No digital marketing campaign is complete without the production of content — content is the best way to build a relationship with your customers and get your message out there. The biggest challenge with content marketing is striking the right tone with your audience. Younger generations balk at the idea of being “sold to”, and instead seek out options for generating two-way relationships with brands. Branded content is a form of media that attempts to blend the lines between entertainment and marketing, catering the needs of customers who want to have a more meaningful connection with their favorite brands. This is perhaps part of the reason why 2014 saw 90% of B2C marketers opting for branded content.
“Branded content” is one of the biggest buzzwords within the media and marketing world. Yet, while the term continues to generate heat amongst brands, agencies, and publishers, there’s still no universal agreement on what branded content is.
Defining Branded Content
Branded content as a term emerged somewhere in 2001, and a couple of years later, a professional body called the “Branded Content Marketing Association” was established. Since then, a number of different definitions have begun to emerge — some contradictory, and some complimentary — but all making a true understanding of branded content difficult.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common descriptions used for branded content:
- “Branded content is any content that can be associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder” – This definition by Contagious.com seems to suggest that branded content is anything that makes the customer think of the brand. However, to some extent — this is exactly what all advertising should do, making this definition somewhat simplistic.
- A report released by Forrester defined branded content as different to traditional content because it bridges “the gap between TV’s emotive power, and digital media’s efficient reach”. In other words, branded content is about reaching out to customers in a more emotive and interactive way.
- Wikipedia regards branded content as a type of advertising that alters the distinctions associated with the definition of “advertising and what constitutes as editorial content.” Simply put – it’s not “typical” advertising.
Unfortunately, all of the above descriptions are incredibly vague. Even Cannes, who hosts “Branded Content” as a category within the Cannes Lions Festival can only describe it as “the creation of, or natural integration into, original content by a brand”. All of these different definitions make recognizing branded content incredibly complicated. However, most explanations agree that it is content commissioned by a brand for the purpose of reaching a specific audience, with writing driven by emotion, storytelling, and creativity.
What Makes Branded Content Different?
The concept behind branded content is that it’s not the same old “hard-sell” advertising you see in pop-up ads, or on your TV. Unlike advertorials, which relay facts about a product in a journalistic method, and native advertising, which matches the function and form of the platform it appears on, branded content is about creating connections. For example, the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign was a reaction to data that only 4% of women considered themselves to be beautiful, and “Dumb Ways to Die” attempted to raise awareness of train-related death through entertainment, song, and even games.
While traditional marketing copy focuses on informing customers about the benefits, features and unique selling points of their company, branded content takes a different approach. It considers the story behind the average consumer first, so companies can connect with the hearts and minds of their audience in a way that also creatively links to a product. Instead of telling consumers what is best about their product, branded content finds a problem that their customer is experience, and shows them how to solve it. Branded content is a blend of marketing, storytelling, and social connectivity that approaches consumers from an emotional and personal level.
While branded content offers marketing a way of engaging with their customers in a new way by building relationships through emotion and entertainment, it still requires marketers to build solid, measurable data about their target audience. Without the right data, marketers can only guess at what their customers want.
Good branded content can create a positive association between a brand and their audience, without the brand being too “salesy”. However, it’s important to find a balance that doesn’t make your audience feel tricked. It still needs to be promotional to some extent, so that consumers know the content is coming from you and your brand, as two-thirds of customers feel deceived when they find out later that a particular piece of entertainment or an event was sponsored by a brand for advertising purposes.
The Benefits of Good Branded Content
The principles behind branded content are quality, relevancy, and value. Branded content relies on using information about the customer, instead of portraying information about the brand. If done properly — if it is compelling, entertaining, and interesting — then it will deliver good results. If done without proper consideration, it can seem like a sneaky way of tricking your audience into thinking about your products.
As a form of content marketing, branded content can work alongside native advertising, banner ads, and other more traditional forms of publicity, to open a company up to a wider audience. What’s more, it can help to get them better involved in social media strategies, by creating content designed for sharing.
What is Branded Content?
The answer to “What is Branded Content?” is complicated. Primarily it seems to be about creating connections with an audience by learning about them, and appealing to them on a relevant and emotional level. The aim for branded content is for people to consume and enjoy it, while appreciating the fact that it is sponsored by your brand. To that extent, good branded content is the same as any other content — it relies upon a deep understanding of your audience, and the ability to understand and deliver exactly what they’re looking for.
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