Interview: GroupM’s Josh Black on Winning with Branded Content

Inspired by the success & virality of Coca Cola’s Coke Studio and Nestle’s Nescafe Basement, brand marketers across Asia have taken it upon themselves to invest in branded content, with narratives ranging from educational, inspirational, entertaining and informational.

End goals range across the marketing funnel, and in most online cases, an ideal after effect is search optimization for raising domain authority and keyword ranking.

Branding In Asia’s Babar Khan Javed caught up with Josh Black, the CEO of GroupM’s Content division, to understand how brand marketers and their agencies can make the most of these efforts. Looking at the output, he also wanted to gain an understanding as to what the internal pitching & justification process must be.


What are the good reasons for brand marketers to create branded content?

With media fragmentation, ad-blocking, the consumer now being in control of what they watch, when they want it and on the device they choose, it’s harder and harder for brands to engage consumers meaningfully with paid advertising because, by its nature, it generally disrupts the consumer from what they were intending to do. Consumers are increasingly telling us that they either don’t want to be interrupted, or if we are going to interrupt them, it better be a good and relevant message.

If you are relying heavily on ‘shareability’ to justify the production and expense of branded content, you are really missing the point.

I think consumers generally accept the fact that content costs money to produce so therefore, if they expect to consume it for free in a legal environment (i.e. not a torrent or illegal stream), then they’ll pay the tax (watching an advert), but make sure it’s good. Brands are getting more and more involved in content because it allows them to embed or associate their communications message within or with the content, essentially meaning that consumers can’t skip it because that would mean skipping the content.


How can they get branded content right?

It’s all about being relevant, authentic, adding value, building utility and making the ‘product’ that you are associating yourself with, better.  If you can’t make the content better by being associated within it, associate yourself alongside it. That’s still OK because consumers will respect you for being there and not shouting at them or disrupting their entertainment or education.

What’s your opinion on brand marketers considering “shares” as a measure of success?

The whole ‘shareability’ thing is really not very well understood.  If you look at some of the best pieces of branded content that have been produced anywhere, the levels of ‘sharing’ are just not even comparable to the numbers of shares or conversations that pieces of news, sports or entertainment content produced by ‘real publishers’ like The Guardian and BBC. If you are relying heavily on ‘shareability’ to justify the production and expense of branded content, you are really missing the point.

branded contentIn executing their vision, Coca Cola and Nestle rarely show their products on the screen. The content they create is of high quality, is feverishly shared across social media and the content is being licensed by other brands. What makes it so special?

If you are referring to the Nestle Basement Music Campaign, yes, I think this is a great piece of work where the brand adds value to developing and enhancing the local music scene without shoving the brand in the face of the audience. It’s exactly how content should be done. Incidentally, it’s also a piece of work that GroupM’s Content Team in Pakistan have produced for several years now. I am not familiar with the Coca-Cola work you are referring to so can’t really comment on that either way. Coca-Cola, in other markets, does some really interesting long-form advertising. The brand is always very front and center and the work is always clearly Coca-Cola.

Inspired by BuzzFeed Food and discouraged to participate directly due to its pricing, food marketers across Asia have started producing their own branded content around their products, such as Made Easy from National Foods. What’s your approach for helping food brands gain value from activities of this nature?

Getting content marketing right is all about being relevant, authentic, adding value, building utility and then making sure you have great storytelling, a narrow focus, staying consistent and then making sure you really plan it out and ensure it goes the full circle. From using relevant Data and insights to create the content areas you want to then Design and Develop.

After that it’s about making sure you do a good job on Distribution and Discovery because if consumers can’t find your content, it’s a waste of time and money. No-one hears a tree falling in the forest but that’s just what great content is when it’s not distributed properly. The final piece is all about making sure that your content delivers real business results. We call this our 6D Content Model at GroupM.  It’s not a box-ticking exercise, it’s more a framework be use to empower content and make sure it’s done properly and then supported.

Babar Khan Javed

Babar Khan Javed

Babar Khan Javed is a Correspondent for Branding In Asia.

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