Brand Content as Utility

In 2012 there was a marked trend towards content strategies going much further towards customer centric utility and less onus on leading with product features.

In part, digital content strategies have traditionally been driven with search in mind; Relevant and timely content related to your product that is in essence nothing more than tapping into the most fertile search-terms being used by your customers.

This is of course a fundamental ‘Business As Usual’ strand to content creation that should not be overlooked. After all, if people search for content about mortgages and you are a high street bank, you would be very remiss not to offer content as a subject matter expert.

This is all very well, but if you are one of 200 banks offering the same advise on roughly the same content, then you’re back to square one with the choices being made by brand preference, size, potentially expensive PPC bidding wars or good old fashion luck.

So beyond the hygiene of core content, businesses have to look at owning a wider area around their brand.

With Fast Moving Consumer Goods and Commodities brands this wider area has always been their natural campaign hunting ground. Take for example the much-publicised Coca-Cola brand strategy that looks at how to cast the net further and deeper around its’ brands to consolidate its market-leading position.

Great if you’re a megalithic super-brand with a marketing budget the size of Swaziland, but once you get past the idea of one insurance comparison site being much like another until you put an opera singer or furry-mammal in front of it, how do you go beyond differentiation and move into being the first and only choice in a consumer’s mind?

There is always value; but being cheaper generally is a race to the bottom and does nothing long term except devalue a commodity. As Richard Branson once said “there will always be someone who can offer it cheaper”.

The preferred direction is to give more. Zappos for example essentially sell shoes but are retained front of mind by the consumer for offering great customer service. This has brand-truth at the core of the business so is not something to be taken lightly to implement. For example American Express builds it’s differentiator on offering card members a concierge service manned by hundreds of real staff twenty-four hours a day; an expensive but effective way to make yourself indispensable and unique to your customers.

This is where much of the new thinking around content strategy comes in, and is squarely aimed at becoming a more ‘useful’ brand.

Offering the consumer something that will help them in their daily life and is squarely in your brand’s territory isn’t anything new; Asics offers 3D foot scanning of runners on a treadmill to analyse their gait and Selfridge’s offers personal shoppers.

But it is in a digital-age that brands are coming into their own with content as utility. The brand that has trustworthy content ready and waiting to be consumed by the customer at the moment they need it, is more likely to thrive in a competitive market.

The key is potentially in mobility.  A mobile device in the pocket of almost all consumers and access to information in minutes, means that mobile is becoming the key tool in the design and dissemination of branded content utility.

Take for example Skyscanner, allegedly the world’s fastest growing travel search site. Mobile visits have overtaken its web presence for the first time and 53% of flight searches are now via mobile1. The app has been downloaded a staggering twenty million times.

Why use this service over any other of the hundreds of travel price aggregators in the market? Almost definitely because it offers a focused and useful utility, precisely at the time the consumer wants it.

This is not a one off and can be born out with any number of cases. National Rail Enquiries for example, has also seen its million users a day using mobile at point of need (i.e. on the platform) exceed the web version which is used to plan in advance.

Interestingly, the base level services are available from any number of competitors, so the extension to National Rail Enquiries brand usefulness comes beyond the core-content which ‘comes as standard’ and is manifested in helpful tools that fit comfortably into a brand’s sphere of excellence; in National Rail Enquiries’ case this is simple and easy to use functionality like one-click ‘get me home’ button and tools that are a natural extension to journey-planning, for example my favourite is ‘wake me up when I get to my stop’ that’s easy to use with drunken fingers and offers the prospect for a better night-out if used.

These examples are simple but show that even commoditised services in hotly contested markets can leverage their content in ways that make them more useful to the consumer and by doing so deliver growth.


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