Copyright Qode Interactive 2016
The Future of Content By Tim Plyming, 03 November, 2016

I was recently asked to speak at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit in London – looking at ahead at the future of content in a multi-channel, always-on digital world.

I was tasked with considering the opportunities ahead for brands and organisations. It couldn’t have been a more timely or relevant question. Here at Green Rock, we believe that brands and organisations need to move on from one-off interventions to an ‘always-on’ approach to content that becomes part of an ongoing conversation. A regular dialogue, not a one-way monologue.

For decades, traditional brands have used one-off campaigns to become front-of-mind with consumers. The award-winning Guinness campaigns over the years are prime examples – they are extraordinary pieces of creativity – rightly grabbing our attention and being talked about. Yet the effect is temporary if it isn’t repeated at regular intervals or given a permanent home. Stop the campaign, take the ads off the air, and the magic vanishes.

Digital channels enabled greater longevity, of course. Cadbury’s ‘Glass and Half Full’ content caught the public imagination and was one of the first examples of a highly-shared content across social channels.

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Adland’s restrictive mindset…

Yet because these content winners of the past are born more out of a traditional advertising mindset – in other words, a targeted burst of activity or a limited-term campaign – this content exists only as brief moments in time, rather than being part of a wider conversation in a way that traditional broadcasters have understood for decades. (Incidentally, the coming revolution has profound implications for creative agencies and media agencies alike – how to cope with the seismic shift away from one-way broadcasting to a mass audience, and towards multi-channel conversations with real people. Many seem unable, or unwilling to make the shift.)

…meets TV’s big conversations

The Great British Bake-off, Strictly Come Dancing and the early series of Big Brother are examples of landmark content that has become part of the national conversation. It’s programming that’s talked about in kitchens, cars, at water coolers and on building sites.

The BBC’s brilliantly innovative SpringWatch adopts a 24/7 approach to content – enabling audiences to engage with content outside the regular broadcast episodes. Nature doesn’t always perform on cue, after all. More recently, The Late Late Show on CBS has adopted an approach to content that puts its YouTube channel at the heart of the offering to audiences, providing a platform for the massively successful Car Pool Karaoke.

This November, Grand Tour will launch on Amazon Prime. To accompany the traditional TV episodes, the Grand Tour team are also launching Drive Tribe, an always-on digital platform, continuing the conversation and enabling an unprecedented level of interactivity between presenters, contributors and audience.

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Content + brand + emotion = authenticity

Brands and organisations are making great strides to becoming always-on content creators in their own right. Red Bull offers perhaps the best example of a brand turned always-on content provider. It’s now effectively a digital publishing, live events and extreme sports empire that also happens to sell energy drinks. Red Bull’s universe is one of high adrenaline sports and stunts… and it producers more of it, and in greater quality than many traditional broadcasters. As the brand is clearly emotionally invested in the content, it has a greater ring of authenticity… a win-win outcome if ever there was one.

Waitrose has developed another classic example of always-on branded content; leading the way in its approach with a range of digital-first initiatives including Cooking Christmas Live – a broadcast event available on Facebook and the main Waitrose website.

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More recently, British Gas has created regular lifestyle content through a partnership with Channel 4. British Gas Presents: Phil Spencer Home Hero is packaged in a series of weekly episodes that see Phil share his expertise, offering take-out tips with homeowners facing modern-day challenges like moving home for the first time. Meanwhile, fashion retailer Matalan has recently created its own branded show produced and promoted by ITV in partnership with Time Inc. Matalan Presents: The Show, presented by Denise van Outen, will broadcast twice-weekly on the main Matalan website and on YouTube.

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On the high street, the powerful partnership between Boots and Macmillan Cancer Research has turned Boots’ in-store make-up advice service into much loved and shared digital content – adding value for both brands in a way that leverages the expertise and reach of each.

Next – the always-on brand

Where to next? New partnerships. New channels. New production techniques. The opportunity for switched-on, connected brands and organisations is considerable; but it will require a different approach to content, an always-on approach that puts them at the heart of an on-going conversation about relevant issues. Issues that matter to audiences – and a world away from the old ‘above-the-line’ sales messages that advertisers used to send.

Tim Plyming, Director of Content