Did you know that 61% of customers say that they’re more likely to buy from a brand that creates custom content?
While we all know the cliched phrase “content is king,” there are different kinds of content out there. Some is designed specifically to sell products and raise revenue, while other pieces are devoted to things like entertainment and education. Branded content is a way of bringing emotion, and humanity to your company. It’s about building connections.
We’re living in an era where marketing and branding are in a constant state of flux. As more people than ever before skip ads, block banners and ignore traditional advertising, companies are forced to rethink how they get their message across. One increasingly popular strategy is the rise of branded content.
Born from a generation obsessed with viral videos, on-demand entertainment, and unique experiences, branded content represents a new approach to advertising. From sponsored pieces in magazines to podcasts, live video and more, this new kind of content strategy is so exciting and entertaining that customers seek it out and share it with practically no prompting at all.
With branded content, the marketing message is so subtle it’s almost invisible. It’s a way for companies to engage with their audience, improve their reputation and cultivate new relationships.
So, how do you create the best branded content?
What is branded content? Building your brand content strategy
The term “branded content” originally emerged in 2001.
A few years later, the “Branded Content Marketing Association” – a group devoted to the evolution and growth of branded content strategies, opened its doors. Since that day, countless definitions of this unique content strategy have appeared in the marketplace, each making it increasingly difficult to figure out what brand content really is. For instance:
Contagious.com says that “Branded content is any content that can be associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder.” This vague description could apply to any kind of advertising, so it’s not much help if you’re building a focused campaign.
Forrester released a report saying that branded content “Bridges the gap between digital media’s reach, and TV’s emotive power,” suggesting that brand content should be imbued with feeling.
Wikipedia – everyone’s favourite online dictionary, says that branded content is anything but “typical” advertising.
Taking all those insights into account, we believe that branded content is an emotional and unique form of marketing that uses the elements of storytelling to share a brand’s message. It’s a technique designed to help companies touch the hearts of their target audience in a way unachievable by traditional advertising.
While typical marketing campaigns are all about choosing a USP and then finding a way to convey that selling point to your customer, branded content takes a new approach. Rather than focusing on the product’s story, the content focuses on the consumer, their needs, and how the product can solve their problems. This strategy allows companies to connect with their audience on a deeper level.
Branded content vs. content marketing: What’s the difference?
By this point, you’re probably thinking: “Branded content sounds great and all, but how does it differ from content marketing?”
The truth is that the two concepts are often connected. Like content marketing, branded content can include everything from podcasts, to articles, video, and even in-person events. However, it’s not advertising in the way most people would think about it. It doesn’t include talking about product or drawing attention to a specific service.
Branded content is more of a customer-focused type of content marketing. It provides value to the customer, like traditional content marketing, but the focus is on making an emotional connection, not selling something. Branded content also pulls attention to the unique values and ideals of the company, to create an affinity with readers and viewers.
For instance, if you watch the most popular Facebook ad from 2017 here, you’ll notice that there’s little to no obvious advertising at all.
Rather than trying to convince customers to buy something, Pillsbury chose to simultaneously educate their customer, while providing an insight into the value of their product. While their product is in the video, it’s not the focus of the content.
Whether in video form, podcast, or written posts, the ROI of content marketing focuses on lead generation and sales. On the other hand, branded content is about demonstrating brand identity and boosting reputation. Here, the needs of the audience always come first.
Branded content vs. native advertising
Content marketing isn’t the only thing that branded content is often confused with.
If you’ve explored different external communication strategies before, you may have heard the term brand content alongside the phrase “native advertising.” If you haven’t looked into it before, native advertising is a form of marketing that mimics the function and structure of the platform hosting the content. For instance, if you’re a chocolate company placing a native ad on a YouTube cooking channel, you’d crate a video showing someone how to use your product to make something.
Both native advertising and branded content seek to create an immersive experience for customers. The difference here is that while native advertising adopts a format to “fit in,” branded content is built to respond to the unique needs of an audience. Your brand content strategy will involve looking at your company’s story and thinking about how you can convey that narrative to your audience in a way that serves them.
Though native advertising and branded content both help to get a customer more invested in a brand, with native advertising you’re simply following the etiquette of a different platform or channel. With brand content, you’re implementing a consistent customer-first strategy.
What makes a branded content strategy so effective?
Though branded content strategies aren’t exactly a new concept, they’ve been getting a lot more attention lately. According to some experts, the idea of branded content first emerged way back in the 1940s – even if marketers didn’t have a name for it then.
Today, branded content is back in the spotlight because companies have begun to realise just how ineffective traditional marketing strategies are. In fact, according to one study:
Brand recall is 59% better for branded content than display ads.
