Day 2 Roundup of Content Marketing Conference, Forward 2016
Marketing Content Strategy

Forward 2016, Day 2: How to Turn Content Marketing into Sustainable Storytelling

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On day two of Forward 2016, Skyword President Rob Murray reminded attendees of the fusion between story and business, the theme of this year’s conference.

“The future of marketing is going to be owned by those who embrace story, not just in their content marketing, but also in the way they weave story into their vision, mission, and values,” Murray said.

It’s not enough for brands to learn story-craft and apply the form to content production; brand leaders need to understand the greater role storytelling plays in conveying purpose in the market. The day’s opening keynotes—MasterCard EVP Jill Cress and Davis Brand Capital’s Patrick Davis—echoed this messaging in their presentations on the role experiences and point-of-view play in marketing today.

Making Meaning Through Branding: Patrick Davis, Founder and CEO of Davis Brand Capital

Davis has worked with some of the world’s most recognizable and successful organizations, from Chipotle to Beautycounter, to build meaningful brands through decisive point-of-view, emotion, and, of course, word choice.

Pulling from Yeats’ famous line, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Davis asked, “How can we know the storyteller from the story?”

Too often in marketing, brands are afraid to take a stance or they’re unsure how to connect the stories they tell to the brand itself or the products they sell. Davis says that the best brands lead with a story-driven mentality, and that when you lead with story, you find that you don’t need to say much to make an impact.

For example, Nike’s logo and tagline are some of the most recognizable brand components in the world. Yet few consumers understand why those elements resonate so much. Davis says it’s because Nike’s tagline, “Just Do It,” puts the consumer in control of the story. Nike trusts the audience will fill in the blanks and define what “it” means to them. In turn, this short tagline tells a much deeper story than any long-form listicle or article could ever attempt to do on behalf of the brand.

If you’re telling stories that truly matter to your audience, those should be synonymous with your brand. There doesn’t have to be a difference between the story and the storyteller.

Patrick Davis, CEO of Davis Brand Capital at Forward 2016

Engaging the New Consumer: Jill Cress, Executive Vice President Global Consumer Marketing at MasterCard

More than 20 years ago, MasterCard launched its “Priceless” campaign on broadcast television to promote and support father-son bonding over a baseball game. Since then, the organization has grown both as a business unit but also as storytellers, and alongside the company’s growth, the audience has evolved into one that prefers experiences over things.

As a technology company that connects buyers and sellers, MasterCard had to overcome a new challenge: people weren’t compelled to buy as easily anymore. The concept of telling friends about a new handbag you just purchased fell out of vogue, while family trips to Rio quickly took center stage.

For MasterCard, the somewhat experimental concept 20 years ago to promote experiences over products presented many new opportunities for growth in the digital age.

Cress and team recognized that today’s consumer is more connected than they ever have been before, and in order to capture their attention, MasterCard needed to tell stories that centered around those priceless experiences worth talking about. The human truth on which “Priceless” was born has never been so true.

As a company, MasterCard had to find a sustainable way to turn a successful campaign into a foundation on which all future digital media is created upon. MasterCard had to shift from “observing and celebrating priceless moments” to “creating priceless experiences” for its audience. And the way the company did that was by connecting people to their unique passion points on a global stage.

MasterCard chose content marketing, and Skyword, as a way for bridging the gap between the observational Priceless campaign to sustainable storytelling. By 2015, through the company’s Priceless Cities hub, MasterCard was telling stories and making experiences available across 47 cities in 75 countries. Producing articles about what to do in Rio and tying those stories to in-market, cardmember-only experiences.

Cress said that the team uses Priceless Cities to turn a powerful experiential platform like its Special and Surprises programs into complete digital experiences. These experiences become the backdrop for the moments you love with the people you love.

MasterCard EVP Jill Cress at Forward 2016

Putting Good into the World: From Journalism to Brand Storytelling

Driven by the insights of Andrea Moe, senior director of marketing at Videa, Tim Whelan, staff writer and editor, and Brianna Hand and Keith Mackenzie, editorial managers at Skyword, this panel tackled a moral dilemma many modern journalists face: With traditional journalism in its arguably volatile state—where many newsrooms are laying off their staff in favor of outsourcing—will heading to the growing field of brand storytelling impact a longstanding record of objectivity? Is brand storytelling “selling out”?

The panelists, many of whom are former traditional journalists themselves, spoke through their transitions into the branded content world, and shed light on an industry that journalists have viewed as the “dark side.” They explained that today, as the field has evolved to one that favors thought leadership and inspirational, challenging, and deep storytelling over robotically composed, heavily branded pieces designed to drive clicks, journalists don’t need to feel like they are compromising themselves or their credibility.

Hand put it eloquently: “By positioning [ourselves] as authoritative resources for readers, we’re doing something good. It’s not just pushing out content that says ‘look how great this product is,’ it’s doing something so audiences get value from it. At the end of the day, you feel like you put something out there that is powerful, something that is putting good into the world.”

