Tesco and Scottish Widows consider a newsroom approach to ‘always-on’ marketing

Tesco and Lloyds Banking Group’s Scottish Widows are two national marketers reassessing how they keep their brand promises, a process that’s pushing them to consider whether they need to think like a newsroom to reach the audiences that matter

Eyes often roll when the phrase content marketing is mentioned in reference to what has become a catch-all definition for creating more customer-centric marketing. And while the majority of these discussions are still geared around the somewhat simplistic ads versus content debate, there are some brands searching for a more sophisticated dynamic to shaping a customer experiences amid all the clutter and filters.

For Tesco (at least at the moment), it’s about ensuring there’s a blend between internal and external expertise. The supermarket, which is on a marketing-led drive to stem haemorrhaging sales, has a ‘content and conversation’ group working within the wider team that’s lead by brand director Michelle McEttrick. McEttrick, who joined in May, gave attendees at an Oystercatchers event on Tuesday (8 September) a glimpse into how the fledgling team works.

“It’s not a full publishing model,” she explained. “We have been working as the result of co-creating and a communications model together with our strategic agencies. We’ve both reorganised ourselves to deliver that model as opposed to having something on the wall and then going in with a serial campaign.”

It’s a reference to the traditional communications model, whereby activity and subsequently investments were planned around a big advertising campaign at the expense of continuing those messages across other channels and for an extended period of time. Moving away from this and adopting the publishing mindset needed to be always-on also means adjusting to a rhythm that’s likely to change abruptly, centred on the long idea rather than the big idea.

“We’re iterating a bit too [with newsroom marketing],” said Toby Strauss , chief executive and group director of Scottish Widows at Lloyds Banking Group at the same Oystercatchers event. “The expertise sits within our internal teams and we’ve had some good experience of those people being able to express themselves in a way that works in a digital world, and we’ve had some pretty bad experiences as well. We’re still trying to get it right.”

The 200 year-old life, pensions and investment firm’s brand is recalibrating itself to stand out in a financial services market where customer apathy is high but digital is making money management more interactive. In two years it rebranded, hired new agencies including 101 and GroupM, and changed how it talks to people online and fact-to-face.

In order to ensure these facets are all aligned around the customer, Strauss said the business needed the “right blend” of trained people to produce content. “Some of [our team] have got [those skills] already but as we’ve tried to scale that up we’ve run in to some issues like having a boring content calendar,” he added.

“Getting that right is the challenge, I think. On top of that you’ve also got the challenge, particularly in our world, of whether that engagement will work. Not only are we trying to get our own people to cope with the new means of communicating but we also haven’t figured out the way to engage with customers.”

It’s an issue other marketers are still scratching their heads trying to resolve. The clearest indication of this confusion is the $25bn worth of media that has been put up for review this year by heavy spenders such as Coke and Procter & Gamble.

“There needs to be a new way that brands can engage with audiences and the consumers and content,” said Chris Gorell Barnes, founder and chief executive of content agency Adjust Your Set. The agency, which has developed a year-round content model that flits between campaign content, editorial content and conversion content, is advising some clients on how they can adopt a newsroom approach to content marketing.

“The reason content is a buzzword is because of the fundamental shift in digital,” added Gorell Barnes. “I think the biggest shift we’re going to see is money coming out of traditional TV and moving into digital and that’s going to manifest as brands creating their own channels and actually creating interesting content.

The blurring of these content lines, between what’s products, what’s communications and what’s trust is also impacting how agencies talk to their clients.

“All agencies have got to be clear on what they’re adding and recalibrate themselves,” said Vizeum’s managing director Richard Morris. “Everyone wants to say they deliver this model; the technology is there, the insight is there, but for many clients that I speak to, they’re realising how they structure their creative content around the opportunity.”

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.