Updated: Nov 17
Speakers from ANA's Content Marketing Conference
After nearly two years of virtual-only events, I had the opportunity to mix and mingle in person with the best of the best in my industry at ANA’s Content Marketing Conference. From being inspired by how content shapes culture (and vice versa) to hearing how brands in different industries connect with their customers through storytelling, this conference delivered.
Speakers from the most well-known brands in the world took the stage for two days and delivered poignant presentations that pointed to why content marketing is one of the best investments any organization can make today–and for the foreseeable future. So I wanted to share the common themes and trends that showcase just how powerful content marketing can be for all brands.
Bob Liodice, CEO at ANA, opened the event with a powerful call for brands to re-think how they refer to themselves. “It’s not B2C or B2B anymore; it’s B4H or brands for humans,” he said.
“Our profession needs to obsess about the humans at the heart of business.”
Said another way by Charles Trevail, Global CEO of Interbrand Group: “The brands that are growing are those that intuitively know their customers and make brave, iconic moves that delight and deliver in new ways.”
Consumers today care about authenticity. They want to see the brands they buy from do more than just sell their products and services. They want to see how the brands they buy from add value to their lives and make a difference in the world. That’s where content marketing fits so nicely into the puzzle. As content marketers, we understand audience needs and how to connect their needs throughout their buying journey with compelling storytelling.
Content marketing is $300 billion in size and growing at a rate of 16% annually
69% of brands spend more than 15% of their budgets on content marketing
81% of brands believe content marketing strengthens brand and image
75% of brands believe content marketing builds customer loyalty
Leading brands are paving the way in B4H content marketing
We heard from Kimberly Doebereiner, Proctor and Gamble's group vice president of future of advertising and head of P&G Studios, whose team finds seamless ways to integrate P&G brands into consumer's daily lives. They found that consumers view traditional ads as annoying, bombarding, and stalking. Instead, they want experiences that are relevant, on-demand, frictionless, entertaining, and helpful—leading P&G to the insight that all content it creates must be useful and interesting. You'll often find her team asking, "Is this content useful? Is it interesting?" When it is, it works. For example, Pampers created a storybook library for the over 4 million children under the age of 3 who don't have anyone to read to them (useful). Dawn partnered with gamers to integrate its Dawn ducks into video games (interesting), growing brand perception by 30%.
Alan Bethke, senior vice president of marketing at Subaru of America, and Marcus Fischer, CEO at Carmichael Lynch, took the stage to explain how Subaru went all in on love. After mining insights from numerous sources of customer data, Bethke and his team found a common thread in how its customers talked about the brand. Customers wrote about their love for their Subaru. This one insight created multitudes of ways to connect with current and future customers.
"If we’re a company about love,” Bethke said. “Then we have to figure out ways to show up.” And it did with its “Subaru loves earth,“ “Subaru loves pets,” and “Subaru share the love” platforms, separating the brand from competitors by going beyond the sea of sameness in its industry to tapping into the more profound emotional value of love.
Marriott’s Editorial Director Robin Bennefield wanted to help people reconnect with travel during the Covid health pandemic. She unlocked compelling data showing that desperate travelers would give up just about anything to travel again. Why? “Travel is essential to realizing our higher selves,” she said. With this fundamental audience need at hand, she led her team to launch the “Power of Travel” campaign that would help its audiences “not just escape, but discover themselves, each other, and the world everyone shares.” It’s a rallying cry that appeals to a deeper sense of self, especially when issues stemming from isolation and separation were at an all-time high.
Anna Ritchie, global business director of BodyMark by BIC, shared how the brand isn’t just selling temporary tattoo markers; instead, it relates to consumers through self-expression. In a world where identity struggles and mental health are front and center, BodyMark by BIC builds community and connection through experience and empathy.
In 2022 and beyond, it’s no longer about B2B or B2C; the brands that think of themselves as B4H will win hearts and minds.
Content and culture collide
One of my favorite case studies of the conference was learning about Jake from State Farm from the company's VP of Marketing Alyson Griffin. Her challenge: make a 100-year-old insurance company resonate with the next generation of consumers, namely millennials and Gen Z. The solution: Jake from State Farm. State Farm was able to weave Jake into pop culture by creating a likable, authentic persona. It worked. With an asset like Jake, State Farm found new ways to connect with its audiences, and now Jake has become a celebrity himself, even hiring Drake, the musical sensation, as his stand-in during its 2021 Super Bowl commercial.
When brands can connect with culturally relevant content like Jake from State Farm, consumers are likely to respond favorably–resulting in higher brand awareness, purchase intent, and sales. Vivian Youn, director of audience impact and intelligence at Paramount, shared research shedding light on why brands enjoy success when they become part of culture:
41% of consumers have decided to watch content mainly because they didn’t want to miss out on what other people watched.
54% of consumers have shared a piece of content because it was entertaining.
74% of consumers are open to their favorite brands partnering with their favorite shows.
85% of consumers are open to their favorite brands creating additional content for the show.
Brandon Solis, executive director, head of strategy at Annex88, urges content marketers to “design brands around culture."
"Understand what’s happening in the culture to align product to cultural moments.” He goes on to say, “When we blur the lines between content and culture, we’re doing it right.”
For this to work, however, brands must understand what their audience wants before it creates. That’s because, as Solis puts it, “Brands shouldn’t crash the party. They should join the party.”
Audience needs first
This theme should have perhaps been the first on my list because it was the underlying message from every speaker. To be effective at content marketing, you must put your audiences' needs first. David Tamarkin, editorial director at King Arthur Baking Company, sees this as his primary responsibility, “I listen to my audience and pivot to respond to their needs."
Jeremy Goldman, director of marketing and commerce briefings at Insider Intelligence, said, “The importance of focusing on audience needs cannot be overstated.” Through his research, he found that 65% of B2C companies prioritize the audience’s informational needs over the organization’s sales or promotional messages.
To deliver content based on audience needs, content marketers are mining data from website analytics, social media metrics, customer surveys and research, customer service records, CRM systems, and third-party data to find out their customers’ pain points. Then, they look for opportunities to deliver helpful information at the right place and time throughout the buyer’s journey.
Both Franklin Parrish, senior director of brand, marketing, and creative services at Kaiser Permanente, and Mary Rodgers, head of marketing communications at Cuisinart, use research to uncover psychographics about their audiences to make the message more effective.
“Demographics don’t mean anything,” said Parrish. Two people in the same demographic are likely very different. To really connect, content marketers must leverage psychographics. “Layering on psychographics gives you a completely different way to speak to your audiences,” he said. Tamarkin of King Arthur Baking Company agrees, “We don’t chase demographics, we chase bakers.”
Parrish went to work and identified four unique “tribes” within Kaiser’s target audience and began having a value discussion with each audience based on what mattered most to them. The result helped Kaiser achieve above-average opinions and perceptions about the brand across multiple metrics.
While understanding your audience’s needs is the golden rule of content marketing, it’s also crucial for your audience to understand how your brand is uniquely positioned to help them. Emily Eldridge, director and head of content marketing at Capital One, summed up how to create a content strategy that delivers results, “Really great content sits at the intersection of audience, brand, and business goals.”
I’m part of an industry full of movers and shakers who will continue to develop the most compelling marketing in the world. The work we’re doing to better connect brands to customers is exceptionally rewarding, and I’m excited to help lead the future of content marketing.
I predict that content marketing will be the connection point for brand, product, social, and performance marketing because, as content marketers, we best understand consumers, how to communicate with them through impactful storytelling, and what they expect from relationships with brands.