Content Marketing All-Stars Q&A: Gary Stein of Eleven

By NativeAI / August 7, 2017

What is the current state of content marketing? Which emerging formats and platforms should brands be keeping a close eye on? Where are things heading?

To answer these questions, we turned to one of our industry oracles: Gary Stein.

Stein is the Head of Activation for Eleven, a creative marketing agency that has developed successful, highly-innovative campaigns for some of smartest brands out there, including Virgin America, Lyft, and Apple.

Recently we chatted with Stein to get his take on the content marketing landscape in 2017 to find out which trends in the space he’s watching closely.

Check out the full Q&A below:

Q:What is your background and what is Eleven? 

A: Eleven is an independent creative agency built for the modern world. We cover a range of creative services for all sorts of companies. We do a lot of branding, advertising and marketing, but we do it in a way that is unique–driven by consumer insight and always seeking to spark a movement for our clients. We try to get past impressions and eyeballs with our work, creating content, moments and experiences that crack into culture and generate their own momentum.

My job is to head up our Activation Team, which consists of media, planning, and data. I’ve worked at a few agencies over the years, including global roles focused on emerging media platforms and trends and consumer insight and activation. Way, way back I studied English and got an MA in American Literature.

Q: Starting broadly, what do you think the difference is between good brand content and bad brand content?

A: Bad brand content sucks and good brand content doesn’t.

Oh…maybe you meant less broad than that. Well we have to remember that “brand content” is really just another way for us to connect with people in ways that generate value. Billboards, 30-second commercials and ad banners do that too (or, are supposed to). When a brand creates content, it needs to remember that it is doing that for a business reason. After exposure to and engagement with the content, the consumer must be closer to buying or  believing.

A lot of supposedly good brand content misses that point. You can have a brand spend a ton of money to create something beautiful, but that’s not the challenge. It has to be something beautiful (or inspiring or educational or whatever) that does a job that the brand needs to have done. That’s the best brand content. When it is great content, that also does it’s job of moving consumers in some way. Otherwise, it is just content–and the brand can be the sponsor of it and that’s fine. But if it is an engaging story that also helps achieve a business goal–that’s hard and that’s the real definition of brand content.

gary stein on publisher analytics blog about bad content

Q: What changes have you seen in the content marketing space this year? Which trends do you think are having an impact so far in 2017?

A: Before we talk about “changes”, we should remember that “content marketing” is certainly not new and we shouldn’t act like it is. Way back in the day (before my time), The Great David Ogilvy created an ad for Guinness that was a guide to different types of oysters. His advice to young creatives was that “On average, helpful information is read by 75% more people than copy which deals only with the product”.

guide to oysters

The question, then, about changes always hinge around that idea: what is available to us that can enable us to better create that “helpful information” that Ogilvy talked about. One thing I like a ton is the opportunity to bring real data–or even live data–into the mix. If we want to create content about a particular topic, we look for something living, something happening now that we can use to bring the content to life. Or we want to find a way to bring data in and let the user play with it–find their own way into the content, uniquely enabled by the brand.

Q: How has Eleven been experimenting with new approaches/formats/platforms this year? Are there any campaigns/programs you can give as examples?

A: We love experimenting. We are set up here to create content–photos, video, audio, text, interactive. So we can be really flexible if we have an idea. But one of our big content wins was
for Virgin America. We have worked with Virgin for a long time–from their launch, actually. But we wanted to find a new way to talk about how much better the flying experience was, versus the competition. So we created an entirely made up airline called Blah. We built everything: a site, a social presence, even a phone number. But the big thing was a film: a real-time journey from Los Angeles to Newark on a Blah Airlines flight. The film ran over 5 hours. We posted it online and even ran it as a pre-roll ad on YouTube.

The success was great and we learned a bunch, including the fact that a piece of content that communicates a brand message (and is entertaining) can become an asset in and of itself. The film took off (pun intended), ultimately being screened live at the Dallas Film Festival.

Q: Finally, how do you see content marketing potentially evolving over the next few years? Which emerging trends are you keeping a close eye on?

A: Millennials! Virtual Reality! Umm…Algorithm!

It’s hard to say, really. We have told stories to each other forever, and there has been a consistent evolution of the tools that enable us to tell those stories in ways that are richer or broader. But Citizen Kane is not a better movie on a 4K TV. It’s just clearer. 

So, although I know that we will be able to be immersive and interactive, the focus is still always going to be back on that innate and elusive ability that some lucky few have to tell a
great story.

So, the emerging trends that I am watching have more to do with the ways that we can understand what people value. I like the way I can see the reactions around a news event or the way people think about shopping for groceries or feeding their dog.

Written by NativeAI / August 7, 2017