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- Jon Miller, founder, Marketo

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Content conversations: MEC Wavemaker’s Ben McKay

Ben McKay is managing director at MEC Wavemaker UK. Media agency MEC launched its Wavemaker content division last year to simplify its content, social, partnerships, SEO and creative offerings. Wavemaker uses insights from MEC Momentum, the agency’s purchase journey planning framework, to create content based on where it is most likely to change the consumer’s behaviour.

Collective Content caught up with McKay to talk agency landscape in response to the rise of content marketing, what makes great content marketing and the coming trends to watch out for.

Q: How is content marketing evolving here in the UK and what are your predictions for the next couple of years?

A: As audience behaviours and attitudes to media evolve, it’s quite right that agencies evolve their offer for their clients. Knowing what drives behaviour and attitudinal change and then also measuring it through the life of a campaign for the activity is going to be really important to us as a business this year. And I don’t think many other agencies are really interrogating what that means. The reason I came back to this agency was because it brought me closer to data that would help me make more future-proof decisions on our marketing efforts. Marketing measurement is something we have invested a lot in and over the next year or two it is going to be big. Using analytics is much more of a live process than it used to be. This means understanding how best to boost consideration at different points around the buying cycle, and we are using the data we have collected through surveys, through historic data, through live campaigns to inform future decisions. There have been lots of softer measures of what success looks like, over monthly or quarterly, but doing this on a live basis gets us to a very exciting place.

The reason I came back to this agency was because it brought me closer to data that would help me make more future-proof decisions on our marketing efforts.

Q: Where do you see the biggest areas of growth in content marketing?

A: Video as a format will continue to be incredibly significant as a result of its return on investment (ROI) and inherent ability to travel across media formats. We tend to see about half of the most shared content to be video. Video is a flexible, brand- and audience-friendly format. It’s a great storytelling platform and it’s a very portable platform across different channels. It’s important for brands to understand how they can use it. ‘Voice’ is also becoming a thing – accessing content from home, and with further incremental growth from mobile voice search. Artificial intelligence from Google Home’s launch in Q2 will be a significant boost to this field along with an acceleration in Amazon’s Echo.

The B2B sector remains buoyant – data from Forrester and Google, and our work with GE, AIG, Vodafone and B2B FS tells us that – but techniques continue to mature beyond more traditional direct marketing routes. Financial services and telecoms will see growth – sectors where loyalty, customer service and differentiation play a role.

There will be a growing appreciation of the intrinsic link between content and the channel when it’s delivered, and there will also be more accountability over content investments. ‘Why are we doing this?  What is it delivering?’ – I hope to hear more challenging questions asked of content and its distribution.


Q: How are you responding to changing client needs? Is the setting up of the Wavemaker content division about MEC pitching itself as a full-service agency?

A: We were in a good place with so many of the disciplines that clients wanted already but we wanted to simplify the navigation of these disciplines with a single strategy and single plan and single conversation, so five conversations becoming one.

MEC’s ambition is ‘full-service behaviour’ as opposed to a full-service agency. It embraces the fact that the world of digital marketing, content marketing, creative decisions, data is all a lot more complicated, and clients find it more difficult to try and navigate. We want to help clients navigate through that complexity and make smarter bets. So for us it’s more of a behavioural change. It’s not us trying to bring everything in-house. We are looking to be the most open and collaborative agency in London and the UK, and that’s quite exciting. We made a decision to give up a third of our floor space at our offices to our partners and for it to be a space where people can come onsite and collaborate with us. We truly believe the best solution for us to be our client’s most valued business partner is by us helping them to navigate those decisions, make commitments to them and bring on the best talent that’s available from across the marketplace.

We are an audience-first agency as opposed to format-first, channel-first or brand-first. Deep knowledge of the audience as a starting point – that allows us to then frame analysis of what really matters when looking at sector trends, competitors, etc. Audience-first means we obsess about outcomes. In a world of content marketing where the creation of stuff, the creation of value, is so important, that value is in the eye of the beholder – the consumer, the audience. We think that’s the starting point to be more robust on creating value than other agencies. That’s where our USP is.

In a world of content marketing where the creation of stuff, the creation of value, is so important, that value is in the eye of the beholder – the consumer, the audience.

Q: Data is clearly becoming increasingly important in understanding the audience and planning content marketing strategies. What’s your approach at Wavemaker and MEC?

A: MEC Momentum is a purchase journey-planning framework that informs what will drive attitudinal and behavioural change around the buying cycle. I spent months trying to stitch these channels together in planning and measurement in my previous life client-side [for Moneysupermarket.com], and so was very excited to see the launch of this just after I joined MEC. The most important thing from our perspective is that Momentum gives one version of the truth, so what really matters to drive those behavioural changes. That’s incredibly helpful to start to organise very disparate teams with very different capabilities and very different behaviours. If they know what their role is in trying to drive a certain change at different points across the consumer journey, that’s really powerful in helping us bring these different capabilities together. At a practical level it means some of the Momentum insight fuels the Wavemaker analytics process, so it’s really important for us in selecting the key performance indicators (KPIs) that really matter.


