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Guest Column: Brand messaging in real time: Reaching the always-on customer

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Guest Column: Brand messaging in real time: Reaching the always-on customer

Many marketers are realizing that if their consumer is always-on, their brands too must also be always-on – or risk becoming culturally irrelevant

This is a chaotic time for marketers. Balancing their traditional mass reach campaign messages with more niche-oriented digital channels and audiences is no easy feat even for the most algorithmically enlightened of programmatic media buyers. More savvy marketers have realized that “pushing” the old message campaign down the tube at an effective frequency rate to assure them some measure of seasonal brand health and purchase intent is no longer sustaining business results like it did in the past. In the era of an always-on consumer, brand marketing teams must evolve from being solely “campaign” centric to becoming real-time content creators, curators and distributors – all in the interest of delivering more persistent, compelling and contagious brand-linked experiences to maintain both share of voice and cultural relevance.

Transforming the marketing organization

Many CMOs have indicated that their marketing organization has to take on new shapes and competencies in order for their brands to become always on. At the same time, performance measures need to shift from what have been largely media spend-based metrics to broader measures around brand, content, cultural currency, and overall customer experience. Additionally, the role of a marketer’s agency partners too must be re-evaluated. Do they add tangible value in the real-time world of “brand as channel/ publisher”– or are they primarily just partners in media campaign-based initiatives?

Today, most brand marketers remain organized around classic brand management models and campaign-based executional roles. The majority of the brand marketing seniority, strategy and spend moves from the top of the brand group to the bottom. It’s almost as if the structure mirrors the purchase funnel from awareness to purchase, where we often discover the most junior-level assistant and associate brand managers being accountable for some of the most important and innovative areas of marketing – digital, social, mobile, and shopper marketing. The irony of this dynamic is that this is exactly where the true ROI occurs – rather than at the top of the funnel where senior brand group executives become overly focused on TV campaign-based creative and media allocation. These critical lower funnel activities (mobile, social, content marketing, and smart-advertising sciences) drive more measurable ROI beyond brand health measures and purchase intent.

This outcome is due, in part, to KPIs around brand activation and promotional messaging being far more measurable and data driven that the “soft” measures provided by the standard Nielsen Television sample audience. As a result, an inverse relationship exists between numerous digital spend performance measures that brand managers receive to traditional spend impression measures delivered by traditional media. When you flip the brand team’s organizational structure from the traditional sales funnel/campaign-based model to a more real-time content/distribution and measurement model, suddenly you’re running in parallel with consumers (not chasing behind them) in the always-on world.

Establishing new roles: Chief Content Officers and Chief Marketing Technology Officers

To move beyond a traditional model, it is likely you will need to identify where brand content, curation and distribution competency/stewardship resides on your brand team. Some marketers have made the move to adding chief content officers – guiding the creation, curation and distribution of content brand by brand in order to meet the demand for always-on content. Other brand teams have partnered with agency and content marketing companies to establish an editorial calendar where brand purpose and promise meets new content distribution and syndication models based on their “share-ability.” Operationalizing this mindset requires seamless collaboration between marketing and IT around smart global content management systems (CMS) and e-commerce infrastructure to measure both “Return on Conversation” and sales conversion. The merging of these KPIs and the analytics surrounding them, in part, is one of the factors that has led the drive toward CMTOs (Chief Marketing Technology Officers) in order to create, curate, distribute, and measure omni-channel content.

What does “Good” look like?

Consider how one marketer is putting persistent content at the center of its marketing efforts:

Red Bull describes brand marketing as content marketing – the “creation of a variety of storytelling material that attracts readers, viewers and listeners to their brand.” Content marketing for Red Bull is organized around providing and rewarding the consumer with some content of value aligned with its brand promise (Red Bull Gives You Wings) in order to receive in return a measure of cultural currency that keeps its brand relevant 24/7/365. The KPIs here are less about traditional campaign-based brand health measures and purchase intent than newer analytic measures of cultural relevance and share of conversation that ultimately drives sales. It resembles no form of traditional push media messaging surrounding content like TV, print or outdoor. Nor is it one-off “branded content” integrations resembling truncated episodic series on the web or in the commercial breaks of a prime time show. It also isn’t a 5-to-15-second pre-roll you’re waiting to skip prior to the start of the next YouTube video. Other brands who have embraced the always-on model of persistent content built around simple but expansive brand organizing ideas include:

Moving from social media monitoring to real-rime social content creation

Many of the most successful brands, such as Nike, understand the impact of cultural relevance on sales. Which is why, like many marketers, they take social conversation and behavior very seriously. Yet, as much as social media channels and platforms have become both more powerful and critical in the marketing mix, most marketers are primarily focused on social monitoring and listening – counting “likes” and responses and treating social as a free earned media channel rather than actually organizing for real-time social content creation.

Many marketers have built elaborate monitoring dashboards and physical installations to monitor real time brand mentions and conversations and even to respond to negative sentiment. A few, such as Oreo and Taco Bell, have used those platforms to begin linking the cultural context of current events to their brand promise. Oreo’s recent “Daily Twist” initiative created 100 days of real-time snackable messaging before bringing its “campaign” to a close in October 2012, while Taco Bell is both poised and organized to link its brand promise to current events as they occur in a more evergreen manner over time. Progressive brands have transformed their internal organizational model around real-time social content creation provide key insights into the evolution of social media marketing in 2014 and beyond. Consider an innovative “newsroom” model being executed by the Yum! Brands Taco Bell marketing organization. The “newsroom-style” model leverages the core equity attributes, voice and tone of the brand. Digital copywriters and community managers apply the brand attributes as a guide to create content inspired by the real-time context of current events and conversations. PR staff then guide the social channel distribution strategy. The legal team has a voice in the newsroom as well. Applying a newsroom model, the marketer has a clear and repeatable way to create content in real-time to support the brand.

Orchestrating 24/7/365 content, not just 360 campaigns

Even as we’ve seen marketers continue to struggle while integrating multiple agency partners to conceive and execute 360-degree integrated campaigns, the real time 24/7/365 world has shifted. The task has now moved from a focus on orchestrating external agency partners around campaigns to smartly tapping agency, media and internal communications partners for content creation, curation and distribution. Few, if any, marketing departments are staffed with both the strategic and creative resources necessary to develop, produce and distribute as much content as a publisher’s editorial calendar demand. But in the age of always-on, real-time marketing, that’s precisely the challenge. Marketers like Intel have shown us one approach through thought leadership-oriented, content centric destinations like Here, multiple content sources are curated and aggregated around a central brand mission that links back to the Intel brand promise.

Conclusion: Moving from campaign to content excellence

Successful always-on content marketing starts with organizing for success. We see more marketers moving to augment their brand organizations with chief content officers. In addition, we see a movement toward expanding from traditional brand-health and campaign-based ROI measures to return on experience measures. Those measures, fed by big data, will be built around more complete brand experiences and cultural conversations – not just funnel-driven KPIs. In the always-on world of brand messaging, great content will come before optimizing spend around media channels – which is why the evolution from campaign to content excellence will become such an important marketing imperative in 2014 and beyond.

Alan Schulman  is VP, Global Digital Marketing and Brand Content, SapientNitro New York.

Alan has been recognized by the IAB and OMMA as a leader in the development of digital creative campaigns, emerging ad formats and content marketing.


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