Smart Content Thinking

As part of the Ceres Insiders project, Ceres' own David Gough explores how content can tread a fine line between the highly valuable and engaging and…just noise.

One thing the world isn’t short of is content. So quality over quantity matters. And to hit the quality mark moving forward, brands need to apply a little leeway when it comes to rigid use of brand guidelines.

Because no one wants to see ‘more’ obviously branded content that parks smart storytelling for naked selling. That’s an ad, and there is a time and place for that isn’t always in the same space as the more earned led value. A space where education and entertainment leads the narrative to brand build and sell more subtly and by association.

Three areas are key to success in this crowded space.

Good stories make people care

And the first is to recognise you are telling a story with a beginning, middle and end, not delivering a scripted message. And that good stories make people care. Sorry, but your brand is more than likely not in a natural 'care about’ space if you follow your brand book rules.

Dove doesn’t show any products in its ‘reverse selfie’ campaign that pitches natural beauty vs the pressures of social media in its storytelling, but it is still 100% in their brand space. Much of Innocent’s social media content eschews product for values, personality and everyday topicality. Both trigger (different) emotions and hit the key marks of relevance, resonance and human energy. Both get talked about and acted upon. Neither follow normal brand rules.

You get around 5 seconds audience attention before they move on, so if you aren’t thinking around emotional triggers and real world context, that’s all people will see of your hard but potentially misplaced work. Short attention spans come partly from poor content that doesn’t engage, so if you crack that root cause, you increase the opportunity to earn the reaction and proper attention.

And this bridges to the second key focus that’s needed, attention planning and driving maximum value from your content.

Think multi-channel from the start

Whilst original storytelling is key, and video is at the heart of that, multichannel is the start point strategy for smart content planning, not the end delivery point.

Repetition of messages verbatim is not the same as repetition of brand energy and related content across channels and formats. Across channels is where most audiences live, not just encaptured by one.

One brand video can obviously have multiple cuts for a primary digital channel. But should also be used for direct sharing with your own signed up communities, and across owned channels, websites and comms tools. As a thought leadership and opinion start point, building and encouraging contribution and debate from a brand first perspective. And then from the leaders of your brand as ‘personal’ content and views. As an internal comms motivator for your teams. As brand in action value for your investors. As a news and editorial campaigning or brand colour story. For trade marketing, with media, retailers, trade show audiences. As a start point for revealing greater depth behind the thinking around an issue, reality or challenge. You can even use it to show your family what you do...

So if content is seen as an expensive investment, maybe the authority it can land has not been fully explored. It’s harder working than an ad execution, and potentially with greater power to land proper brand ‘understanding’.

See the value in UGC

The third consideration, and a deeper build on both the multichannel and the ‘stories that make people care’ route is encouraging and celebrating more UGC value. It’s not the same as influencer marketing, as is less partnered up, more authentic and more personal but still impacts buying decisions.

UGC isn’t new but TiKTok especially is driven by homage, interpretation and user led recommendation.  How many versions of the ‘Wednesday’ dance have you seen, or Thomas Keller’s Courgette recipe (to show two extremes of the scale)? The cultural success will spread to other content-led channels, and to capitalise on it you need to think more laterally than a closely controlled campaign.

Find the trends you can fit. Work related hashtags hard at your end of the content funnel. Incentivise and challenge and ask questions of your community. Collaborate and share brand secrets and unknown tips. Use an influencer to help start a UGC wave. It’s not just one route to unlock UGC power, and rewards may not be instant. But when they come, it’s one of the best organic forms of content reward and association you can land.

Content is king goes the well-worn phrase, but without the right distribution strategies, trust in audiences being able to work things out without being spoon fed, and ‘human first’ approaches to making it work, it’s a phrase that can disappoint. So always look below the surface. The earned in earned value in part relates to effort….


This article forms part of the Ceres Insiders report. To request your free copy please email