Branded content is the name of the game. In fact, The Drum recently hosted a panel discussion in London, titled ‘Branded content’. It was informative and inspiring, and it spurred us to delve further into the matter. So, here’s our attempt to capture the true nature of branded content.
Free to Partake
Let’s start with an example. Wild Country and EPIC TV are both outdoor equipment companies that host their own online video channels. The videos feature everything from famous mountaineering ascents, through weekly outdoor news, all the way to technical guides for beginner rock climbers.
Both businesses make the brunt of their living by selling quality outdoor equipment. Yet, access to their informative online content does not depend on whether visitors make a purchase or not. The content is there for all to see.
That is branded content.
Branded Content Defined
To cover all the bases, we also have the official definition at our fingertips. The Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA) defines branded content as,
…any output fully/partly funded or at least endorsed by the legal owner of the brand which promotes the owner’s brand values, and makes audiences choose to engage with the brand based on a pull logic due to its entertainment, information and/or education value.
As it often happens, the important thing here is what’s not being said. Namely, that people frequently think about branded content as yet another sales pitch. But there’s a reason why the BCMA doesn’t define branded content in such a way.
No, branded content isn’t disguised advertisement. In fact, if it is exposure and immediate conversion you’re after, then there’s a bevy of classic advertisement tools available.
Instead, think of branded content as a means to improve the quality of the conversation that takes place between organisations and consumers.
Now We’re Talking
The real operative word here is conversation. Because communication between consumers and organisations hasn’t always been a two-way street. But that is slowly changing, and recent marketing history shows us how.
Marketing textbooks like to distinguish neatly separated eras. They will tell you that early 20th century Production Era was focused on finding the best ways of getting products off the assembly line, whereas the ensuing Sales Era homed in on reducing warehouse inventory. Most importantly, in both periods, customers’ wishes and wants were largely ignored.
Eventually, our modern economies segued into the so-called Relationship Era where customers’ desires were surveyed and closely measured. Ultimately, customer satisfaction became the touchstone for success, and businesses were finally compelled to hear people out.
It seems that while business supply dictated demand initially, customer demand eventually began dictating supply. Either way, consumers and organisations are yet to have a reciprocal, two-way conversation.
If You Say Something, Say Something
But in today’s Attention Economy, where business success is measured in the number of attracted eyeballs, branded content offers a sophisticated remedy.
First off, branded content enables organisations to speak to consumers without making them feel like they are being pressured into having to part with their money. Just think of our opening examples where consumers are free to partake of video content, without any strings attached.
Second, branded content offers a respite from the constant deluge of information in our modern times.
How does it do that?
By raising the bar. The requirements for producing high-quality content have become much more stringent. Branded content necessitates the fusion of artistic storytelling, journalistic integrity and academic rigor. But once you stand up to these standards, you enable your business to establish a healthy communication channel with consumers.
In an era of information overabundance, fake news and truthiness, quality content can really set you apart. While this isn’t a fully matured conversation yet, we are making remarkable headway.
Marketing With Fresh Eyes
When you start to see branded content as a conversational tool, rather than mistaking it for long-form advertisement, then the American Marketing Association’s definition of marketing also begins to make clear sense. They re-defined marketing in 2008 as,
…the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
As you read this carefully, you’ll notice that the definition beautifully encompasses branded content as well. Because marketing isn’t just about brand awareness anymore. Or market exposure. Or high conversion rates.
It’s about being a good listener and being a rich source of information. Marketing is about being a great partner in conversation, and branded content is perhaps the most effective way to get us there.