On Friday we linked to an article put out by Weber Shandwick that sounded the alarm bells for any PR agencies not taking content marketing seriously. In the article, Michael O'Neil states that "Agencies...need to infuse digital creativity throughout their network and practices. They need to build teams of designers, editors, coders, developers and more, capable of recognising and responding to the opportunities when they emerge."
While the idea of content marketing has its origin in B2B as a strategy to drive leads, fashion brands routinely lauded for their digital savvy - ModCloth, Burberry, NastyGal, Net-a-Porter, the list goes on - have all made investments in a robust content development strategy. Some of which went so far as to bring in print fashion editor's to man the post, causing PSFK to ask the question back in January, 'Will the Future Fashion Magazines Just Be Retail Blogs?"
The battle for dollars among PR agencies and digital agencies is nothing new, the Weber Shandwick article references figures that in China, 44% of online PR budgets are going to digital agencies and an article by Aspectus PR in which the agency states, "Our core business now involves message creation, management of message consistency and content marketing. Media relations still has a key part to play, but really only in the context of anchoring original content to a recognisable and respected source point." it's the particular skill-set of at the helm of digital content development that tickles my fancy. To learn more about it, I asked Hannah Rand, a digital content/copy writer and web editor with experience working with Vogue and the Starworks Group, among others.
What exactly do you do, and how did you come to do it?
I’m a web editor and content/copy writer who specializes in building and supporting digital content for fashion brands and websites. My background is in print journalism but I started out online back in 2000. My first job was on the UK’s first women’s interest website called handbag.com, which was a start-up by Boots PLC and Hollinger Digital (Boots is like the UK’s Duane Reade and Hollinger Digital put the first major newspaper online in the UK, telegraph.co.uk). Handbag is now owned by Hearst. It was a great place to start my career as I learned a lot about online brand building. My interest in that never waned.
I moved into magazines to develop my writing and editing skills and stayed there, writing for the likes of Vogue, GQ and a Sunday newspaper supplement at News Corp in Sydney, Australia, where I lived for six years. When I returned to London in 2010, I began to explore the online arena again – mainly because when I went for interviews, the digital jobs always seemed to be more exciting than those offered by the traditional magazines, from a editing and management perspective. I was lucky enough to work on Vogue.co.uk, which, in my opinion, is one of the best online sites associated with a traditional magazine. I also was the editor of a fashion website for the UK’s Channel 4 – a television network that excels at multiplatform lifestyle programming.
Since moving to New York, I’ve found that the biggest demand for my editorial and content skills has been from brands, agencies and e-commerce sites.
I find the online fashion e-commerce world a really vibrant place to work. There is still so much to explore and I love the mix of stats and analytics with the almost infinite possibilities for creativity.
What are the differences between a copywriter and a content producer?
My background makes me more content than marketing-focused but the lines do blur depending on the job you go for. I would say that a content producer needs to be very aware of how content is delivered. You have to have your social media/delivery strategy sorted out before the content is created, which is slightly different from the ‘content is king’ ethos. You have to be aware of SEO, SMO and user journey/experience, for example.
In my experience, a content producer also needs to be more of a "Jane-of-all-Trades" and lend their hand to picture resizing, design, subbing etc. You have to be prepared to get amongst it, even on the biggest websites.
What are the biggest opportunities for fashion brands when it comes to digital content development?
Some of the most exciting fashion content out there is happening on fashion ecommerce sites. It’s ironic that magazines, which should have the strongest independent voice (because they supposedly aren’t limited to what they write about), sometimes feel so unadventurous in their ideas and copy delivery. And, of course, digital possibilities include exciting things like fashion films and television-quality video, and real-time content like blogging from the front row. Plus, many fashion brands have embraced other forms of connecting with an audience like Vine, Twitter and Tumblr.
Mobile is a massive opportunity for fashion brands. Something like 72million people own smartphones and increasingly, use them to engage and participate online and in social media. Mobile sites are still often quite functional – in the way websites perhaps used to be. The goal should be to create an inspiring and handy fashion mobile destination. Mobile sites can offer that offers coupons and competitions and other membership bonuses to encourage a community. One of my favorite mobile fashion experiences, Go Try It on, gives me the experience of shopping with friends on a Saturday afternoon.
Bringing in external bloggers has been another popular way to extend a community. This can be great but shouldn't be done just to hijack user figures. Fashion brands shouldn’t be afraid to use their own resources and experts – buyers, stylists, even patternmakers – to create content and conversations that really engage with the customer base. Chanel recently made a video about the design history and process of their iconic jacket. If I am going to spend $800 on a jacket, I want to know how it is made! Fashion has become so democratized that fashion houses must be very careful to understand their customer. Sure, the luxury shopper could be the bored wife of a Russian oligarch, but she or he could also be someone who really loves fashion and has worked damn hard to buy that jacket. It shows to respect to the customer to acknowledge that they’ve chosen to spend their cash on your brand out of many others. I think digital allows you to do that more effectively than anything else. OfaKind has made this the whole ethos of their site and take the designer ‘behind-the-scenes’ experience a step further. The Fancy and AHALife also have created inspiration destinations, which are (on the surface) secondly for commerce.
