Content conversations: Karmarama’s Jamie Toward

February 22, 2017 10:00 am

Jamie Toward is managing partner for content at London-based creative agency Karmarama, which has recently been bought by consulting giant Accenture. As part of that takeover, Karmarama, whose clients include Confused.com, Costa, Just Eat, Unibet and Unilever, will retain its name but become part of Accenture Interactive. Prior to joining Karmarama in January 2016 he was head of content at MEC.

Collective Content caught up with Toward to talk about the changing agency landscape in response to the rise of content marketing, what makes great content marketing and the trends to watch out for in 2017 and beyond.

Q: ‘Content’ has become a much misused and overused word in a marketing context. What does it mean to you?
A: The dictionary definition is that it’s the stuff inside a vessel or box. But for me when you start to talk about content what you’re really talking about is non-traditional marketing outputs and techniques. It’s a horrible catchall term and in a very large regard shouldn’t be used, despite it being in my job title. For me content now means the stuff that’s not a TV commercial, not a radio ad, not digital display, not press, not out-of-home. Once you get to that level it’s pretty much everything else. That spans everything including branded content, advertiser-funded programming, advertorial inside news media and so many different bits and pieces. I try and avoid using the ‘c’ word.

Q: How do you avoid the ‘c’ word?
If we’re talking about video assets I try to get our people to not only talk about video assets but also be really specific in the context of where they are being used. So if we’re making a skippable YouTube video call it a Trueview not VOD.

Q: What are the most important ingredients for successful content marketing?
A: Good content marketing, particularly in the digital sphere, is based upon three things. One is data and measurement. You’ve got a cycle where good data informs good insights that provide you with briefs and tell you about your audience and what appeals to them. You can then make whatever that stuff is whether it’s a written article, film or game. That same data and insight will tell you how to do the distribution of that. Secondly, there are very few aspects of content marketing where you just build it and they will come. So you’ve got to have some form of targeted distribution built into it. Finally, you’ve got to have the facility to measure. Measurement drives greater data, which drives greater insight and the whole cycle starts again. So you’ve got the component parts of data, insight and strategy, creative, production, distribution, measurement and analytics.

Q: There has been something of a land grab in recent years as media and ad agencies, PR firms and publishers all try to build out their capabilities across those components you talk about. Obviously you have a view from the agency side but what’s your take on how the UK content marketing landscape is changing?
A: There are few firms that have all those components covered. Historically, creative agencies are really good at the creative bit. They are populated by creative people and can do the strategy piece. But they tend to be very light on data understanding and the ability to extract insights. Further, these creative ad agencies have traditionally not been connected to the distribution of that content. Media agencies have a load of data, really good insight and planning, really good distribution, and they are good at evaluation because they have great campaign management and they do the tagging that allows them to evaluate the efficacy of any digital asset that’s in flight. What they are historically terrible at is creativity. I don’t mean the big conceptual stuff – they come up with some great ideas – I mean the more downstream creative functions are just not covered by the media agencies and that’s a big problem.

You’ve got the component parts of data, insight and strategy, creative, production, distribution, measurement and analytics.

Q: So we’re seeing change…?
Over the last five years the lines have blurred a lot more. Media agencies have started get more creative people on board and have their own production functions – look at the embedding of Hogarth’s production facilities inside GroupM’s agencies, look at the embedding of genuine creatives inside Mediacom Beyond Advertising. That’s beginning to blur.
Back to more traditional content agencies and it’s interesting there’s been a whole series of acquisitions of people like August and John Brown. But if you look at most of those shops they are, for me, hampered by the fact their historical legacy is inside print. That skews the way they think. The people I admire for taking fairly concerted leaps out of that area are the guys at Seven. They’ve got fingers into things like programmatic distribution and SEO and the tie up with the guys at C3.
Digital agencies like DigitasLBi, Sapient, or maybe AKQA, from a digital point of view they have been infrastructural to start off with. But Digitas has built a media offering, it has built out a significant data offering and it is beginning to build out a stronger creative offering. So you’ve got those digital agencies that traditionally did infrastructure, also coming downhill into those spaces.

Q: Where does Karmarama fit in this landscape and what will the takeover by Accenture Interactive add to its capability?
A: Traditionally Karmarama is an advertising shop. But I was surprised to find when I walked through the door it has an absolute gold standard, properly world class, data and technology offering. So it’s traditionally viewed as an advertising agency but it has the capability to do the data, the insight, the creation, also has a production business, and can do the tagging. The only thing it doesn’t do is buy the media but we can plan the distribution and we can do the evaluation. So Karmarama is a more integrated agency starting to be in a position to do good contemporary data-driven content marketing.

