In a market where a brand's values and philosophy continue to gain importance in the eyes of consumers, companies should be prepared to "open up" to their audience at any chance they get. Be it an origins story or a mission statement, showing off the moral, ethical and ideological fabric of a brand has become as important as the exchange of services, and can often be a deciding factor for choosy customers. For marketers who want to generate leads and fuel conversions, special attention should be given to what makes up their brand's "self" and how they're delivering those sentiments to consumers. An approach to this that has taken hold in the digital marketplace is branded (or sponsored) content: Original editorial or multimedia work that brings attention to a brand and is funded by the brand itself. Often, branded content won't look like an advertisement, and may not even explicitly advertise a product at all. This doesn't mean it can't be effective as a marketing tool. By utilizing branded content, brands can align themselves with certain audiences and values through a method that doesn't feel overwhelmingly like marketing, increasing their reach and boosting awareness. In the wild, branded content can manifest in a lot of different ways, from magazine features and thought-pieces to video series and beyond. Regardless of how it may appear, all well-executed branded content has the potential to drive traffic and reap rewards. Take these six tips to heart when devising your own sponsored content plans.
Think beyond your product
Strong brand values will transcend subject matter, so marketers should experiment with a less product-centric approach when producing branded content. Take, for example, the 2016 long-form story "Dishing Out Dreams", where American beer giant Coors Light worked with Mashable to tell the story of California empanada shop, HalfMoon Empanadas - a story conspicuously devoid of Coors products. This is no missed opportunity: Simply by aligning themselves with hard-working Americans, Coors grows its brand image, taps into the food scene and associates its name with success and storytelling.
Photo Credit: Mashable
Take the chance to tell a story
The Coors piece segues into a key tactic: try to tell a story. The Netflix and podcast boom should tell marketers loud and clear that people still value good storytelling. Branded content is one of the best opportunities brands will get to spin a yarn that speaks to their values and ideals. If you tell it (and it's worth being told), they will come.
Make it shareable, but keep it platform agnostic
When people find an engaging piece of content, they don't keep it to themselves. Marketers know this, and branded content should be designed to be easily shared on social channels. At the same time, however, avoid dedicating content to a single platform or network unless it's integral to its execution. Quality material will thrive no matter where it appears and if engagement is the priority, narrowing audiences from the start is just plain counterintuitive. You wouldn't want to miss an opportunity to go viral, and if you do, you want to do it on as large a scale as possible.
Keep context in mind
A significant amount of branded content today is editorial work, coming in the form of features, columns, and essays. For marketers interested in producing content like this, it's important to take a close look at the sort of work previously featured in the publication, as that will reflect the tone, voice, and language the audience is interested in. As of recent, larger publications have established their own in-house branded content studios to take care of sponsored content production. In those cases, it's important to make sure the studio's style and the brand's image line up stylistically. It's good to stand out, but only if it's for the right reasons.
Let analytics guide you
Audience feedback and user traffic can speak volumes about the sort of content you should create, and even more about where you should place that content. If a brand finds itself pulling users from a certain age group, community or location, tailoring content to those markets can result in further engagement and a more dedicated follower base. Where individuals don't go can also be a telling resource, alerting brands to where they may be missing the mark and pointing out areas that need improvement. Let your analytic data lead you to these sorts of conclusions, so you can familiarize yourself with your audience and scope out potential opportunity.
Get creative, stay creative
The most exciting content is new content, so get creative about how your brand's sponsored content is delivered. Morton Salt took this to heart when collaborating with rock band OK GO to produce the music video for their 2016 track "The One Moment," a project that received nearly 20 million views on YouTube. By injecting themselves into that scene, Morton was able to access a young crowd that likely hadn't engaged with their brand before or, at the very least, on that level.
Photo Credit: leemilby
As a tool, branded content is still growing, but there is much we can do with it right now. Ultimately, this sort of material can be a great asset for brands looking to grow their reach and expand their marketing horizons. With more agencies taking note of its strategic potential, it's likely we'll see more branded content moving forward.