I made a living out of running iconic magazines such as Vogue and GQ, which relied heavily on the advertising income derived from publishing beautiful brand ads. But these titles also helped advertising brand partners to build direct relationships with audiences by producing quality content they could deliver on their own channels, such as YouTube and social media. 

Through that experience, I know all too well the incredible shift that’s at play in a marketer’s toolbox between advertising and content – with content aiming to be the top tool in the box. Today, I help lead Australia and New Zealand’s leading content agency, Medium Rare, where we help big brands become their own publishers on all platforms. 

Advertising and broadcast media are still essential for creating high awareness of brands, especially new ones. But for consumers, who have heightened demands on their time and evolving expectations of their relationships with brands, content has become integral in driving engagement now that people are taking firm control of when and how that occurs.

If you are a brand that’s producing content on your own channels to your own audience – be that on a blog, YouTube, social platform, printed product or via electronic direct mail – you’re constantly measuring its impact. You’re tracking views or dwell times and every metric that adds to your understanding of how content fosters loyalty, increases brand perceptions, promotes advocacy, and, ultimately, drives sales. 

But metrics don’t tell us how audiences feel about your brand content. Do your customers value it? What does it tell them about your brand? How does it make them think about it? Above all, how does it inspire action?

We commissioned global cultural insights and strategy consultants Crowd DNA to uncover the stories and statistics that demonstrate how content brings the purpose and value of brands to life. The research is the first in the Australian and New Zealand markets that explains why content marketing is attracting increasing amounts of investment and is succeeding in convincing consumers to buy.

The big take-outs of brand content

Key findings of the research included that brand content mirrors traditional media in terms of its impact – to inform, educate, inspire and entertain – and can play a pivotal role in building consumer relationships if it is delivered consistently and of high quality. 

Brand content is seen to exist within the consumers’ world, rather than acting as a disrupter to it. It works because consumers discover brands, products and offers that meet their needs on their own terms. 

The research also discovered that brand content leads to an emotional response from consumers. When done well, it is seen to enrich their lives, with powerful returns on brand preference. 

And, importantly, it acts as both an easy consumer shortcut to action (minimising the evaluation phase for today’s time-poor buyers) and as a shortcut for the brand to reach the consumer through constant connection.

Consumers’ requirements

The researchers concluded that consumers expect content from you, and expect you to do it well. But how do you meet consumers’ needs through it, when they are increasingly controlling their media consumption and thinking more critically about brands and their buying intentions?

After surveying a thousand people, we came up with the six rules of successful brand content as demanded by the consumers themselves. 

Provide me with regular, relevant content

Seventy-three per cent of consumers expect the brands they like to provide them with relevant content, and 43% are engaging with brand content daily. That second figure rises significantly for 18- to 24-year-olds. These findings tell us that content is almost a prerequisite to demonstrating the value of your brand and is what your consumers are asking of you.

Speak to me as a human, not as a consumer

Seventy-two per cent of consumers appreciate it when brands speak to them as humans. Audiences are seeking a more multidimensional, rich and nuanced understanding of brands. Just as “real people” brands become idiosyncratic, nuanced, invested, engaged and passionate, consumers expect to be acknowledged in the same way. So, forget the corporate speak and get real.

Focus on “serving” me rather than on “selling” to me

Weber, the barbecue manufacturer, gets it right with its social videos that seek to serve, rather than to sell, to the consumer. The company was praised during our research for explaining how to use the barbecues and their accessories because this information added value for the audience. And 73% will feel more positively towards you if you provide valuable content. 

Form a relationship with me and you’ve got me for life

In an increasingly isolated and disconnected world, we’re all looking for ways to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Consumers now expect a reciprocal relationship – a true value exchange. Arne & Carlos, a small Norwegian woollen yarn supplier, got it right during the pandemic with their YouTube series that feels like you are knitting alongside them by the fire. Fifty per cent of consumers say that staying connected to a brand through content makes them feel they are part of a community.

Allow me to discover your content by myself

With consumers in control of when and how they engage with a brand, having content available for when they want it becomes a powerful tool for discovery. Seventy per cent agree that brand content helps them discover new brands and products.  

Please, make it good

Not all content is created equal. Consumers demand high-quality content that directly meets their needs. Only 34% said that brands deliver content that is relevant to them. There is clearly room to improve brand content and to speak more directly to consumers.

So, what now?

All that is a lot to take in, I know. And for today’s marketer who realises the need for a content strategy and output but is resource- and time-poor, the question becomes, “How do I go about doing content?” It’s the number-one question I get asked. Producing consistently high-quality content is not traditionally part of a marketer’s toolbox, but there are a number of approaches you can take. 

You can choose to outsource it to content agencies, which employ some of the most experienced strategists in the industry and have also attracted top talent from traditional media players. 

Or you can decide to do it in-house. For functional content that is high on direct marketing and compliance requirements, that may be the best option, but can take a while to set up.

Finally, there’s the hybrid option, where a marketing team is restructured to allow for a head of content and they tap into the expertise of an agency, perhaps to develop a strategy for them to implement internally, or to work on a campaign-by-campaign basis as they build audience and engagement. 

It can seem a bit daunting, because once you start with brand content, it’s a long game and you can’t turn back. But with your consumers keen to build a relationship with you, the journey can be a fruitful one for you and your business. 

Nick Smith is group content director of Medium Rare Content Agency, which builds content ecosystems and audiences for leading brands. It has offices in Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney.