State of Content Marketing: United Kingdom
While the internet has made it possible for brands to reach consumers just about anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi connection, much of the advertising industry still seems to take a U.S.-centric approach to marketing coverage. With New York City trying to hold on to its reputation as the media capital of the world, and Silicon Valley dominating headlines, it’s easy to overlook the content contributions from the rest of the world.
But it’s time for that to change.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 87 percent of marketing professionals in the UK now use content marketing, and 53 percent planned to increase their spending in the next year. As these companies continue to experiment with social media, online video, custom magazines, and mobile, they’re finding innovative ways to strike that delicate balance between relaying a brand message and creating content that will resonate with customers.
In “State of Content Marketing: United Kingdom,” we’ll look at industry trends, chat with agencies and brands, and highlight some of the best digital content being produced across the pond. The content marketing industry is moving fast, and U.K. brands aren’t just keeping up—they’re getting out ahead.
Custom Print Magazines
Even as brands spend on digital, they’re still keeping print alive, and for good reason. “I wouldn’t dismiss print,” Andrew Hirsch, CEO of John Brown Media, one of the world’s biggest branded content agencies, told Contently. “Don’t be surprised if, particularly in retail, you see it for a long time to come.”
Hirsch backed up his prediction with the story of British supermarket chain Waitrose, which has been publishing its print magazine, Waitrose Kitchen, for the past five years.1 Two years ago, Waitrose added an app that offers all the same content as the magazine, plus the added benefit of original video. It didn’t take long, however, for the chain’s 4 million customers who signed up for accounts to pick their favorite. While the print version “flies out of the store” to the tune of nearly 700,000 monthly readers, only 20,000 shoppers choose the app. Fittingly, the print readership for Waitrose Kitchen has increased by 65 percent year over year.
Hirsch believes print works best when the retailer has a ready-made distribution center in the form of a brick-and-mortar store. “Where brands are moving away from print is when they’re having to mail out a magazine through a possibly unreliable postal service and at a very great expense,” he said.
In the fragmented publishing ecosystem where marketers have to compete for attention with all the noise on blogs and social media, selecting the right platform for your work is vitally important. As a result, producing a steady stream of content that fits on each channel is easier said than done.
When U.K. marketers were asked how often they publish fresh content, 63 percent told the Content Marketing Institute they do it daily or multiple times per week, but more than half of respondents said creating content that draws consumers is a challenge.
To keep up with the demand for quality content, agencies are bringing their talents into the fold to help companies scale. Earlier this year, digital agency Stickyeyes bought content marketing agency Zazzle Media to build the U.K.’s “largest digital content marketing offering.” Around the same time, Dentsu Aegis Network acquired London-based content marketing shop John Brown Media.
“We wanted to articulate all the different levels and types of content to support brand activity within this atomizing market,” Nigel Morris, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Americas and EMEA, said of his firm’s acquired John Brown Media. “The ability to generate high-quality content in real time with journalistic focus and skills is very important, and I think other agencies are definitely looking in this area.”
The demand for video advertising among both marketers and consumers is likely telling of the future of content marketing, both in the U.K. and just about everywhere else. One survey of U.K. YouTube users found that 73 percent are willing to watch a video if it looks entertaining, even if it was created by a brand. Forty-seven percent of those polled also believe producing YouTube videos is a good way for brands to maintain communication with customers after a purchase has been made.
Bolstered by the potential for online video to connect with consumers, brands are increasingly turning to mobile when publishing multimedia. The IAB U.K. reports that mobile video ad spending has grown 142 percent since last year.
And across Europe, Snapchat is experiencing high usage rates among teens. Currently, 52 percent of teens in Ireland use Snapchat, along with 40 percent in Great Britain, both of which top Snapchat engagement in America for the same demographic.
This year, native ad spending in the U.K. reached £509 million, or 22 percent of all display advertising. And despite concerns that native placements are still risky bets compared to owned media properties, a2015 survey commissioned by Adyoulike, a native platform, found that 64 percent of agencies believe native advertising could improve the quality of mobile ads.
“Transparency and credibility continue to be critical in terms of consumer trust,” said Anna Watkins, managing director of Guardian Labs, the Guardian‘s sponsored content studio. “Credibility will be paramount, and brands and publishers will need to ensure their content rings true and comes from a trusted and viable source.”
For example, with Happy for Life, a Guardian app sponsored by life insurance company Beagle Street, the content connected with readers by suggested activities designed to help them improve their mood. More recently, Guardian Labs created an “Alternative Europe” travel guide in partnership with telecommunications company Vodafone to highlight useful travel content related to lesser-known European cities like Leipzig, Germany, and Turin, Italy.
“To gain trust, brands must have the right to play in the space, and provide something of use or entertainment to the reader,” Watkins said.
Real Views may be classified as a blog, but to Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), the London-based commercial real estate company that produces it, the site has become so much more. “We see it as more of a brand journalism site,” said Madeleine Little, JLL’s director of global marketing.
Real Views is penned by professional journalists rather than company employees, and it boasts as much multimedia content as it does text. Because of this approach, JLL has been able to branch out from typical press releases and research reports to establish credibility.
The site launched in May of 2015, and unlike the company’s other blogs, which tend to focus solely on real estate, it addresses a broader range of topics like avant-garde design and the future of charging stationsfor electric cars. The content is organized into four sections: Trends, Places, Economy, and Industry. In a broader context, the work boosts awareness of JLL and shows of its creative side.
“One of our main motivators was to reach an audience beyond the traditional real estate sector,” Little said, “and to demonstrate how vital and important real estate is to the world at large—to firms from a business perspective, but also [to] individuals, whether in their workplace, home, or even in their leisure activities.”
To produce a steady stream of quality content, from blog posts to graphics and videos, JLL employs a global editor in London along with in-house writers, all of whom have worked as journalists. It also partners with content agencies and a network of freelancers, and even taps its marketing and PR teams for the occasional article.
“All content is subject to the same editorial process,” Little noted. “We have very clear guidelines about the kind of topics Real Views discusses and the tone of voice that it uses.”
Stories for the site are inspired by internal and external industry events, along with breaking news. “Keeping content fresh is vital and something we work hard at,” Little said. So is weighing JLL’s marketing agenda against audience demand. “Not surprisingly, stories about luxury hotels are more popular than stories about industrial warehouses. We have to try to maintain a balance.”
When it comes to big-picture marketing strategy, JLL strives to produce informative content across all platforms, from its corporate sites all the way to its pitches and proposals. Among the company’s other projects are The Investor, a five-year-old publication for real estate investors, and microsites for specific service sectors like retail and hotels.
Also on the company’s radar is how consumers interact with its publications. JLL tailors its content to meet the needs of busy, bombarded customers. Little and her team pay particular attention to mobile responsiveness, content length, and the visual appeal of all pieces produced. She favors graphics and video—like the below clip exploring the future of China’s hospitality industry—but demands high-quality multimedia to ensure that customers aren’t “turned off” by the result.
“It’s a strategy that is constantly evolving,” Little said. “And as it does, I think we are seeing more understanding and engagement within our marketing and communications teams globally, from the business, and also from our audiences. This is really encouraging and makes this a very exciting space to work in. There’s always more to do—we can’t ever stand still.”
In the U.K., one could argue that branded content and football makes for the ultimate advertising pairing. Budweiser certainly would.
“We’re huge football fans—after all, what’s better than a cold Budweiser and watching a great match?” said Nick Robinson, marketing director for Anheuser-Busch InBev U.K.
It’s little wonder that the brand is behind major marketing programs like “Rise as One.” The multi-platform campaign and six-part documentary series launched in 2014 to promote Budweiser’s status as the official beer of the FIFA World Cup. The effort helped the brand become the top beer advertiser in the U.K. during the World Cup, with 1.8 million unique digital engaged users, a 70 percent reach on Facebook, and a 249 percent increase in Budweiser’s Twitter following.
This year, Budweiser revived the winning combination of brand videos and football with “Dream Goal,” an interactive campaign that invited amateur footballers to share their best goals with the brand online. Budweiser sorted through the user-generated clips for the most impressive goal, which was then analyzed by sportscasters through a partnership with Sky Sports. The contest’s winner, Colin “Quirky” Quirk, was featured in a national Budweiser spot on television when the contest concluded in May.
“Branded content is another connection point with beer lovers in an integrated world, and it helps us bring our brands to life in a creative and engaging way that enhances the experience beyond traditional advertising media,” Robinson said. “The user-generated content—with some amazing videos and insights—sat alongside Budweiser-generated content, and we found that both had very strong engagement levels.” He also noted that the brand was thrilled to see how many football fans were willing to share their goals and comment on those submitted by others.
Budweiser received over 1,000 entries in all, but it was the passion demonstrated by participants that led Robinson to consider the campaign a win. “What was most telling for me was when we showed Quirky’s winning goal at the FA Cup Final,” he said. “When his goal went up on the screen, the room went silent with attention and then burst into cheers for him at the end. For us, that natural response is proof that the campaign insight resonates positively with consumers—and that’s a great success in my book.”
Barclays, the British bank headquartered in London, has shown a lot of content marketing creativity over the past few years, from Code Playground, a site that teaches children and adults how to code, to Digital Eagles, designed to help consumers navigate digital technology through a series of downloadable how-to guides. Keeping in line with those successes, Barclaycard, Barclay’s global payment subsidiary that introduced the U.K.’s first credit card in 1966, is no stranger to innovation—especially when it comes to content.
In 2013, Barclaycard partnered with parenting site Mumsnet to launch a four-part web series called “Shop Talk,” meant to “celebrate shopping savvy women.” Barclaycard’s Freedom Rewards credit card sponsored the show, which doled out advice on shopping, product trends, and how to save money both online and in brick-and-mortar stores.
This year, Barclaycard began releasing a new series of videos offering tips on subjects like online shopping, waiting in line, and tipping abroad—all part of a new campaign launched in the spring to highlight the benefits of Barclaycard’s various services. The company deftly employs humor to make its message more memorable by featuring English stand-up comedian Jason Manford. Each routine ends with a call to action such as the chance to download the Barclaycard app or sign up for a spend-limit alert.
“It’s not actually business to business, but it’s person to person,” Andrew McNamee, VP of Barclaycard’s digital strategy, wrote in July. “If you treat your entire content strategy like you’re speaking to a business, then you’re probably going about this in the wrong way.”
John Lewis, which started as a London department store in 1864, may be best known in the U.S. for its 2014 #MontyThePenguin ad, but the retailer has long been investing in brand content in the form of print magazines. Between John Lewis Home, John Lewis Cook, and quarterly fashion title Edition—which boasts a print circulation of close to 500,000 and an editorial director who was formerly with Marie Claire—the retailers’s influence stretches far and wide.
In 2012, Edition surpassed category leader Glamour to become the fashion magazine with the largest circulation in the U.K., and last year, it took the top spot in the women’s lifestyle magazine market again. Its articles include everything from profiles of top fashion makeup artists to interviews with up-and-coming design executives.
John Brown Media, the content shop behind all three magazines, retains a stable of editors and art directors to oversee them. In addition to in-house talent, the company commissions expert photographers, stylists, and writers to produce the work. CEO Andrew Hirsch estimates that 30 percent of the editorial team is internal while 70 percent consists of leading freelance journalists.
Catering to both print and digital audiences, John Lewis puts a lot of effort into determining how to allocate content marketing budgets. “You really need to understand how customers are absorbing content,” Hirsch said. “Over-fifties in the U.K. are much more into tablets than mobile, so if we’ve got a client targeting women [who are] twenty-five to thirty-five, we’ll put a lot more budget toward tablet or print.”
This approach, along with the publisher’s laser focus on producing quality content, appears to be working. Just a year after debuting, John Lewis Cook Edition had a 100 percent pick-up rate in-store, and sales of products featured in the magazine had risen by up to 118 percent. John Lewis Home, meanwhile, generated a 21 percent increase in interior and homeware product sales against estimates, proving that print isn’t just alive and kicking, but capable of delivering major returns as well.
What the Experts Are Saying
“The argument for the benefits of content marketing only gets stronger every year. It’s now easier than ever to identify what kind of content your audience responds to, test and iterate it, and affordably create more of it. Businesses that recognize the necessity of connecting with their audience are reaping immense rewards when they do it correctly—and are stealing a considerable march on their competitors.”
—Brian Brady, Creative Director, Huge London
“Start with your end goal, think about what you want to get out of the piece, and then work backwards. If you are planning to do outreach, identify who your audience influencers are and create content for them, and, finally, make sure your content isn’t sales heavy. You are doing this to inform your audience and build brand awareness, so be useful and let a great piece of content do the selling for you.”
—Dawn Jones, Lead Content Strategist, Clicky Media
“Big brands will truly embrace the scale of digital, with its ability to match or often beat traditional media reach. In realizing digital channels can play this big broadcast role, they’ll then start exploring what still makes them different and unique. The ability to carefully target different content at subtly different audiences to ensure maximum impact will be chief amongst the answers.”
