Overcoming Content Challenges in the Digital Age

Written By Akash Pathak,Director, Digital Marketing, McDonald’s
Edited By Aditi Ramchandani, Medill IMC Class Of 2015

Published on 10/21/2015


In my 15 years as a digital marketer, I’ve experienced the ups and downs of various platforms, seen the constant evolution of customer behaviors, launched some failures and launched many successes that had several doubters until the end. One of the marketing needs that changes rapidly is content development: continually meeting customers where they are and adapting your marketing processes to create content efficiently to drive brand engagement. Today brands have to operate like a newsroom and efficiently create unique content for multiple platforms. They have to target customers with that content along the customer journey and continually test ideas. It’s not just about creation of brand content; it’s about co-creation of content and curating an experience that builds interest in your brand with multiple segments.

I was recently looking for gift ideas on the TOMS website. After buying a pair of new shoes for my wife, I visited their blog and noticed they had an article about creating a shoe economy in Haiti. As I looked at a list of articles, I noticed they had four to five posts about Haiti from different perspectives: TOMS employees visiting the country, a selection of great restaurants and sites in Port-au-Prince and a visit with a singer/songwriter from the country. It was encouraging to know that TOMS lives up to what they believe in, and it was incredible to see how they had curated an experience that lives up to their company mission. You can imagine how TOMS could stop at one article, but customers today move quickly: customers need multiple rounds of reassurance and you have to be always on to capture audience interest. While it is not a revolutionary idea to create a blog with diverse content, content that demonstrates a brand’s mission and allows TOMS to engage customers consistently can be very effective. For a similar experience, you can see how Red Bull has built on this over the years.

A different example that I’ve experienced comes from Intel. As an avid music fan, I remember watching a video interview about a musician I’ve followed for many years on VICE Magazine’s site, only to notice the content was created by Intel and part of an ongoing series about musicians. Brands cannot create content alone, and they cannot rely on traditional models for customers to find this content to enjoy it or vote it down. Since then, Intel has branched into even more advanced content creation by releasing short social films created by talented directors and actors. They have created narratives where the reasons their brand is superior come to life. The series about musicians showcased technology and studios powered by Intel technology. It showed Intel’s willingness to hear what innovators want and need from technology. Delivering messages today is about reaching customers where they are, gaining their trust and creating or curating compelling content.

At McDonald’s we’ve made great strides to react to this new world. Recently we pivoted on a social campaign due to decreasing customer interest after several content streams. We shifted the new waves of creative within minutes and took part in a new conversation that was equally beneficial to McDonald’s food awareness goals. We intend to replicate that process almost every day. Also, we are using the feedback customers provide to deliver richer and more personal digital experiences. Our vision is for digital content to be informed by equal parts customers’ needs and behaviors. In a few short months, it’s been exciting to watch what happens when you galvanize a team of cross-functional individuals to react to customers fast and often — the result is excitement and energy for the new world.

Today we are being constantly challenged to find the next digital idea because of the speed at which news and content are generated and the innovative ways in which we can engage our customers. However, our foundation for ideas has not changed and it’s gotten easier to access data and gain customer feedback. For example, we can identify relevant behaviors and actions within owned social communities to target customers and try new ideas. Customer identification and valuation, both key to the IMC process, provide that foundation and criteria for which segments can drive your marketing objectives. These are the springboard to building a case and ideation on how you can best deliver your message. Modern brands build communities where they can test and learn, drive all aspects of the organization to be customer-centric and invest big in fewer and stronger ideas.

Customers see thousands of messages every day and they make choices based more on their emotions than rational thinking. As consumer attention becomes more scarce, we have to invest carefully and target thoughtfully. A modern brand simply cannot miss these principles; it can’t wait to pivot into a new content development model or it risks the competition driving stronger engagement and winning new customers’ hearts and minds. Start by building an internal process that’s more agile for creating content, and shift goals for digital content from perfect to simple and efficient. This will allow you to build more across platforms. Then create ways to frequently pulse customer response through social listening and analytics. As ideas are brought forward, think about specific target segment needs across various platforms. Lean into where customers are and how they engage with content — how will you intersect customers on their terms? These are some simple steps to advancing your efforts in building customer engagement in the digital age. [END]


As director of U.S. digital marketing for McDonald’s Corporation, Akash Pathak is responsible for translating U.S. business objectives into successful digital marketing initiatives. With almost 15 years of experience, Akash specializes in building brands online, social media marketing, customer acquisition, e-commerce, managing digital/mobile/social platforms and digital CRM.
DSC_7523* Aditi Ramchandani is an Angel Intuitive and Marketing Coach. She teaches social entrepreneurs how to align their marketing to their soul so they can attract ideal clients, do work that lights them up and live a life of joy. Aditi received a bachelor’s degree in marketing from George Washington University.


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