Photo licensed under Creative Commons by spencereholtaway

Yesterday at Fast Company I took part in a “virtual panel” with an awesome group of folks about branded content. It’s worth heading over to read the whole thing, but I wanted to expand on one quote in particular. In discussing the distinction between editorial and promotional content, I wrote:

I’m not actually sure that creating editorial content is all that different than creating promotional content, at least on a high level. Advertising is a process of combining brand outputs (look, feel, voice) with cultural inputs (insights, trends, etc.) and creating a piece of communication. The shift I see taking place is that the traditional processes around creating content for a world of campaigns break-down in a real-time content creation environment: Brands and agencies aren’t currently set up to consume culture as it happens, which is what media organizations do. I think this is a big shift we’ll start to see inside brands over the coming years. It’s not that they’ll try to model themselves on media organizations, but rather, they’re going to rearrange themselves around real-time consumption of content, data, analytics and anything else they can get their hands on to help make decisions and communicate better.

I packed a few different thoughts into this, each of which deserve a bit more explanation.

On the distinction between editorial and promotional: I actually expanded on this a bit later in the conversation in response to some push back. [Jonah Bloom wrote,] “‘The key thing about good content is that it requires that you think about it first and foremost from the point of view of the consumer and what they want to hear, rather than from the point of view of the brand and what it wants to say.’ If you replace ‘content’ with ‘advertising’ I still think it reads just as true. The broader opportunity for brands is that they start to ladder up their messages to be about something bigger than their products (like the OPEN Forum example you give). I think the danger is that many brands think they don’t have the permission to level up their communication in this way, which is something that all of us working with brands need to help them solve.

On processes breaking down: Where the real distinction takes place is between creating content that will live for three months and content that will live for three minutes. When you’re creating the former you can afford to work off much slower moving trends, as it will live in market for longer. When you’re producing the latter (3 minute messages) it needs to be based off something that is relevant right now. It doesn’t mean that it always has to be super new, but it does mean that you need to be able to relate it to something that is recent and meaningful.

On real-time consumption: This is something I’ve been toying with for awhile and finally put down in writing. More and more I’m thinking that the big change in what’s happened to marketing with social is a move to real-time. Brands were used to creating messages that were developed over time and then were repeated over a matter of months (and sometimes years). The change now is that messages are made and consumed in real-time. Some of the obvious stuff, like testing, doesn’t make sense in that format, but I also think there are less obvious differences. To be good at creating content in real-time you need to be good at consuming it in real time. Brands are not set up currently to do so, but media companies are. That’s really what I meant by my comment (and tried to be clear). I don’t think brands are going to go out and copy the business models of media companies, but they will go out and try to replicate some of their ability to consume the world in real-time and spit back out interestingness that matches the brand of the publication.