VP of Marketing at Shutterstock on “Scaling the Creation of On-brand Content” - Argyle Executive Forum Events
Paul Cowan

Paul Cowan, Vice President of Marketing at Shutterstock, talked about the conundrum of creating content when the biggest challenge is creating content.

“The world of marketing, content production, and how we’re communicating with our audiences has really changed,” stated Cowan at the beginning of his thought leadership presentation at the 2019 Growth Forum: Becoming a Digital First Company, held on April 3 in New York City. “We’re raising an entire generation of people who will avoid all the ads and content we’re going to produce. They have three channels of choice that they like for consuming content—games on a tablet, YouTube, and Netflix, in that order. On these platforms, they don’t see any messaging. As a marketer, that’s horrible,” he said.

“The external factors that are stressing content-generation systems include the explosion of mobile, the digital triopoly—Amazon/Google/Facebook—and individuality at scale. We’re checking our phones an average of 150 times a day and checking Facebook an average of 14.4 times a day. Native ad buys have increased 74% year over year. Video has been growing at massive rates over the past two years, largely because of mobile adoption and the costs of data and streaming going down. Being able to scale out video production is going to be necessary for a lot of marketers, but it’s expensive. The average cost to produce a 30-second spot is $50,000,” said Cowan.

“Looking at the digital triopoly, Facebook and Google account for about 60% of the ad market right now. One in five ad dollars is spent on Facebook, and there’s been a 129% growth in Amazon ads year over year. This has empowered any marketer to create and reach a mass audience in ways they could never before,” he said.

“Individuality at scale means every customer has a much greater expectation that marketers will be talking specifically to them about things that are relevant to them. How do we get focused in our messages for each segment to become more relevant? The top challenges that marketers have with creating content are: creating content, scaling content, generating ideas, consistency in communications, and writing. The root of the problem is that creating ideas is tough. We need to create mission-specific content for each of the different platforms,” Cowan pointed out.

“We’ve discovered that being able to scale content involves three key components—visual identity, rapid ideation, and scalable production. Regarding visual identity, there are two things that we, as marketers, do a lot. One is consistency and the other is differentiation. We want our brand to have a consistent look and feel, and, with differentiation, we want to create as much separation between us and our competitors as we can. There’s a sea of sameness across many brand categories, so we need consistency in the message and differentiation in the presentation, so our brand stands out.”

Rapid ideation has to do with generating ideas in new ways, said Cowan. “We do this by looking at new processes, new sources, and fewer rules. From a marketing standpoint, new processes include moving from waterfall to agile and linear to distributed. When we’re trying to talk to these multiple segments, we need to loosen up the rules and explore the different voices we can speak in to appeal to people in different ways.”

Cowan presented a case study about Marriott, which wanted to raise awareness of its rewards programs with Millennials by focusing on experiences around its properties. To do this, they wanted to create 125 Instagram stories and 760 videos, boomerangs, and photos using 130 creatives worldwide and 80 destinations across 30 countries. “We were able to scale the ideation side as well as the execution side. This resulted in more than 7.2 million organic views.”

Cowan offered these three key takeaways:

  • Rethink the model.
  • Build and test more.
  • Keep in mind that things don’t need to be perfect.