—Jerry Daykin, Global Digital Director, Carat
“There are a lot of tools that [my team and I] use, but I find that it’s very important to understand the type of content that is working well within your sector before you can put a full strategy together. You also need to tap into the established audiences of influencers within that sector to help extend the reach of your content.”
—Adam Connell, Marketing Director, U.K. Linkology
“How we consume content will continue to be led by personal choice as the ability for everyone to create content in various formats and lengths allows for more choices. How brands take advantage of these new distribution models to deepen consumer engagement and increase repeat visits is one to watch.”
—Astrid Sandoval, Deputy Business Development Director, Guardian Labs
As consumers continue devoting their time to digital media, U.K. brands will up their content marketing game by putting more emphasis on multimedia content driven by visuals. The Content Marketing Institute found that 70 percent of marketers in the U.K. were focused on creating more visual content this year.
“In terms of impact, YouTube has not only given consumers more control, but has given brands themselves the scope for greater control and influence,” Andrew Hogan, head of brand strategy and advertising at Barclaycard, told Marketing magazine. “It’s made it more possible than ever to reach consumers in more direct ways. If you do it right, if you have a concept that’s brilliantly creative. To a large extent, you can circumvent traditional media.”
More B2B Experimentation
U.K.-based business and financial content marketing agency Edition Financial, which has been conducting annual surveys with senior client-side marketers to gauge financial content marketing benchmarks, budgets, and trends, predicts that we will see “growth in the range of activation channels used to disseminate content, indicating the importance of content marketing approach.” The company lists paid and organic social media, video, infographics, and white papers among the formats that financial companies are likely to invest in.
Somaya Bahoussain, who works in marketing and business development at London-based content marketing agency Grist, believes that B2B marketers will also reexamine the way they approach case studies. “B2B firms have a wealth of content at their disposal in the form of client stories,” she said. “Involving clients in exploring issues and solutions adds more personal appeal to your content, and can take the form of interviews, guest blogs, events, or video.”
As brands spend on more content types, experts say the time has come to connect individual channels and create a more cohesive digital strategy. “There has been a lot of activity and investment in people, technology, data, tools, content, and so on in the last few years,” said Ashley Friedlein, president of U.K.-based Centaur Marketing and co-founder of Econsultancy. “But it needs to work together better.”
As such, Friedlein believes that brands will zero in on making programs “work together more intelligently” to get “the digital engine firing on all cylinders.”
For better or worse, emojis have become one of the hottest marketing trends for brands in the last few months. Why? Because the playful characters quickly grab consumer attention and don’t require big budgets. In August, U.K. dog welfare charity Dogs Trust released a canine emoji keyboard, and in September, LinkedIn made it possible for users to insert emojis, stickers, and GIFs into their messagesfor the first time, opening up a world of opportunities for B2B marketers.
As expected, brand interest in emojis matches that of their target customers. According to The Drum, emoji usage in the U.K. is up 62 percent in 2015.
The IAB reports that mobile streaming-video viewing increased in the U.K. by 40 percent year over year. The organization’s recent study also found that most consumers are viewing these clips through apps, with 63 percent using “only” or “mostly” mobile apps to stream video on their smartphones.
Huge’s creative director, Brian Brady, is among the U.K. marketers noticing increased opportunities to invest in mobile advertising, which can be especially powerful when targeting young consumers. “We tend to be more experimental with audiences that are themselves experimenting across multiple platforms, so for a fashion client we’ll scale up activity on platforms like Snapchat, Periscope, and WhatsApp,” Brady said.
On a similar note, Joe Laszlo, senior director of the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, said, “Audiences around the world are overwhelmingly open to mobile video advertisements that relate to their context and viewing patterns. Clearly, this is a real boon to global marketers that want to ensure they reach the audience segments most likely to be interested in their products or services.”
In 2015, U.K. brands are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve for their content marketing triumphs. By building on past successes, embracing new formats, and tackling old mediums from fresh perspectives, these brands are showing how publishing can influence all industries, from B2B to food and beverage to financial services.
It’s impossible to predict what challenges lie ahead as brands navigate the ever-changing marketing landscape. But when it comes time to plot a strategy, marketers in New York City and Silicon Valley would be wise to look to some of their counterparts in the U.K.Image by IR Stone