13 min read

Face it: you’re not Netflix

Why long-form content fails

“I feel like you’re not a real musician or entertainer if you can’t go into a room, pick up an instrument and entertain people.” – Chris Cornell

In my previous article I wrote about connecting brands to culture. So the next step is integrating this in your marketing strategy. There are many ways to do this, but in this article I want to dive deeper into brand(ed) content. Especially long form content. Something that has been a big part of my job for the last 4 years. And the last couple of months I’ve had some discussions about long form content, and its effectiveness for building brands. The main reason for the discussion is the statement that consumers are tired of shallow social posts and ads by brands, and want more quality long form content. Prove off that would be the enormous popularity of Netflix content. But hey: you’re not Netflix, are you? It just isn’t in the nature of brands to entertain people, nor is it their core business.

According to Wikipedia, “branded content is the practice of marketing via the creation of content that is funded or outright produced by an advertiser. …branded content is designed to build awareness for a brand by associating it with content that shares its values.”. Looking at Google trends ‘branded content’ grew in popularity over the last 5 years. But looking at the fact that people (probably marketeers) are likely to combine a search for it with the terms Instagram, Facebook and influencers, the most popular content form right now is short social content. And looking at our Facebook and Instagram feeds, that might be right. But which works better for building awareness? Short social content or long-form Netflix-like content? Or neither? Let’s try and find out.

Is it effective

According to Byron Sharp, brands are built by sophisticated mass marketing: creating consistent and constantly used, easy- to-remember brand assets which will over time create distinctive memory structures which bring the brand front-of-mind when a consumer is shopping that category (mental availability). So instead of creating meaning, brand should continuously reach all buyers within a brand’s category to build brand salience and ensure the brand is always front of mind, especially at the moment of purchase. And in a more recent blog he challenges the value of changing how consumers perceive a particular brand versus the competition. So Byron Sharp doesn’t leave much room for content marketing at all. Luckily there is also evidence that brand perceptions, before purchase, have an impact on the degree to which people consider it, prefer it and eventually buy it. And content can be a good way of doing this, since it leaves room for telling your brand story, connecting your brand to culture, and appeal to the interest of your audience.

Next to that it seems that content also had a positive impact on the way people value advertising. Internal market research by GroupM shows the use of ad blockers in The Netherlands is still growing and 1 in 3 people use one. However, usage is dropping amongst millennials. This might be caused by the introduction of new ad formats and the growing relevancy of ads in the past few years. Content being one of them.

Of course content should be an integrated part of your marketing mix. So next to entertaining or informing content, plain advertising should be part of this mix as well. Use content as proof for your brand positioning or to help people understand your products and services and combine it with awareness and conversion focused advertising.

What type of content?

So now that we’ve cleared that branded content can contribute to changing the perception of a brand, let’s discuss how and if this should be long or short form.

With attention dropping you might say that short-form content is the way to go. And it probably is most of the time. According to Facebook about 70% of social content is consumed on the go, 20% is consumed lean forward (actively looking for information) and 10% lean back (taking the time to lean back and consume content). Looking at the total media consumption time (almost 10 hours a day) this doesn’t seem right and it isn’t. Who watches only one episode of their favourite Netflix show a day?! Facebook is talking about Facebook content and in that case they are probably right. But not when you look at the total media consumption. But still, most of the content is probably consumed on the go. I am too lazy to do the exact maths, but when you think of how much we listen to the radio or Spotify while in our car, and scroll on social channels while riding the subway, being bored at work or while watching TV, it’s not surprising that most of the content that is put out there by brands is to be consumed while people aren’t paying too much attention. Content that works at a glance. Short form (social) content that puts the brand front and center, but still puts a smile on people’s faces or appeals to them in other ways. I will tell more on best practices on this type of content, but one example is The Hungry Games campaign we developed for Snickers;

Lean forward content is mostly information about your brand, products and services. Aimed to teach people how your products are suited or valuable for them, and mostly aimed at people in a consideration stage. Very important, but not the long form content we’re talking about in this article. Because that is content aimed at people looking to be entertained. For a longer time. Content for which you have to sit back, relax and take your time. Content that is provided by movie theaters, TV networks, record companies, Netflix, Amazon, Vice, YouTubers and other content producers. Companies that devote all of their time and money into producing content that people love. And now you want to be part of that with your brand. Good luck with that!

