Though hard-sell advertising has seemingly ruled forever, the tide has swung dramatically in the twenty-first century to branded content.
By understanding the value of this powerful tool and how to properly utilize it, you can elevate your business to new heights.
What is branded content?
To fully comprehend what this strategy is, it’s helpful to first understand what it’s not. It’s not a hard sell that relentlessly pounds home the point of why you need this product now. And it’s not product placement, a tool that was prominent in the nineties on shows such as Seinfeld.
Instead, branded content flips the script to a values-centered model. Sir Richard Branson predicted this shift about a decade ago when he said, “The brands that will thrive in the coming years . . . are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit.” Those three words—purpose beyond profit—summarize branded content in a nutshell. With skepticism more rampant than ever, you must win over your audience and earn their trust by showing that you genuinely understand their values. And branded content is the vehicle that will bring your purpose-driven message to life for them.
Branded content has been flooding the global market for years, so you’re sure to have seen it—even if you didn’t realize it.
For example, back in 2011, Coca-Cola came up with a brilliant branded content strategy: it shifted the focus from its product to the person holding it. How? By personalizing its bottles. In doing so, it minimized its iconic logo and made the consumer’s name the focus. Something so simple yet effective was an ingenious way to get people talking and sharing stories of finding their names on a Coke bottle.
Another classic example is Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign. This years-long effort was wildly successful because it artistically touched on a common pain point for women: dissatisfaction with their looks. In one six-minute video, called Real Beauty Sketches, a forensic artist draws women based on their own descriptions and then on a stranger’s description of them. The aha moments when they are shown the paired sketches effortlessly yet powerfully illustrate the point—you’re more beautiful than you think—on their own. In fact, that tagline (and the Dove logo) don’t even appear until the very end of the video.
The effect? You know you’re watching a Dove video (it’s right there in the video’s name on YouTube), but you get so lost in the gripping story that it feels like poignant advice from a close friend. In all, “Real Beauty” doubled the company’s sales in just three years, and Ad Age named it the top campaign of this century. That’s the impact of branded content.
Strategies for success
Fortunately, getting the ball rolling on this marketing technique is relatively straightforward. Here are four tips to help you create effective branded content.
Determine your story
Many companies know their products or services inside out but fail to share the stories behind them. Consider your core values and what they represent, then ask, “How can people automatically associate them with our brand?” Think of Red Bull, whose series of adventure videos showing people doing the impossible have garnered tens of millions of views. The visuals of these amazing feats seamlessly convey the company’s slogan: “Red Bull gives you wings.”
Once you’ve determined the story you want to tell, you can lay out a game plan for how your organization can communicate it through copy, videos, or podcasts. Ideally, you would use all of these mediums, but anything that can be easily shared, especially on Facebook or via an influencer on Instagram, should be prioritized.
Shift your focus
To implement your branded content, you may have to subdue your instincts. As hard as it may be to accept, the story is the hero here, not your product or service, which means you must convey the value of your overall brand rather than pitch the product being sold.
It’s all about storytelling. To get your audience to eagerly embrace your brand, you must make an emotional impact and demonstrate that your values align. However, you can’t connect with people unless you understand them; the better you know and engage with them, the greater the relationship will be. What are their wants, concerns, fears, and unmet needs, both for themselves and for the world at large? Heavily research your target demographic, and consider polling or surveying them, a surefire way to make them feel their voices are being heard.
By nature, people like stories, but when it comes to branded content, those stories should be fact, not fiction. The consequences of not making them so can be critical, a lesson many entrepreneurs have learned as a result of tying their businesses to social causes they didn’t wholeheartedly support. Most consumers today, especially in the coveted younger demographics, crave authenticity and loathe being sold to. They’re looking for reasons to trust your brand—so give them what they want.
Commit to your message
Stay consistent with your story’s message across all your channels to reinforce your purpose and values. Doing so half-heartedly—in your videos, for example, but not in your mission statement—likely won’t cut it when it comes to getting people to know, like, and trust your brand. They’ll see right through you, and it will hurt your brand’s reputation.
Remember: the name of the game, as always, is making your brand rise above the competition, and sharing a story through branded content does just that. Ultimately, you want to form a long-lasting connection through your stories, which will then foster word of mouth, likes, and buzz about your business.
The bottom line
Branded content is a powerful tool. It enables you to make a personal connection with your audience by conveying a shared narrative and vision, making for a natural, mutually beneficial partnership. Don’t get left behind—start strategizing and building your branded content today to reap the benefits tomorrow.
Revisit your company’s mission statement to see how well it tells your story, then brainstorm ways to use branded content to share it.