The power of partnerships

Credibility is key for brands looking to engage senior decision-makers. The right partnership between a publisher and brand can be the key to unlock content marketing success.

This is a chapter from Raconteur’s research of how over 500 European C-suites consume content. Download the full report here

In the world of content marketing and thought leadership, the term “credibility” tends to be used liberally and indiscriminately. We talk regularly about its importance. We make presumptions about whether or not we have it or we’ve earned it. We assert our individual views and biases about where it comes from – is it our heritage, our brand, our people or our thinking?

The one thing we perhaps don’t do often enough is ask what it really means in the eyes of our audiences. To be trustworthy? To be believable? To be reliable? To be known for knowing what we’re talking about? Of the senior executives we surveyed, one in five said they think content produced by brands is self-serving and offers little or no professional insight or value.

A little over half told us outright that they believe content and thought leadership lacks credibility. Only six per cent claim to be enthusiastic about the content they receive from brand producers; most categorising themselves as “agnostic” (44 per cent) or “sceptical” (21 per cent) about this form of marketing.

Credibility isn’t just a term we can band around in a project brief or trade assertions with. It’s the chips that get you to the table and give you a chance to be part of the game. Credibility is the entry point in the battle for an audience’s attention and our research suggests there’s some work to be done. Michelle Huff, chief marketing officer of Act On, reveals one reason behind these findings:

“I think there’s potentially an inherent bias that brands may not put a lot of thought or research into what they write because they ‘have an agenda’. So there can be an initial distrust that you have to overcome as you focus on building a relationship with the reader.”

The growing investment in content is evidence that the marketing community clearly recognise the importance and power of this medium, but many are still failing to harness it. In some cases, it’s a result of just not understanding the customer; in others, it’s a lack of time and resources.

Penny Wilson, chief marketing officer of Hootsuite, explains:

“Brands are still missing the main point of content – to engage directly with their audiences. Listen first and invest in customer-centric, personalised content to build relevancy and credibility with your audiences. Marketers can also partner with credible research firms to produce data-based content. In instances where a gap exists between what a brand is saying versus its perception in the market, marketers can associate themselves with the right partner to develop mutually.”

While partnerships with publishers, academia and industry experts can boost branded content’s credibility, business must be both highly selective and strategic when partnering with a third-party organisation. Like any brand relationship, if it’s not a true match, cracks will quickly develop and the reputational consequences could be significant.

Which brands are getting it right?

The Creators’ Project by VICE and Intel is a first-rate example of a great brand-publisher partnership. The collaboration, now approaching its eighth year, set out to showcase international artists who use technology within their work. Beginning as a series of events and exhibitions, it quickly evolved into an online hub, print and TV series. These were outlets where creatives could share ideas and knowledge as well as their latest work, and the partnership pulled in big music industry names, including Mark Ronson and Daft Punk.

The collaboration enabled VICE to cement itself as a cultural force, while letting Intel highlight the use of its technology in the creative process. Seven years on, Intel is still listed as a founding partner of Creators, but other big brands have joined too, including Adobe. The platform now has more than one million Facebook fans, 123,000 Twitter followers and 771,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Another great example of the power of brand-publisher collaboration is Microsoft’s partnership with National Geographic in the Make What’s Next campaign. Launched on International Women’s Day, the campaign aimed to inspire girls to take up careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

The technology giant teamed up with the magazine to harness the publication’s science and storytelling expertise, and highlight its own technological know-how. Aligned with a global event, the activity included a 60-second video advert, a career explorer tool launched in collaboration with LinkedIn, as well as workshops available in Microsoft stores and on Facebook Live. However, its influencer-driven Instagram campaign was the most interesting and successful part of the activity.

Before launching the campaign, National Geographic reached out to its network of female explorers to ask them to become mentors to young girls looking to pursue STEM careers. These individuals, including volcanologists, ecologists and space architects, were asked to share their stories through photographs of them in action as a way of inspiring young girls to enter these fields.

On International Women’s Day, National Geographic posted 30 pictures of these female explorers across five social channels with the hashtag #MakeWhatsNext. Shot by renowned wildlife photographers, each image told a story of the professionals’ struggles, unique career paths and their successes. These inspirational captions were followed by an invitation to join the upcoming free Microsoft workshops which were running across the United States.

By tapping into a worldwide event and teaming up with a respected publication with a large social following, Microsoft managed to gather 3.5 million Instagram likes on International Women’s Day alone. More importantly, almost 300 girls attended Microsoft workshops in person and the live-steam reached 90 million people. These examples show that the right partnership with the right publisher can boost both credibility as well as general audience awareness – a vital way of being taken seriously by the C-suite.

This is a chapter from Raconteur’s research of how over 500 European C-suites consume content. Download the full report here