Brand v Content: How to Ensure Peace Breaks Out

David Granger, director at Arc & Foundry Creative, has seen first-hand how in-house brand and content teams can — occasionally — come to blows. But how do you keep things on track and ensure peace breaks out between the two parties?

Originally published on The Creative Review (https://www.creativereview.co.uk/)

I once worked at a company where there was practically a war between the brand and the content departments. Every month, the brand hierarchy would descend to our offices (I headed up the content team) to berate our output, question our budget spend and inform us we weren’t on-brand. In turn, we would explain they didn’t understand how to find, engage or entertain audiences. And to look at the engagement numbers.

At another company, my content team worked with a creative studio, which was part of the brand team. So, content was given guidelines, we dreamed up ideas, and then we were obliged to pitch them to the brand team to execute.

As in-house brand and content production teams have become more prevalent, so has the friction between them. It often boils down to wanting to own ‘creativity’ — the ethereal, outwardly glamourous part of marketing. The brand team is responsible for ensuring guidelines, style guides and collateral reflect the company and its ethos, while the content team wants to produce that collateral, the social posts, the website content, the YouTube videos and the press releases. And the two don’t always agree.

As in-house brand and content production teams have become more prevalent, so has the friction between them.

Was it ever thus? Probably, but when you were employing a third-party agency or production house to create content, the brand team could dictate and decide with more autonomous authority. It was their budget being spent on assets. As production became easier, cheaper and more available as an in-house rather than outsourced resource, both parties were internal participants. No longer was the relationship one of contractor and budget-holder, but budget-holder and budget-holder.

CONSIDER OTHER PERSPECTIVES

In both my aforementioned companies, the solution was (isn’t it always?) better communication cut with a degree of empathy. The more you understand your colleagues’ perspective and what drives them, the more you’re likely to reach a constructive conclusion. Or at the very least, a constructive compromise.

The monthly arm-wrestle we had with our brand overlords in the first example always resulted in stalemate. Neither party was prepared to compromise. It didn’t matter how many data-filled slides we presented, nor how many millions were engaging with our content worldwide; if the logo was not seen enough, if the talent wasn’t being used to a sufficient degree, or if there was yet another nebulous “I just don’t get it…”, then it was go-ballistic time.

At one — successful — job interview for a content role, I was asked by the head honcho whether I thought brand or content should hold the upper hand. The company had seen a successful brand launch, but now wanted to do more of the fun stuff — the content. My reply was diplomatic, honest, but essentially that brand provides the framework while content is the articulation of the brand. And that you need a separate perspective and skillset to do that.

TECHNOLOGY WILL LEAD TO BETTER BRIEFS

Two things to keep in mind. One is that the the goal is the same for both brand and content. It’s marketing. It’s engaging and communicating a brand. Again, content is the articulation of a brand. Ultimately it all goes back to the 1970s mantra of the US agency Benton & Bowles: “It’s not creative unless it sells.” And it’s worth reminding everyone involved that it’s that way around.

The other factor that will come into play is AI (I know, but bear with me). While we work out whether we’re all going to be replaced by robots who write their own prompts, or retire to the Maldives because robots who write their own prompts are making us mountains of money, we can use AI to help bridge the gap and stop the fistfights between brand and content.

One agency is developing an AI system which works like Grammarly or Spellcheck for your briefs and content. As you create a brief or write a piece of copy, it checks that your tone of voice and style fit the brand’s guidelines. It will change the way briefs are written and mean agencies don’t need months and months and mountains of fees to research your brand.

Ensuring brand consistency is going to be more important and potentially ever more vexing.

One of the best pitches I ever had presented to me was an agency whose strategist was forensic in her understanding of our brand. She’d done her homework and then cribbed everyone else’s to comprehend not only our business, but our goals and our brand. It was as surprising as it was impressive. Most agencies would rather put their own spin on a campaign than recognise the need for consistency.

And consistency is key. As channels, platforms, creators and outlets proliferate, ensuring brand consistency is going to be more important and potentially ever more vexing.

The bringing together, under one in-house roof, of content production and brand management functions has created a degree of (healthy?) tension. But communication, empathy and a dose of artificial intelligence might prevent them from coming to blows and make them more beneficial to the business. After all, that what we’re here for.

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