Brad Cressman’s 5 Things About Content Partnerships

February 6, 2014 Jonathan Paul

Content Partnerships

Attention has become the new currency. People love a good story and the internet is littered with them.

It’s made for a very distracted consumer. Now, brands have to do more than put up a video ad in order to win the consumer’s attention because they’re competing against everyone who puts content online. They have to tell unique stories of their own and those stories need to be uber-compelling and uber-relevant. Often, brands are leaving the safety of their own websites to do so, drawing on the experience of seasoned online storytellers, or more precisely, content publishers like AOL Canada, to figure out all sorts of new and interesting ways to tell engaging branded stories.

Brad Cressman, Head of Content at AOL Canada will be taking to the stage at Dx3 on March 5 to talk about content partnerships in detail, but we thought we’d get him to give us a little preview of what he’ll be talking about.

What’s a content partnership?

There are a lot of names floating around the industry to describe content programs and partnerships. The one we use most is “branded content,” but some people call it native advertising, branded entertainment etc. I would define it by what it achieves – it allows the advertiser an opportunity to tell authentic stories. If you create interesting stories, not ads, you’ll see that consumers engage with your brand in ways that were previously unavailable and even unfathomable.

“The key is that it has to be good, authentic content that people want to consume and share.”

Brad Cressman is Head of Content at AOL Canada.

Brad Cressman is Head of Content at AOL Canada.

When does a content partnership make sense and for what kinds of brands?

One common misconception is that only really big, galvanizing brands like Nike, Coke and Apple can do branded content well. The truth is, any brand can tell a story that relates to either their product promise, or to the interests of their core consumers, and the branding can be either subtle or overt. The key is that it has to be good, authentic content that people want to consume and share.

What are important things to keep in mind in a content partnership?

For any brand, you need to keep two words in mind – content and context. You need to understand you aren’t competing with other advertising. You are competing with pop culture and inputs from a consumers’ own social circles and tribes. Authenticity in the content you create is paramount. Give your consumer some credit. Context is important too. Content and context must go together in a way that makes sense to your consumer. Great content is great content and I believe consumers don’t care if it’s from their friend, a publisher or a brand as long as it is authentic, relevant and reliable.

“You are competing with pop culture and inputs from a consumers’ own social circles and tribes.”

How are content partnerships strategically relevant?

A famous quote from Arianna Huffington is that, “self expression is the new form of entertainment.” What this really hits on is that your consumers are sharing stories and having conversations online in a way that they never have before and this has changed their relationship with and expectations of brands. Your audience is everywhere and anytime, and the ability to engage them in a longer-term relationship with your brand that is beyond product benefits and special offers is strategic and necessary to your long term success.

What are some key elements of a good content partnership?

I am not sure it is the elements of the content partnership as much as the relevancy, quality and authenticity of the content that you put out there. That said, it can come in many forms. Brands can deliver branded content stories or blogs on topics that resonate with their audience, like cosmetics brands and makeup tips, baby brands and infant nutrition, a branded video that entertains and delights like Volvo’s video with Jean Claude Van Damme, branded slideshows and more. It really depends on what you are trying to communicate and how you can best express it.

What are the advantages of a content partnership? Why are they important?

To significantly invest in this arena, marketers want to be able to measure success and ROI, but the benefits are evolving faster than the benchmarks and they will lose touch with their audience if they use outdated measurements like click-through rates. Attention is the new currency, so we measure success through engagement and what we call social actions. When thinking of their message or campaign, what marketer wouldn’t want their core audience to “pass it on?” This type of earned media is incredibly valuable and getting harder and harder to do. To me, partnering with someone with expertise (like a publisher) is increasingly important as brands move away from producing content for their site where users are there for exactly that and move into realms where they are producing great content for topics “around” their brand. That kind of leap should be done with an experienced partner.

Where can brands get tripped up in creating content partnerships?

The stumbling point for some brands is to stretch their brand voice beyond speaking about their product or social cause. Pushing your brand into conversations that surround the brand but directly related to your product is key but also hard to do for some.

What’s a great example of a content partnership that worked and why?

We recently did a partnership with Health Canada. It’s not a brand you would think of right away as being at the leading edge this type of marketing, but they are. We used multiple media, cross-platform execution, celebrity sponsored content and more. A great program and a great example of how they moved from being a content sponsor to a content partner.

How have content partnerships evolved and how they will continue to?

The biggest and best evolution has been companies moving away from dated metrics (ie. driving traffic to their company website). A company website still ranks as the number one channel for content marketing, but we are starting to see sophisticated companies understand that conversations are happening outside of their site and that’s where their efforts need to evolve.

Learn more about Brad Cressman’s 5 Things Session at Dx3 2014.


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