Truth by told, most brands dabble in content. Sure they’re cranking out blog posts, images and even videos but few have allocated the resources to truly capture the hearts and minds of their target audience. Here’s when you know things are serious:
- The CEO believes in content enough to create a separate production department & fund it
- The CEO hires a content chief who understands the essential elements of storytelling
- The content creators are not slaves to the product manager’s briefs
- The budget includes funding for quality, quantity and media support
- Everyone involved recognizes that content has a long gestation period and is not to be confused with direct response marketing
So who is getting right? For one, Marriott International and to learn more about their efforts, I talked with David Beebe, Global Creative and Content Marketing for Marriott’s portfolio of 19 brands (Marriott Hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Moxy Hotels, +++) covering 4,200 hotels in 82 countries. David was a winner of The CMO Club’s award for Content Marketing which isn’t all that surprising given his strong roots in Hollywood (Disney/ABC, Direct TV & Showtime). Part 2 of my highly informative interview with David follows. You can find part 1 on our podcast. To give you a sense of the quality of David and his team’s work, take a look at the video below before reading how it came to pass.
Drew: Tell me how the French Kiss video program was put together?
David: Often times, brand don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They just want to create a film or a webisode. With our brands, we actually sat them down and if they couldn’t explain why, we sent them back to the drawing table to really understand the purpose of it. An example of that, with Moxy, a new brand we have for the next generation traveler, they wanted to do something in the content space. They’re why is very simple. It’s a brand new brand. Even with the power of Marriott, it takes a lot of work to introduce a new brand to the marketplace so we said “let’s do a webisode series. What’s the format, where should it live, what’s the creative and the right talent?”
Drew: How many episodes have you created and how did you measure success?
David: We’ve done close to 12+ episodes. It wasn’t measured by driving revenue, but we introduced what the brand was to viewers. Versus the films, a larger investment, we wanted to do all those things but then create a revenue source around it. How do you take content, but keep people in your world? With everything that we do, we create that content ecosystem of where we’re able to keep the audience in our brand world, keep them engaged with more. No content should have a dead end so after you watch French Kiss, you’re presented with the sales package. We provided you with value first, entertained you, hopefully you’ve built a relationship with us and say “That’s cool, they didn’t try to sell me anything there, I’m inspired to travel. Let me check out what there actually offering me and selling me.” Most of our webisodes have sales packages around them as well.
Drew: Since you weren’t measuring heads in beds on the Moxy webisodes, how do we measure the effectiveness?
David: It’s reach, but what we look at a lot is time spent with the content, because that tells us if it’s good content, if people are engaged with the content. If so, that means we’ve got something there. If we can give them the right content, then ultimately I can build a community around people who like that content and then drive commerce from them. We distributed exclusively on YouTube and Instagram to drive traffic but we’ve been able to see really high engagement. People really identify and understand what the Moxy brand is because that comes through in the actual content itself.
Drew: How do you make sure that your videos are being watched?
David: You invest into a production, you put it out, and you assume the world will come to it and that’s the exact opposite of what happens. Good or bad, everyone is a content creator today. We use paid media campaigns to promote the content, and we run it all on YouTube through True View ads and that’s where we’re seeing and getting all these stats. People went to YouTube to watch something else and they were presented with a story driven piece of content, not an ad, that they had the option to skip after 5 seconds but they didn’t because they were immediately drawn into it because it was different and they’re used to ads. That’s where we’re seeing such high completion rates. It’s also the opportunity of brands as media companies. In many cases, many brands have a powerful owned media network beyond their social channels. Brands need to step back and look at all the channels they actually own that they can program their content through.
Drew: How does the Moxy content direct the viewer to the product?
David: On YouTube it’s presented through the descriptions usually in the text below and we embed that YouTube player into the Moxy website itself. There’s a special mini-site that is built for the majority of our shows where you’re able to find out what the show is about and that’s where the sales package is presented as well and obviously we promote that page and tap into taking that offer and presenting that to our 80 million reward member through email marketing. Our engagement rates, our open rates, are huge because they expect that email every week with offers from Marriott within that world we created. We’re not just putting a piece of content out there and letting it sit.
Drew: Do you have a strategy brief format that you give to the brands and say “you need to put your content in this vernacular or we can’t get you where you want to go?”
David: I’m actually not a big believer in briefs at all. They confuse people, people don’t know what to put in them. Often times its just useless information. We sit all of our brands down and just do in-person meetings and conversations. We’re hiring people who come from the media business. All the leadership on my team has come from journalism, network news, production companies, but they also understand the marketing side and the business side. Going back to that key person you need to hire, you don’t want to hire a creative that just thinks big but doesn’t know how to execute or match it to business results. Our approach is brand immersion. Many brands, including ours, will sit you down for days and tell you what their brand is about. From a certain point from a content marketing perspective, we don’t go that deep.
Drew: Why not?
David: I’m trying to hit, in our case next generation travelers, they’re business travelers, leisure travelers or family travelers and I’m trying to hit a passion point- what there interested in, and also the way that they travel and create stories within there. It’s understanding the brand and what its about but at the same time collaborating with a creator where the brand is a character. When we first started, we just talked about content in general and one of the brand marketers said “here’s my idea. We put a GoPro on someone’s head, they check in at the front desk, they go to their room, they fall on the bed and they’re like ‘this is such a great pillow.’” That’s not content marketing, that’s not storytelling. Now that consumers are in charge, we have to shift to not talking about ourselves but what does that consumer want, how do I entertain them, how do I solve their problems, how do I build a relationship with them, provide value?” Then I have their attention and they’re more likely to pay attention to what I’m actually trying to sell you. Ultimately, I want to build long term, valuable relationships.
Drew: Does the brand team see content as “nice to have” or fundamental to driving their business units?
David: I think in our case, all of the brand leaders understand the value of storytelling and what we’re doing. They may not completely understand the mechanics of it and how it all works. I think people in content marketing understand the change that’s happening and get super excited. Content marketing is just one piece of the pie. Its not everything. I think people see the scale of what we’re doing which is phenomenal but at the same time, we’re doing a lot of traditional stuff. We’ve shifted a lot of money into content so there’s that standalone content budget that the studio has which is something all content studios need, because then your battle is only selling the concept to the brand, not that you also need money to go do it. Also, brands are shifting brand marketing dollars into content activities and, in our case at least, are very excited about it.
Drew: So how far can this shift to content go?
David: It doesn’t mean we’ve stopped dong everything else we do, but things are shifting as they understand how the audience is shifting. One of the tactics I use to educate leadership here is present an idea of publish or perish. We all the opportunities to be publishers. I read a stat from Google that says 82% of people skip TV ads and I say “when was the last time any of you were watching a show and got excited when a commercial came on and tuned in 100%” Most of us start doing something else. I’m not saying stop all TV marketing and advertising but its not as effective as it used to be. We look at all traditional marketing. Why are brands spending all this money on stuff that doesn’t perform? We just use numbers, say “here is the reality.” We’re not trying to sell you anything as an executive leader, so let’s try this.