A discussion with Bonin Bough, VP of Global Media and Consumer Engagement for Mondelez International, Deborah Conrad, Corporate VP and CMO of Intel, Fernando Machado, of Unilever, and Steve Phelps, SVP and CMO of NASCAR, on how brands have learned to collaborate in new ways to produce stories that get attention and move an audience toward action. Part of Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored 2013 event, 23-24 April in NYC.
Fast Company: How has your concept of content changed?
Phelps: The content itself is our racing. Racing itself has changed in terms of product relevance, and we’ve needed to change with it. What are the tools that we have to employ, and what are the changes we’ve made to push our product to a younger audience.
Fernando: At Unilever, we populate the calendar with things that are lined up with the purpose of the brand.
Conrad: We’re an ingredient inside a phone or computer, etc. We used to promote what the ingredient meant, but the other part of our marketing has been through our partners – Apple, Toshiba, etc – so over time our content has evolved within those two parallel universes, what we do on our own, and what our partners do. We focus on content, and the applicable distribution channel. We don’t just create content and hope it goes viral, for instance. We create content that we intend to go viral.
Bough: How do you find the zeitgeist that then drives other action. We try to take cultural insights from conversation and have that drive our above-the-line marketing. We also focus on how to bring social activity from one platform to another, and cross-platform trending. As spots are running on the TV, how do we, real-time, drive conversation on Twitter.
FC: Deborah, Intel has been a trailblazer. Can we talk about some of your campaigns? Why have you been such proponents of brand content?
Conrad: There was definitely some risk-taking. It started with engaging with an audience, and we decided we really wanted to reach out and have a brand connection with a younger audience. That led us to who were partners that got us there, that led us to Vice. It was important then to make sure we worked together and not just a vendor or third-party relationship.
The concept is a celebration of technology and art. What we found is by engaging with artists who are using technology – Intel technology for us – to pursue their dream, that really become the content in and of itself, the artists started telling the stories, we just gave them the platform. We expanded that into a YouTube channel, actual events, etc. It’s artists talking about what they do and what they love, and our brand came to life at the heart of that.
It’s allowed us to also learn so much more about social content – curating content, Facebook, etc.
FC: What’s the impact on your bottom line?
Conrad: Sometimes it’s hard to directly correlate these things, at the end of the day we want to sell our products. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum that we want to be seen as a really engaging company doing good things. Some of our content gears towards the latter, but we have clear metrics that support the former.
FC: Bough, let’s talk about being nimble, real-time, conversational. What does that represent in terms of new skill sets for marketing?
Bough: The skill set was actually trying to find the right plug to pull to get the lights at the Super Bowl to go out [laugh]. No, but it was a willingness to prepare. We had 100 days of doing this exact same thing. How do we deal with legal? What needs to be signed off in advance?
We tried to build a simple format, based on a previously used simple format. We needed to use things that were easy to replicate.
The organization needs to believe that this investment is going to deliver value. And then you have to measure. People who think they can’t measure social media are crazy. We focused on attribution measurement, did that one tweet affect the overall ecosystem.
FC: Let’s talk about Dove. You decided to not approve a social script, but approve a social experiment.
Machado: Dove is about making women feel beautiful. That’s real. I can’t approve a script unless it’s real. Our creative team needed to be there, and there had to be trust. It cannot be contrived, and the genuine values of the piece won’t touch the audience.
I admire Oreo so much, I have a team set up trying to get where they are in terms of real-time.
FC: Phelps, how does content shape NASCAR’s approach?
Phelps: We gave tools away, so we have other people sending out our message. The share of voice that we have as NASCAR ended up being very small, so we’re trying to get the tools back. We bought our digital voice back, we work with our partners to get them more tapped into our voice. If you look at some of these changes in our brand marketing, all these pieces coming together to generate new fans, explore digital and social, increase product relevance, ad-track better. We have to look at creating these news fans in a different way.
It’s been a process that’s much, much different.
Audience Question: How do each of you approach what you maintain creative control of as a brand, and how do you supplement it with curated content from partners that you don’t necessarily feel you need 100% control over?
Conrad: We have a core team for social, and we took on an ambitious training and certification process so that whomever wanted to be active on social media could do so. We tried to equip them with the tools to get in the conversation. It’s resource intensive, and a commitment, but we stuck to it.