Anda and Dana have successfully returned from sunny Cannes and we can't wait to get started with our new brand partners. How? We pitched Knotch as part of Unilever's Foundry 50, which hand-picked the top 50 marketing startups in the world. We were excited to be part of the selection, but even more so, we were right there in the middle of it, to find out about the latest and greatest in branded content. 

The most surprising news? No Grand Prix was awarded for Branded Content & Entertainment at Cannes Lions this year; the second year running. Even more interestingly, the campaigns that seemed to have really hit the nail on the head was branded content from non-profit organizations, who ironically didn't quality for the Grand Prix category. (This is telling, Cannes, isn't it?) 

I've set out on some investigating to figure out what piece of branded content will win the Grand Prix next year.

I think it will have these five distinct features. 

1) Story that actually matters. 

The Grand-Prix-worthy piece will be driven by a narrative that entertains, educates or enlightens. Sure, story isn't everything when it comes to branded content. But it's also a feature that undeniably best grips and shakes a human heart to its core. (I won't mention the Lego Movie anymore to make this point, but you get it!) It doesn't need to be hugely expensive to go viral; like this Hyundai: Message To Space campaign. But it needs to tell a story worth telling. Better yet, it needs to entice audiences to share in with the story. Ad Council's #LoveHasNoLabels campaign (below) is a brilliant example of that. With the marriage equality announcement, YouTube has done a brilliant job on the #ProudToLove video campaign, crowd-sourced from its own platform's content and siding with something that matters at the same time.

What's your story? 

2) Tears when it's gone. 

OK maybe not tears, but at least a sigh. As marketing legend Seth Godin says in this brilliant article from Contently, the best measure of great content marketing is whether it's missed by people when it's gone. What is your metric of 'mattering' to your audiences? It appears that the quintessential purpose of content marketing needs to not just be a practical, revenue-driving one, but one that brings the right people together. Through branded content, brands can elevate themselves to serve a purpose, stand for a vision, or solve a real-world problem. What can you do as a brand, that you stand for and that can't be achieved without your help? With the announcement of vertical street view, this rock-climbing video from Google Maps was a beautiful example of this in June. Adobe runs a great publishing platform dedicated to CMOs, General Electric a respected technology magazine and GoPro's videos are an endless stream of how brave and fun humans can be.

What do you stand for and what experiences can people get with you?

3) Highly participatory. 

Viral is no longer the right word to judge a campaign by. Why? It spurs audiences into a one-stop, rapid activity, but by the same measure, makes audiences forget the content easily. You want people to come back. The whole point of content marketing is to be remembered as an organization that matters, because it makes people return for quality time and content. There needs to be deeper ways to assess the success of a campaign, and most of that involves participation from audiences themselves (which is what we're working on). This is key especially if the participation means audiences can co-craft the narrative of the branded content campaign with you. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has probably been the most successful example of this to date. By the act of undertaking the challenge and donating to a charity of choice, audiences were brought to the first step of becoming loyal to a case. It also gave brands an excellent reason to produce content and 'ride the wave'. 

How can your audiences participate? 

4) Trust is all. 

There's been a lot of talk about branded content being such a transforming industry trend, that every brand feels the need to churn out tons of branded content. This debate extends particularly to the news sector; some are supportive of and others are against advertorial, branded content or native advertising (delete term as appropriate) siding next to independent news. External pressure and market needs don't seem to create the right environment to give rise to work that is trusted by audiences. The best branded content will come from deep within the human values of the organization. As the jury of Branded Content & Entertainment of Cannes Lions, BBDO's David Lubars says: "We're looking for insights that reveal a universal humanity and truth. Those insights reveal themselves nakedly no matter how nuanced a cultural execution may be." Seth Godin validates this and stresses brands shouldn't 'trick' audiences into thinking advertorial is, in fact, independent or attempt to seamlessly blend the two.

So what's a way forward? Be honest with your intentions, and be honest about what excited you - as a brand marketer. People care about you when you show them you care first. 

5) Make it human. 

All of the above accounted for, the best branded content will be human and won't ask for an immediate return or immediate value. Instead, its value will evolve over time. It appears that the more digital innovation and technology help us reach audiences more accurately, efficiently or deeply, the greater the need for humanity and real people in campaigns. This video of the world's toughest job in the world released for Mother's Day was a perfect example of this. A tear-jerker for sure, it featured real people interviewed for a seemingly impossible job, until the bomb was dropped and they were told this unpaid gets performed by millions of people in the world - mothers. A genuinely fantastic, human campaign from American Greetings on point. It elevated the brand, and made audiences do something very simple - pick up the phone and call their mum. If they were lucky, they may have even sent them an American Greetings card. But most importantly, they didn't ask for it and that made them more loved. 

How are your campaigns human? 

So what can brands take away from this? 

Get excited by a real story that stands for a cause you and your audiences believe in. Entice your audiences to participate in a meaningful way. Seek feedback that show you how to matter, and matter more. Work with real humans in your campaigns and let them show their emotions in real, surprising ways, but don't manipulate. Create a way to capture and present the content in a way that would be missed if it wasn't there. Make audiences genuinely trust you. Don't trick or beg for clicks. Give and delight instead. 

And last but not least, don't forget to measure how successful your impact on audiences has been to get that one step closer to the Grand Prix in 2016. We'd be delighted to help you.

See you in Cannes 2016.