WARC from Home is a new series to help subscribers to brush up on the essentials of marketing during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Every week we’ll guide you around the latest thinking on a key topic, pointing you in the direction of must-read articles, seminal research papers and essential webinars, to ensure you are top of the class when we all finally return to office life. Find all WARC from Home content here.

This week we are focusing on online content strategies. As a result of new distribution mechanisms and the rise of social and digital media, the role of content is becoming more important. However, the emerging rules of content planning differ significantly from those governing other media channels, and require special attention from strategists.

Don’t forget to read previous editions of WARC from Home looking at distinctive brand assets and media integration.

Why do brands need an online content strategy?

Consumers are spending more time in digital environments. Yet online advertising can pose challenges: “banner blindness” is a concern, with many consumers actively avoiding and even blocking ads. As a result, brands increasingly use ‘content’ to encourage conversations with prospective customers and ensure message relevancy throughout the purchase journey.

Content is a notoriously amorphous term. It can refer to anything people consume, share or interact with, including videos, photos and articles – of which there is by no means a shortage on the internet. Seizing and sustaining attention is difficult. To be noticed, brands have to create value. To do this, brands can either entertain people, solve their problems, or deliver information.

Creative is not the only consideration: distribution is also crucial to success. A comprehensive online content strategy will span multiple online media channels, from search to social, and incorporate user-generated content. Activity must be relevant, consistent and regular, thereby creating familiarity.

Essential reading:

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How should advertisers manage online content?

A number of models have been put forward in recent years, including the ‘4:1:1’ rule. In this ratio, advertisers post four pieces of original social content, one re-post or influencer post, and one publisher article – balancing the need for originality, engagement and brand promotion.

In 2014, YouTube introduced the idea of ‘hero’, ‘hub’ and ‘help’ (or ‘hygiene’) categorisation to organise video content plans, and ensure brands strike a balance between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ content – rather than simply bouncing from one campaign to the next.

The model can be summarised as:

  • Hero’ content refers to big, tent-pole events that are designed to provide a step-change to audience growth.
  • Hub’ content is regular, scheduled content that provides a reason to subscribe and/or and return on a regular basis. Episodic and formatted series work best.
  • Hygiene’ content clearly and simply addresses a specific high-volume search query, and establish brand credibility.

The framework helps to drive consistency and discoverability, though requires a rigorous use of audience insights and trends – including search data – to inform creative development.

Essential reading:

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Any case studies to support this?

Tesco, a British supermarket chain, used the ‘hero, hub, hygiene’ model to re-launch its long-running ‘Every Little Helps’ tagline. Starting with a Halloween-themed campaign, the brand released a hero film showing unsuspecting customers as they were given a friendly fright in a Tesco store. The audience was then primed through four ‘how-to’ hub films targeted at users who had seen the hero film. The activity on YouTube specifically delivered £0.47 profit for every £1 spent.

Others have taken it a step further. Pet food brand Whiskas faced a sizeable hurdle in the development of an online content strategy, namely the sheer volume of cat-related content on the internet. ‘Kitten Kollege’, its first foray into branded content, followed the ‘hero, hub, hygiene’ model but failed to deliver business results. Thus ‘Kitten Kollege’ became the ‘Kat Institute of Technology’, a Silicon Valley spoof, featuring episodic, reach-driving films and search query content.

Any other considerations?

As previously mentioned, context is vital.

Kantar research has found that online video effectiveness is dependent on tailoring content to suit the environment which it is being consumed. Digital platforms provide contexts with very different viewing mindsets and consumption patterns: image is all-important for engagement on Instagram, while text is most likely to be read on Twitter.

Creative can also make a huge difference. Some platforms are more likely to suit content with sound-off as default, for instance. Content length impacts retention, especially in the case of video. Evidence suggests that shorter videos lasting 10-seconds or less offer can be effective, especially when deployed alongside more in-depth content.

Essential reading:

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We hope you enjoyed this lesson and found it useful. Please do share any feedback, and get in touch with the WARC team if you would like to find out more.