Build a Better Content Studio

Everyone is in the content business.

Your favorite products, businesses, services, even you and me. Do a quick Google search of your name and you’ll see just how much of a content producer you actually are (my own search results included my film work, tweets and IG posts). Our content has become an extension of ourselves, a projection of our values and interests. Brands are no different.

As we change the way we engage with media, companies have had to change the way they speak to us. As humans living in the year 2018, we have countless options for where we can spend our entertainment hours. We are scrolling through Instagram, watching shows on Hulu, viewing news clips on Facebook, reading articles on Medium. Brands can no longer rely solely on television commercials to reach their customers. They have to find us where we are today.

Consumers have made it clear that traditional advertising is a thing of the past. Gone are the days of disruptive pop-ups and banner ads. Ad-blocking is on the rise and ad-free services have become the new normal (premium subscriptions are now offered by everyone from the NY Times and Wall Street Journal to Spotify and YouTube). Brands have had to shift their content strategies toward media that we actually want to see. And once they capture our attention, they have to put forth messages that we truly connect with. So, the content studio was born.

The singular mission of a content studio is to create media that builds brand loyalists out of everyday consumers. Think of it as an advertising agency with a wider scope of work. Content studios don’t just focus on selling you stuff, they are also tasked with inviting you into a brand’s ethos. How they pull this off will vary from studio to studio, but the core focus is always to strengthen brand identity with the people who are most likely to value what the company is offering.

Whether it’s an in-house brand creative division or an external-facing team, organizations are building entire businesses out of content advertising. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), more than 40 media companies currently have teams dedicated to producing branded content.  

If one thing is clear, it’s that video is driving the wave of brand storytelling. An estimated $83 billion was spent on U.S. digital video advertising in the past year, representing more than half of total digital ad spend. In a recent study, 56% of American businesses said that they create video content on a weekly basis (26% make video content daily). An estimated 85% of businesses have internal staff dedicated to video production. And by 2019, video is projected to comprise more than 80% of the world’s internet traffic.

With the overwhelming shift to video, filmmakers are especially becoming an integral part of the content studio ecosystem. Balancing paid branded content gigs with self-funded creative projects has become a standard practice for up-and-coming film creatives. And brands are increasingly leaning on Hollywood heavyweights to guide their content strategy. Dove, for example, tapped Shonda Rhimes, the brilliant showrunner who brought us Greys Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, to serve as Creative Director for its in-house content studio.

It may come as a surprise that video-based content is difficult to execute. Each piece has to be created and distributed at the speed of our fast moving digital landscape. Studios cannot afford to sacrifice quality, despite the constraints of limited time and budget. And even when a studio masters that recipe, they could still botch the content strategy itself. Remember that absurd commercial where Kendall Jenner tries to heal America’s racial injustices with a can of Pepsi? Yeah, that was the brainchild of Pepsi’s Creator League in-house creative studio. This mishap has not just a failure for the creative team, but for Pepsi’s brand overall. 

Despite the challenges of content, some studios are getting it right. The best creative teams are creating media that entertains us, challenges us, and wows us. Their not interrupting our day, they are becoming a valued and enjoyable part of it. Their work is full of stories and experiences that we want to be a part of, media that we want to see and share.

For in-house creatives, Marriott’s Content Studio and Oath’s RYOT Studio have set the content bar high. The hotel giant launched its creative studio in 2015 with an action-comedy series called “The Two Bellman,” which follows two Marriott workers who go to extreme lengths to protect the Marriott’s guests from a heist. Marriott has since shared over a dozen episodes of their original travel focused web series on Instagram and YouTube. Another leader in the content space is undoubtedly RYOT Studio, the creative division leading Oath into the future. RYOT’s focus on immersive storytelling gave rise to its new AR advertising unit and a growing list of accoladed film projects. They recently partnered with Time Inc to release the magazine’s first ever augmented-reality enhanced issue.

Standalone creative agencies should look to studios like Big Spaceship and Deeplocal. Back in 2016, Big Spaceship created a campaign that strengthened YouTube’s brand while also increasing voter turnout amongst the video platform’s millennial users. Pittsburg-based Deeplocal proves that brands can reach consumers beyond the screen. Focusing on innovative experiential marketing, Deeplocal recently teamed up with Netflix to design a line of DIY products for the streaming giant’s biggest fans. Thanks to their campaign we now have step-by-step instructions for making our own Netflix Switch, which automatically transports you into the ideal Netflix & Chill environment (turns down your lights, places a delivery food order, and starts streaming your favorite flick all at the press of a button).

These content studios are offering a new model for the brand-consumer relationship, one that is based in conversation and consumer value. Let’s hope that the rest of the industry follows suit.