10 Trends Shaping the Future of Branded Content

Twitter's head of content planning tells us what to watch for

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As we wind down the first quarter of 2015, the discussion around content marketing only continues to grow in volume. And it's moving in so many different directions that it's tough to divine what's real and what isn't. To get a better handle on the branded content landscape, we asked Stacy Minero, head of Twitter's content planning team, what she is thinking about the space.

Minero is particularly well suited to do this. In her past life, she led content strategy at Mindshare, where she focused on creating a systematic approach to developing and distributing content for her clients. Throughout her career, she's helped drive dozens of custom content programs with partners like NBC, Fox, Bravo, Condé Nast Entertainment, Apple and YouTube.

What follows is Minero's list of 10 things to consider when creating content for brands, in her own voice.

Live marketing will transcend tent poles: In 2013, moments like Oreo's now-famous "Dunk in the Dark" Tweet made live marketing synonymous with big tent-pole events like the Super Bowl, with Twitter acting as the vehicle that encouraged real-time responses from brands. This year, we'll continue to see brands activate against these major events, but also lean heavily on connecting with their audience in everyday moments. A powerful example of a live, evergreen strategy is Oreo's #OreoSnackHacks campaign, which gets consumers excited about fun, new snacking occasions and tasty combinations. Continuity and cadence will without a doubt be a big focus in 2015—especially among the CPG, auto and dining industries.

Content will be more participation based: Brands will invite their audience into the content creation process to make for a more immersive and fun experience. We've already seen this trend start to catch on. Last year, @TheHungerGames successfully built buzz and anticipation for Mockingjay the movie by launching the trailer on Twitter once enough fans had 'unlocked' it with a retweet. And Starbucks launched the #VoteForJoy campaign to encourage its followers to vote for their favorite holiday drink, which was later offered in all U.S. stores for 50 percent off.

Brands will create personalized content at scale: In 2015, we'll see an uptick in custom content as automation tools enable a simpler, more systematic way for brands to deliver it. A great example of this was from @AmericanExpress, who partnered with Digigraph to send personalized digital autographs from Pharrell to fans who livestreamed his concert. Travelocity also created custom videos in which its mascot, the Roaming Gnome, addressed a traveler's name while linking to his or her dream destination. And Purina launched a "Moments Studio," a real-time newsroom dedicated to developing a steady cadence of live content for pet owners.

Social stars will shine brighter: Brands will continue to partner with talent that builds credibility with millennials. YouTube's Michelle Phan recently inked a deal with L'Oreal, while HP created a TV spot featuring Vine influencers Robby Ayala and Zach King. We're even seeing companies like Vessel emerge to elevate and promote social media stars. Anticipate more companies like Niche Media—which pairs social media content creators with established brands—stepping up as traditional talent agencies start to diversify their talent portfolio. 

Brands will celebrate life after :30: Over the last two years, Vine's success showcased the value of short-form, creative content. Thirty seconds is no longer the standard for video—we've seen consumers respond to :15 videos on Instagram and long-form content on YouTube. On Twitter, users consume and share videos as short as six seconds and as long as 10 minutes. This year, we'll see brands focus less on video length and more on telling stories that drive emotional resonance with their target audiences.

Content distribution will be signal-driven: Brands now have the ability to tap into signals of intent when people are talking about everything from car shopping to eating lunch. Brands will use audience signals to target consumers based on what they are doing and the content they're sharing. On Twitter, Budweiser supported its #FriendsAreWaiting campaign (about responsible drinking) through smart distribution that connected with users talking about going out to bars and parties. The campaign was a big success, yielding a 6:1 earned-to-paid ratio. 

Content will be tied to conversion: Gone are the days of creative teams working in a silo. This year, we'll see brands develop content that maps directly to different parts of the purchase funnel, and they'll use a diverse set of creative assets to accomplish their ROI goals. We'll see holistic content plans that drive transactions in addition to brand awareness. Brands will increasingly use first- and third-party data (from partners like Datalogix) to inform targeting decisions.

Planning and buying will converge in content tech: Last year, social analytics company Spredfast merged with Mass Relevance, a crowd-based software business. Social media management startup Sprinklr acquired TBD Digital, who specializes in paid media optimization. And content creation startup Percolate partnered exclusively with adtech platform SocialCode to enable an end-to-end solution for content planning and ad buying. We can expect more of these partnerships to form, enabling software solutions to include executional capabilities via APIs in addition to just planning.

Agencies will buy their way into new creative models: While creative agencies continue to wage a war for top talent, holding companies will diversify creative services by adding new shops to their roster. Earlier this year we saw the Publicis acquisition of Relvant24, a digital advertising firm that specializes in live content based on cultural trends. Plan to see agencies acquire creative shops with an "art meets science" approach to content.

Data = everyday insights: In 2015, productizing data will be more important than ever, as will the analysts who turn data into actionable insights for marketers. In 2013, WPP's media agency Mindshare launched The Loop, a real-time marketing hub that processes over 100 data streams to glean insights relevant to their client partners. Some data sources include Tweetdeck and Brandwatch, whose insights help inform the paid content strategies of brands like Land Rover.

So with all that said, it's pretty clear that content marketing isn't going anywhere—it's only becoming a more powerful asset to brands of all sizes. 

Stacy Minero (@sminero) is head of Twtter's content planning team.

@jcoopernyc james.cooper@adweek.com James Cooper is editorial director of Adweek.