What makes GE’s content a hit while other brands fall flat? Why do some Super Bowl commercials make us tear up while others leave us staring blankly at the nachos?
In all likelihood, your answer boils down to “because it’s good.” But according to Brian Millar, founder of the Emotional Intelligence Agency (EIA) and one of the UK’s top content research firms, there’s a deeper science to branded content.
In a study of over 5,000 consumers, the EIA found that emotionally resonant online content falls into one of four buckets: inspiring, useful, funny, or beautiful. The agency also discovered that the most successful brands win by using a mix of all four types.
I sat down with Millar this summer at Cannes to dig into these four traits and the science behind it. You can watch the full video of our conversation below, which is the latest part of our Accountable Innovation Series in partnership with Magnet Media, an industry-leading global strategic studio.
Joe Lazauskas: Hi, and welcome to Accountable Innovation at Cannes. I’m Joe Lazauskas, Contently’s editor-in-chief. I’m here with Brian Millar, the CEO and founder of the Emotional Intelligence Agency, and, even more fascinatingly, the publisher of some really incredible research about what separates good ads from ads that suck. Brian, thank you for being here.
Brian Millar: Absolute pleasure.
Joe: It’s really interesting to dig down into the science of what makes us actually respond to some brands’ content and really not give a crap about other people’s.
Brian: What we’ve now down is been gathering data on the sort of things that different people find funny, useful, beautiful, and inspiring by demographic. So age and gender, by attitude, by geography, by platform, by time of day. If you’re looking at somebody who has an affinity for BMWs, who is female, and 25 to 35, and lives in the north of the UK, we can actually predict which emotion she is looking to trigger online, and we can start to guide companies to produce content which will best do that. But fundamentally, what we are starting to work with companies to do is to help them produce just four kinds of content. There’s funny, useful, beautiful, and inspiring.
Joe: Here you say you can’t just have one tone. You’ve gotta mix it up a lot. That sounds scary. I’m like, “Oh, what about brand governance? What about maintaining a consistent brand voice?” This is applying some guidelines and science and data to back up those decisions?
Brian: Exactly. I think what we’re not asking people to do is to throw out any sort of rules, but actually to use data to understand that there are new rules and that they can apply it. So if we’re asking, “What sort of inspiring content should I create for these people” and it turns out that for this particular person or this particular audience they say thrilling content is the most inspiring, there is still, then, the creative challenge to understand, what are the bits of your brand, what are the bits of Swatch, that will be thrilling? How does our brand translate in a way that is consistent with its personality?”
But what we’re really talking about is getting brands to move away from a tone of voice to being a multidimensional personality. But it’s still a personality.
Joe: There’s either a big opportunity contextually, or just the reach of, say, Facebook makes it that’s the one to figure this out for first. Similarly, is there one type of content in terms of: Is it useful content that you should be creating first? Are there places to start?
Brian: I think probably most brands, when you look at how they start, they probably exist in one of those four things. So BMW, for example, exists very much as an inspiring brand, whereas Victoria’s Secret exists as a beautiful brand. I think maybe the first thing to think about is what is the obvious platform that you can colonize with what you’ve already got? So if you’re beautiful, then probably Instagram or Pinterest are good places to start for that. If you’re inspiring, then maybe that’s more the Facebook, LinkedIn.
How do you start to expand what we call “share of emotions”? Rather than the idea of share of message—which washing powder will wash you whiter? What is maybe the next one that I could colonize? I think so Victoria’s Secret is a great example of that, having done a lot of really inspiring workout videos, which, being useful in workout videos or inspiring, actually sits very nicely on YouTube.
Joe: That’s fantastic. Brian, thank you so much for your time. This was a fascinating conversation. I’m so glad you could make it, and I also really want to get your shirt. Where did you get it?
Brian: Absolute pleasure, Joe. I’ll sell it to you afterwards.
Joe: Alright, cool, yeah. Make a deal off-camera.
Brian: It’s Cannes. We’re here to do deals.