Q: What are those KPIs that really matter, and how do you measure success and return on investment (ROI) in content marketing? For example, in a LinkedIn post you talked about the need to move on from traditional industry standard benchmarks.

 A: Success is typically measured in sales and lifetime value of target audiences, but we know that some brands find it refreshing that we go further than these anecdotal KPIs. We prefer to understand what KPIs will drive change in consumer behaviour and/or attitudes in a way that leads to business outcomes for our clients.

Those macro measures of success – such as change in consideration, purchase outcomes or lifetime value – are not enough for making creative and media and distribution decisions at a campaign optimisation level. Underneath that we need media, experiential and creative campaign marketing signals that we know ladder up to those points. The KPIs that we use differ quite widely and there’s no silver-bullet KPI. It’s what matters to that individual or that segment that matters the most.


Q: What’s your take on organic and paid distribution in content marketing?

A: Paid is a key component – increasingly so. Our clients are seeing 2 to 3 per cent organic reach, but we know industry averages are 1 per cent and declining. But organic is alive and well, just in new forms. Think ‘dark social’ (e.g., WhatsApp) and away from the key social platforms and in to other means – influencers, forums, blogging. The internet and world we live in remain a social, discursive, sharing place but we just need to think about social as a behaviour not as a platform. We undertake ‘citation audits’ to understand what people engage with, what people share, when, where and why… across the web as a whole.


Q: Can you give us some insight into the Wavemaker approach to content marketing in the context of a successful campaign you’ve executed?

A: In 2015, Wavemaker created the #wimblewatch content series for bottled-water brand and Wimbledon partner Evian to help it engage better with a youth audience. The series featured celebrities, influencers and tennis-loving members of the public reacting to the day’s tennis action from the Wimbledon Championships. The first year exceeded targets with 4.5 million views but the challenge for 2016 was to surpass this with a bigger and better series. Through the content series and social media interaction (see box out below) we achieved almost 12 million views, which was nearly 90 per cent over-delivery, and #wimblewatch was the most visible campaign of Wimbledon 2016 on social platforms. The client, Evian, also saw a 29 per cent increase in purchase intent and a 15 per cent sales uplift.


Game, set and match – the secret to #wimblewatch

Social played a big role in engaging the target audience. To create Twitter interaction, we created a daily social ‘Celebrity Match Point’ competition. In each content episode, our celebrity pairings would participate in a table tennis challenge. Viewers voted via a Twitter conversation unit spreading the #wimblewatch word on who they think wins the point for a chance to win Wimbledon tickets. The winners were revealed in the following day’s episode. We also partnered with Amobee Brand Intelligence to identify and target real-time trending topics and conversations during the Championships, enabling Evian to join the conversation, target content in real time to an engaged audience and optimise media spend for maximum engagement rates. And we released an Evian-branded Wimbledon Snapchat lens, which achieved 6.3 million lens plays versus a target of 1.6 million. Users could swipe and share their #wimblewatch Championship selfie, engaging young Millennials with the traditional Wimbledon heritage.

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Burberry, Screamadelica and the secret to creative cross pollination

Every so often, anyone with a creative job has to recharge. There are places that will tell you how (I liked this one recently) and this post isn’t so much about that. But one way to stay inspired, energised and even innovate a bit has been to cross pollinate ideas from one area with another’s.

You know the kind of thing I mean. It’s why innovative companies sit a microbiologist next to an AI researcher, or hold remote off-sites with people from half a dozen different departments.

Even the recent success of co-working spaces has been partly attributed to the serendipity people enjoy, rubbing shoulders with types of businesses they wouldn’t normally encounter.

But two experiences of the past week taught me something valuable about this kind of thing. My big learning is that you don’t have to make a big leap for cross pollination to be effective.



Example one came from a short talk I saw film director Asif Kopadia give at a show. If you don’t know his name, he’s the British maker of award-winning documentaries such as Senna and Amy, the latter picking up 2016’s Best Documentary Oscar. He was speaking as the director of the Tale of Thomas Burberry brand content from the company that still carries its founder’s name a century later.

It’s a great piece of film-making, whether you watch the full 3:35min version or a shorter cut. What’s important about that project was that Kopadia told us he was allowed to work as he would as a film-maker rather than a director shooting an ad for TV or cinema.

To outsiders, his role and that of an ad creative’s might seem close. But to him it was an alien experience. And that brought the magic.

