A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to do a keynote speech at the World TV Summit in Barcelona. This event was far more intimate than it sounds and I had the opportunity to talk with most of the +/- 100 attendees from all around the world. After working with brands to create compelling branded entertainment for over ten years, you tend to forget that this part of the entertainment business is still in early stages, at least for most countries. At the same time, it’s clear that a lot of media companies are (finally) embracing native brand entertainment on a global scale. Not as a ‘necessary evil’ but as a way to move forward.
In the ten years that lies behind us, I often found myself in the middle of a clash between two worlds: the entertainment world and the marketing world. Most of the time, they speak two totally different languages, have different goals / KPI’s and ways to work. Bringing those worlds together in harmony, is often a challenging but very rewarding process. When you find that sweet spot where brand values, native storytelling and what the world needs come together, great things can be done. Unfortunately, there is no blueprint or roadmap to find this place. You have to go and explore new lands, using experiences, learnings and best practices as a compass. On the other hand, the key to success is often to go on unpaved roads and do things that have not been done before. Which is scary, but exciting.
Where you (want to) end up, depends of course on your goals, and the way there is always tailor made. However, there are some ideas and models to cling on to along the way. Maybe the most important one for me is the idea of ‘Ikigai’, a Japanese concept meaning ‘a reason for being’. It provides a simple but effective framework to find the right story, the right angle or at least a point on the horizon. It forces you to think about what we love, what we are good at, what the world needs and, maybe the most important, what we can be paid for. In the middle of those four, lies the Ikigai. The sweet spot of branded entertainment.
Next to this concept, I often use a list of ‘sins’ to keep challenging our own ideas and beliefs. This list of frequently made mistakes is purely compiled based on my own experiences working with brand and their marketing managers. I rather call them ‘sins’ and not ‘mistakes’ or ‘fails’ because ‘he who is without sin cast the first stone’. I still catch myself sinning like this once in a while, but it helps to have a checklist like this to guide you back to the right path. I’m happy to share them with you, so that it can help you too.
1.Stop thinking inside out, start thinking outside in.
The first one is maybe one of the most difficult ones, especially for brand managers. They often think: what story do we want to tell the world? What are our key messages? How can we promote our product or service in the best way possible? I think it’s key to turn this question around: what does the world want to see or hear from us? Where can we help our clients and/or their friends? Where can we add value to everything that already exists?
With an ever growing pool of content, adding value to the table is more important than ever. Think about the diamonds you have and what people would like to have.
2. Stop building on briefs, start building on brand values.
In my humble opinion, creating branded content is totally different from creating a campaign. It can be quite an investment, so you better make sure it has a lasting value and it will still be relevant over time. To do this, a brief for a product campaign or launch is most of the time not the right point to start. Go back to the brand values and your ‘brand DNA’ and build something around it or on top of it, because (hopefully) they will never change.
Related to this, receiving a brief over mail and pitching ideas a couple of weeks later is not the way to go for me. The best ideas are often created and developed closely together with the partner. Take them on this journey, instead of presenting the destination.
3. Stop fitting in influencers, start fuelling on influencers.
Influencers marketing has become an important part of our business. A lot of brands want to work with the Instafamous, the YouTube heroes or the Facebook fanatics. Mainly to make them brand ambassadors and piggyback on them to plug in to their audience. This makes sense and by now, it is a proven and effective concept, when executed in the right way. The problem often is that marketing managers tend to fit-in those influencers into their own idea, instead of creating something together with the influencers, to find a natural fit.
When you include the influencers in the ideation and help them succeed in things, they could not do themselves, they will co-own the concept and you will never have to beg for enough likes or comments. Most of the time, they will happily over-deliver.
4. Stop counting views, start hacking growth.
This may sound like an open door, but even open doors turn out to be hard to go through. A lot of marketing managers still don’t really look beyond the numbers on the surface. It’s nice to have a large number of views, but getting eyeballs is not the difficult part nowadays. With smart and deep social targeting, you can easily get those views with relatively small budgets. The real goal is to create a lasting connection, make an impact, make people move and things happen.
Personally, I’m a big fan of growth hacking. A practice with its roots in the start-up scene, it essentially follows a large string of small A/B tests, evaluating the results and then scaling up from there. Anyone involved in branded entertainment should embrace this way of thinking, because it naturally moves the focus from eyeballs to action and from views to fans.
5. Stop reaching an audience, start ‘owning’ an audience.
As stated under 4, it’s not that difficult to find and reach the right audience and make them watch your promo or trailer. When the content is good enough, it’s not even hard to make them watch (at least) a part of your story. But that should actually be the start of the journey together and not the end. The key is to create a proper ‘viewer journey’ from their domain to your owned domain to create a lasting connection to an area you fully control.
From there you can start building a relationship and become part of their daily routine, their ‘golden circle’ of apps, pages, sites and other resources they use. If you own an audience like this, it’s easier and cost effective to reach them (again) and get them into action.
6. Stop finding an audience for your story, start finding a story for your audience
A strong and compelling story should always be in the heart of branded entertainment and everything should hoover around that story. Though finding that story, is often not easy. Still, a lot of marketing managers start by looking into a mirror to look for stories they would like to hear and watch. In my opinion, you’ll find a better story if you watch through a window. By getting to know your audience: what drives them, what are they looking for?
I’m a big fan of ‘data driven creativity’ where data and insights can provide you the perfect guidelines to make creative choices. What we do online, the footprints that we leave and the likes or dislikes that we give, provides brands more than enough data to dive into to find the perfect story for your audience.
7. Stop holding on to a horseless carriage, start disrupting thyself.
Probably the most common sin in this industry: the idea of understanding and describing new developments in terms of old practices. It’s something we still see happening on a daily basis: clinging on to a framework and thinking pattern we know from ‘traditional’ media, projected on new media. The length of an episode is a perfect example. In the ‘old world’ every episode would have a certain length to fit into the program schedule of networks and TV channels. My belief is that you should take the time that is needed to tell a story in the best way possible, not shorter but definitely not longer.
The key is to challenge every rule in the book and disrupt yourself before somebody else will disrupt you. Try to find the new and improved. Focus on the medium specific elements and challenge yourself to find new symbiotic relations between technique and content.
Of course, all of the above is mainly based on my own meandering experience. You will probably have other and/or additional beliefs and creeds. Please feel free to share them below. Curious about what the above could mean for your business or your story? Feel free to contact me!