The Branded Content Project, a partnership between the LMA, the Local Media Consortium and funded by the Facebook Journalism Project, recently released the first edition of a branded content guide for local media organizations.
What’s in the guide? The pages are filled with advice for those creating their first branded content initatives, those who are leading sales teams who have branded content in their toolbox, and those that are creating content for advertisers and looking for best practices and techniques. The articles in the guide are written by experts in the branded content space who have built impressive programs and are able to share strategies to help you navigate through this unique and sometimes complicated area of potential business. We’ve also included checklists geared toward sales, content and development to start and grow your initiatives.
Every few weeks, the branded content project will give you a snapshot of some of the expert advice you can find in the guide.
Your marketing team can’t do it all.
You invest in traditional and digital advertising while dedicating long hours to tweaking your strategy in hopes of boosting your return on investment. You do all this while trying to keep up with the latest trends and watching your budget like a miserly Disney villain.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a go-to tactic in your ever-changing media arsenal that’s both high-quality and enriches the lives of your core audience? Something you can deftly recycle without fear of the message going stale or engagement tapering off? You need branded content. And you need it now.
We get it. Branded content is a prime target when you have to cut 10 percent of your marketing budget. It’s not an easy tactic to execute well, either. And to top it off, these thoughtful, often multilayered storytelling campaigns designed to attract and educate your core audience usually don’t even include a revenue-producing call-to-action. On purpose.
But the risk is low compared to the potential reward. Eric Brandner, General Manager of Creative Lab @McClatchy has six reasons why.
Branded content is necessary specifically because it isn’t selling your audience. Branded content is sharing and teaching. You’re adding value to someone’s life. In many cases, you’re creating opportunities for your current and future customers to experience something that benefits them before buying your product or converting in some other way. And that engenders trust.
Don’t get us wrong. Ads are great. And you absolutely need them to sell your product. But branded content earns you fans. And you need fans to thrive in the long term.
A 2017 Time Inc. study showed roughly two out of three people polled trusted branded content more than ads. While that’s not shocking, the same pool of respondents went on to emphasize the creativity and alternative approaches that go into making quality branded content vs. advertising products are significant in that equation. That was especially true among younger respondents.
Your ad may be great, but it’s still an ad. You’re going to need to expose people to it over and over, hammering them with your message until you finally hook them. And does breaking your customer’s resolve sound like a great way to start a long-term relationship? Branded content, on the other hand, lets you create stories people remember. It lets you stretch your creative legs. Would you rather see 40 Lexus commercials or watch a spoof crime drama starring Colin Quinn and Seth Meyers? We’re not suggesting you need to choose one over the other. We’re saying you need both. And studies show you need fewer touch points for it to be effective. (A 2016 IPG/Forbes/Newhouse study showed brand recall was 59 percent higher on branded content compared to ads.)
You must stand out
Everyone makes ads. But you want to be remembered. The branded content retention points above are largely fueled by the unique ways the content is being presented. And as a marketer, attention is the scarcest of all the commodities you chase. Branded content gives you an opportunity to show why you’re different, taking chances you wouldn’t in your ads while telling great stories. It also takes a bit of the pressure off from figuring out how to translate a captivating piece into a sales pitch. Be honest, be different, and see how your genuine brand values and beliefs start converting some of your customers into true believers. And that means…
You need to share your purpose
Sure, you have a mission statement. But what does it look like in action? What stories embody those lofty words in your presentation decks? This matters more now more than ever. Why? Millennials — who have far more buying power now than five years ago when frustrated marketers were making fun of their idiosyncrasies — care a lot about how brands act, not just the products they sell. And this norm-breaking generation — the oldest of whom will turn 40 next year — is ascending to its eventual place as corporate America’s prime revenue base. Millennials want to engage with companies that are socially conscious. While the Nike sales boost after the Colin Kaepernick advertising campaign may be the risk-reward gold standard, several other brands are building affinity via branded content that supports causes they believe in. Take Patagonia’s relentless advocacy for environmental conservation or Dave’s Killer Bread’s work promoting second-chance employment for people with criminal backgrounds as examples of how it’s done.
You can expand your marketing funnel without disturbing your traditional base
Your ads are presumably fine-tuned conversion machines. Your data operation lets you target your customers on every channel and your communications team has tailored those messages toward strong engagement. Your customers remember your logo and know where to buy your product. And that’s all great when the economy is on solid ground. But it’s often not going to let you expand your message (with the long-term goal of converting new customers) beyond your traditional base. Branded content gives you a chance to talk about things your audience cares about without disrupting your other tested and trusted communication streams. And when’s the best time to expand your brand awareness and potential customer base? Right now, you say? Well, we agree.
Why just create F.O.M.O. for your product when you can do it for your entire brand?
Exclusivity and superior quality will always be great advantages for your products or services. But those ideas work for branded content, too. Branded content can capture and amplify the emotions behind the experiences your business creates. It can also take your audience’s shared experiences and create communities centered around your brand where everyone benefits. You can offer exclusive content, contests, and private events where tips, insights or even celebrity encounters can be delivered exclusively to your true believers. This rewards them for their loyalty and increases the chance they’ll evangelize on your behalf, whether it’s a social share (the least they could do) or word-of-mouth to their friends (still the gold standard). Why stop at turning your audience into customers when you can expend the extra effort to make them lifelong fans?
THE EXPERT: Eric Brandner – Creative Lab @ McClatchy
Eric has a decade of experience managing worldwide news and branded content teams. He joined the Creative Lab in February 2017 and assumed the general manager position in March 2018, helping the team boost sales significantly and win six industry awards for content during his first year at the helm. Before that, he was a director at the USO, one of America’s leading nonprofits. His team changed the way the USO told its story, earning millions of organic views on its branded content and winning 18 industry awards over a five-year span.
WHAT’S YOUR GAME PLAN?
Take a tour through the guide to get action plans, step-by-step instructions, advice and recommendations. And don’t forget to check out the checklists before you get started.
If you are taking your first step into branded content or giving your program a refresh, take a deeper look into our “DEVELOPING IT” section and hear from the following experts:
- 7 Tips for Creating a Successful Branded Content Initiative – Mike Mocklar – Mocklar Consulting
- Corporate Social Responsibility Matters: 5 reasons CSR should be considered as a branded content strategy – Rachel Watkins – Dallas Morning News
- 3 Reasons to Make Promotions Part of Your Branded Content Strategy – Liz Huff – Second Street