Innovation City at Mobile World Congress
Despite all the shiny new things at the Mobile World Congress, content is still the key to marketing success. PHOTO: GSMA

BARCELONA — Robots, connected cars, virtual reality rides and 5G devices are the shiny things that line the show floor here at the Mobile World Congress (MWC). But content is still king, said Vice Media CEO Shane Smith.

"What are you going to fill the pipes with? All of the data and algorithms in the world can only take you so far," he said during a morning keynote at the event, which attracted more than 101,000 attendees from over 200 countries and more than 2,200 exhibitors.

But content has to be reimagined for the always on, multiple screen world in which the same viewer might want to watch Michael Phelps win a gold medal, find out his age, see who he is dating and then tweet about it all a few seconds later.

'Live Broadcasts Aren't Enough'

JB Perrette, president and CEO of Discovery International — the broadcast home of the Olympic Games across Europe — told the audience even live broadcasts aren't enough now. Rather, he said, storytelling is key to engagement. For his company, that storytelling starts now — a full year before the 2018 Winter Olympic Games begin in South Korea.

Despite the broad appeal of the Olympics, marketing now needs to be personalized and reduced for consumption in bite-size chunks.

Of course, not every company has the digital rights to video featuring Olympic athletes. But that doesn’t preclude all companies from delivering engaging content. The key, Perette said: Make it exclusive or at least unique.

As Smith noted, no one wants a duplicate of content available everywhere else. If your mobile strategy is to essentially resell Netflix, he said, "it's stupid and it will not take you where you want to go."

Be Careful With Personalization

Shorter form content that connects brands to consumers or enterprises to their customers has never been more important. The problem is most people are still struggling to do it right.

Take personalization, for instance. We've all gotten email or even tweets from strangers trying to market things that annoyingly include your first name. Do you really feel more respected or validated because the company used your name?

Helen Lawrence, head of creative agencies at Twitter, told attendees during another keynote that she's lost her patience with Clearblue, a company that markets pregnancy tests. Lawrence keeps getting Clearblue ads because she happened to get married 18 months ago, which puts her in the company's target market.

Keep It Relevant

Marketers also need to be cautious pushing out content just because it is immediate.

"It has to be relevant (toward your target audience)," said Nick Snowdon, director of technology and financial services at Kantar, a market research company. It's important to think about your customer and your goals.

"Are you trying to drive a conversation? Engage influencers?" he asked.

No Newsjacking

The purpose of your first tweet, for example, might be to encourage distribution and to engage influencers. The second round might be to create conversations and to win re-shares, he explained.

But be careful with “newsjacking” — that is, injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. Brands with a purpose, like Dove, are doing it right, said Thomas Crampton, Global Managing Director, Social@Ogilvy. Before a company or brand tweets in response to news it should consider whether the opinion is in line with its mission and purpose.

And social isn't a strategy. It is one part of the strategy, agreed the panelists.

Some general ads, if you know your audience well, do tend to work — like encouraging Netflix customers to consume content when it's raining, said Crampton.

At the end of the day, though, we are still in a period of experimentation. Even conversational analytics won’t tell you everything.

What does seem to work, the experts at MWC seem to agree, is to continue conversations with people who engage. The rest we have yet to discover.