Mastercard opens in-house content studios

Credit: Marriott

Mastercard just launched a series of in-house content studios called Storylabs. Staffed by former journalists, the studios will churn out blog posts, social content, podcasts, and videos in an effort to build and engage multiple audiences — consumers, businesses, government stakeholders, and merchants. This investment in content is designed to help Mastercard build a loyal audience of readers who will return to the brand’s website and social channels and drive outcomes throughout the customer journey.

We're seeing these in-house studios start to pop up more frequently — just today, Digiday wrote about United Airlines in-house push on social video — but they’ve also been building over time, with bigger and more robust investment.

Big brands across multiple verticals are not just throwing a blogger or intern at these initiatives — and we’ve seen that the payoff can be big.

Marriott, Walmart, and Pepsi paved the way

Marriott has spent almost a decade building its branded content studio, which now spans five continents. They’ve produced content like the “Marriott Traveler” magazine, the “Navigator Live” TV show, and Emmy-winning short films like “Two Bellmen.” To lead these efforts, Marriott brought in production talent from Disney, CBS, and Variety. This content helps Marriott reach millennial travelers and tell a unified story that spans almost two dozen different brands. They’ve even begun turning the program into a profit center, licensing their content to Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix as a way to supplement the revenue their content generates via bookings.

Pepsi runs Creators League, a 4,000-square-foot content studio in Manhattan where marketers and artists create 400 pieces of digital content a year. Having a full-time team of 10-15 people has dramatically increased Pepsi’s content output and decreased the time from ideation to execution.

Recently, Walmart acquired content studio Spatialand to create new VR experiences for retail shoppers online and offline.

Building content expertise is different — but mostly worth it

With brands like Mastercard building their own studios, marketers are starting to realize the importance of high-quality, consistent content — not just a regular tweet schedule.

One way to think about this is a mindset shift is happening across major brands as they transition from treating content the same way they treat campaign-driven traditional and digital media.

Brands recognize that you can’t just buy a content marketing operation like you can a Super Bowl ad — an always-on, audience-building effort has to start small, gradually build, and then be sustained week in and week out. Marriott actually started with one person writing a blog post every week until they scaled into a full-blown media studio with magazines and Emmy-winning short films.

We expect to see more brands make this transition at an accelerating rate.

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Academics look at effectiveness of B2B content marketing

Credit: Huffington Post

A new study from Northwestern confirmed two interesting findings for B2B enterprise marketers:

  1. Digital offerings like webinars, whitepapers, and blogs are more valuable for driving leads and sales than in-person events like conferences and workshops.
  2. Engagement from high-level employees leads to the most sales, but low- and mid-level employees are influencers and do help boost leads.

While most enterprise digital marketers have been trying to get these points across for years, it’s actually rare that we get confirmation from the ivory tower of digital content's role in influencing the B2B path to purchase.

Not surprisingly, this consumerization of marketing tactics correlates with the overall consumerization of how enterprise products themselves are both built and sold:

  • SaaS software buyers are now demanding consumer-like usability (read Ben Thompson for more on this “consumerization of the enterprise” trend.
  • B2C2B sales models are growing in adoption — vendors look to hook intermediate consumers, a.k.a. employees of a company, first, and leverage them to upsell on their behalf.

Last week, an interview with an Intel marketing exec highlighted their approach to using interesting consumer content tactics to sell its B2B tech products. As Alyson Griffin, VP of global marketing and communications for Intel’s B2B strategy, said, “We are doing a content marketing strategy and placing content in the world where the target lives.”

What this means for B2B marketers

Consumerization of marketing has both a high bar to entry but also presents new opportunities to individually engage buyers and influencers up and down the chain of command with content and digital tools.

There shouldn't an an ounce of doubt as to whether enterprise content marketers need to create and engage across two dimensions — top/middle/bottom of the funnel, and executives/middle manager influencer/end-users.

Publishers bet on engagement and immersive storytelling

Credit: Adweek

Digiday reported that publishers are starting to focus more on engagement-focused metrics like time-spent and visit frequency, moving away from traditional campaign metrics like page views. This is further evidence of the trend we’ve written about previously that publications are increasingly monetizing by two methods: subscriptions and branded content. To get subscriptions, after all, they have to think like a content marketer and drive engagement. SF Gate, for example, recently shifted its focus from unique visitors to readers that visit at least 10X per month. And The New York Times created an internal dashboard that shows which articles generate the most online subscriptions. Meanwhile, The Financial Times and The Economist have been betting on branded content engagement since 2015, when they started selling ads based on time-spent instead of just impressions.

That takes care of the subscription part, but how are publishers getting more branded content deals?

Making room for bigger, better branded content

Publishers are accelerating their technology capabilities and diversifying content to boost engagement and attract more brand partners. These developments are cutting-edge, and further evidence of how brands are using in-house studios in addition to agencies to expand their creative offerings:

Bloomberg.com created a ‘90s-style video game about malls on their site as a form of interactive storytelling. The Financial Times did the same with Uber, building an interactive “news game” that takes viewers through life as an Uber driver in the gig economy. (Did you choose the Prius or the Van?) The New York Times created a whole new team dedicated to building data and tech solutions for brands. The Washington Post created its own publishing software called Arc, which aims to be the go-to content management system for news organizations — and brand publishers.

Fundamentally, this is good news for brands. Publishers are working harder than ever to create interactive digital experiences and diversified offerings advertisers can’t get anywhere else — and are leveraging new engagement metrics to prove success and their unique value. It’s going to be fascinating watching how publishers accelerate these shifts in their product offerings over the next few quarters to continue to win business and grow revenue.

11 more browser tabs to open

  1. Amazon is testing allowing publishers to put content directly on Amazon.com — with purchase links embedded.
  2. Facebook is launching a new section for breaking news in its video streaming platform, Facebook Watch, with a focus on highlighting local news publishers.
  3. Chrome’s ad blocker is now live, which could pose problems for publishers and brands.
  4. Snapchat finally gives creators access to analytics like Total Story Views, Time Spent Viewing Stories, and audience demographics. Marketers and teens everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.
  5. YouTube Red is having an identity crisis. Two years after launching, its purpose is still unclear and its revenue unimpressive.
  6. Emarketer says Facebook usage will decline among 18-24-year olds, who are all going to Snapchat.
  7. TBS premiered a show on Reddit before putting it on TV. That’s a new one.
  8. Advertisers have to keep up with cord cutters or risk losing an entire generation of viewers — parallels to the transition to mobile circa the launch of the iPhone.
  9. Brands are getting smarter about data transparency, providing more evidence that the adtech arbitrage is over (which we mentioned last week).
  10. Vans is adopting its social media strategy for non-US markets, specifically WeChat in China.
  11. Salon is letting people keep their ad blockers — if they let the publisher mine cryptocurrency. And this one wins buzzword bingo for the week.

Curated and published by Adam Orshan, Alexis Krantz, and Matt Levin in New York City.

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