Accenture Interactive has skill sets that have never been applied inside media, ad or content agencies. It’s the interface with the world’s leading technology partners, the guys who provide the marketing stack. You suddenly end up with those big management consultancies that historically have the data and insight into business issues, infrastructure but lacked the creative bit. Accenture Interactive has been diversifying into content production and by acquiring Karmarama is now also getting into the creative thinking piece.

Q: Does that signal a return to the full-service agency? Is that where this is heading?
A: No, I don’t think there is a return to the full-service agency because you begin to put up problems around conflict management and it hampers the ability to scale. However, there is a requirement from clients to be able to execute marketing well for those component content marketing parts – data, insight, creativity, production, distribution, evaluation – all to be really closely tied together. That for me will see the rise of integrated shops. The rise of programmatic, by which I mean definitively machine-to-machine, distribution, planning and buying will aid that. You will see more and more black box media buying solutions and be able to have good content distribution sitting inside creative agencies.

Q: What do you see as the big content marketing trends for 2017 and beyond?
A: There’s a fairly short answer to this. It’s about mobile and it’s about video. The interfaces consumers have with the digital world are increasingly through mobile devices and that means you need to change the way you think to be focusing around a small screen, around a screen that’s moving and not fixed to a single geography. There’s a whole load of really interesting tracking and targeting issues and opportunities that come with that but mobile has still got a long way to go. Marketing is about trying to create behavioural change through media, through the stuff people consume, and for me we are nowhere near topped out on decent screen mobile penetration. And while the handsets might exist, the stuff to fill those handsets from a brand marketing perspective isn’t anywhere near complete. All the studies I have seen indicate that video is significantly more effective than just the written word or still imagery. That makes total sense. Human beings are provided with a whole load of senses designed to encompass movement and sound. Invest in video and mobile. That’s all there is.

And ultimately what makes great content marketing? Return on investment, otherwise it’s just rubbish and vanity.

Q: What about the virtual reality (VR) hype and the rise of live streaming as seen with the likes of Facebook Live?
A: I don’t buy the VR hype but Facebook Live is really interesting as a concept. It’s very useful as an amplification tool, for example out of events or stunts or brands beginning to give viewpoints on real world happenings. I think what we’ll actually see around Live is the creation of people trying to own a moment. I think it’s got a big part to play. We have to be careful about it though. People have been doing live TV since its inception but there’s a reason why all TV isn’t live.

Q: For example?
Live has inherent risk built in. Think about TV moments like John Noakes trying to control an elephant urinating and defecating all over the studio. For us it makes great programming but I’m pretty sure the people involved at the time at Blue Peter were having fits. You don’t want to associate brands that closely with that risk.

Q: What’s your approach to content marketing at Karmarama and what are the key success factors in any campaign?
A: The best piece we’ve done in 2016 that is standout content marketing is the ‘Luck is no coincidence’ campaign with Unibet. This was a series of six 15-minute episodes aimed at educating its customers how to ‘bet smart’ using stats and science. It won a gold at the Content Marketing Awards and won a gold and the grand prix at the Direct Marketing Assocation Awards. What made it really good was the work was all handled out of one shop.

Unibet’s winning content wager

We’ve used insight about the audience to help inform the creative brief and help inform the distribution strategy and execution, that was all done here. It was then tied to a creative team who managed to express that brilliantly and managed to create something really engaging. The addition and identification of major influencers in the F2 Freestylers really helped because it made it authentic but highly targeted at the audience that we wanted to influence and change their behaviour. We produced it here as well, so we had a crazy time flying people into Dubai, back to London and then out to Houston, to shoot it. It was very cleverly produced. On the surface it is a six-part series but out of those six 15-minute films we actually produced over 700 assets and all that was distributed. The organic reach that was provided by the F2 Freestylers was supplemented by a really cleverly constructed international paid distribution – paid video, paid social, clever retargeting to drive view. We’ve done 60 million minutes of viewing to date, that’s just organic on the F2 Freestylers channel. That doesn’t count the stuff we paid for. That’s a huge amount of time for our target audience, young men, to spend with the brand. It’s a combination of data, targeted insight, great creativity and production hooked up to great distribution and it provided in excess of an 18:1 return on investment. And ultimately what makes great content marketing? Return on investment, otherwise it’s just rubbish and vanity.