This is a guest post by Anna Zhao who is a Content Strategist at Quietly.
“Branded content is any content that can be associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder.”
-Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA)
Brands were creating content for years and years before content marketing became a “thing.” It’s just that now, what we consider to be content has revitalized marketing. If traditional marketing is all about showcasing the value that a product or service can provide through creative messaging, content marketing showcases the value of what content can provide for an audience. Forget the explicit hard-sell—great content marketing produces stories for audiences first and foremost, not products.
Plenty of brands, big and small, have seen success with content marketing (Red Bull, Herschel Supply Co., GoPro, to name a few) by catering their content to their audiences. Following this logic should be easy enough for brands, but that’s exactly where brands encounter their first hiccup. They fail to create great content = They fail to create great branded content.
To avoid these pitfalls, here's a list of the biggest dos and don’ts of creating better branded content.
1. Do: Show. Don't: Tell or Sell
Like any good editorial effort, a piece of branded content engages a reader. It seeks to inform, educate or inspire them in some way. The promotional element—check out our services for X! Or look at any of the products on our website!—is always secondary to the piece’s narrative, even if the content is tied to a particular product or service.
For example, an infographic exploring the evolution of the mobile phone may be a means to showcase a new flagship Android model. Or an in-depth evening glam makeup tutorial communicates the value behind a new lipstick line and highlights the lifestyle a brand wants to be associated with.
These content ideas engage with what their audiences are actually interested in. For tech readers, that means a history of how far we’ve come with technology (while also highlighting how advanced the new phone model is). Whereas beauty and lifestyle readers now have a tutorial for how to use a product better. This is a much more compelling approach to branded content than simply listing a series of features and benefits.
2. Do: Use Audience Personas. Don't: Substitute Buyer Personas for Audience Personas
Plenty of brands make the mistake of substituting their buyer personas for their audience personas by assuming that they are one in the same. Hint: they don't have to be. In fact, they may be very different.
That’s why you need to create distinctive buyer and audience personas. What are the demographic and psychographic characteristics of your target audience? Which publications do they read, and what kind of language do they use? What types of topics would they be most interested in? These are the types of questions every brand should ask before content creation even begins. Otherwise, brands would be creating content for content’s sake.
When brands nail content strategy and understand their audiences, they create better-tailored stories. Whether you’re going for breadth or depth, nailing your target audience is key. There’s certainly no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to content creation.
3. Do: Work with Third Party Publishers. Don't: Choose Any Old Publisher
If you nailed your audience personas, then narrowing down candidate publishers should be a breeze. Your target audience should exhibit the same traits as the readers of the publication in question, and the branded content piece that you're writing shouldn’t stray too far from the typical type of content found on the publisher’s site. A mismatch between brand and publisher won’t benefit either party, and oftentimes results in a loss of integrity on the part of the publisher and increased mistrust for the brand.
Bottom line: If you’re paying to place content or commission branded content by a third-party publisher’s editorial team, the publisher needs to be a clear and obvious fit for your brand.
4. Do: Consider Sponsoring Content. Don't: Sponsor Just Anything
Slapping a logo onto a story doesn't make for good branded content.
A forced tie-in between brand and content also does the brand no good in generating more awareness and positive association. Without pointing any fingers, there are many instances of readers breezing through a lowbrow listicle, only to discover that it was sponsored by a brand that had absolutely no business being associated with the content. Plus, it’s more likely to make readers angry and mistrustful of branded content. There are better ways to paint a brand as fun and whimsical without arbitrarily associating it with content that has no relevance to its products, services or even industry.
5. Do: Invest in Content Marketing for the Long-Term. Don't: Stop Content Marketing After a Month
Finally, brands need to start thinking of content marketing as an ongoing effort rather than a short-lived one-off.
Most “branded” content campaigns end suddenly after only one or two paid story placements—but they shouldn't. The brands that excel at content marketing put in the time to create owned media (not just paid). They view their initiatives as a long-term investment and continually revisit past efforts to learn from and replicate success.
At the end of the day, producing branded content should be no different than producing great content in general. Whether it's creating a full-scale publication or running a modest blog, brands should treat content marketing as an important and worthwhile endeavor.