As part of our Ask the Experts series, we’ve been learning from the world’s leaders in content marketing and sharing their advice. In this interview, the Director of WIRED Brand Lab, Matt Stevenson, chats with us about why brands partner with WIRED and how his team creates branded content that doesn’t feel like advertising.
This interview contains excerpts from The Epic Guide To Content Marketing – over 50 pages of advice from the experts at The New York Times, Forbes, Mashable, The Huffington Post and many more!
Pressboard: Can you tell us about your role and background? What first attracted you to the branded content space?
Matt: I attended Northeastern University and studied organic chemistry around the same time Sean Parker founded Napster and Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. When I graduated, I didn’t have a passion for chemistry but was keenly aware of the opportunities social media would open up for brands and businesses. I started building websites and Facebook pages for small businesses and found that the skills I had learned as an organic chemist indirectly applied to building communities and creating content. As these small, mostly local, online communities started to grow I had a front seat in discovering what type of content resonated with them. I began producing short stories, photography and video content with the hopes of creating stronger bonds between the audience and those brands. Those experiences kickstarted my formal career in native/branded content.
What’s the main reason brands come to WIRED to partner on branded content, instead of creating and distributing it themselves?
WIRED Brand Lab’s belief is that we must advocate on behalf of our audience just as much as our brand partner, in order to create great branded content. The media landscape is full of different kinds of agencies and now we are seeing the rise of content agencies as well. They are creating great content on behalf of the brands they represent, but that does not mean our audience is going to find those stories compelling, informative, and worth engaging with. Publishers have been creating quality content for literally hundreds of years, and that experience and understanding of a single brand and proposition is more valuable than the skills required to produce the content itself. Brands come to WIRED Brand Lab because we are only willing to produce or publish content that will serve our audience best.
WIRED Brand Lab’s Interview with the Fictional Lex Luthor to Promote Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
WIRED is known for well researched and engaging editorial content. How do you insert a brand into WIRED style content without it feeling like an outright ad?
First, we don’t believe you have to include the brand in order for content to be considered native/branded. There is a spectrum of brand integration that is appropriate for each story, form and audience. In order for a branded content program to be successful it must be structured in a way that allows the content creators to experiment and take advantage of the whole spectrum. Last year WIRED Brand Lab and NOKIA launched a global conversation called #maketechhuman where we published more than 110 pieces of content of which only 30% mentioned NOKIA. This was a 10-month campaign that focused on people’s worries and excitements as they relate to the future of technology, and we reported on topics such as security, privacy, human connection, and artificial intelligence. We launched a new section on WIRED.com to house the content and NOKIA owned 100% SOV on the section. We told stories and created podcasts about individuals in the real world doing real work to ensure technology is creating a better future for humanity, as well as stories that brought to light how NOKIA and its executives are doing the same thing. The campaign has generated more than 1.7 Billion Impressions and 16 social media impressions per second since launch.
Which will have the most profound effect (either negative or positive) on native/branded content in the next 12 months?
We don’t think any of the above are going to have a profound impact, positive or negative, on the content WIRED Brand Lab is producing. New platforms, technologies and regulations or guidelines are all opportunities to learn more about our audience and create smarter, more engaging and informative content.
In 140 characters or less, what is your favorite tip for creating great content?
“The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” – Charles Dubois
Pressboard would like to thank Matt Stevenson for speaking with us and contributing to our latest e-book. You can find him on Twitter at @27MJS.