Brand favourability is 7% higher than for display ads.
Purchase consideration is 9% higher than with display ads.
Branded content gets more recognition from your audience and creates brand recognition. Because these videos and articles aren’t explicitly designed to sell products, customers believe that they’re more personal and tailor-made for their needs. Eventually, branded content can build trust, and lead to long-term customers. Some of the biggest benefits of a brand content strategy include:
1. Better audience reach
Today’s impatient customers are more likely to ignore a banner advertisement or obvious piece of promotional content than share it with their friends. People simply don’t engage with content that they can’t resonate with on an emotional level. Branded content creates an exciting story for customers to enjoy and gives it to them on their preferred channel. The result is a better chance of word of mouth marketing and brand advocacy.
2. Greater loyalty
Branded content doesn’t just give you a chance to connect with new customers; it also helps you to strengthen your relationship with existing consumers too. Thanks to the emotive and meaningful messages that go into brand content, companies have a chance to really show their clients what they’re all about, improving affinity and setting the stage for loyalty.
3. More authenticity and trust
Today, content has become a critical part of our day-to-day lives. We use it for everything from entertainment, to news updates. However, as consumers, we don’t just want to see any old content posted on the web. We want a chance to learn more about brands that are authentic and trustworthy. By showing your customers that you’re willing to put them first, instead of focusing exclusively on your profits, you can begin to develop a stronger sense of trust.
How to create the best branded content: Prepping your plan
It’s safe to say that the right branded content can do wonders for your company.
Well-known analytics company ‘Nielsen’ discovered that brand recall was as high as 86% for branded content – and it was only 65% for regular ads.
Of course, there are different types of branded content and different levels of success that you can achieve. The question is, how do you create something that’s going to attract and engage your target audience?
1. Show your story – don’t yell it
In today’s highly-competitive marketplace, simply telling people your story isn’t enough. You need to demonstrate something that’s going to capture the attention of your target audience. For instance, one of the best-known pieces of branded content in the world is the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign.
The video was designed to highlight the fact that most women don’t know how beautiful they are. By dealing with the common issue of self-esteem and confidence that most women face, Dove created a powerful piece of content that moved their audience, while showcasing their unique personality. The product in this campaign was simply a component of a bigger story, which is what made it such a successful piece of branded content.
2. Make sure you get emotional
The content created for a branded content strategy must be emotional if it’s going to work. The whole point of brand content is that it’s designed to connect with an audience on a deeper level. For instance, in the very popular “This is Wholesome” campaign from Honey Made, the brand created a series of unique documentaries exploring the behind-the-scenes lives of different families.
The videos didn’t just encourage you to buy Honey Made products – though the items did appear in the background. In this branded content, the product placement didn’t detract from the immersive and emotional elements of each story. With this strategy, Honey Made could hit a nerve with their target audience and build real relationships.
3. Use characters that audiences can resonate with
Whether you’re creating a video, or simply writing a blog from the perspective of someone in your team, it’s important to ensure that your branded content has a human aspect. Implementing personality into your pieces helps you to demonstrate what your brand stands for, and it gives your customers something to resonate with.
In Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” series, the company introduced the stories of seven real adventurers using Patagonia gear as part of their day-to-day lives. The stories in the campaign highlight how the branded products became a part of these people’s lives, but the focus isn’t entirely on selling the items. Instead, it’s about drawing a focus to the heroes of the Patagonia brand archetype.
4. Create stories that showcase your brand
While the primary focus of a branded content strategy isn’t telling people to buy your products, it’s still important for you to find a way to show people what’s good about the product or service you’re offering. All the way back in the year 2000, BMW was one of the first companies to create a branded content piece following the modern strategies we know and love today.
A campaign called “The Hire” consisted of 8 short movies that were directed by celebrities and featured the stars themselves. The company got more than 11 million views in a time where social networks were non-existent, meaning the campaigns were an astronomical hit. BMW’s stories were entertaining, but they also draw attention to the unique elements of the new cars in their portfolio.
5. Be credible and authentic
One of the best things you can do when you want to make your branded content strategy a success is ensure that you design something that feels believable. With so much sponsored content out there vying for customer attention, it’s not enough to simply be “entertaining” anymore. Today’s brands need to be authentic because consumers are highly sceptical of any content that seems fake.
When Gatorade created their “win from within” campaign, they knew they needed to do more than simply showcase a celebrity athlete to get the attention of their audience. To show their authenticity, they needed to demonstrate that they cared about “everyday” athletes as much as they claimed to in other marketing media.
