by Thomas Allen
In the world of social platforms, attention spans are often short. In turn, brands are forced to adapt at breakneck speeds. Out of this strange brew of ever-evolving consumer preferences and marketing strategies, branded content has emerged as the new king of marketing and public relations (PR).
Branded content (sometimes referred to as branded entertainment or branded journalism) can involve videos, articles, podcasts and other media. Unlike commercials, social ads and more formal advertising, branded content brings value to people by entertaining and/or informing them. It’s a more effective, direct form of advertising that has a strong uplift because of its efficacy.
Big brands -- including the likes of Disney, Dove, Discovery, MTV, Red Bull and others -- rely on branded content as a primary saturation mechanism. This branded content stands out and has a substantial PR reach and social media effect.
Make no mistake, producing branded content that is memorable and impactful requires that businesses deeply understand the values they share with customers. The objective is to create and strengthen that bond through a shared narrative.
A great example of this in motion is Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches series. The company’s overall objective was to, “Inspire every single one of the 80% of women who feel anxious about how they look to reconsider their view of their own beauty and remember: You’re more beautiful than you think.”
The cosmetics maker produced a film centered on having FBI forensic experts draw portraits of participating women based on self-descriptions while separated by a curtain. In turn, the same women were drawn based on the descriptions of others. The unveiling of the final portraits was captivating and profoundly moving.
According to Dove, the video saw more than 50 million views in the first 12 days and has since reached nearly 180 million views. The series was covered by The New York Times, ABC News, Bloomberg and The Guardian, to name a few outlets. How’s that for PR outreach?
While viewers of branded content may be well aware that they’re being advertised to, the method of connecting them with a brand is successful because of the strong narrative and storyline. I've seen this success firsthand, as my agency focuses on creating strategic branded content for our clients, among other brand-building initiatives.
From my perspective, setting your brand apart in these turbulent, shark-infested waters is critical. In order to reap the rewards of your efforts, there are some important things to keep in mind.
Create a seamless story that speaks to your audience.
To cut through the clutter and make your branded content truly stand out, there are some tricks to the trade. Marketers must be sure to:
• Create content that welcomes people, instead of relying on emotional filters or a sense of urgency.
• Understand that content is created for people, not a consumer or a member of a demographic.
• Tell a story that’s thoughtfully created and highlights the values of the brand.
• Make branded content seamless -- the voice of your ads, social channels and site content should carry over the same message.
By following these simple rules, you can expand your digital reach faster. Moreover, you’ll be connecting with people who are encouraged to act based on the content they’ve enjoyed. Above all else, branded content should leave the viewer with a sense of solidarity with the brand.
Insert personality into your story.
Content that lacks personality is stale and boring, and it is essentially a waste of your time and that of the readers. Instead, evoke a strong, personal flavor in your content -- one that carries on with residual value in the mind of the reader long after they’ve already mentally ingested it.
Whether your message is humorous, boisterous, empathetic, emotional or downright serious in tone, maintaining this theme across all your branded content channels is imperative. The goal is to interact and reach consumers who appreciate the message your brand is conveying.
The more your brand speaks in its natural voice and talks about the things it believes in, the easier it is to connect with audiences that believe in those same ideas.
Remember the three must-haves of branded content.
Finally, like any marketing method, you’ll see better results if you follow a few simple rules of the trade. Based on my experience, the following three rules should be a part of your strategy:
1. Create stories for people, not for sales. Doing so makes your content more valuable to the consumer and rewards them for viewing it.
2. Syndicate your content far and wide. Don’t just plop it on your website and expect sales to skyrocket.
3. Use PR to share your content. PR isn’t dead. Tell the world about your content by issuing a press release and using social syndication services to gain reach.
The marketing paradigm has shifted. From my perspective, the average user now abhors ads, pop-ups, click bait and wasted time spent on shoddy content. To gain reach and saturation -- and, ultimately, an uplift in sales -- you’ll need to create amazing content that shines. Doing so will deliver measurable results to your ROI in the long run.