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#CommsWeek16 Panel Recap: How Technology Is Changing The Content Marketing Landscape

Post by Tom Kirkham, International Account Director, Kite Hill PR

There’s no part of the comms sector that’s been reinvented more drastically than custom publishing. It’s been around for several hundred years, but the 21st century tech revolution has exploded the industry, with publishers, PR agencies and media partners getting involved thanks to the opportunities afforded by digital marketing.

This morning’s discussion took a closer look at how technology has redefined the relationship between brands and content providers. It featured some of the hottest talent in custom content, with host Lori Greene of The Content Council probing guests from the New York Times’ content studio T Brand, web content gurus King Fish Media, and programmatic advertising experts PulsePoint, among others.

Greene began by asking the panel when brands should dive into new technologies versus a wait-and-see approach. Janet Levine at Mindshare was first to step up, explaining that, “We always want to move quickly, so if we see an example of a technology that’s right for us, we jump right on it.” King Fish Media’s Cam Brown adopted a more hesitant position, saying, “You have to exercise some caution - the question is whether technology can engage our clients’ customers or not.”

Randy Liodice at Kaplan explained that the story comes first. “The story you tell has to be a good one. The technology is just the means of getting it out there. If it doesn’t feel authentic, the people listening to you are going to pick up on that instantly.”

“VR is the key technology for me,” said Denise Burrell-Stinson at New York Times. “VR is a beautiful shiny, new toy. However, there’s a specific type of story that works in VR - it’s all about atmosphere. But sometimes a more linear approach is going to be better for a brand. Bad VR is really, really bad - it can actually make you sick!”

“Be careful about getting your clients too hooked up on technologies that they may not have the budget for,” said Brown. “We strive to allow clients to offer a richer experience - VR is one example of this, but it might not be right for everyone.”

Levine noted that, “We see technologies like IBM’s Watson as really important - the potential for AI to raise the game for human/machine interaction.” Sloan Gaon at PulsePoint added, “AI will become embedded in our technology moving forward. It’s amazing what you can do with the internet of things, using data and AI across devices to get the right content to the right person.”

Burrell-Stinson shared this sentiment. “360 is cheaper than VR, and can be really satisfying - it’s a really immersive, rich visual experience. There’s still a lot of jargon around the different content platforms - we need to stop conflating these platforms and do more to figure out what’s right for each individual brand.”

“I like the immersive nature of 360,” explained Liodice. “360 helps consumers to touch and feel the products better. Your target audience has to be the first consideration. What is going to help the consumer better experience your brand?”

Greene asked Levine about AR given the recent success of Pokemon Go (not the first time the game has been mentioned at Communications Week). “Snapchat is using AR really well. There are great examples within the retail space too - brands are finding interesting ways of using AR to engage consumers at specific locations.”

So where does print feature in the mix, given the huge number of content platforms available to brands? “Where we see print being really powerful still is around considered purchase - particularly in retail,” explained Brown. “In a catalogue or print title, the cart sizes are double and the returns are significantly lower - it’s a more thoughtful platform.  There is also the age issue. Many older customers still like print - so we ask our customers whether they’d prefer digital or print.”

“You can keep a sense of innovation even in print,” argued Burrell-Stinson. “We’ve seen advertisers that have created the equivalent of a time-lapse video in a print execution. Print is still working - it’s a question of where brands want and need to be.”

“We’ve seen a lot of magazines close as they move to digital, but it’s still important for our clients to see things in print and they can still reach their audiences through this channel,” said Kaplan. “But it has to be part of a broader 360 degree strategy.”

The discussion then returned to the internet of things. Gaon mentioned that, “At GE, they’re talking about connecting lights in an exciting way. Imagine going into Bloomingdales and having beacons attached to lights to retarget you with relevant content as you pass by.” Brown shared this excitement. “What we care about is helping our customers. IoT is awesome at this. It has applications everywhere.”

Liodice was asked about the future of social media as a content platform. “The challenge is that as we become more reliant on social, we need to retain the humanity. We’ve seen issues with chatbots and Facebook trending topics that show how quickly things can go awry when you take the human element out.”

“People can see through a lot - authenticity is vital,” she added. “If you do not have individuals behind the face of your brand, you’re done - and it can happen instantly.”
Burrell-Stinson questioned whether publishers are right to compete with the social media platforms. “They should be looking at how to create content that will really stand out on the social platforms and that will drive traffic to their owned platforms.”

“Big brands need to change the way they approach advertising,” concluded Gaon. “The world is evolving so quickly - you need to be bold, use new channels and use new technology to drive your brand and your message.”