For many of us, the line between online and off has disappeared.  Bandwidth is relatively cheap, public hotspots are almost ubiquitous and mobile technology and infrastructure is rapidly catching up to the hype.

I can’t think of a time in the last two years when I didn’t have either my smart phone, a computing or Internet accessible device not within arm’s reach; or at least during the hours I am awake.  With the explosion of QR codes here in the states, smart apps and interlinked social networks, the role of content has grown exponentially.

We all understand the value of a brand, right?

Brands spend big bucks on traditional advertising, marketing, product development, associate training, call centers and tweaking their customer experience to ensure the consistency and value of their brand.  After all, brand value equals trust and the more trust a person has in the brand, the more they are willing to suspend skepticism, overlook glitches, forgive problems and most importantly, dial down their price sensitivity.

What does this have to do with technology though?  Where am I going?  Stick with me.

Historically, paid media and paid activities (investments in infrastructure, promotion, people and products) drove brand value.  Nod your head, you know it is true.

Is that still true today?  Yes, but the equation isn’t quite as simple as it used to be and the balance of power is tipping.  Twenty years ago, your contribution to the brand, frankly didn’t matter one bit.  You and I added very little to the brand value equation other than did the cash register ring.

Today, much like in politics, your contribution to a brand’s value does matter.  It matters a lot.

So how?

Two ways.  One.  Your reputation.  Two.  Your content.  Technology allows for the organization of content in ways that are interesting and more importantly, relevant.    But it is not the brand message so much as it is your message that drives brand value today.

Let’s look at a simple example.

LIB-Tech makes a hot snowboard called the Skate Banana.  It has all sorts of technical innovations that make it for some, the board of choice.  For some, knowing the specifications and performance characteristics of the Skate Banana is crucial but for most, they wouldn’t understand what a reverse camber is if it bit them.  They do know it is cool and will likely improve their performance on the mountain.  How do they know this?  They see and talk to others AND they consume content.  Usually, the content that is the tipping point associated with brand value is customer content.  What do I mean?

To buy a Skate Banana if you can get your hands on one is north of $700 with the right bindings.  Is it worth it?  Do I need a new snowboard this year?  Am I willing to wait three weeks for a Skate Banana since the retailer sold out of their inventory in the first week or am I willing to drive 80 miles to get one this weekend.  The higher the brand value, the more I am willing to act on these things.  Simple.  We all know this.

But what is really driving Skate Banana’s brand value?  I click on the in-store QR code to find this.  Ooooh, very sexy.  I talk to the sales associate who tells me story after story of epic snowboarding experiences he had and how much he loves his Skate Banana.  I go home and dive into content.  Customer content. Everything from HD video of extreme back country boarding to amateur product demos and expert impromptu boarder interviews.   I log into a private snowboarder community forum I belong to and have a chat with some guys about the pros and cons of the Skate Banana and boarding at Telluride.  I have boarded with one of these guys before and his reputation as an expert, as well as, honest is solid.  I am sold.

All if what I lay out here is a prelude to this.

In the near future, earned content will exceed the influence factor of traditional advertising and will become on of the largest contributing factors to brand value.

There is a caveat.  If you don’t know how to properly use it, you will not-you cannot-reap the fruit.  Someone else will, but not you.  Here is a simple example of what I mean.  If you cannot drive a manual transmission, you cannot drive a Lotus, no matter how much you want to.  Simple as that.  Somebody else besides you will slide in the driver seat who knows how to drive a stick.

For earned content to deliver on its power, it has to be fully integrated into virtually every aspect of your brand experience in relevant ways big and small.  An example of what I mean is this: integrate customer how to videos into your online version of an owners or assembly manual.  Not rocket science but relevant and effective.  However doing it once in a row and putting it in one place won’t cut it.  It has to be ubiquitous.

Also, you need to know your content equity value.  Simply put, content equity value is measuring the contribution that content is providing to your business KPI’s.  Today, most brands are not even tracking this.  If they were, they would find their equity value to be woefully low.

The prediction I am willing to make is the brands who understand and act on full content integration and who actively manage their content equity moving forward with be the firms with the highest brand value and will likely dominate their market niche.

So the twenty-four dollar question is, where does your brand sit?  Are you prepared to be a leader or a laggard as content takes over?

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger