What is branded content? The fact is: it varies. Twenty years ago, content was something we paid for (e.g. a book or a movie), and so we savored it. We would take the time to flip through the magazine we had just paid $4 for. Today, most content is free thanks to the explosion of cell phones and social platforms. As a result, modern consumers have been conditioned to spend less than 2 seconds on any one piece of content.
This has a massive impact on the way marketers should think about content marketing. So, as a brand marketer, how do you keep your consumers engaged and your brand top of mind in the face of content fatigue and changing consumption behaviors? The solution: branded content.
Branded content represents one of the most effective tools available for brands to authentically connect with consumers across all platforms. In fact, a Nielsen study revealed that, when compared with traditional ads, branded content generated a 20% increase in brand recall, as well as a 10% increase in brand lift.
While there is no guaranteed formula for creating successful branded content, below are some best practices:
Seek non-traditional branded content creators
While it might seem daunting at first, creating high volumes of engaging branded content isn't as hard as it appears. Just get creative with the way you get creative. One trend that is gaining traction is the use of consumers, supporting themselves via the gig economy, to generate branded content. If you have not yet dove into the waters of consumer-created branded content, it’s time to start.
People want to see authenticity, and that needs to come from the customer themselves. If you want your ad campaign to resonate with real people, its content needs to be created by your consumers. Who better understands the ins and outs of a brand or product, than those who use it every day? Consumer creators are making content that engages the audience on their terms and getting more reach in the process. What’s more, they do so faster and more cost-efficiently than traditional channels are capable of.
With more than 3 billion smartphones on the planet, there are content creators all around us, the trick is to identify the naturally talented ones and empower them to create authentic and relevant branded content for you.
For example, to illustrate the power of play, Barbie launched an integrated campaign showing dads playing Barbie with their kids. The campaign included TV, cinema, digital, print advertising, and social media. The campaign launched during the NFL Playoffs with television, theatrical, digital, and print targeting dads. Barbie knew it needed a solution to truly connect with consumers through a sustained social media campaign around #DadsWhoPlayBarbie.
To supplement their agency creative, Barbie partnered with us to create authentic consumer generated content of real-life Barbie families. In this way, Barbie was able to build connections with consumers through authentic and unscripted content that evoked imagination and inspiration.
Over the course of a 5 day period, our machine learning algorithm identified and activated 50 families, with 9 different ethnicities represented, and created over 100 authentic branded images and videos. During the period of the campaign, the Barbie social pages earned 80% more followers per day than average. Barbie received 65% more likes and 31% more comments on the #DadsWhoPlayBarbie UGC content they posted compared to other campaign content.
Personalize your messages
The biggest challenge marketers are up against is how to maintain relevance within their target audiences. People are increasingly connected. New trends are emerging. Markets are changing. And consumers are demanding engaging, personalized advertising experiences.
In a comScore study, 86% of consumers claimed that relevant content increases their interest in a brand's products and services. A whopping 71% of them want ads they view to be tailored to their lives.
For the advertiser, aligning content with your audience delivers an equally big benefit, increasing engagement by up to 60%. Gartner predicts that by 2019, companies that have invested in personalization will generate 20% more revenue than companies who haven’t.
Personalized branded content is not geo-targeting. It is not about what event somebody’s attending, or how the weather is in their city. These factors alone are not what connects with the consumer at an emotional level. The power of personalized creative is that it makes consumers believe the ad is specifically targeted to them. Thus, a female who loves surfing, gets an ad of a female surfing, drinking a SmartWater and a father who loves building gets an ad of a father in a workshop drinking a SmartWater.
Aim for real, not perfect
Another distinction between good and great branded content is the method by which your brand is integrated into the content. For too long, consumers have been bombarded by intrusive, inauthentic, irrelevant banner ads. As a result, people have been programmed to think that all ads are annoying and don’t provide value. So, they have developed lightning fast reflexes to skip ads online, especially on mobile.
As Johanna Murphy, former Chief Marketing Officer at rag & bone, explained, “When creating content, be a human first. Brand content can be jarring when someone is consuming content from friends. Brands need to live natively in these channels. Facebook and Instagram work because they feel natural.”
If you want consumers to go out of their way to engage with your content, your goal should be to create content that appears unobtrusive and fits natively in the social feed. In short, do not be obviously promotional. Again, social requires authenticity. The best-branded content does not appear branded upon first glance. Instead, the product or brand is organically featured in the image or video in a way that feels natural and real.
Optimized for the channels it will be viewed on
Unlike TV, where you may run the same commercial across multiple channels, digital marketers should be building unique creative assets based on best practices for each channel. For instance, the content created for Instagram should look like it belongs on Instagram, not like it was repurposed from a print or TV asset.
This is because consumers have different expectations for the content they view depending on what channel they are viewing it on. Through interviews and an online survey of people in Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, the UK and the US, one study found that people open Facebook to satisfy their need for “connection” and gain recognition, whereas people turn to Instagram to relax and discover new content.
Of course, mindsets and intentions can have a profound impact on the way content is perceived. The nuances between various platforms are important to consider when building branded content for feed-based environments.
Don’t be scared of video
As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” However, in today’s crowded digital environment, we now know videos can be worth a lot more to brands looking to “stop the scroll.” According to Facebook, people are gazing 5x longer at video than at static content.
The only problem is that video production can be both difficult and expensive. However, there are some creative ways to bridge the gap between still images and videos. For example, many brands have been exploring adding simple motion to their existing image assets. Even a small amount of movement from a cinemagraph or a gif is enough to catch a person's eye as it auto plays in the feed. In this context, brands can quickly and easily test video marketing solutions, which have shown promising results including a 39% lower cost per conversion.
In sum, there was a time when it made sense for marketers to carefully craft a few images and commercials a month. When you're required to create enough content to fuel social conversation and fill feeds, there isn't enough time in the day. You want the customer thinking about your product as often as they can for as long as they can, and this requires high volumes of authentic and relevant branded content. Brands will win this mindshare race by partnering with tech companies, such as Social Native, to scale creator activations and unlock the floodgates of content creation.