What in the world is branded content?
If you’re in the marketing, advertising, or entertainment world, you probably hear the phrase “branded content” thrown around more and more—but few really understand what it is.
Branded content is a blend of marketing, social connectivity, and (most importantly) storytelling. It approaches consumers on an emotional and personal level. Rather than urgently pushing a product on the consumer, branded content invites the audience into an experiential story. But why should you care? Why is branded content important? What’s the big deal?
The thing is, it’s not a new idea.
Branded content goes back to the 1930s and 40s when radio stations would tell stories and feature songs that used brand names.
What’s new is the wild west of this current digital age. There are so many platforms and mediums out there. So many stories to tell. And everyone is scrambling to figure out how to use them. From Facebook and Instagram stories to podcasts and apps; from YouTube and Netflix to AR and VR. It’s no longer enough to simply tell a story. The medium must be considered as well.
It’s no longer enough to simply tell a story. The medium must be considered as well.
This is what we call “the experience space.” The experience space is all of the channels on which the story will be told, used to connect the consumers to the brands. What is the story, and where are you going to tell it?
Focus on quality to rise above the noise
Our lives are overloaded with sensory information. When we go to the store, we see 32 options for ketchup and 50 different cuts of the same animal. In 2015, it was estimated that most people encountered 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day—and that was six years ago!
This means we need to be more innovative in the way we approach advertising. We need to focus on quality. This is right where branded content comes in. It tells a story first and foremost, and then it informs.
When it’s done well, it moves the audience towards a visceral reaction. It could be through humor, passion, intrigue, romance, or drama, but it should entertain and create an emotional response. After all—psychologically, our brains retain more information from a story rather than from a list of facts or statistics.
Advertising is still pertinent. People want to be informed, but they don’t want to be overwhelmed, and they definitely don’t want to be told what to do.
Focus on Selling the Concept
When you use branded content, you’re selling a concept, not the product. This means that the focus should be on the story, not on the product you’re trying to sell. The brand might pinpoint a problem and then offer a solution.
Case Study: Australian Metro
In 2013, the Australian Metro was having a problem with commuters absentmindedly stepping onto the train tracks, leading to a rise in public transportation related deaths. They needed to do something that would reach the younger audience they wanted.
What began as a light-hearted animated music video with a comedic spin about public train safety went on to reach 20 million views on YouTube and gain national coverage within one week. The video was wildly successful, and Metro trains found a 21% reduction in train station incidents.
They discovered that when you make quality content that is monetized, consumers would pay for it and want to view it. They learned that consumers were willing to pay up for good creative.
This piece didn’t simply address the problem. Any PSA could have done that. It entertained, creating a visceral audience reaction that enacted positive change. The message was shared in a creative and entertaining way.
Focus on empowering rather than selling
Two things should be kept in mind. First, creative has to connect to your brand. Second, the audience should be the hero. Empower the audience rather than selling the product.
An example of this is the #iAmSuperNatural campaign for Crème of Nature.
The #iAmSuperNatural campaign brought together Black women to showcase their talents and natural hair. It ended up becoming a viral project that celebrated passion, power, achievement, and beauty. It was on brand, and it was empowering.
Focus on an organizing idea to build from
To guide the process when creating branded content, it’s useful to have an organizing idea to build your story around. An organizing idea helps to strategically guide and organize the interaction between the consumers and the brand, even as the interaction takes place across different platforms.
“We find the organizing idea at the intersection of the brand strategy/purpose, the product function, and the consumer’s desires and needs. Taking these factors into account, you find the idea you can build your story around.”
~ Matthew Lopes, CEO
This in turn builds emotional connections to the brand and inspires behavior. As our founder and CEO, Matthew Lopes, says, “We find the organizing idea at the intersection of the brand strategy/purpose, the product function, and the consumer’s desires and needs. Taking these factors into account, you find the idea you can build your story around.”
It’s time to evolve the way we advertise. In a world that’s becoming increasingly overwhelmed, it’s time to rise above. It’s time to ask your brand some questions:
- What’s the story you want to tell, and what’s the best way to tell it?
- What’s the organizing idea?
- What’s the solution?
- What’s the experience space?
Good branded content creates a positive association between the brand and their audience without being too salesy. Great branded content might just change the world.