6 reasons why you need branded content now

Trust and attention are precious commodities. Quality branded content earns you both.

Eric Brandner
Feb 27 · 6 min read
Four out of four headless stock photo models agree that a balanced marketing strategy that includes branded content is your best option.

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. Here are six reasons why.

1. Trust

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.

2. Audience retention

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 this 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.)

We’re not sure why there needs to be a water cooler in the corner of this stock photo, either. Just go with it.

3. 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 starts converting some of your customers into true believers. And that means …

4. 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 it’s 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.

5. 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.

While most of your audience doesn’t travel with speaking bubbles, they WILL engage with the high-quality branded content you create.

6. Why just create FOMO for your product when you can do it for your entire brand?

Exclusivity and superior quality will always 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 — whether through you or not — and create communities centered around your brand where everyone benefits. Exclusive content, contests, private events where tips, insights or even celebrity encounters can be delivered exclusively to your true believers, rewarding them for their loyalty and increasing 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?


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The Creative Lab @McClatchy is a leader in branded content storytelling. Give us a shout on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram or reach out directly at creativelabmc.com/contact.

Creative Lab

The best of branded content from the Creative Lab @ McClatchy

Eric Brandner

Written by

Now: General manager @CreativeLabMC. Previously: @the_USO. Story guy. Recovering newspaper editor. Content strategy. @NUFC supporter. Affable fella.

Creative Lab

The best of branded content from the Creative Lab @ McClatchy

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