Branded Content: How to Do It Right the First Time
As a brand selling to clients, you should never ask: what can we do to make it look like we care, you should ask: what can we do to show our clients that we care? Cue in Dove's brilliant Real Beauty Sketches that parallels how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. An artist drew women based on their own description and based on the description of a stranger. A lot of people had negative comments and said that the message was hypocritical – if women are naturally beautiful, they don’t need Dove products. However, a much larger portion of those who saw the video actually loved it! The number of likes is over 38 times higher than the number of dislikes.
While there’s a whole debate whether or not the artist is honest, the comments of the women describing themselves as much less beautiful than what we see as viewers are definitely spot on. At the end of the day, the self-confidence boost is what it’s all about. The result is that people who saw the video and experienced a positive reaction tied this experience to the brand. The massive sales boost that followed is the more concrete and measurable result.
So, why did it work? Because it came from a real issue – Dove’s research showed that only 4% of women would describe themselves as beautiful.
Where to Start?
While Dove example made a great splash and is often referred to as one of the greatest branded content campaigns (even though it’s over 5 years old), that doesn’t mean that we’re not surrounded by well-made branded content.
Social media is the obvious first stop if you’re just starting to create your own content. Whether used as independent pieces published directly on social media or for promotional purposes of content that lives elsewhere (e.g. blog, website, podcast, event, etc.), different social channels are the right place to engage with users. AdWeek wrote about the social posts from brands that scored the highest score from Unmetric, a company that analyzes engagement data across social channels. Inspiring stories get the most shares, but as long as you’re discussing a topic that is important to your target group in a relatable way, your content is that closer to the viral status.
Different Social Channels Mean Higher and a More Diversified Reach
Following the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, users didn’t stop using Facebook, but, according to eMarketer, they are sharing content less, mostly because they have privacy concerns. While Facebook didn’t lose a lot of its marketing power, this fall from users’ grace did create an opportunity for other channels to rise and take their rightful place in the advertising game. YouTube is up there neck and neck with Facebook, but while more adults use it than any other channel, they use it less frequently than some of the other ones (Forbes). On the other hand, teens prefer Snapchat and Instagram to Facebook (Forbes). This speaks volumes about the importance of images as a branded content format.
Which Type of Content?
Depending on the age and habits of the audience you’re reaching, you can easily find out what are their preferences regarding the format. The most popular are of course text, image, and video formats, but from there we can talk about blogs, vlogs, articles, case studies, infographics, print, newsletters, and many others. Each of these formats has their positive and negative sides, dos and don’ts. When it comes to social media, visual content works better than text, but there’s a lot to say about different image and video formats on each channel. For example, in their listing of 13 Facebook ads that work, Medium noted the ad formats and templates that usually get the job done.
One of the new potentials is social media Stories. Following the VidMob’s State of Social Video report, Business Insider published an article that focuses on how gen Z and millennials watch Stories and how this can be used by publishers. Another not so new potential is Twitch.tv, where you can sponsor streamers and thus put your brand in front of 15 million daily active users. If you’d like to try out podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Play Music are some of the most popular places you should check out.
Whichever format and channel you end up choosing, there’s a lot of inspiring examples out there that have already proven the value of branded content.
How Do You Pick Your Topic?
Research, research, research! Remember, Dove found a real issue and worked off of that finding to create content that speaks to the users in a way that not only understands this issue but also fixes it to an extent. Something to always be aware of is that there’s always some luck associated with branded content success, so a greater number of campaigns will increase the likelihood of high overall ROI (Forbes). In our experience, sometimes the time of publication can mean all the difference between success and flop. Making sure that you’re striking a relevant cord or leaning towards evergreen topics will render users willing to engage. No matter how effective your storytelling ability is or how effective the channel you’re using, if people don’t find your topic worthy of discussion, they won’t be willing to engage.
Leveraging Influencers and Publishers
If you can’t reach your audience directly, publishers and influencers have a vast number of users and followers, and there’s a plethora of both for you to choose from! As a brand, you need to be certain of the specific audience that you’d like to build the brand relationship with. While influencer marketing has its problems, its effectiveness has been proven time and time again. The influencer can express a brand’s message in their own voice, which adds to the much-desired authenticity of that message. Word of mouth was always one of the most honest marketing strategies, even when deliberately driven by brands themselves. Influencers are able to create a peer-to-peer experience, thus creating or supporting purchase demand.
On the other hand, publishers already have huge audiences that trust their recommendations. Most of them will have policies in place that ensure content authenticity (content must be written in the publisher’s own voice). That way both the publisher and the brand are able to create a trustworthy relationship with users. When it comes to brand integration, less is more, but there are always ways to integrate the brand in a smart way. The Airbnb sponsored article that was published on Fatherly strikes this balance perfectly with a couple of smartly placed sentences that endorse the brand and are relevant to the presented story.
As a publisher, you should be able to provide best practices for each type of content and each channel. Each new campaign is an opportunity to learn about what your audience is likely to engage with.
Does it Pay Off?
Users are used to ads and at some point they start a screening process for the content they’re engaging with and start ignoring brands and advertising messages unless it’s something that they have a personal interest in (Forbes). Branded content is not only highly resistant to this, but it also builds loyalty instead of one-time message exposure. A study by Nielsen shows that the branded content generated an average of 86% brand recall among viewers, compared with 65% from the pre-roll ad. One thing to bear in mind is that branded content is not aimed at getting conversions, which means that leads won’t start coming in the same week your Facebook post records great results.
The numbers are telling their honest story and the marketing spending trends are supporting it. If you refused to hop on the branded content train in 2018, you should definitely reconsider for 2019. And, if you’re still unsure about how to approach this, or would like to hear ideas, you very well may contact the experts on the subject!