Content marketing moves to centre stage

tim burrowes landscapeLast night ANZ launched one of Australia’s biggest branded content plays to date. Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes was at the launch.

It took a few minutes too long last night for it to dawn on me why there was a jazz band in the corner of the room at ANZ’s Melbourne conference suite. Blue Notes – gerrit?

And what last night’s event did make clear is that the opportunities of that developing subset of branded content, brand journalism, are beginning to dawn on local brands.

The movement – embraced early on by Australia’s big sporting codes – is now going mainstream. As it begins to look less like a fad, the question is instead shifting to that of: how big will it be?

Blue Notes ANZFirst though to ANZ’s new offering.

Blue Notes is an opportunity for the bank to amplify its voice on financial and economic issues.

Under the leadership of former Australian Financial Review associate editor Andrew Cornell and former Private Media and Fairfax publisher Amanda Gome, the website will pump out news, analysis and video. The resources are decent – a bigger editorial team than your typical specialist or trade magazine, subscriptions to all the news wires including Bloomberg and of course access to ANZ’s network of business people.

blue notes site image

In these early days, it’s not yet entirely clear how much of the content will be about the bank in some way (call it advertorial if you like) and how much will be about setting out a wider world view. Its interview with its own chairman David Gonski leans towards the former, albeit written straight, while Cornell’s column, on Bitcoin, is analysis that wouldn’t have been out of place in his old slot in the AFR.

It’s also not entirely clear what success looks like for this project. If the bar is set relatively low as having a great online newsroom, then the site is already there.

If it’s about delivering regular engagement with customers (and perhaps more importantly potential customers) then that seems realistic too. That’s part of the model of Bruce Guthrie’s The New Daily, backed by the super funds, after all. And it also seems to be the thinking behind NRMA Motoring’s Live4.com.au, which is about lifestyle and mindset rather than brand.

But the big ask is whether Blue Notes can become a credible voice in its own right, where people interested in the topics it covers automatically turn for information and analysis. That’s the big win for brand journalism.

Regardless, the game is changing. When I interviewed Joe Jareck, public relations director of The LA Dodgers on stage at CommsCon last month, he was quite open about how the brand now chooses to release its own news on its own site first, rather than to the LA Times. That way, the Dodgers’ own journo would put the Dodgers spin on it, he said.

Blue Notes doesn’t yet have it all covered off. Distribution will be a big question. They say they engaged with 60,000 consumers on the first day, via the site and social media. Even if that number is accurate, I’m sure it will initially fall away after the first surge of interest.

Front and centre, the site offers an email signup. Which, unfashionable as it is, in my view remains one of the most powerful news distribution tools there is. (Email distribution is a major plank in Mumbrella’s daily reach, for instance.)

But that will be a slow build. How to push Blue Notes to existing customers without annoying them is an interesting question.

Outbrain on smh.com.au

Outbrain on smh.com.au

Outbrain – that widget you see at the bottom of stories on various news sites offering external links to brand content – is becoming an important player in this space. Not only does it offer brands an answer to the distribution question, it offers the existing media owners an indirect new channel of revenue from the growth of branded content. Expect the price of those clicks to go up…

It will also be interesting to see the attitude ANZ takes to sharing of its content. Why not take a leaf from Andrew Jaspan’s brainchild The Conversation and publish everything under Creative Commons? With a back link, that would allow any mainstream title to use Cornell’s column, for instance.

It would certainly amplify – and differentiate – the bank’s voice. The fact that Blue Notes videos are hosted on YouTube already means they are already embeddable anywhere.

Here also is a distinctive chunk of social media that ANZ will get credit for leadership in over its competitors. (It was interesting to note representatives from most of the rival brands were in the room.)

Which of course is at least part of the plan. NAB has been making a lot of the running in setting the agenda in recent years – with The Break Up, for instance, and is dipping its toe into this space too. And CommBank has arguably been doing the most interesting advertising around its Can positioning. This is something ANZ can be known for.

Another factor to be borne in mind is that brand journalism is providing a potential new career direction just at a moment when journos are losing their jobs.

It’s tempting to ask who will then grow the next generation of journos for brands to pluck their talent from if the old media owners aren’t doing so. But if an organisation like ANZ can build a publishing operation in a few months, it’s not unrealistic to think that brands can invest in training too.

And the troubles of the mainstream media is another reason for brands to be looking in this direction. Fewer outlets for their messages is an issue for them too.

But the swing away from paid media to earned media also raises big questions for how brands organise themselves.

The comms people, not the marketing teams, seem the natural guardians of this kind of content. It’s about a conversation, not a message.

For a long time, the marketing teams have the giant budgets while the PR and corporate comms teams make do with scraps. But the boundary between earned media, owned media and paid media is blurring. The old fashioned – and still near-universal – divisions between the comms team and the marketing team will have to disappear in time. And more urgently, the budgets could well shift too.

It’s a fascinating time.

  • Tim Burrowes is content director of Mumbrella

Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.