Christine Beardsell, Chief Content Officer and Board Member of C3, on how technology is changing content marketing

There is a lot of discussion within the content marketing, and indeed the publishing industry in general, as to how recent technological innovations are going to change branded communications. 

Christine Beardsell, Chief Content Officer and Board Member of C3, and presenter at DIS 2019, is among the figures leading the conversation. 

Here she talks about the potential of data as tool for developing content, why she thinks blockchain could be highly disruptive, and names the key barriers that are preventing the adoption of AI-driven tools in the content industry.

DIS 2019 takes place on 25 to 26 March in Berlin. There are a limited number of DIS tickets still available. Click here for purchasing options. If you can't make it in person, you can also follow the event through our live streams - more details here.

What was your journey to C3? What is your day job?

I’ve been very lucky in my career. I started out at Digitas in New York City; before it was acquired by Publicis and became DigitasLbi. I always tell people I was at the right company at the right time, as Digitas has this healthy mix of strategy, creative and media buying expertise which was the perfect mix to birth a content marketing company — even before we knew what content marketing was! I got the opportunity to invent what content meant to brands; working with companies like Open for American Express and Kraft’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese to pioneer everything from branded entertainment, brand blogs/editorial hubs and content seeding/distribution. Some of the early Youtube video deals and Facebook planning happened in my team!

Once Publicis bought them, I was asked to expand the content department I co-founded into the European market and moved to London as a base in 2010. It was a great move for me because I could see how different the market was — in some ways very behind, but in other ways much smarter and strategic around content as there was much less money around to fund content. I became smarter and savvier about how and why content made a difference.

Fast forward, after my career forming years at Digitas I was headhunted to launch a number of content companies; for the creative agency VCCP, then oversee and restructure Zenith Optimedia’s content arm, and before C3, I joined Fold 7 as a partner to build the creative hot shop into a fully integrated company.

I spent years basically convincing different shaped companies that content marketing was the future and important. While I was successful at driving new business, being the change agent within a larger organisation also has is challenges and limitations.

When C3 approached me it felt like an obvious fit. It has an army of talent building content driven brand experiences across a base of amazing clients throughout Europe. They were also going through a transformation themselves; moving from a content publishing heritage to a full service creative content marketing agency. It became clear that my skillset and mixed background was a perfect fit to help them on this journey.

The company has code in its full title - how much do you see yourself as a tech company? How are you using technology at the current time?

We have a clearly defined vision around what Code means to us: to create meaningful connections by bringing brands closer to people through the power of data and technology. Technology is definitely an enabler -- we don’t do tech for tech sake!

Internally how do you integrate technology into your offering and how do you communicate it to your clients? Are they receptive to innovations or do you find you have an education role to play first?

Technology is the invisible magic behind everything we do. From a data perspective we like to use online tools to sandwich our creative output in smart thinking. Before we create anything we use data mixed with intuition to form the ideas that bring brands to life in people’s lives. We use data to understand the brand’s unique place, and that space it can own; both in terms of content and the wider communication ecosystem. We then use data to continually evaluate its performance and learn about what works and doesn’t work.

We also have a technology team that consults clients on web and app development and a creative technology team that works alongside our creative teams to build prototypes across more innovative solutions — VR, AR, and various new technologies and platforms we feel a brand would benefit from.

Many of your clients are brands? Do you find that they are willing to take more chances with technological innovation than say mainstream publishing companies would?

I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I think all companies — brands and publishers and other media companies are all on the same journey. Yes some may have more money, or an audience that demands more innovation to gain attention, but it’s not about a brand versus a publisher.

You have spoken in the past about the potential of blockchain? How do you think it will most impact on content creation? Are there any blockchain related startups that have caught your eye?

I definitely wouldn't consider myself a blockchain expert! But I follow and read about what is happening in this evolving space.

I believe blockchain is the next "black swan" of the marketing and media world. There is billions of dollars being pumped into every sector working to disrupt the industry again. The potential decentralisation impact and user-centric power shift will mean it may be harder than ever to earn people’s attention with traditional marketing and also be harder to learn through data (without asking and/or paying directly). Only those brands that show and prove value will be able to enter into this new dynamic and continue to build relationships. For others it could become even harder and/or costlier to get seen and heard. 

So I guess you could say I’m very happy I’m in the business of content. It’s just a more future proof approach to be effective, and will only become a more important medium of communication to earn attention!

Similarly there is a lot of buzz about AI at the moment, but not many media companies are using it. Why do you think this is the case - and how can these barriers be overcome?

Fear and money, plain and simple. Fear that it will somehow lessen the human part of their business and more often than not it is too costly a journey to start on without having a vision of how it will even impact that very business. Like all new things, it’s a matter of time and competition. Those who are brave enough to have a vision and jump on the wave at the right time will benefit greatly and other companies will become less relevant. The trick is to know the tipping point and really understand your own business model and vision for the future. 

What other technologies do you think will disrupt the media in the coming years?

Voice will continue to be important and reach new levels. Also IOT is not going away! Like I said from the start, I very much subscribe to the "black swan" theory combined with Technology Singularly. I think we are getting to the point where we can’t fully understand how technology is changing the world around us, and there are "black swans" around every corner. The best we can do it stay open minded, curious and brave.

DIS 2019 takes place on 25 to 26 March in Berlin. There are a limited number of DIS tickets still available. Click here for purchasing options. If you can't make it in person, you can also follow the event through our live streams - more details here.