010, at the market close.
A worker prepares a booth of IBM at the CeBIT in Hanover, northern Germany.

On Dec. 5, Brand Innovators held its Content Marketing Summit at IBM headquarters in New York. Industry experts convened to discuss how emerging digital technologies and content platforms have changed the marketing landscape.

At issue is how companies are evolving from traditional marketing practices to new strategies which deliver unique content, and to scale. By engaging consumers, companies are now creating earned media to build loyalty and trust. Developing brand advocacy is essential. As Lisa reported earlier this year in "Master Class: Engagement@Scale – Three Steps to Leveraging Brand Advocates":

  • According to Edelman's trust index, people trust academics, experts, "people like me" and employees at a company more than CEOs, government institutions and financial analysts.
  • 92 percent of people trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth.
  • 67 percent spend more online after receiving recommendations from online communities.
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    Recognizing these trends, IBM Global Director of Marketing and Social Business Tami Cannizzaro expressed her own beliefs about the importance of "influencing the influencers." She leads the company's efforts to integrate a steady roster of bloggers and area experts to produce material because she is well aware that editorial content can make or break a brand.

    The company connects bloggers with an audience and, in turn, receives support from a powerful and vocal network of influencers like the Founder and CEO of Renegade, a New York-based social media and marketing agency. Drew Neisser says, "IBM has been treating me as a journalist for four or five years now." He is but one of the cadre of brand evangelists who use the distribution channel to build their personal brands.

    In his book, "The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work," Mark Burgess singled out IBM as a company that has "used incredible tools" to represent its brand, such as letting employees co-create the company's social media strategy. He advocates providing employee incentives, training and "guard rails" for employees to bump up against as they create and share digital content. That way, Burgess says, employees are engaged about the brand and motivated to participate without fear.

    In the same vein, Columbia Records Vice President of Strategic Marketing Elliot Lum, focuses on making sure that "content is king" translates to creating an atmosphere where consumers can curate their own brand experience. He is tasked with making sure that music fans are engaged with his company's artists across a variety of platforms.

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    As a record label, Lum says that Columbia places a great degree of resources into producing editorial content. By segmenting their market of musical tastemakers into different classifications according to fervor (fanatics, enthusiasts, casuals and indifferents), the company aims to produce more personalized content for its audiences. This type of targeting can lead to a more authentic experience for fans, the holy grail of content marketing.

    Activity is shared with each fan's personal network. People are interested in what others are listening to and who they have discovered. It is a "badge of honor" for music fanatics and enthusiasts to find new music. Word-of-mouth advocacy for artists and records is a huge part of engagement and Columbia's strategy reflects this process. "Everything we do in terms of marketing is about generating content," Lum emphasized during the summit.

    Executing innovative ideas will also cut through the usual noise and ripple out from centralized nodes of networks. Viral content is a certain marker of triumph.

    Dove's "Real Beauty" Sketches campaign is an example of a hugely successful experiment. In the company's commercial, a forensic artist draws two versions of several women as described by themselves, then strangers. With the tagline, "You are more beautiful than you think," the short clips illustrate the vast discrepancies in how women view their own looks in comparison to how others view them.

    Uploaded in April 2013, Dove "Real Beauty" Sketches quickly became a viral sensation, reaching 75 million views on YouTube within the first two weeks. Today, the video has more than 170 million views and 5.6 billion global media impressions.

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    VP of Global Brand Development at Dove Skin, Fernando Machado, notes, that his team "didn't just put the video on YouTube and wait for the magic to happen." As the campaign began to take off, his creative group looked for ways to continually engage consumers, including having personalized sketches sent to fans by the artist. "We were creating new content as we were deploying the campaign."

    Original digital content is a constant need in the world of marketing. Glam Media produces fresh material by regularly reaching out to leading bloggers with thematic prompts to inspire new posts. For instance, ranging from wavy hair to black and white and blush, writers penned new posts using Target products that were both on trend and authentic.

    "Using these prompts maps back to Target's narrative of value, but also gives bloggers autonomy," said Keeley Patterson, Glam Media's director of brand strategy and client solutions. Outsourcing editorial content to expert fashion bloggers not only leads to "more organic integration," but it also stirs established writer to produce this sort of visual content. She explained that this relationship between paid and editorial content -- two entities that used to exist at opposite ends of the editorial spectrum -- illustrates the ways in which content marketing continues to evolve. "It's turning a publisher into a brand," she said.

    Glam Media Vice President of Consumer Style Brand and Editor-in-Chief Nola Weinstein echoed this sentiment. Describing how the company has worked with brands to create innovative videos and build editorial calendars, she similarly eschews the traditional separation of editorial content and advertising. "I don't think that I sold out," Weinstein told the crowd. "I bought in!"

    Erin O'Flaherty is a former nonprofit executive who has handled social media and communications strategy for a variety of nonprofit organizations and academic institutions. Follow her on Twitter at @eeof.

    Lisa Chau is the Founder of Alpha Vert, a private consultancy focused on social media and cross–platform marketing. Previously, she spent five years working for her alma mater Dartmouth College, as assistant director of alumni affairs and assistant director of PR for the Tuck School of Business. She has also taught at MIT, and guest lectured MBA and undergraduate courses in e-business strategy at Baruch College and The New School.

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    • UPDATE 1/3/13: This article has been updated to include Keeley Patterson's full title.