Because that’s the most important reason that brands are failing at long form content. It’s just not good enough. They don’t invest enough time and money in storytellers and storytelling. And when they do invest, it’s only for a short period of time because they fail to prove the efforts have an impact. So if you do plan to produce long form content, here are a few important things to keep in mind.

1. Invest in Storytellers and storytelling

When attending the Social Media Week in London last year, I listened to a talk of National Geographic. One of the best storytellers in the world, and they had some interesting learnings for brands producing content. But the most important one, was to invest in storytellers (the people with the skills to create a good story) and storytelling (the stories itself). Without a proper investment, for a longer period of time, you won’t succeed. So find the people who fit your brand and are able to tell a good story.

A great example of a long form content case from last year is prizewinning campaign Evert_45. What makes this case so good is the fact that they told stories about World War II, which have always intrigued people. But they did it in such a way that it spoke to a new generation: the YouTube generation. And it wasn’t just one or two episodes, but a series of 11 vlogs telling one big story. Published on multiple channels, adjusting the content to each one.

2. Connect to a culture

As you’ve might have read in my previous article, I’m a big fan of connecting brands to culture. By doing that you can create content that really appeals to your audience. In the case of Evert_45 above, it connected to youth culture by using vlog style content on a YouTube channel and an Instagram channel sharing extra content in the form of typical Instagram photos from the perspective of the hero. Other great examples can be found in this article.

3. Don’t do it for the short term

Spoiler alert: the story of Evert ended with the liberation of The Netherlands, which made it a short term content campaign. Not that it wasn’t good, but the audience was asking for more at the end of the campaign. A missed opportunity if you ask me.

And that’s a problem with many content efforts: brands (and agencies) produce too much content for the short term. And I can’t stress it enough: develop a long term branding strategy and integrate content into it for the long term as well. Because with short bursts of content not connected to one another, you aren’t building a consistent brand perception. And people won’t know your brand for producing long-form content, so with every episode or campaign you have to convince people to spend time watching your content instead of a Netflix show.

So produce (long form) content for the long run. Just like Red Bull did by claiming extreme sports or Guinness did with a series of content around their brand promise ‘Made of more’. I already showed you the example of the Compton Cowboys, which is part of a long running series of inspiring true stories and aims to promote Guinness as a beer of ‘character and substance’. Other campaigns focused on the Sapeurs, a dapper group of gents from the Congo, and Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas, who told the story of coming out to his teammates. Published over a period of four years time, but building upon each other by tying it to the same brand story.

4. Build a campaign around it

There are a few reasons why you want to build a campaign around your content:

  1. When you haven’t done much content efforts yet, people won’t turn to your brand for it. So you need to promote your content in a campaign.
  2. Instead of doing standalone content, you can use parts of your content to tell your brand story in other media. Such as a TV commercial, social en online video ads, or even print and out of home. This way you have a higher return on investment and have more impact on your brand metrics.
  3. People who have watched your content are very valuable, because they now know your brand and what it stands for and hopefully have a positive perception towards it (if you did it well). So follow up with ads of related products and services and build a campaign to guide your audience through the funnel. Of course this depends on the products and services you offer and how people buy them. You don’t want to please them with content first and then annoy them with bad ads…

But beware you don’t produce the content for the sake of the campaign and end up with a one-off thing that will only disappoint, confuse or annoy your audience.

‌Fast as f4%k 

To end the article I want to highlight another case by Nike. You might say I’m a fanboy, but I don’t care. It’s just a great case! In 2017 they produced Breaking2; a 55-minute film documenting Nike’s ambitious two-year project: a moonshot attempt to break the two-hour barrier for running a marathon. Using the storytelling qualities of National Geographic and a fascinating story perfectly fitting Nike’s ‘Just do it’ mentality. And the best thing is, they can now sell the shoe used in the documentary as the fastest marathon shoe ever. And you can’t argue that, since they’ve actually proved it.