Why content is the engine that powers digital transformation

Why content is the engine that powers digital transformation
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TechRepublic's Dan Patterson talked with author and Contently founder Shane Snow about how brands seek to reinforce authentic connections during digital transformation.

Patterson: Shane, thanks for joining us today. I wonder if you could help us understand, we hear a lot of jargon about branded content. But I wonder if we could start with the one on one, what is branded content, and why have brands, advertisers, and other companies turned to branded content to create connections they otherwise couldn't make with traditional advertising?

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Snow: So it used to be that if you had a company and you wanted to get new customers, or get in front of new people, you had to pay a media company like yours, to put your message next to the thing that people were reading or watching, and that's advertising. But, basically what's changed is, technology has made it so that you can sort of skip that intermediary if you want. Or, you can use that exposure with that intermediary to get people to pay attention to you, and then you can keep their attention by giving them kind of what you turn on the TV for anyways, stories. It turns out that stories are one of those things that human beings are built to pay attention to, and to care about things once they learn something's story.

And so, that's what branded content is, is brands trying to tell the kinds of stories that the newspapers, and the television companies that they have historically told. And, brands want to do it so they can kind of hang on to people for a little bit longer, and maybe get them to become customers.

SEE: Digital transformation: An IT pro's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Patterson: Yeah, and if you think about a traditional radio or television spot, these are 30 second stories. So, how do you make sure that the audience, or the consumers of branded content feel as though they're not just reading a 600 word advertisement?

Snow: It's kind of flipping the script. It used to be that if you were an advertiser, you would just say, "Buy my thing." Now you actually have to give the audience what they want first, and get them to like you first before you can say, "Oh and by the way, I sell this thing." It's much more of a soft kind of approach, but it turns out because of social media, because of the internet, there's no person in the world that doesn't have a million options for who they want to do business with. So, we do lots of research. We'll choose companies that we like to buy from, or to do business with. And so, it sort of forces that company to actually give first, and then ask later. Or, to give first until there's a relationship there, and then they don't need to ask because people like them.

That's the way that it's changed, and it's actually changing the way that many companies operate internally. They have to be a little bit better, they have to be a little bit more congruent because of this, because this is just how consumers behave now.

Patterson: I love this idea of brands listening, as well as simply plastering the world with convertible advertisements. What type of examples have you seen with brands, when they undergo digital transformation, and when they really understand the impact of content. What types of transformations have you seen them do internally with their structure, and the way they communicate with each other, and the public?

Snow: A lot of our clients at Contently, my company, are in the financial services, or sort of big business to business kind of industries. What you see in a lot of those companies are, is actually a centralization of a team that usually reports to the CEO, or the CMO. But, a team start to form whose job is to find interesting stories inside the company, or find stories that are going on in the world that the company cares about. And then craft their own stories in text, and video, and whatever it is. And give those to the different departments in the company. So they'll feed the marketing department, they'll feed the sales team, and they'll feed the HR department so that each of these groups can use stories to build relationships to make people care.

The most mature kind of brands that are doing this branded content thing, are actually creating this little studio, so to speak, inside of their company. That's if you get real mature. Before that, it usually starts in marketing. It's usually someone in marketing, their job is to create content, and tell stories as part of campaigns or something, rather than just buying advertisements. So, you sort of graduate from that, to this more sort of mature model. And then at a certain point, it becomes a thing that even ... My favorite example is the CEO of Marriott actually has his own blog. He believes in this content thing so much, that they have a giant, almost television studio. The first thing you see when you walk in the doors, it's part of kind of their front office of what you would see when you go to Marriott. That's sort of the pinnacle I think, of what we're starting to see with brands.

Patterson: I wonder what the KPI's are. With automation, and with automated advertising it's very easy to determine what my KPI is. Whether it's conversions, whether it's time spent on site, or some of the other more sophisticated measures of tracking user behavior. But with content, it's difficult to measure the heart strings, how something may pull on a user emotionally, or a human emotionally. So, how do you measure that?

Snow: What we used to do is proxies. Basically, you put a billboard on the side of the road, and you count how many cars probably go by, and you say, "Some percentage of those people probably see it, and some percent of those people do something about it." So, you kind of do some math around proxies on the internet. That would be page views, and repeat visits, and how much time you spend. But, on the emotional part, there's actually a really interesting breakthrough that just happened. There's a company called Immersion Neuroscience, out in California. Claremont, I believe. What they did is they invented this band that you kind of stick on your arm, and it measures variations in the nerve between your brain and your heart, that actually this nerve will, I guess wobble is the imprecise, non scientific word. But, the nerve will move, and they can actually measure when your brain is generating chemicals that indicate you're having an emotional response.

So, what this company is doing is actually having people sit down and watch movies, charity pleas, advertisements, YouTube videos, and actually see what are the things that people watch that have the most emotional response. The punchline is, is that the more personal and emotional the narrative, you know, the father talking about his son who has a rare disease. That will get people to respond more, and their brain's more into whatever the message is. Than, say statistics about how many kids have the same disease. So, there's trends that we can see from that. But, we can actually measure that brain response now directly through these kind of devices.

Patterson: All right, Shane Snow is the founder of Contently and the author of a number books. Shane, you have a brand new book coming out, what is it and why should we read it?

Snow: So the book is called, "Dream Teams," and it's about the paradox of when humans come together, we either do amazing things, we make breakthroughs. Or, most of the time, we slow down. Big groups are slow, and we have lots of problems. You can kind of see inside any company or in the world, how that same paradox exists. We want to make breakthroughs, we can. We realize that we have that potential, but we usually don't.

One of the things that I actually talk about in Dream Teams, is how storytelling has been used to create social movements. How, the most successful movements of groups that have been oppressed, or are small, and then managed to win rights, and change the world happen because ... Not because we talk about the statistics of what's happening that's wrong in the world. But, because we learn this story of the woman who wouldn't give up her seat on the bus. That's a part of this, but the book itself is about working together better, making things better for all of us. So, it's called Dream Teams, and comes out in a month so I'm super excited about it obviously. Thank you for asking.

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