The soldier turned content expert now helps military veterans face the future.
Chris Rhyss Edwards is not your average content specialist and author. After serving his country as an army combat engineer, Edwards became a successful digital media professional and content director, most recently at Comexposium. Last year, he launched Soldier.ly, a business that develops apps to help the quality of life of former soldiers.
Brand Tales: What is Soldier.ly?
Chris Rhyss Edwards: I’m a veteran who has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of a fairly violent upbringing as well as a decade of service in the army. I formed Soldier.ly as a company to develop smart apps for my fellow veterans to help them monitor and manage their anxiety, stress and PTSD. The sad fact is a veteran takes their life every hour – we lose about 10,000 a year in the Western world. My team and I are working hard to create a smartwatch app that’s purpose-built to help veterans stay in control of their stress and PTSD, with the ultimate aim of trying to reduce the high suicide rate in the veteran community.
BT: Why is this project so important to you?
Edwards: We’ve lost more veterans to suicide than in combat in Afghanistan, so I’m deeply frustrated every time I hear that another veteran has taken their life because either the system has let them down or because they can’t find support. I honestly believe that one of the fastest ways to help veterans is to give them a practical app they can use on their smartwatch to help them help themselves by tracking and managing their anxiety and stress before things get out of hand.
BT: How did a former soldier end up as a content strategist?
Edwards: The only two things I ever wanted to do in life was be a soldier and a writer. After I left the military I moved into the digital media sector and by luck ended up almost exclusively working on projects that focused on developing commercially successful content for various brands like Blockbuster, NewsCorp and Clemenger BBDO. I love the written word – I’m a total word nerd – so I enjoy employing words well to engage people and persuade them to change behaviour.
BT: You completed a postgraduate Master of Creative Industries, majoring in Content Commercialisation, at QUT in 2012. What was the main thing you gained from that experience?
Edwards: How to write for different audiences and mediums. I originally signed up for the course to learn how to write non-fiction better as I’d been working on a book for over a year. What I took away from the course was a set of skills around writing for screen, print and social media, and these skills have been incredibly useful in recent years.
BT: In 2014, you wrote: “The only way content will ever regain our attention is when brands start giving us real value, when they start leveraging the age-old idea of storytelling to recapture our attention and imagination.” Have you seen much improvement since then?
Edwards: Absolutely. There are so many brands finally investing the time and effort to create deeply personal or compelling content that gives consumers value for the time they invest to consume it. The quality of long- and short-form text and video content has significantly improved, though there’s still a lot of absolute drivel out there because far too many people are still creating content for content’s sake. I’m genuinely excited about the way some brands are tapping into influencer marketing and using brand advocates to create content that tells truly personal brand stories that engage. The category doing this best has to be cosmetics – there have been some fantastic user-generated content campaigns in recent months from Estee Lauder and Lush Cosmetics, so I think a lot of other verticals could learn a few lessons from this innovative category.
“More brands [are] approaching the content sector more carefully, with more rigour and better success metrics than just ‘being seen’.”
BT: What kind of content marketing works best for you as a consumer now?
Edwards: I think influencer marketing is true to its name. I tend to trust recommendations from friends, family and Facebook over blatant brand marketing, so when I see someone I respect who has a significant social following sharing news or reviews of a product, I tend to listen.
BT: What are your favourite examples of Australian content marketing (or branded content)?
Edwards: One of my personal favourite local brands creating beautiful content that’s caught my attention and swayed me to purchase has been Mon Purse. It manufactures and sells premium made-to-order bags and accessories, and I’d seen its beautiful social assets for months, thinking “yeah, that’s beautiful, but I’m a guy and bags aren’t my bag”, then I saw an ad for a patent leather monogrammed wallet and I was hooked. Because it’d been pushing out good content across various social channels for months, I felt comfortable enough to purchase something I’d never bought online previously. Brilliant.
BT: Globally, which company does a great job with its content?
Edwards: Everyone says Red Bull because it’s a media powerhouse these days, but I’d say Tesla is the best ambassador for content marketing done well. Its recent launch of a Tesla into space captured the world’s attention, and that’s just the latest example of the great work it does inside a company that operates on a ridiculously slim advertising and marketing budget. Its entire marketing focus is on two things: earned media and cultivating a global community of raving fans. To me, there’s no other brand out there that does this as well.
BT: What’s the future of content marketing in Australia?
Edwards: I think Australia’s had a bumpy start in the content marketing space, but I see light at the end of the tunnel. The sad debacle around the iSentia acquisition of content agency King Content – quickly followed by the closing of the agency – took the wind out of the sector for a while, which I think that was a good thing.
When content marketing became the buzzword, almost overnight every agency pivoted and became a content marketing agency. There was a lot of noise, smoke and mirrors that resulted in clients paying way too much for meagre campaign-focused work that had little genuine brand insight or well-thought-through strategy. Thankfully, I now see more brands approaching the content sector more carefully, with more rigour and better success metrics than just “being seen”. Some agencies have truly earned their stripes in this space; the work out of Edge and Edelman has been great.
I’m also gladdened to see the content discovery sector has evolved, too. Too many people assume content campaigns go viral simply because they’re cute or compelling content, when the truth is most viral campaigns have a significant paid component to them. So, seeing the growth in the integration of content discovery platforms, such as Taboola and Outbrain, as well as paid social media advertising across Facebook and YouTube in media plans and schedules is a great sign marketers understand that content marketing is as equally about creating great content as it is about ensuring the content gets seen.