The way he worked – without a traditional brief from Burberry or one of its agencies – meant he was freed to produce what he called a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist. Take a look. Beyond the big name stars and subtle use of Burberry products, it’s wonderful storytelling.



My second example comes from BBC4’s Classic Albums series, which last week featured Primal Scream’s Screamadelica album from 1991. You don’t have to watch that programme to know the by now well told story about a struggling rock band making a breakthrough with a different kind of approach, crossing over into the world of dance music.

The magic for that album came about because they turned to Andy Weatherall – a well-known DJ – to produce the track Loaded in 1990 and then the subsequent album.

Weatherall wasn’t a record producer (he needed help from a more traditional recording engineer). It was like Kopadia doing a corporate film. The jump wasn’t massive but it was close enough to be possible and then their different backgrounds and approaches spark amazing results in each case.

The lesson from these two examples is creatively you have to change your perspective and work with new people to remain fresh. But that doesn’t mean going to the other side of the world (literally and metaphorically).

What’s your cross pollination plan?

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Copy-wise: Beware of the Apostrophe-pocalypse – 3 rules

Ugh, you may groan. A blog post about punctuation? And not just punctuation in general but a post about just one punctuation mark in particular: the apostrophe? Boooooring.

Only it’s not true. In addition to being so often misused and abused – or, actually, because it’s so often misused and abused – the apostrophe can be controversial, rage-inducing, profane or even funny (though, admittedly, generally in the grammar-scold-humour sense).

Greengrocers (produce sellers, to the Yanks out there), for instance, seem to have long been Public Enemy No. 1 when the crime is apostrophe abuse. All those hand-lettered store signs about “fresh apple’s”, “new potatoe’s” and “ripe tomatoe’s” really infuriate some grammatical sticklers. They’ve even led to the creation of a trade-specific term (“greengrocer’s apostrophe”) and inspired a small multitude of wry buttons, stickers and notecards. (They include one with the message: “Grammar. The difference between feeling your nuts and feeling you’re nuts.”)

Rule No. 1: Whether you’re talking vegetables or decades, apostrophes do not turn singular items into plurals. Contrary to a classic 1985 ‘Mr. Language Person’ column by American humour writer Dave Barry, an apostrophe is not meant to “alert the reader that an ‘s’ is coming up at the end of the word”.

Apostrophes do indicate contractions, although not in the way Barry described in another column in which he used the example: “This childbirth really hurt’s!” Instead, they are used in expressions like “do not” minus the “o” (“don’t”) or “Andrea is busy” minus the “i” (“Andrea’s busy”).

According to writer Simon Griffin’s 2016 book, Fucking Apostrophes, the practice of using the punctuation in this way can be traced back to a 15th-century French printer named Geoffroy Tory, who presumably wanted to save time or sometimes came up short on letters during a printing job. In fact, Griffin writes: “Most people generally agree that fucking apostrophes come from the Greek hē apóstrophos, meaning a turning away or an elision (the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking).”

(Apostrophes, though, don’t cost money, so poverty is no excuse for leaving them out… as Al Copeland, the late founder of the Popeyes restaurant chain, used to joke in explaining his business’ lack of an apostrophe.)

Rule No. 2: Apostrophes are used in a variety of situations where letters are left out. These include contractions (“couldn’t”) and omissions (as in “’80s” for “1980s”).

As Griffin notes in his book, there are exceptions to these rules that can make things confusing… something he found difficult to explain to designers in his work as a copywriter. That’s the reason he wrote the book in the first place, he told ABC Radio Perth last November: “[T]he more I tried to explain to them, the more I found myself going in circles. There would always be an exception to every rule I tried to tell them.”

This is especially the case in another situation where apostrophes are used: to indicate possession. When something belongs to Claire, for instance, we say it’s “Claire’s”. But it gets a little trickier for plural subjects, where the apostrophe is typically used without the following “s” (i.e., “the boys’ model cars” or “The Simpsons’ three-eyed fish”). And then there’s the exception for something that belongs to “it”, which doesn’t use an apostrophe at all (i.e., “Here’s my trophy and this is its case.”)

Rule No. 3: An apostrophe followed by an “s” is used to indicate possession but when the subject itself is plural or ends in “s”, an apostrophe alone often does the trick (i.e., “the Gross’ car”. Though there are exceptions, such as “St. James’s station” on the London Underground).

Finally, remember that languages are living things and – like other living things – they evolve and their rules change. Technology and the pace of change today can sometimes help speed that process up, which means that acceptable uses or omissions of apostrophes can change as well. As Griffin points out, apostrophes don’t work in URLs or Twitter hashtags, so they’re increasingly being left out in names or phrases that appear online often.

“Mistakes will always be made,” he writes at the close of his book. “My advice is simply to apologise and politely point out to the person correcting you that apostrophes aren’t as fucking simple as they might think they are.”

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