Everybody in marketing is talking about content. But few brands are making it. And when they are, even fewer are doing it well.


Probably because a lot of brands don’t know what to make content about. Or at the very least how to sustain a consistent programme of content marketing. And that’s because they have no guiding principle on which to build a content strategy – they have no editorial positioning.

Now, any brand worth its salt has a positioning, often painstakingly created after months of distilling and finessing to produce some beautiful temples, pyramids, keys, onions or essences. But these guiding documents and all of the effort and thinking they encapsulate seem to be left firmly in the bottom drawer when it comes to content planning. And that’s madness, because having a core message, value or opinion that informs all output is as important for content as it is for any other marketing activity.

That’s something recognised by the real kings of content, the content experts that brands now need to ape and compete with: media brands.

So it’s important that an editorial positioning and subsequent calendar of content are driven by the distinctive quality of your brand and a category or a specific genre.

Whatever terminology they use to describe it, every successful broadcaster, newspaper or magazine (on any platform) has an overarching positioning that rigorously defines and drives its editorial agenda. It helps to identify the content that’s right for the brand, and importantly the content that isn’t.

And this editorial positioning is not so simplistic as to be applicable solely to the obvious single-genre media brands (e.g. SyFy channel or Angling Times). Even the multi-genre generalists such as BBC One, Channel 4 or national newspapers have a guiding proposition that helps to group their disparate content under one purposeful and watertight umbrella.

Positioning defines content and helps audiences

An editorial positioning shapes the name, visual identity, tone of voice and choice of content. Or, more accurately, the lens or frame through which that content is presented. This lens gives the brand a distinctive angle from which to tackle a subject. Over time that editorial perspective becomes recognisable to the audience, who come to anticipate content with a certain attitude or approach, making trial of new content an easier proposition.

To illustrate these audience expectations in the context of broadcasting, Red Bee Media commissioned some research to explore the extent to which audience expectations of new content were dictated by a tacit recognition of editorial positioning. We invented some plausible programme titles and asked 5,000 viewers which conclusions they would draw from the presentation of those titles within the context of different TV channel brands. The results were revealing.

For example, 62% of people thought a programme called Save Me on BBC Two would be a hard-hitting documentary about single mothers failing to cope. But the same programme title on Sky One was expected by 80% of respondents to be a reality show with past celebrities pleading for a career revival.

And 77% thought The Unknown Prince Charles on BBC Four would be an informative documentary about his role and achievements, whereas 53% anticipated the same programme title on ITV 1 to be an expose by ex-girlfriends and employees.

Stand out from the crowd

As more brands in highly competitive sectors start to produce content, it becomes increasingly important to make sure your content stands out and stays in your audience’s head. That’s a pretty challenging task if your competitors are creating content that sits in your natural subject area or genre. Think, for example, of the number of recipe videos on YouTube from the major UK supermarkets. What makes Sainsbury’s delicious recipe videos more memorable than Tesco’s?

So it’s important that an editorial positioning and subsequent calendar of content are driven by the distinctive quality of your brand and a category or a specific genre. Allowing your brand’s product category and its associations to define your editorial positioning runs the risk that your content calendar will be undifferentiated and difficult to own.

Editorial positioning versus brand essence

Broadcasters’ editorial positionings tend to share some common elements that aren’t present in all brand essences. They are bold and active statements of intent that act as a guide to commissioning: BBC Three – ‘Never afraid to try to new stuff’; Dave – ‘the home of witty banter’ and even generalists like Channel 4 talk about their ‘mission with mischief’, a desire for their programming to stir up controversy and public debate.

A brand’s editorial positioning doesn’t have to diverge from its established brand essence, but many brands may find it better to translate their essence into a more active and directional relative that can more confidently dictate the nature of their content. Doing so will give any brand an advantage over its immediate competitors, and a better chance of stealing attention from established media brands.

Michael Reeves

Michael Reeves


Michael Reeves is Business Development Director, Content for Red Bee Media.