Using content strategy to build brand and drive commercial results
New Balance are the third biggest sports brand on the planet...
But when the gap between third place and second is this big, it's time to think differently. They don't have the budgets to do a saturated above-the-line media splurge or sponsor world-famous AAA talent. Instead, they came to BMB London with a brief to boost brand awareness by 10%, and grow eCommerce by 30%, with a social-first campaign and a host of home-grown sports talent.
It was time to turn things on their head, de-silo the budgets and make the whole worth more than the sum of its parts...
*ignore the stats at the end of this reel - final campaign results are at the end of this post
"Content marketing" should, of course, be seen in the context of a broader shift towards a more customer-centric approach to brand building, both in terms of marketing and overall service design.
But in pure marketing terms, at least, what really forced the industry's hand was the emergence of a media landscape in which interruptive advertising became skippable (both literally and figuratively); which, in turn, requires brands and marketers to become much more targeted and - critically - interest-led.
Nevertheless, brands still consistently get it wrong - either forcing TV ad-style content into your social feed (all the better for you to keep on scrolling), or producing great, socially-native content that nonetheless is essentially "category vanilla" (doing a great job for the category overall, but doing little to shift the needle for the brand itself).
I think great content falls out of that sweet spot between what people are interested in and what the brand can say - or do - to fuel that interest.
(So far, so uncontroversial, if still surprisingly uncommon...)
Great content also needs to be fully aligned with the broader channel mix, and this is where things start to get political. A effective content strategy needs buy-in from a broad range of stakeholders, not just within the brand itself, but across its wider roster of agencies. So our creative process began with a one-day workshop, involving representatives from both, in which we brainstormed the intersection between demonstrable consumer interests and the specific attributes of the New Balance brand.
In order to facilitate this, we used a tried-and-tested framework that I have been iterating over several years; one that is designed to accelerate the end-to-end process by driving consensus from the get go.
We emerged from the workshop with hundreds of ideas and musings. Most of them were - of course - pretty terrible. But that's okay :) Sessions like these should be a safe space in which "there is no such thing as bad idea" (yet), and ensure that the participants feel both involved and invested.
The real work begins thereafter, when we start to uncover recurrent themes, centres of gravity, and fertile creative territories that spill directly out of the common interest between brand and consumer...
By the end of the week, we had refined the raw output of the workshop into a handful of strong content themes, which were then presented back to the wider loop team. And because these themes had been informed by all of the relevant stakeholders, we ensured that everyone was as aligned as possible with the proposed strategy in double-quick time.
These themes then formed the basis of our own creative briefing, and led directly to the insights at the heart of the platform idea: whether you’re at the top of your game, training for your first 10K, or simply trying to shed a few pounds, there is no greater opponent than the one inside your own head...
We've decided it's time to stop listening. Get your head right, and the rest will follow...
With a punchy set of KPIs to hit, we needed a coherent structure to the campaign - and a clear role for each and every activity and piece of content that went out.
And there was a lot of it - 6 films, 6 influencer partnerships, 300 social posts, 40 long-form editorial pieces, a media partnership with Men's Health and Women's Health, an event activation at the London Marathon, a campaign microsite and a UGC competition -
all sustained over a 6-month campaign window in order to ensure seasonal relevance and repeat exposure.
Each piece of content was created (and targeted) against specific interests - whether that be an affinity for a particular sport, athlete or topic - and designed to trigger deeper engagement with the campaign - eliciting either a clickthru in and of the moment, or retargeting people with relevant supporting content further down the line.
Promoting the individual athlete films around relevant sporting events ensured category salience throughout the 6-month campaign window.
Establishing clear, recurrent content formats made it easier for producers to define the deliverables; and for design to develop a coherent look & feel that could then be applied at scale across hundreds of assets.
And ensuring that there were no dead ends eased the path to purchase across the end-to-end customer journey.
A raw, #nofilter-style aesthetic and an editorial tone meant that we were able to fly under the audience's internal ad-bullshit radar, driving an average view-thru rate of 37% across each of the awareness-driving films that we produced. If Nike athletes are gods, and Adidas athletes are pop stars, we presented each of ours as fallible, approachable human beings - with a series of intimate video portraits in which they confessed their own worst fears and weaknesses, each riffing off a very public moment of personal failure.
Over the course of 6 months and hundreds of pieces of content, we established the platform idea against multiple sporting categories, challenging and empowering the audience to take on their own toughest opponent, with tips and tutorials from athletes and influencers...
... and, of course, most importantly for New Balance - by weaving the story into the end-to-end customer journey, and nudging the audience further along it at every turn - we were able to drive meaningful commercial results for the brand - producing the most successful marketing campaign their EMEA market had ever seen:
Organically trending hashtag on campaign launch day
21 million video views across social and VOD (47% organic)
14% uplift in unprompted awareness amongst the target audience
148% YoY growth in eCommerce
Average ROMI of 216% against tactical product posts, peaking at 356% during end of summer sale (increased from an average of 155%)
Highly commended at The Drum Content Marketing Awards 2017