So, what’s important to ethical brand journalism? I left this panel with three takeaways:

  • When writing a brand story, prioritize that story—don’t saturate it with brand mentions. When readers are spending time in a story and suddenly encounter a brand mention, it can pull them out of the moment and suddenly call attention to their underlying skepticism. Instead of tailoring your brand story to the names of products your brand creates, take note of the assignment summary and position your piece in a way that both aligns with the brand’s goals and empathizes with the needs of your readers.
  • Content marketing allows journalists to spend more time doing the work they love. The panelists agreed that the nature of the traditional newsroom led to a fast-paced mentality that pushed journalists to get their stories out first—meaning you could only spend so much time writing and editing a piece before you had to finish up and move on to the next thing. Whelan noted that with content marketing, “You have resources available and you’re trying to cull them together to make something valuable that is educational, informative, entertaining and uplifting…You have deadlines, but they’re not as quick as they are at a daily paper. You have more time to work on your content and focus on it, rather than banging it out and moving on to the next story. You’re able to focus and hone in on what the story says.”
  • Collaboration between clients and contributors is key. Today, both journalists and brands are striving for authentic, trustworthy content that readers can connect with—and there’s no better way to achieve that than through the fusion of client insights with the ethics and talents of journalists. For contributors, feeling invested in a project and being part of a team allows them to use client insights and their passions and expertise to create content that exists on the pulse of an industry. For clients, as Moe pointed out, collaboration helps ensure that all content is readworthy and valuable to their audiences.

Stop Throwing Money Away: Michael Brenner Defines Content Marketing ROI

Life is short—stop doing stuff that doesn’t make an impact. This was the main message Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group, delivered to the audience on Thursday afternoon.

It’s good advice for anyone, but especially for marketers who are under more pressure than ever to prove results to their executives. With ROI reported as the number one objective for marketers in 2016, Brenner uncovered how content marketers can achieve results that impact the bottom line of their brands, and not just boost engagement and brand awareness.

The way brands reach consumers has changed, yet many marketers are still clinging on to interrupt advertising like banners ads that are not only annoying, they’re a waste of budget. “The most evil creation in marketing history? The autoplay ad,” Brenner said. “I get mad at the advertisers who do this to me.”

Measuring content ROI may seem difficult to those who have never tried, but as Brenner said, it’s not trigonometry. It’s actually much simpler than that. And the value of content marketing—consistent publishing—compounds over time, much like your 401(k) contributions. This is the way marketers must frame their proposed investment to their business leaders.

The number one way to improve the ROI of marketing according to Brenner? Find out what’s not working, and reallocate that budget. He suggested first running a CRM/ROI report (in SalesForce, for example). Look at any measure of effectiveness—leads, pipeline dollars—and rank it from low to high. Brenner said 20 – 40 percent of your marketing tactics drive zero measurable results. CMOs should shift this investment to content.

Brenner also stressed the value of digital newsletter subscribers today. They are 9x more likely to convert than non-subscribers. What’s the exact value of subscribers? Here’s his example:

Sales from Email Nurture / List Size

$10 Million / 400,000 = $25

10,000 subscribers x 25 = $250,000

“Subscriptions are highly engaged visitors. They’re conversions, in a way,” Brenner said.

More than anything, marketing leaders should look to reach their company’s leadership through empathy—using fear as a motivational tool to show them why they should be ditching outdated marketing tactics and instead investing in sustainable publishing with proven ROI.

Inspiration Is the Fuel for Taking Risks: Bringing Stories to Life With Media

Content marketing is so much more than writing—it’s an increasingly visual industry with countless storytelling channels emerging seemingly daily. With the amount of media produced, it begs the question: Where does the inspiration to create all these stories come from?

The panel, made up of Jon Bettinger, Director of Animation, Skyscope, Alex Dunn, COO, Skyscope, Paula Elias, Director Strategic Partnerships, StoryUp, and Tom Sanford, Digital Media Producer at Skyword, explored the source of inspiration with the panel and audience.

What inspires you? Below are some of their answers:

From the audience:

  • A steady dose of children—playing with kids, and escaping from the pressures adulthood
  • Hanging out with old people
  • Behind-the-scenes movies—watching how something is made. How a creative process unfolds

How do you ideate?

From the panel:

  • Group brainstorms (Dunn)
  • Asking the question, “How can you create fun content?” (Dunn)
  • Writing down your constraints (Bettinger)
  • Asking “How can I best service the client?”

Bettinger also recommends starting with a partner, instead of bringing them onto the creative project later in the process. That way, you’re on the same page, bought in, and are working toward the same goal from the beginning.

Perhaps most important of all to the creative process is taking risks. “Inspiration is the fuel that lets you take risks,” said Elias.

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Co-written by Ted Karczewski and Linsey Morse

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Managing editor of the Content Standard, writer at Monster, Sound of Boston, Trill, and others. Hip-hop producer.

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