I recently returned from judging an award show for creativity in marketing. For those unfamiliar with these shows, they award the creative merit of work amongst agencies across the world. The awards are given to the agencies themselves, particularly to the creative people who conceived the work. Every time I judge one of these shows, it never ceases to surprise me how much the world of marketing expands. We reviewed a mix of traditional advertising, mobile apps, live events, digital tools and even products themselves.

Within these shows, virtually everything can be considered marketing these days. One category of work too complex to define, branded content, is growing exponentially. In this arena, you'll come across everything from a behind the scenes video to something akin to the latest Apple-shot episode of "Modern Family." If it's this hard to judge what counts as good branded content, then small wonder-- it's even more complicated for the marketers making it.

On the plane ride home, I began pondering a few of the casual remarks I heard in the jury room that struck me, just before nodding off (even though in an exotic locale, the week is grueling). It struck me that some seemingly throwaway remarks made amongst colleagues can bear more relevance in retrospect. I'll isolate a few of these "asides"--I'm a good spy when I need to be-- and explore how we may use them as marketers to make better work, as we navigate the less charted world of content marketing.

Overheard #1:

"It's like they made this for someone in prison."

As we lose the confines of a 30-60 second format, it should be implied that it's important to remember restraint. Just because you shot it doesn't mean you have to use it. People don't have to stay and watch anything anymore (unlike prisoners who have little choice). Editing is still a very useful tool to creating content that is compelling to watch and share.

Overheard #2:

"Look, a video without a #hashtag!"

While a full 360-campaign can be impressive and effective, the room was invigorated by a few really strong pieces that stood alone. It can be brave to bet big and put everything into one great piece or series. Not every concept has to be executed across multiple channels. And if you do make it cross-platform, make sure to care for each channel like it's the only one.

Overheard #3:

"So by "influencer" do we really just mean celebrity?

This one was hotly debated in the room. Some believe featuring a great celebrity counts, but to me that is just good, albeit expensive, casting. Today, influential creators not only make great content, but also come with built-in fan bases. With the right approach, this can lead to unique and authentic content collaborations.

Overheard #4:

"Hahahahaha" (...or, discretely wipe away that tear)

Laughter and tears. There were a few things that everyone in the room simply enjoyed. We can sometimes over think, over-make or over-do content. Granting people moments of pure emotional lift with a well-written narrative can still be quite powerful and is a great way to build real relationships over time.

Overheard #5:

"I'll never get that three minutes back."

Some of the content left us feeling, meh. It didn't share a point of view, it didn't teach us anything. It didn't give us any value. The most memorable work came from a meaningful brand story. A brand like Chipotle is an amazing content maker because it has an amazing story, not because the brand creates long form videos. So start with the right story.

Hopefully these tips prove helpful in your next content venture. It may be as simple as focusing on how you need to make "better" rather than "more." As a content creator, keep asking yourself the hard questions: why is this worth making, worth watching, worth sharing?

Published on: Mar 4, 2015