The rise of story-led marketing


Back in early 2014 there was a general consensus among industry experts that content would be at the heart of every marketing strategy within the next 5 years. By the middle of last year, there was a growing acceptance that content is now just what marketing is and does. In which case, why put the word ‘content’ in front of ‘marketing’, unless it helps explain how what you are doing is different from other brand-funded content forms? I’ve addressed this as part of a new White Paper for Edition Digital that we hope will provide a useful framework for thinking through your content strategies.

In summary, I’ve adapted Google’s deceptively simple Hero, Help and Hub (HHH) framework as a Venn Diagram in order to show how marketing is rapidly being reshaped by content from 3 different directions that are all being driven by technology:

Hero > Branded Entertainment

This is the space where advertising and entertainment collide, as represented by the Branded Content and/or Branded Entertainment category at major award shows. Google categorises these inspiring examples as HERO content, which includes the Real Beauty Sketches from Dove, Epic Split from Volvo Trucks and #LikeAGirl from P&G’s Always, ones we’ve chronicled as part of the BOBCM series

They’re mostly video-based and longer form, and the objective is usually to raise awareness and win hearts rather than price-comparing minds. But as the LEGO Movie has shown, they can also be full-length and also help shift product. They are also the benchmark by which all content-based marketing is judged, despite only representing a small fraction of the content output from brands.

Help > Customer experience

Google categorises all those tutorials, how-to videos, life hacks and the like on YouTube as HELP content, and it overlaps all the others. The Customer Experience circle in the Venn Diagram includes Help content, but could include any content can that adds value to the customer experiences in general, e.g. through the likes of Customer Service or Marketing as a Service (MaaS) type apps.

The space could also be linked to the Experience Economy (aka Exponomy) and include the customer’s ‘experience as content’, particularly the kind of mechanisms that allow customers to share their stories at scale, e.g. Create AirBnB.

Hub > Brand publishing

For some, this space represents the evolution of the direct marketing industry and is what many would have called Content Marketing before that term became to be understood as any marketing that uses content. It is akin to what Google refers to as HUB content that people ‘subscribe’ to, and the editorial-style output could also be seen as the evolution of Customer Publishing, particularly through its digital delivery. Adobe’s is an Owned Media example, as is the BOBCM series that is published on the Edition Digital platform.

Expect to see brands make significant investment in this space, especially in B2B. The merging of direct marketing with customer publishing needs some thinking through though – not least because of  the different skills required for crafting engaging editorial to driving response through tech, improving SEO, etc. 

Native advertising

In theory, you could plot Native Advertising in any of the 3 circles above. For example, the Traveller Filmed Reviews partnership between the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and Trip Advisor is an example of Branded Content/Entertainment being delivered through paid media. And we are likely to see more examples like this given News Corp’s acquisition of social video ad platform Unruly. For the most part, however, Native Advertising is most closely linked to Brand Publishing simply because the content is usually editorially-based as a result of the digital publishing environments where it’s served, and possibly also due to budget constraints.

The blurring of lines and the rise of story-led marketing 

The 3 directions I’ve presented above may not map neatly onto Google’s HHH framework, and there are great examples that cut across these categories, e.g. Lowe’s Fix in Six Vine animations, which are both HELP-type content and inspiring HERO examples that people seek out and share.

What I have tried to do is provide a simple framework for thinking more holistically about content creation, given it’s likely that a combination of approaches will be needed to reach audiences in the different ways they consume content. There is, however, a difference between Story-led marketing and marketing that just uses content-like stuff. This is important because stories are the means by which brands can connect to their customers through culture, i.e. what they talk about, watch, interact with and consume. And that’s why brands need to rethink not just what type of approaches, formats and tools they use and why, but also who they now need to have on their team to deliver this. But that’s another story...

This article is a summary of the Mapping the brand-funded content space white paper, Justin has created in partnership with Smart Digital Publishing Platform provider Edition Digital. The white paper was also presented at 2016 FIPP London conference, which focused on how marketing strategies are shifting from mobile to content-first engagement.