Smoke and marketing

Friday 14 November 2014 by Drew Heatley

Tobacco Dock

There’s an air of history around London’s Tobacco Dock. It’s more than 200 years old, originally built to (you guessed it) support the importation of tobacco. In the intervening two centuries (and particularly over the last 30 years), this large ironclad labyrinth has been repurposed for a number of grand – but ultimately unsuccessful – futures.

From shopping centres to hotels, many have tried and failed to make use of this historical location. However, this week it welcomed the Festival of Marketing – a two-day celebration of modern marketing and the brainchild of industry influencers like Econsultancy, Marketing Week and Design Consultancy. With some of the world’s biggest brands set to share their insights, I was excited to see what was in store.

Pop goes content

Can businesses really enhance their content marketing strategy by studying country-turned-pop songstress Taylor Swift? They certainly can. That’s according to Catherine Toole, CEO of digital content agency Sticky Content.

Swift empathises with her fans through her lyrics and social media content. And brands that do the same are making great strides in marketing. They’re proving that by understanding your audience and writing from their perspective, you successfully capture their attention.

Catherine Toole, CEO of digital content agency Sticky Content.

A great example of brands making an impact through empathetic content is UX consultancy BunnyFoot. The company curates a list of its competitors in the contact section of its website. BunnyFoot understands that prospects are probably visiting their site to benchmark the firm against a range of rival companies, but visitors will remember BunnyFoot for providing the unexpected information upfront. Brands must be brave like this, and embrace the way their audience will consume their content, said Toole.

She went on to add that brands could learn from the mistakes of U2 front man Bono by knowing their niche. Bono clearly didn’t think of his band’s niche when he forced the group’s album Songs of Innocence on 800 million iTunes users across the globe in September. Brands simply can’t and won’t appeal to everyone, even within the industry in which they operate.

Instead, content marketers can unlock success by drilling down into granular subject matter to engage their audience. Men’s fashion retailer Charles Tyrwhitt specifically abstained from creating content for everyone, instead publishing targeted pieces like “five ways to fold a pocket square ”. Having Googled pocket square folding techniques myself, I realise the value of producing content that serves an audience’s (sometimes very specific) needs.

Social climbers

But producing valuable niche content doesn’t guarantee success. Competition to engage audiences has never been fiercer. As a result, consumers are becoming editors, building their own banks of content. According to BuzzFeed UK’s Creative Director Philly Byrne, in the age of the social web, content is currency. Consumers curate a view of themselves (or how they want to be perceived) by sharing content that they believe is relevant to them. BuzzFeed has certainly capitalised on that, chalking up 150 million unique visitors a month – with three quarters of that traffic referred by social networks.

BuzzFeed UK’s Creative Director Philly Byrne.

Byrne works with brands to create “sponsored content” on BuzzFeed – or native advertising that’s made to look like it belongs on the page, like this from General Electric (GE). He said that brands must now earn their place in consumers’ social newsfeeds if they really want to engage an audience. But Byrne adds that some brands are torn between what they know they should do – create engaging content that delivers value – and what a century of advertising has told them: talk about yourself and consumers will listen.

BuzzFeed isn’t the only publisher facilitating this explosion in sponsored content. The market is lucrative. It is set to be worth nearly $2.3 billion in the US alone this year, climbing to $3.2 billion by 2017. And brands are listening. From B2B firms like IBM and GE to consumer brands like Coca-Cola and Honda, companies are realising that brand-consumer interaction now requires the exchange of value from both sides and are producing high-quality content to earn the attention of their audiences.

Back to basics

For all the talk about the future of marketing and the changing relationship between brands and consumers, it’s important to remember that some core elements remain exactly the same. Coca-Cola’s Marketing VP Javier Sanchez Lamelas took to the stage on the event’s second day to dispel what he called some “marketing paradigms”. The biggest misconception, he says, is that “everything has changed” in marketing. It hasn’t – the fundamentals remain the same: people don’t fall in love with products, they fall in love with brands.

Coca-Cola’s Marketing VP Javier Sanchez Lamelas.

So how do brands woo consumers? By appealing to their human values. These, said Lamelas, shape emotions, which influence behaviour. With campaigns like Open Happiness, Coca-Cola doesn’t advertise its products, instead it attempts to appeal to our human side. Though the company has recently reported a fall in profits, it’s still one of the biggest brands on the planet and in a world of relentless technological advancements and increasingly aware consumers, it’s important to remember what attracts us to brands in the first place.

Finding a balance

The two-day festival had a bit of everything – a look to the future of marketing, an appraisal of the present and a nod to the past, reminding us all that sometimes it pays to go back to basics. The main message, for me, was that successful brands now and in the future are those that embrace new technologies and communication methods, without losing sight of the fundamental goal of marketing – to create brands that consumers love. That insight resonated in a venue that could have benefited from similar marketing wisdom throughout its 200 largely uninhabited years.

Drew no longer works at The Frameworks


  • Marketing
  • Brand value
  • Advertising
  • Copywriting
  • Content marketing