Rise of the chief authenticity officer

How can you persuasively connect with your target audience, earn their trust and reinforce your core brand equity? By developing content that audiences see as valuable to them, not marketing content that drives audiences to purchase something. It’s all about authenticity.

A brand new (content) world

According to brand consultancy Prophet (July 19, 2018) the number of companies hiring Chief Content Officers has risen by 75% in the past three years, the majority from non-media companies. Many are journalists from outside the company’s direct industry.

Their mandate? Create independent, unbranded content that persuasively connects with target audiences, earns their trust and reinforces core brand equity.

Only just this month HSBC announced the appointment of its first Head of Editorial Content for Asia Pacific to be based in Hong Kong. The role is reported to cover planning and strategy for digital execution and new content initiatives across the business.

All eminently sensible developments in a new world paradigm where audiences are hyper-critical of marketing messages and crave an authentic, trust-based relationship with brands.

And, of course, the challenge for companies to engage meaningfully is only going to get harder. The rise of WeChat and Youku in China and Facebook and YouTube in the rest of the world is making the earned media landscape more difficult than ever before to navigate and making it more difficult for companies to build direct, trusted relationships with their audiences.

And let’s not forget the flood of fake news and unreliable social media posts stirring and muddying the content waters.

All hail the King

None of this should come as a surprise to those of us working in the communications and marketing field. “Content is King” has been the mantra served up by CMO, CCO and agencies alike for the past five years and one that created the role of Chief Content Officer.

Indeed, how to develop a content strategy and re-engineer a company’s in-house capability to deliver always-on content publishing resources responsive to audience needs is the question I am asked about most frequently in Hong Kong. It’s one that also speaks to the challenge many companies are grappling with and will continue to grapple with in the future.

There is no magic bullet and no perfect model. We’re still at trial and error stage, even for those enlightened companies like HSBC who have appointed Chief Content Officers.

But there’s a missing piece in most discussions on content, and that’s the importance of brand purpose.

All aboard the new, purposeful brandwagon

It’s all well and good companies jumping on the bandwagon to create more posts, more infographics, more research, more films etc., but many won’t see the return on their investment unless they are clear at the outset of the organisation’s brand purpose – why the organisation exists (beyond making a profit) and what it stands for, how it is different, and how people expect it to behave.

Equally, the old model of content marketing is redundant. The aim now is to develop content that audiences see as valuable to them, not marketing content that drives audiences to purchase something. This is critical if brands want to build long-lasting relationships based on trust. It’s all about authenticity.

There’s no doubt that becoming a trusted brand means greater investment in unbranded content and more visible Chief Content Officers who can engage with audiences in a purposeful way.

But perhaps companies need to go further in their ambitions to connect with audiences. Goodbye Chief Content Officer, hello Chief Authenticity Officer?

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