By Jeffrey Davis
The old editor’s adage, “never be boring,” might be a good way to describe how Jason Miller, head of global content and social inititaives at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, goes about teaching B2B brands to connect with an audience through great storytelling.
As one of the content architects at Marketo in his previous gig—and a rock-band photographer and aspiring comedian in his spare time—Miller doesn’t do conventional. (How do you break down the fundamentals of content marketing to business execs? Easy—give them a coloring book.)
That approach certainly jibes with how we go about our business at Original9—so we checked in with Miller recently to see how far he thinks this still-nascent world of content marketing has evolved, and who is leading the way.
Where do you think branded content is headed in the next few years?
Marketers still have a lot of work to do. I think B2C brands are doing a much better job at the moment but B2B marketers are catching up. After attending Content Marketing World and MarketingProfs B2B Forum, the main takeaway for me was how do we create content that’s bigger, bolder and braver (Ann Handley‘s words I believe). That point really stuck with me.
I think there’s still some confusion about the difference between content marketing and marketing communications. I’m not sure what everyone is so afraid of, but I don’t see a lot of marketers taking chances and pushing the envelope with branded content. As my favorite author Hugh MacLeod would say, “Nothing like playing it safe for getting yourself killed.”
So how should marketers not play it safe?
In the next few years the companies and brands that stop marketing like they are selling to everyone, focus on creating not more content but instead more relevant content, and push themselves to color outside the content marketing lines are going to be the winners. There’s a great quote from Shane Snow at Contently that I thinks says it all: “Brands should create content that’s so good that they’re proud to put their name on it.” I like that approach and it gives me hope that marketers are going to crack the code on scalable, remarkable, “bigger bolder braver” branded content moving forward.
Who sets the standards these days in your mind?
As far as branded content examples that I admire, I tend to pay more attention to the B2B space. I think there are certainly the usual suspects who continue to lead the charge like MarketingProfs, Content Marketing Institute, Hubspot, Moz and Contently. Outside of those, I absolutely love what Microsoft is doing with storytelling. The Microsoft Garage and 88 Acres are brilliant examples of branded content done right. These pieces have everything: design, story, layout, amplification, all of which is delivered with an innovative approach. I think their content marketing team gets it.
I’m also a huge fan of what Marriott is doing with their The Marriott Content Studio. David Beebe has taken Marriott’s content marketing to an entirely new level that I don’t think anyone has ever seen before. They are building what I call an owned media empire where they tell their story through their own channels. My favorite two Marriott examples are the short films, French Kiss and Two Bellmen, which have a combined 11 million views on YouTube. It’s the perfect match of informative and entertaining content.
Of course those are brands with substantial budgets for content marketing, but I don’t think you necessarily need a huge budget to create great branded content. Being a photographer outside of my work at LinkedIn, I found this guy named Jared Polin who has a site called FroKnowsPhoto. It’s one of the most brilliant examples of helpful branded content that I’ve ever seen, and it’s my go-to for all things photography-related. I think content marketers without a huge budget can take a few lessons from Fro as he uses his personality and helpful fun videos to make up for big production that his competition might have. This guy is brilliant and I’m a fan for life.
What big trends do you think will matter most in 2016?
I think about this a lot and I think the key for success in 2016 is going to be amplification and personalization. There’s plenty of content out there but are we—as marketers—targeting properly and doing as much as we can to personalize that experience? I’m not saying that we need to be at the same level as Amazon or Netflix, but there are things we can be doing today to move us closer to a better, more personalized content experience. The other opportunity is going to focus on amplification. How can marketers get additional reach through paid, owned, earned, influencers and advocates both internally and externally.