The following post is an excerpt from Edelman Consumer Marketing’s 12on12, a compilation of essays from some of our consumer marketing leaders around the globe. This is the third in a series of essays from the compilation. To read more essays from the 12on12 series, visit the Edelman Scribd Channel.

Now, more than ever before, there are opportunities for brands and organizations to create meaningful relationships directly with their target audience through compelling content. However, there are historical lessons to consider in determining what comprises compelling content.

Creating branded content is not a new concept. For a long time, brands and organizations have developed content, but it has been firmly in the province of marketing. The content that brands have traditionally created is short form; be that a television commercial (TVC), a print ad, or radio commercial. In order to engage audiences today, and to create the type of content that will be shared by consumers, simply extending the traditional marketing style content into a longer form will not work.

Today we are seeing brands like Red Bull through their creation of sports properties, KFC restaurants in Indonesia that host live music performances, and McDonald’s in the U.S. and Quiksilver France launching their own TV networks, creating the kind of quality content that, traditionally, we have associated with traditional media players. They have done this by focusing on what the audience wants first, and how they can benefit as a brand second.

To understand the opportunity for brands and organizations with regard to content, it is worth spending some time looking at what content consumers have traditionally engaged with, and looks at the evolution of content up to today.

Where We’ve Been

Traditionally, content was created by a few people. The delivery systems and the means of production were expensive. Only a few very wealthy individuals had access to the type of investment required to run huge print machines, or to buy the licenses and the studios required to deliver content via broadcast. This scenario meant that those who did create content had enormous power. The scarcity of content producers meant the content that was produced was highly valuable to the audience. There wasn’t much of it, so what was created was seen by many. This was the era of mass audiences, grouped together due to the scarcity of quality content.

What Changed in the Late ‘90s

Like the arrival of the printing press in the 1400s that dramatically changed access to printed content, the self-publishing phenomenon that arrived in the late ‘90s revolutionized content once more. No longer was content creation limited to the few with great means or great connections; now anyone could publish materials and gain an audience very cheaply and simply. The outcome of this was a mass fragmentation of the audience. No longer were audiences forced to watch a small amount of mass content, but could indulge in their favorite niches that were no longer controlled by geographical borders or high barriers to entry. There was, however, a yawning gap between the quality of content that was made for niche audiences, and those created for the masses. The mass audience content was still superior in quality and still attracted larger audiences.

Fast Forward to Today

Most of the formerly niche platforms have gone mainstream, and there are now very few discernible differences between the likes of the new-media Huffington Post and traditional media outlets in the U.S.; political opinion blogs like Crikey in Australia and traditional political publications and Rue89 in France share readers and media space. Further, the arrival of Facebook pages, branded YouTube channels, Google+ pages, and Twitter has meant that brands are doing more than merely creating content directly for their audience – they are talking with their audience like peers.

Traditionally brand content (or ads) was seen jammed between the bits of content we are really interested in. We watched them only through sufferance. They were a nuisance that paid for the stuff we were really interested in.

However, in order to gain traction in a world with more content and a fragmented audience, brands need to evolve their content. The content needs to be less about marketing messages and be truly entertaining, informative, or educational. In short, it needs to resemble much more the content that brands used to buy ad space around, and a lot less like the ads they have traditionally created.

Tips for Brands Wanting to Make Content Today:

At Edelman, we believe there are five simple tips that brands should keep in mind when planning and creating content. We call these the “Five Cs of Content.”

The 5Cs of Content

Creativity: Compelling storytelling is still the core component of all successful content. If we don’t care about the characters, aren’t interested in the story being told, or aren’t compelled to watch until the end, then it is unlikely the content will be successful.

Context: To create great content, you need to understand what your audience wants, needs, and desires. But you also need to take into account the platforms you audience uses to consume the content, be it print, video or audio; also, when they want it, and how often they are prepared to engage.

Connectivity: There is great value in creating content that connects members of your target audience together. By doing this, you create a mutually beneficial scenario that creates a virtuous circle of connectivity around your brand.

Continuity: There is a reason that soap operas like Neighbors, Derrick, Columbo, and The Bold and The Beautiful are successful. They have long-established audiences who know there will be a new episode on a regular basis. The same goes for content that brands create. There is great value provided by sustaining efforts over time, ensuring that an audience built around your content. Though remember, no audience will be built overnight.

Collaboration: Gone are the days of one-way communication with an audience. Today your audience is unlikely to want to sit idly by and consume the content you have created for them. They will want to be involved, have an impact on the direction of content, and be recognized for their contributions. What’s more, if they are involved, they are more likely to share their efforts – we all have egos, after all.

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