Initially, what started as product placements in your favorite movies and TV shows — with characters conspicuously guzzling a particular brand of soda — has grown up into something much more sophisticated.
What is branded content?
Branded content is sometimes known as content marketing or sponsored content (or you may have heard it referred to as native advertising). Basically, all of these terms refer to marketing through the creation and distribution of unique, entertaining, or useful content.
Every blog post you write for your business, every Facebook update, every tweet is branded content. You are using the content you produce (the blog post, video, social media update, etc.) to market your business.
But the best branded content doesn’t feel like it’s selling you anything.
In fact, content marketing is all about increasing TOMA — top-of-mind awareness for your brand.
What does branded content look like?
The highest level of branded content is content that is so new, so useful, so revolutionary that it enhances the reputation of the brand producing it. Think Tim Ferris (4 Hour Workweek) or Seth Godin (Purple Cow).
It’s a bit like lightning in a bottle; it’s impossible to manufacture artificially.
Most branded content, then, is primarily aimed at entertainment, and most of the major brand communication you see online falls into this category (videos, contests, hashtags on Twitter, etc.).
The tricky part for brands is creating content that doesn’t look or feel like advertising. Effective branded content must be, first and foremost, entertaining for the audience; the fact that it helps market a business comes a distant second.
It’s an almost ineffable quality: when a brand is trying “too hard,” you know it. But when the brand focuses on creating content that is appealing to its customers/readers/followers, the cream automatically rises to the top.
A good example of this is the video (below) where Ron Burgundy interviews Peyton Manning on ESPN. (If you don’t know, Ron Burgundy is Will Ferrell’s character from the movie Anchorman and its upcoming sequel.)
The interview was funny and entertaining, but also a de facto advertisement for both Anchorman 2 and ESPN (and maybe even the Broncos).
And, people loved it. Here in Colorado, it made the local news sports segments—the kind of PR that most brands would kill for.
How can branded content work for your business?
The takeaway for small businesses that don’t have multi-million dollar budgets to spend on hiring Ron Burgundy to advertise their product is this: Keep thinking outside the box.
While the Custom Content Council estimates that nearly $44 billion will be spent on branded content this year there are many ways for small businesses to play in the branded content sandbox without breaking the bank. In fact, many of the most effective examples of branded content are done on a shoestring; they’re just unique enough to stand out.
Here are 5 suggestions to get your creative juices flowing:
1. Most simply, create a blog that is incredibly valuable. This can be one of the most effective ways to employ content marketing—either because of the outstanding quality of information you provide or because your content is entertaining.
2. Make a video “trailer” for your books or other products and put them online, like this trailer for Julie Klam’s You Had Me at Woof.
3. Create and give away something unusual that showcases your company’s talents. Stock-photo company Veer puts out an activity book (he image posted at the top of this blog) every year with games, puzzles, word-finds, etc. It’s super fun, but also covert marketing for their images, fonts, etc. A great model for creative companies.
4. Solicit and rebroadcast stories from your audience. A company that makes photo albums, for example, might ask people to share and tag photos. Or, a diaper company might ask you to share your most touching childhood memory about your mother. Simply by broadcasting those stories to your audience, your brand builds TOMA.
5. Produce a free checklist, workbook, or hand-out. This is a much better calling card than a pen or a keychain. Pens are out; content is in. Coach Megan Flatt, who helps moms achieve balance, made simple to-do list post-it note pads (with her URL on them, of course) that match her coaching style. This was a genius and creative giveaway for her audience.
What ideas have you used to support your brand? Please share them or brainstorm new ones below because I’d love to hear from you. Thanks! And here’s to your sweet success.