In addition to household names, the company decided to interview several passionate, but lesser-known athletes who were exploring their own sporting experiences. This decision to go beyond the celebrities made Gatorade seem more human and transparent.
6. Don’t interrupt, delight
Finally, one of the reasons why branded content is so successful in the modern age is that we’ve entered an era of consumer choice. In other words, your clients are more empowered than ever before. They know that they can pick and choose which content they want to watch, and that means that attention from consumers needs to be earned.
Even when your customers aren’t actively paying money and downloading services that help them to avoid ads, they’re still looking for ways to reduce their exposure to advertising that interrupts their typical schedule. One of the best ways to make sure that you’re not disrupting your clients is to create branded content that feels natural.
This might mean showing your campaigns on social media with the help of influencers, or simply making sure that your videos look as good on mobile as they do on a desktop. After all, 55% of branded content is now viewed on mobile devices.
4 of our favourite branded content examples
Ultimately, branded content proves that no matter how much marketing may change, people will always flock to things that move them emotionally.
We’re all suckers for a great story, and we constantly seek out anything that makes us feel nostalgic or reminds us of our humanity. Companies that know how to use the value of storytelling to their advantage are often the most successful. For instance, here are just four of our favourite branded content examples to help inspire you.
1. 84 Lumber: The Entire Journey
A good branded content strategy thrives on emotion. The problem is, how do you create an emotional connection about a non-emotive topic? The simple answer is that anything can be emotional if you think about it in the right way. 84 Lumber’s campaign called “The Entire Journey” is an incredible example of this.
By adding an inspiring tale of a unique family to the story of a piece of wood travelling across the world, the company brought the story of lumber to life. The advertisement played on the universal theme of people wanting a better life for themselves and their families. As a piece of video marketing, it’s incredibly immersive, and it takes the basic rules of branded content into account.
The campaign was a huge success. 84 Lumber got around 58.7% of all the desktop Google ad clicks generated for the 154 Super Bowl Sunday when it was aired.
2. New York Times & Netflix: Orange is the New Black
Sometimes, the best way to make your branded content stand out is to explore a different kind of media. Since newspapers and print magazines aren’t as popular as they once were, the New York Times decided that they needed to do something different to boost their income. By partnering with a digital company “Netflix” and the team behind the streaming service’s hit drama “Orange is the New Black,” the New York Times came up with exciting new article.
The piece “Women Inmates: Why the Male Model doesn’t Work” was sponsored by Netflix and helped to generate attention for both the online newspaper and the streaming service. The piece included interactive images, strong journalism, and a great video too – sure to catch the attention of a wide audience.
3. Lego: The Lego Movie
You know your branded content is successful when people don’t even know they’re looking at an advertisement. The Lego Movie is perhaps the best-branded content example out there. On the surface, it seems like nothing more than a feature-length advertisement for Lego toys. However, if you’ve actually seen the movie, it goes a lot deeper than a typical advert. It’s touching, emotional, heartwarming, and associates the Lego brand with important lessons about life.
After seeing the movie, parents and children everywhere have been able to connect Lego to deeper values of warmth, family, and friendship. The team has even followed this innovative advertising strategy up with further releases, including the Lego Batman Movie, the Lego Ninjago Movie, and of course, the second Lego Movie too:
4. Toyota: Back to the Future
As most sci-fi fans know, Marty McFly and the incredible Doc Brown travelled to the future in Back to the Future 2 on the 21st of October 2015. That meant that on October 21st, 2015, fans everywhere celebrated the official “Back to the Future Day.”
In the movie, the DeLorean time machine runs on trash instead of fuel, which makes it a very eco-friendly solution for our petrol-scarce planet. Since Toyota also developed a hydrogen fuel-cell car in 2015, they decided to recruit Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox to showcase the product in a five-minute commercial which explains how trash can transform into hydrogen fuel.
While the product focus in this advert is a little stronger than in some branded content, it’s still all about educating an audience, rather than directly selling a product.
Time to create your branded content strategy?
Branded content can be a powerful addition to any marketing and branding solution.
As customers continue to do anything they can to avoid “traditional” marketing, branded content and other forms of “inbound” marketing are inevitably going to grow more popular.
People tune out when it comes to standard ads because they’re annoying or uninteresting. However, a branded content strategy can get around that problem. It offers useful and exciting information or gives an audience something entertaining to watch.
Branded content gives companies the chance to maintain the credibility and trust they normally lose when a customer realises they’re being sold a product. After all, no-one likes to feel like they’re just another source of income.
By reinforcing the positive associations people have between your brand and their favourite hobbies, interests, or values, branded content does more than just sell a product or service – it sells an experience, a relationship, and a lifetime of loyalty.
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