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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Inspiration and Insight at Inaugural Content All Stars Event

September 25, 2014 | By DCN
Content All Stars Vox Panel

Digital Content Next hosted more than 300 marketers, members and agency guests at the inaugural Content All Stars event, held on September, 18, 2014 in New York City. Highlights from the agenda are below. Some of the recurring themes from the day’s program included:

  • Measuring engagement isn’t as simple as counting likes and shares;
  • The power of content marketing and branded content;
  • The importance of context in marketing and editorial content;
  • Technology as an editorial tool;
  • How to build and maintain trust; and
  • The power of great storytelling.

Awe-Inspiring Creativity
Jason Silva, Futurist, Epiphany Addict & TV Host
Jason Silva
Jason Silva likes to think about content as a way to disseminate big ideas. “We are the species that transforms and transcends,” he said, calling biology a new form of information technology. He told the audience that “disruption is an opportunity to reinvent ourselves”— which is something that smart publishers already know. Good marketing shows you something you’ve never seen before, he said, bringing his ideas about creativity and possibility back to subject at hand. “If you give somebody the chills, they’re going to want to share it,” which underscores the power of the storytelling —a theme that would come up many times throughout the day.

Building Your Content Engine: How to Rev it like Red Bull
Werner Brell, Managing Director, Red Bull Media House
Werner Brell
Red Bull is the Gold Standard when it comes to content marketing. “At Red Bull, our mission has always been to inspire and fascinate,” said Brell. Red Bull does this through relevant content connected with an authentic brand. Their connection with athletes began when in the company’s early days when, to market the beverage, the company started giving the energy drink away to skiers, windsurfers, and skateboarders. Brell said, “It’s all about finding the right story for your brand and engaging the consumer in a way that he doesn’t know he’s being marketed to. Consumer engagement is the key…But none of this will work if you don’t know your brand.” Red Bull’s success with Content Marketing is so great that it formed its own Media House. Over the past 3.5 years, Red Bull has released 11 feature films. Serializing YouTube content immediately tripled the duration of viewing and engagement. At first, Brell said, people just bought the energy drink, but now brand loyalists buy movie tickets, watch television shoes, buy event tickets, and more. He closed by sharing Red Bulls rules for great content:

  • Be relevant and authentic
  • Surprise and innovate
  • Be consistent
  • Be the story
  • Inspire sharing

Content Marketing: A Sound Investment by Goldman Sachs
Amanda Rubin, Global Co-head Brand & Content Strategy, Goldman Sachs;
Sebastian Tomich, VP, Advertising, Branded Content, The New York Times
This conversation between Rubin and Tomich was about the potential of branded content, native advertising, and content marketing. It focused largely on the ethics and concerns about trust that these raise — especially for media brands. Both sides agreed that clear labeling was key and that these tactics work best for everyone involved — including the audience — when the content is not promotional and adds value. The panelists also addressed the complicated question of measuring engagement. Tomich joked, “I have one metric–and that’s a renewal.” He also said that “when it comes to branded content, we know audiences like it, we just don’t know how to quantify the ROI yet.”

Are You The Marrying Kind? Audience Engagement Takes Commitment
Mike Kisseberth, Chief Revenue Officer, Purch;
Paul Marcum, Global Head of Digital Video, Bloomberg Media;
Patrick Stiegman, VP & Editorial Director, Digital & Print Media, ESPN;
Moderator: Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director, DCN
One of the big themes of this session, and the conference as a whole, was that measuring engagement isn’t easy, and is different for everyone. The same goes for building engagement. In this panel we learned about the challenges facing three very different publishers. Much of ESPN’s time and attention goes to creating more engaging mobile experiences around live games, and hyper-local sports teams. Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Marcum says that the great data and reporting that Bloomberg is famous for will win over new audiences. Purch has a different approach, in large part because it has a variety of brands and focuses on enabling commerce. Because many of its sites cater to very niche interests, its community of users are often what bring people back. Purch also finds that it has valuable engagement metrics that come out of the sales process as well.

Data Storm: Mindshare and The Weather Company Turn Insights into Action
Vikram Somaya, GM, WeatherFX;
Bob Ivins, Chief Data Officer, Mindshare
This session may go down as one of the most memorable, if for no other reason than Vikram Somaya kicked it off with a Shakespearean monologue. The session itself focused mostly on the predictive capabilities of WeatherFX “the weather-intelligent marketing platform.” WeatherFX uses billions of weather data points, combined with consumer behavior data to help its customers create better, more predictive advertising campaigns. “If you shop on Friday you will make decisions differently if you know the weekend will be beautiful,” Somaya said. And the company helps clients — such as Mindshare — to create dynamic and adaptive marketing and media campaigns.

How Vox Made Media Tech Sexy
Jim Bankoff, Chairman and CEO, Vox Media;
Melissa Bell, Co-founder & Executive Editor, Vox Media;
Lockhart Steele, VP, Editorial, Vox
This session could have easily been titled “What We Can Learn from Digital Native Publishers”— and what you might have learned is that technology is becoming increasingly important to great editorial experiences. Perhaps the biggest example of this were the Vox Card Stacks, which are a sort of digital version of flash cards that help readers get quickly up to speed on almost any topic. But even digital natives struggle to keep up with technology at times. As Bell pointed out, “The card stacks look great on mobile, now we need to make them look great on a watch.” The company emphasizes integrating technology, from inception, into all editorial and advertising processes and infrastructure as well as being fast and responsive to new demands.

