What Is Branded Content?

“Branded content is any content that can be associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder.” – Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA)

Organizations creating and distributing branded content is nothing novel to the business world. However, with the advancement of technology, particularly the evolution of social media, it has allowed the process of content creation and dissemination much easier, even for consumer generated content. Likewise, the consumption has been easier to access with social media, millions of apps and hundreds of millions of mobile devices in use around the globe.

The best way for any brand to reach and influence its target audience and receive positive attention is by creating great content. Moreover, great content can elevate a brand as a trusted expert and authority within its field.

Branded content comes in numerous forms, such as advertiser funded programming, viral videos, events, webinars and many more. It is therefore no surprise that the term “branded content” possesses different meanings to different people, easily leading to misunderstandings and confusion.

“Traditional advertising is about delivering features, benefits, and a USP through a product story, and then finding creative ways to connect that to people. Branded Content is sort of the reverse of this. It’s about starting with people stories first, so what are the things that can help brands connect with the hearts and minds of their audience, and then thinking about how you can creatively link that to your product.” – Avi Savar, founder of Big Fuel

Here are three great examples of small businesses succeeding with branded content.

Foiled Cupcakes never had a storefront, but they surpassed their revenue goals by 600% because they delivered amazing service on Twitter (@foiledcupcakes) and blogged religiously (foiledcupcakes.com/blog). Mari Luangrath started her cupcake online ordering business in 2009.  But she had a problem. Her website didn’t work – for the first 6 weeks no one could order cupcakes. Instead of taking the loss, she went to Twitter and started chatting.

They grew from 0 customers to 2,200 targeted followers in less than 6 weeks, attracted national press and beat their sales targets by 600%! Mari and Foiled Cupcakes became a Chicago legend.

River Pools and Spas avoided going out of business selling pools during the recession by cutting their traditional marketing budget and focusing on inbound marketing. Business owner Marcus Sheridan had a challenge – who buys pools in an economic crisis? He realized he needed to become the thought leader for the “inground swimming pool industry,” so he started creating and distributing content. His budget went from $150,000 on radio ads, the Yellow Pages and direct mail to $50,000 on inbound marketing. While many of his competitors were suffering losses and going out of business, his website traffic increased 300-400% and his leads increased over 400%. River Pools and Spas had their best year ever.

Orabrush had been around for 10 years, beginning dentists and retailers to carry their products with limited success – they took off after they launched a $500 video. Orabrush sells tongue cleaners. Tongue cleaners are not sexy. Orabrush invested in TV advertising and traditional marketing, but weren’t getting any traction.

They realized they could create humor around their brand, so they spent $500 on a “Bad Breath Test” video that promoted their tongue cleaner. They posted it on YouTube.  The Orabrush channel has had over 40 million views, and helped them attract 340,000+ Facebook fans and 5,000+ Twitter followers. After 10 years, major drugstore chains finally carry Orabrush.

Branded content is no longer for large corporation or developed by media agencies on Madison Avenue.

What Is Branded Content Connection with Content Marketing?

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” – Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute

Let us break down this simple definition even further. The first requisite is that you are creating branded content. There are over 50 types of content that one can create, all of them detailed later in Power Branding Secrets. The most common ones are blog posts, videos, eBooks, case studies, press releases, white papers, events, manuals, brochures, webinars, Tweets, and customer reviews.  But as you will see, there is much more branded content that one can create and distribute.

The second aspect of this is definition is “distribution.” Factually, you will need to spend just as much time building your distribution channels and utilizing them as you do in creating content. One can create massive amounts of top-end content and still go wanting for new customers and attention. Your content is the THING. Distribution is GETTING THAT THING TO ANOTHER.

Creating content is half the battle. And as you will see, it is a constant battle to generate on-point and sharable content. The other half of that battle is getting that content to a number of someone else’s so as to be consumed and, hopefully, acted upon in some positive manner.

Your content marketing strategy must include two broad actions:

  1. Creating branded content
  2. Distributing branded content

As a marketing strategist, I have observed that both aspects of content creating and content distribution were confused and were not given the proper estimation of effort. Some people believe that Twitter is content. No, Twitter is a distribution channel. A Tweet is content. YouTube is a channel. Your video on YouTube is the content. Similarly a blog can be a channel and it can be the content, depending on which definition you are using. “I have blog.” versus “I just wrote a blog post.”

The Purpose of Branded Content

What is Branded Content?

Branded content is conducted for the sole purpose to attract, acquire and engage a target audience so as to drive profitability. Even if you are running a non-profit, you will eventually need to recruit individual donors, volunteers and corporate supporters. But it important to state that your content should be more editorial than sales oriented. The power of branded content is the fact that people love a good story.

And as many of my fellow branding and marketing cohorts have already pointed out numerous times over the years, branding and marketing is about relaying information as a story. And like the wide array of books and movies that one can avail oneself of, your stories can be dramas, documentaries or even a comedy.

In his 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker illuminates is that there are seven archetypal themes which recur throughout every kind of storytelling.

  1. Overcoming the Monster. Here the protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force which threatens the protagonist, family or homeland. Examples: War of the Worlds and The Magnificent Seven
  2. Rags to Riches. The poor protagonist acquires things such as power, wealth, and a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person. Examples: Cinderella, Aladdin, and David Copperfield.
  3. The Quest. The protagonist and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way. Examples: The Wizard of Oz and The Lord of the Rings.
  4. Voyage and Return. The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him/her, returns with nothing but experience. Examples: Alice in Wonderland and Gone with the Wind
  5. Comedy. The protagonists are destined to be in love, but something is keeping them from being together, which is resolved by the end of the story. Examples: Much Ado About Nothing and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
  6. Tragedy. The protagonist is a villain who falls from grace and whose death is a happy ending. Examples: Macbeth and Bonnie and Clyde
  7. Rebirth. The protagonist is a villain or otherwise unlikable character who redeems him/herself over the course of the story. Examples: Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and A Christmas Carol.

While all of these seven types of stories may or may not apply to your business, one thing is for sure: We love a great story.

Storytelling is one of the most effective methods to invigorate your brand. In fact, storytelling  one of the main components of a branded content campaign. By giving your products and services life and relevancy by capturing and sharing the stories they really are, you can engage your target audience with a journey; an experience they seek to enjoy. In order for consumers to develop a deep, personal connection with your brand, company stories must be genuine, creative and motivating.

“Brand storytelling isn’t a new concept, but with the explosive growth of social media and content marketing, the opportunities to tell stories as part of direct and indirect brand marketing initiatives have become a strategic priority.” – Forbes, Feb 2013

Think about what gave rise to your brand, what inspired you to create your brand, as well as what your personal mission is to serve a community. Most importantly, clearly conceive in your mind what the needs and values of your audience. Your brand’s story must be compelling, genuine and creative. While it is important to tell your own story, client narratives have the largest long-term impact on brands. The customer ought to be your main character, with your brand serving a supporting role that offers tools and opportunities that help them create success and satisfaction in their lives.

For example, if you launching a campaign to purchase life insurance, your branded content should portray a story that focuses on how your customers have found peace of mind because their family’s financial security is assured. Concentrate on one or two recipients, illustrating what your insurance plans means to their lives. Praise should always come from satisfied clients, in the form of a quote, not from a company spokesperson.

Testimonials will become, as I have seen time and time again, as your most powerful weapon in building customer loyalty. A testimonial that is just a few sentences is not memorable, but a story that delves into a customer’s personal life and challenges, chronicles the lengths an employee goes to solve the problem and illustrates the positive outcome achieved will stick with readers long after they move on from your marketing materials.

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