There is a wide range of information sources available to people – more than ever before. According to the Stories in Motion report from WE Communications, people are constantly engaging with multiple devices and multiple forms of content.
Based on pilot research undertaken across China, the UK and the USA, the report also reveals subtle characteristics of this engagement that organisations must be aware of when planning their brand messaging and content strategies.
Gareth Davies, head of digital at WE Communications, goes behind the data and explains why brands must be amplifying their message as far and wide as possible.
According to respondents, earned media is highly influential on consumer perceptions. How can brands take advantage of this?
One of the biggest challenges for brands is that whilst earned media is the most influential form of media, it is a shrinking landscape. More and more ‘new influencers’ have appeared over the last few years but it is the big, legacy titles that still secure the most online traffic and see the most eyeballs (both offline and online). There are fewer of these big hitter titles than there was at least five years ago. What this means is there are fewer titles in which to secure coverage, but with every brand wanting to get a slice of this earned media pie competition for editorial and coverage is only going to increase. To this extent, it’s only those stories that have true ‘value’ to the reader that will get picked up. But how brands define value is key. Our research suggests that value can come from a few directions. This includes showing that the brand intrinsically understands the audience in question through: stories that they can relate to their everyday life, stories that provide information that can enhance and inform or stories that talk about a new idea or concept. If anything it means that brands have to stop talking about themselves.
“Getting the earned placement isn’t the end of the story.”
However, getting the earned placement isn’t the end of the story. Brands really need to understand that, should earned coverage be achieved, they need to maximise the opportunity and amplify as far and wide as possible. Our data shows that at any given time our UK audiences could be engaging across eight different channels and platforms. Brands therefore, need to have plans in place to ensure that this earned content is nestled into as many of these channels and platforms as possible. Our data also suggests that earned content ‘discovered’ as audiences transverse devices and channels can be key in helping build brand preference and brand affinity over time.
What does the report reveal about consumer usage in terms of platforms and devices? How should this be influencing brands' content strategies?
Our data proves that a brand’s audiences and content are in constant motion – motion across channels, motion across media and motion in the sense of being on a journey to purchase. At its core, the widespread use of smartphones has allowed audiences to consume content regardless of platform or channel or whether it is paid, earned or owned media. Therefore, brands need to design stories and content with a mobile first mindset – short, sharp pieces of content that can be easily accessed and consumed across mobile devices and networks. But this is just one part of the equation. Our data also suggests that location is a big influencer for the devices and content we consume. For example, across all markets studied, multi-device usage is most prevalent in the early evening when we are most likely to be at home. It is here that our data suggest that we are engaged across multiple devices – television, laptop, smartphone being the most popular devices. In this instance, brands need to understand how to create a unified narrative that can work across multiple devices and takes into consideration both long and short form content. Whilst we’re not likely to engage with deep, detailed content on our phones, having access to other devices such as a laptop or television means that brands can create a much bigger, more rounded experience. Each piece of content should compliment and enhance the overall experience.
What are the hallmarks of compelling branded content?
Interestingly what is considered to be compelling content not only varies between category but also where the audience is located on the user journey toward a sale/purchase. For those audiences that are looking to buy a car, financial services, or health and wellness products and services, our research suggests that content needs to speak to the functional components of the product in question. However, in the UK particularly when it comes to financial services, cars and alcohol (spirits), branded content that is both funny and entertaining will not only get people’s attention, it is most likely to drive them to share the content with others. The same can be said for the US, although they’re not so concerned about branded content from financial services providers needing to be funny. In comparison to both the UK and US, Chinese consumers are clearly more concerned with product information regardless of whether they are on the journey to purchase or simply just discovering content as they engage throughout the day. I also like to think that this research suggests that assumptions made about how brands and products are chosen in the B2B space are not necessarily true. There has been a widespread belief that peer recommendation is key in B2B markets, but our data suggests that this will often play second or third fiddle to product information from the manufacturer or retailer in both the health for business and technology for business sectors.
“Brands need to design stories and content with a mobile first mindset.”
With the rise of social media influencers are our personal contacts now less important when it comes to engaging with product information or other content?
Whilst our data suggested that consumers are looking to a variety of different influencers, this is again another area where influence is affected by both the product category and where the user is on the journey to sale. Going back to one of our key findings, consumers who are not necessarily on the journey to sale but are simply consuming content as part of their daily online interaction, are more likely to be influenced by stories and content appearing on earned media. When they are in motion and on the journey to sale, it is only the automotive and financial services markets where personal connection is having strong influence. That said, word of mouth,particularly via email, proved to be a key source of influence. Moving forward, as motion to sale increases, personal connections do play a role in influencing purchase but this differs between markets. In the UK and China a personal review is regarded as being just as influential as media reviews, whereas in the US user reviews have more sway than those from media. For communications professionals this simply means that influencer relations should not just be limited to earned media and social media influencers. In addition brands now need to also consider how to infiltrate and influence reviews within relevant retailer sites or other high visibility placements.
Images: WE Communications