Creativity is the differentiating factor for brands

8 June 2023

How do you ensure that your brand stands out in the avalanche of content that consumers receive every day? According to the iO Opportunity Report , the key lies in creativity. "If you succeed in formulating answers to the questions, needs and problems of your target group with creative, audience-oriented content experiences, then you are just as creative as if you come up with an original advertising campaign that blows everyone's socks off," says strategy director content Ruth Nys. She has been working on content all her professional life and she regards creativity as an essential constant.

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These are exciting, but challenging times for content marketers, according to Ruth Nys. "There's a spectacular amount of content coming at people every day. Every brand wonders how to make themselves heard above the noise. Because consumers are not only getting an avalanche of content, they’re also more demanding."

Reaching your target audience has become infinitely more difficult

"The essence of marketing hasn't changed for decades; it's still about touching your target audience with your message. It's just that it's become infinitely more difficult. We are all more easily distracted, we skip commercials, and we click from movie to movie all the time. Brands have to be creative to get our attention, and they have to add value and then retain it."

"The essence of marketing hasn't changed for decades; it's still about touching your target audience with your message"

Creativity as an important skill

"Creativity is the differentiating factor for brands. Not just for young, emerging brands. Incumbents also need to show guts. As far as I'm concerned, creativity is the essential cognitive skill for marketers. It's always been that way, but maybe we've lost track of it a bit in recent years? The World Economic Forum produces a Future of Jobs Report every two years, in which it predicts the skills that will make a difference in the future. In 2015, creativity was still dangling somewhere at the bottom of the top ten, in 2022 it was the third most important skill," says Nys.

"We often associate creativity with art, with literature, with music. With the great creative expressions. But for me, creativity is above all the unique ability to solve problems. "More than ever before, it's the most essential cognitive skill for marketers."

You build a brand with hundreds - even thousands - of small, valuable moments and interactions

Nowadays, it is not enough for your target group to 'like' your brand, Ruth Nys emphasises. "A like doesn't mean much anymore, your brand can't do much with that. Trust in big advertising players like Facebook and Google has been under pressure for some time, due to the disappearance of third-party cookies."

"You used to be able to just buy an audience from Facebook or Google — or rent, really, because it was never yours. And now? You may be just an algorithm away from losing the bond you built with that 'borrowed' audience."

"Long before you can even start thinking about selling, you have to patiently build an audience. You do that with hundreds, even thousands, of small valuable moments and interactions. And preferably on your own channels, so that all exchange and the data you capture is yours. And above all, you have to cherish that first party data. That's the future."

"The more you can personalise and segment that content, the greater the impact. The New York Times is a fantastic example of that approach. The newspaper sends out 60 newsletters every day, from geopolitics and trade fair newsletters to recipes and restaurant tips. As a result, the publisher of The New York Times has a gigantic database and can create much more value, for itself and for other companies."

"If you buy data, and therefore reach, from Facebook, you will lose that reach, that investment quickly and you can only hope that your target group will connect with your content. You have first party data forever."

"But beware, the database is not just there for the sake of it. It is hard work and getting the most out of it requires a large investment in people and resources. The big advantage is that that your investment is not lost. If you buy data, and therefore reach, from Facebook, your money only works once, and you can only hope that your target group will connect with your content. First party data is yours forever. A crucial argument to convince the CMO to invest in content."

Look beyond today: invest in your future audience

"In recent years, we have seen attention and budgets shift from brand investments to performance marketing. Now that the economy is taking a hit and companies have to make every euro work harder than ever, there is a strong tendency to only invest in performance marketing, which pays off immediately but only in the short term."

"That makes sense, but it's detrimental in the long run to put all your eggs in one basket. With brand building you invest in your audience of tomorrow.  If you stop building your brand, and you don't tap into new audiences the source will dry up. Content is the glue that holds brand building and performance marketing together."

Gain your target group’s trust with content

According to Nys, its essential for companies to build trust in their audience using strong content. "Edelman's Trust Barometer shows that people are losing faith in the media and the government, and even in NGOs. But trust in companies is on the rise."

"People are losing faith in the media and the government, and even in NGOs. But trust in companies is on the rise."

"Consumers look to companies to solve the world's problems and their own. That is a heavy responsibility for brands, but of course also a great opportunity. It's just that that trust doesn't just come naturally. You really have to earn it. And content is a very good way to gain your target group’s trust."

"Pfizer is a great case to illustrate that. In the midst of the corona crisis, the American pharmaceutical giant had to deal with fake news and all kinds of conspiracy theories about the rapidly developed vaccines. Pfizer then demonstrated how it could have developed those vaccines in record time in fully transparent podcasts and videos."

"No fast and superficial content, but really data-driven, journalistic content in which the scientists themselves played the leading role. In two years, Pfizer has risen from 61st place to 7th place in the ranking of the most reputable brands in the United States despite all the attacks."

Make sure your content stands out

Brands often ask iO which channels they should use now. "Our answer is always very clear and to the point: you should be on the channels where your target group is. That could be TikTok, but it could just as easily be Radio 1. I always have only one piece of advice: wherever you create and share content, make sure that content stands out."

"Don't create content that doesn't appeal to your target audience and only disappoints. Do you want to send out a newsletter? Fine, but then make sure that newsletter is a real gem. Are you creating a TikTok series? Then make sure it's funny and original and really stands out. You have to deliver added value in every piece of content you release into the world."

Data as an indispensable factor

"Everything always starts with a crystal clear strategy. What are your business goals? How are you going to use content to realise that? That strategy is not set in stone. Content marketing is not an exact science, it is trial and error.  Data helps us figure out what works and what doesn't. Data doesn't lie. We are constantly experimenting and are constantly adjusting strategies and tactics based on data. That's the great thing about working at iO, we connect the power of content and creativity with the power of data and technology."

Creating content is and remains a craft

Think technology, in the context of content and you cannot possibly ignore ChatGPT and related AI solutions that automatically generate increasingly realistic content. "Ah, the elephant in the room," Nys laughs. "I am convinced that technologies such as ChatGPT for text and DALL-E for example will not replace us but will help us to become more creative."

"How can we extend our reach even further using these new tools? Perhaps they can take over the boring and repetitive tasks from us, so that we can use our incredible human brains for more important things. Because to create good content, you still need talent and empathy. AI doesn't have that (yet). Creating content is and remains a craft," concludes Ruth Nys.

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