The Difference Between Ads and True Content–and Why It Matters

“People see ads. People read content.” The words of Wendy Foster (Director-Content Strategy, Nativo), spoken at last week’s Brand Innovators Content Marketing summit in New York, should ring in every marketer’s ears. They perfectly summarize the distinction between offering nothing to your audience and offering something. Something of value (we hope). It feels like the essence, the foundation of the very best content marketing is contained in that statement.

“People see ads. People read content.” The words of Wendy Foster (Director-Content Strategy, Nativo), spoken at last week’s Brand Innovators Content Marketing summit in New York, should ring in every marketer’s ears. They perfectly summarize the distinction between offering nothing to your audience and offering something. Something of value (we hope). It feels like the essence, the foundation of the very best content marketing is contained in that statement.

We were thrilled to be in lower Manhattan last week as guests of our friends at the IBM Content Studio. Our half-day deep dive on Content Marketing did not disappoint, with vibrant discussions that deconstructed the ways brands can use storytelling to forge greater emotional bonds with their audience.

Our emcee for the day–Jay Mandel, Founder of The Collective NYC–began by stressing the need for brands to drive both scale and impact, not one without the other. “To deliver results in content,” he said, “you need three things. 1) An executive sponsor, budget, team and empowerment. 2) A creative appetite, a clear point of view and an organization that understands that things need to change. 3) Risk tolerance because, if you have a point of view, you need an organization that will have your back and treats challenges as learning opportunities.”

Jay Mandel (Founder, The Collective NYC), at right, with Pearl Tam (Sr. Director-Content & Community, Brand Innovators)

Mandel gave marketers a terrific roadmap for making content efforts more effective, from getting internal buy-in to establishing governance, creating processes, piloting and developing creative talent.

A centerpiece of the day’s program was a keynote from IBM Chief Content Officer George Hammer. Hammer led by saying that, in IBM’s content creation sphere, they are leading with heart rather than with facts and figures. He made the case for what he called “emotional assets” and said, no matter the industry, they are bound to drive more leads and sales.

George Hammer, Chief Content Officer, IBM

Everyone loves an idea, Hammer acknowledged, but not everyone can create content. This is why he said IBM leans heavily on a vetting process that includes briefs and a testing phase. He described their refine-and-repeat model for evaluating content as “Kill. Boost. Optimize.” He also advocated for a quality-over-quantity approach: “Make less matter more.”

Hammer urged creators to work in new and different ways, creating stories that can evolve in agile ways. But, he said, “Focus your creativity on original stories rather than creating new formats. We’re in an era where marketers are driving a lot of change, and it takes bold brands to put their audience first. We can drive real change when we work together with an agile mindset.”

Hammer’s foil for the fireside chat was Andrew Rosen, SVP-Enterprise for Nativo, who then stuck around to talk about how brands are operationalizing content practices in this fast-changing industry.

Andrew Rosen (SVP-Enterprise, Nativo)

Deborah Grishman, VP-Global Content at American Express, followed and delivered this perfect sentiment for delivering the right content to the right people at the right time: “We want to be there for people in moments that matter,” she said. Grishman also wisely pointed out the need to have a plan once you’ve drawn your audience into the funnel. “Where does our job end?” she asked. “And who takes over after your content objective is complete?”

Deborah Grishman (VP Global Content, American Express) and Wendy Foster (Director-Content Strategy, Nativo)

Carrie Sloan, VP-Global Content Lab, Johnson & Johnson, touted the power of storytelling and urged brands to use social media engagement as a path to discovering great stories. She also cautioned brands to remember that what they want to talk about isn’t always what the audience is most interested in. “Metrics are important,” she said. “Process is important. Data is important. But if your content isn’t resonating, none of it is worth it.”

Braeden Rogers (Director-Saas Sales, Nativo) and Carrie Sloan (VP-Global Content Lab, Johnson & Johnson)

The morning ended with a spirited roundtable discussion on the future of content marketing. Marketers and creators from MetLife, J.P. Morgan Private Bank, Pfizer and IBM held court and talked about the intersections of content creation, digital and ad tech.

L-R: Ben Collier (Executive Director-Brand, J.P. Morgan Private Bank), Kathleen Braine (Director-Global Content Strategy, MetLife), Emily Krassen (Senior Manager-Video Strategy & Content, Pfizer) and moderator Michael Crowley (Regional VP-East, Nativo)

Among the nuggets was this one from Ben Collier, Executive Director Brand at J.P. Morgan Private Bank: “Tech and digital have to be aligned from the beginning.” A terrific strategy reset for those setting out on the content campaign journey.

Also this blunt truth from Kathleen Braine, Director of Global Content Strategy at MetLife. “Personalization is not the answer if there is no point of view.” In other words, if the story lacks resonance, all the targeting in the world can’t help you.

To learn more about this and other Brand Innovators events, go here.

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