Painting the Picture of Diversity: The Power of Storytelling
Soledad O’Brien, Founder, Starfish Media Group
Soledad O'Brien
O’Brien was one of the highlights of the day, and there was, perhaps, no greater example of the power of storytelling than her keynote, which left hardly a dry eye in the house. Examples from O’Brien’s own documentaries, like Black in America, illustrated one of her main points: “There is value in difference.” She urged the crowd to find new ways to tell stories, but also touched on one of the recurring themes of the day: how to create sponsored content without compromising editorial integrity. O’Brien pointed to a new documentary she is working on about girls that happens to be sponsored by Cover Girl. As she puts it, “You have to four-wall it.” In other words, make it very clear from the beginning that the sponsor is simply underwriting the content and that editorial control is up to you.

Trust: Will the Gatekeepers of the Future Rise to the Challenge?
John Borthwick, founder & CEO, betaworks;
Anil Dash, cofounder & CEO, ThinkUp;
Steve Rubel, Chief Content Strategist, Edelman

Content All Stars Trust PanelA wide-ranging discussion which often pushed the limits of the topic with a very upfront takeaway: Let your bias be known, otherwise no one will trust you. “To pretend that we don’t have values baked into the algorithms is absurd,” Dash said, talking about social media sites like Facebook. But the conversation also worked its way around to the topic of native advertising and other editorial hot button issues. Borthwick even took editors to task, calling out a dubiously sourced Vox story that claimed one in six French people support ISIS. Borthwick found the claim suspicious and hunted down the source of the info which turned out to be commissioned by Vladimir Putin’s media agency. Dash pointed out, “You can mortgage trust and reputation, but you can only do it once.”

Content Marketing at IBM: A Story of Transformation
Ann Rubin, VP, Branded Content and Global Creative, IBM
IBM has a unique problem: there isn’t a product, per se. “What we sell is very complicated, so we try to talk about it in a very simple way,” Rubin said. This forces the company to think about its content strategy a bit differently, and leads to what Rubin describes as content that breaks new ground, experiential content, and content made with customers. One of the most interesting examples Rubin gave was a food truck at SXSW which relied on celebrity chefs to create food thought up by Watson, and voted on by the public. Ultimately, the brand focuses on content that demonstrates the power of its technology to achieve given objectives or goals, rather than focusing on the tech itself.

Get the Bug: Making Content Viral
Allison Kingsley, VP, Digital Development, Comedy Central
The name of this session is a bit misleading, because what one really took away from Kingsley’s presentation is just how well suited the digital space is to experimenting with new content. “My focus is using the digital environment to incubate and birth new shows,” she said. And she’s done this with some success as two of her web series will be making their way to television soon. Kingsley leverages social for more than one-off viral success. Rather, she tests programs digitally and uses social to evaluate their potential and build audiences. Then, if a program is deemed worthy, it launches with a built-in audience that are its social advocates as well.

How Consumer Engagement Online Drives Quantifiable Results
Claire Tavernier, Managing Director, Channel Flip Media
This session could have been alternately titled “The Power of YouTube Personality.” Tavernier’s video examples of You Tube campaigns for the likes of Kellogg’s and Tesco were among the most entertaining examples of content marketing of the day. But the most important takeaway was this: “Don’t make a TV ad for online.” If you want to make a commercial go ahead and make one, but put it on TV where it belongs. When it comes to reaching your audience on a medium like YouTube, you have to be more creative and work with the existing talent. And when it comes to marketing to millennials, don’t. Market with them to succeed.

On the Right Track: Messages that Move the Right Audience
Kristin Smith, Assistant Vice President, Communications, Association of American Railroads;
Kelly Andresen, Director of Advertising Innovations & Product Strategy, The Washington Post;
Dianne Riddle Mikeska, Account Director, Home Front Communications
It’s always interesting to see examples of great content from unexpected places. The AAR example was especially interesting because of its need to target very specific Washington D.C. policy makers. “Freight rail’s message is multi-faceted and nuanced…it needs more than a banner ad,” said Smith. As such, the organization teamed up with The Washington Post, creating an ambitious 26 pieces of content for the month-long campaign. Like so many other companies employing content marketing and native advertising techniques, Mikeska said, “We had to reframe our message to make it editorial.” Refreshingly, Mikeska also alluded to changes they would have made if they had to do it over again, but ultimately felt that content marketing was the right approach to reach its very specific target audience of D.C. policy makers.

Creativity and the Next Big Idea
Sarah Lewis, Author: The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery
The day ended on an inspiring, if quiet, note, as Lewis talked to the audience about the difference between success and mastery, failure, and the importance of grit. She said, “Mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can’t do it again and again.” Perhaps most relevant for publishers in the audience was her discussion of grit and the importance of knowing when to pivot. In the changing media landscape, companies need to know when to abandon their old strategies and embrace something new.

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