Who: John Newton, AFAR’s Branded Content Advisor and founder of Signal Custom Content


How is work in today’s digital space different from how companies would create messages before?

Today, there’s a realization that sponsored/branded content has as much potential to reach desirable audiences as edit once did. Now businesses have access to editorial tools to reach consumers directly. You don’t need to wait for a leading publication to cover you and introduce you to their readers. You can create content that is as compelling as anything from a media company and then, thanks to the internet, reach your target audience without any intermediary. If you create the best, most authoritative guide to, say, Copenhagen’s design scene, readers will find it, and most of them won’t notice or won’t care that it isn’t “pure” edit. Companies have realized that their goals are best served by content that reads like editorial, without the old advertorial sales-y tone.

What is it important to think about when coming up with your company’s content marketing strategy?

Start with figuring out what your brand is about. What makes you different from your competitors? If you can’t describe your brand’s philosophy to a writer or other content creator, they won’t be able to convey your passions to your audience.

Next, realize that effective marketing content is often not about selling your brand directly. For example, in one program for Kate Spade with AFAR, Kate Spade was mentioned only in passing. We highlighted stores in cities around the world that would appeal to well-traveled, adventurous, sophisticated women, and then Kate Spade became associated with those qualities. It’s a different approach than simply talking about how great a Kate Spade bag is.

What do most companies miss/forget when formulating strategy?

Sometimes people get distracted by the many digital bells and whistles. I was looking at a guide to cities around the world by Rolex. Lots of drop-down menus, interactive features, all designed to be looked at on laptops or mobile devices. They did everything right in terms of making the experience of navigating it fun… but the content itself was bad, riddled with typos, with venues that were bad choices for their audience. And yet they surely spent a lot of money on the whole project. Effective branded content works because it reads like edit — in other words, like content that readers can trust. But when branded content consists of putting lipstick on a pig, it fails.

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