Tag Archives: authority

Branded content, authenticity and authority

My company, Better Things has its roots in content marketing. Our team all have experience working at agencies that create and distribute branded content through multiple channels. We like making content whether that content be beautiful illustration, animation, editorial features, blog posts, or photographs. We like making the vehicles for that content too, but that’s a different matter.

So it was with interest that I read a piece by Dermot McCormack on Mashable Business entitled ‘3 commandments for the next online content leaders’.

According to McCormack, the art of successfully using content to market a brand comes down to  to three simple things:  authority, curation and context. More specifically, it comes down to earning  authority by curating your content well, within context. His article is great and I agree with all of it, so have a look. The bit I’m specifically interested in here though is the first part, ‘authority’.

What does McCormack mean? Well, he says that brands need to become trusted as content providers. And trust, according to McCormack, comes from authority. The BBC for example has authority when I want UK news. Pitchfork has authority when I want new music suggestions (although I also turn to the BBC in the form of six music for that). For US political news I go to The Huffington Post or The Daily Beast. You get the picture. But these are all media owners, not brands, and the authority they have has taken time to earn, and has come partly because they are an independent voice, not trying to sell something. So brands have to try to generate authority, and quickly – leading to trust. McCormack acknowledges that this process can only be achieved by brands knowing who their audience is, then constantly fine-tuning the way they communicate with their customers, and always, always remaining honest, talking to them about things they care about and striving to improve the way they do things. So far, so obvious. But he also says brands must ask themselves ‘is my voice authentic’, and this is the really interesting part for me.

I’ve had debates over this question for years, but for me, authenticity of voice is something that needs to be carefully considered and planned hand in hand with brand positioning. Sometimes authenticity can be manufactured – see Red Bull’s authority in adrenaline sports after years of careful sponsorship. And sometimes that authenticity is customer-led (ie the brand notices that certain consumers are using their product in a certain way and uses that behaviour to its advantage) – see Converse and music. But either way, for me what your brand can speak with authenticity and authority about shouldn’t be a casual decision. The authentic voice that your brand develops must be integral to EVERYTHING you do.

This might seem obvious, but sometimes when I talk to customer magazine publishers (or custom publishers in the US, Canada and Australia) they argue the case for bands producing ‘lifestyle’ features in their customer magazines – for example a bank doing a feature on a home makeover, or a top ten gadget feature. Their argument is that the lifestyle content somehow adds value for the customer. This has always worried me, mainly because the brand doesn’t necessarily have any authority in that area, or really any authentic voice, and therefore I’m skeptical about how much value it really adds. Red Bull spent years building up their authority in adrenaline sports before it launched its (fairly adventure sport-dominated) Bulletin. Waterstone’s Books Quarterly is a magazine about books and, much as you might doubt the objective nature of their reviews, there is no doubt that they have an authority to talk about books. They also have an authenticity which comes from the again undoubted knowledge and passion of their booksellers, if not their (previously) corporate owners. But I never really believed in the insurance magazine I produced that did features on how to fit out your home-working office, or style your new bathroom – I just didn’t see why I should trust the brand to tell me about that stuff.

This is alway going to be a slightly controversial argument, because it implies that using content as a marketing tool isn’t right for some brands. That’s not what I’m saying though – I’m saying be more careful about the content you choose, because it should both add to your perceived authority and come from a position of authenticity. I’m also saying be more careful about the channel – it may be that a magazine isn’t the right forum for your brand’s content, but a blog or a Facebook page is.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

This post originally appeared on my company blog, here.


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