How does your approach differ when creating branded content vs editorial content?
In many ways, there are many similarities to the way I approach both. I think of the audience and follow the brief, and write something original and interesting within those guidelines. The scope for creativity depends less on the job and more on the person who has hired me (or the brand/publication they work for). I’ve had briefs for editorial content that have been much more prescribed than copywriting work I’ve done elsewhere.
Obviously, you have to be much more concise and targeted with your brand message with content as you have to relay a message very quickly and effectively. There is often little time to build a story to a crescendo of a point or polemic, as you would in longer editorial work. And, of course, it is less about your ideas and more about delivering a message that has been created by a whole team of people.
I do think it’s imperative that online producers continue to be honest about if their content is branded or not. You don’t have to have an ‘advertorial’ stamp on the article or video, but don’t fool the reader (you won’t be able to for long). Sometimes the reader doesn’t care anyway – as with a Google Glass feature on Mashable. It’s still of interest and worth flicking around blogs and social media.
Who is doing it right and why?
Because of the quantity of fashion brands out there, companies need to offer something more than simple copy or video. They should become a ‘platform owner’ or destination in their own right, rather than just fishing for users on Twitter, Facebook etc, in the hope they’ll take a bite.
ASOS, Polyvore, TopShop – all are places you can hang out, get advice, window shop for inspiration or, of course, shop. Increasingly, when I want to read about show reports from fashion week, I won’t automatically go to a fashion magazine or newspaper website. I’ll go to Net-a-Porter, for example, because I trust their brand and buyers will deliver an intelligent message that matches my needs/style. It’s not high fashion but Target have achieved this quite successfully with their ‘A Bullseye View’ online magazine – they don’t just talk about Target products and offer a lot of home decorating advice that gets retweeted and blogged around. In fashion, content doesn’t always have to be so useful or productive either. Anthropologie have created a beautiful experience with the Anthropologist magazine. It’s a journey into a brand experience and if you happen to click through to the e-commerce site, that’s a bonus, but it’s not the (ostensive) goal of the project. I l also ove the silly side of fashion or lifestyle too – especially if it’s clever and irreverent. Mattel did a good job with their Genuine Ken campaign; kitsch but certainly engaging.
What skills or experience should a fashion brand look for in a potential content producer?
A content producer needs to be able to tell a powerful story. This is specialty that is different from creating photography or video, or other visual work with which the fashion industry has traditionally excelled. An experienced journalist, trained to meet tight deadlines with a demanding editor breathing down their neck, will often be able to turn around copy effectively and quickly.
But a content producer should also be brand savvy and experienced enough to speak the language of their customer/audience – and if necessary to switch between voices - and not slip into their own speak while under pressure. It helps if they have a nerdy obsession for analytics too. The best bit about writing for the web – be it editorial or branded content – is that you can drill down into the audience response in almost real time, via CMS and Omniture etc. It can be incredibly exciting to see that in motion.
In reverse, for me an ideal client comes in many shapes and sizes but a good one understands that you can’t just plonk content on a website and hope it translates into sales. Nor can you just send out random tweets and hope to build a community. Ideal clients look beyond the transaction and undersand that a good brand experience doesn’t necessarily result in immediate sales but has a lasting, subtle effect.
What are some suggestions for fashion brands when it comes to content strategy?
I hope, by now, most fashion brands would agree that content shouldn’t just be ‘tarted up’ marketing spiel. The customer is savvier than that. It’s easy to say, but you must know your audience and say something interesting to pull them in. Then, be consistent and regular with your output, and be honest with your message (don’t just create content for SEO wins; it creates a horrible mess with your message and makes a depressing creative environment).
Don’t be afraid to talk outside your brand – it makes your voice more authentic, less like a hard sell. The web is very democratic and inclusive. Think of the way blogs continually link to ‘rival’ blogs to build their audience. Brands can do that too. But also, don’t be afraid to talk about your brand – that is why the customer has come to your website in the first place. If you’ve got your voice right, then the customer won’t mind. Nowness is probably the best example of this in the fashion market. You wouldn’t necessarily know that it is created by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, but it’s very much a meeting point for the type of person who engages in that type of the luxury brands the company represents.
What do you wish more fashion brands understood about content development?
Fashion used to be so exclusive that brand messages could get away with being opaque and lofty (think of the perfume ads of the 80s!), but fashion has opened up so much now that it’s important to make your customer’s experience efficient and useful too. There needs to be a takeaway from a digital brand experience – that could be ‘5 tips on what to wear to work this week’, or a beautiful video that has transforms my mood on the subway commute, or a Q&A with a zeitgeist I didn’t know about before. The key to the web is interactivity, so use it and engage with your customer.
Thanks so much to Hannah for providing such great insight into the world of digital content development. Connect with her @hannah_rand