What I learned from creating branded content with Google, Buzzfeed and Facebook.

I’ve spent the last few years working as the Director of Communications for one of the top online retailers of diamonds, engagement rings, and bridal jewelry, JamesAllen.com. In our efforts to create clutter-breaking, engaging content for millennials, I’ve had the chance to work together with some of the best content creators and distributors out there — Google, Buzzfeed and Facebook.

The media landscape is changing. Where once the content ideation and creation were entirely separate from the distribution of that content, today’s distribution players are jumping into the creation game, leveraging their unique understanding of the audience to shape the content and increase it’s likelihood of effectiveness for brands.

As a result of creating multiple pieces of branded content together with these big name media partners, I’ve gathered together some of my top tips for consumer brands looking to make the most of their marketing dollars within these ever-changing media dynamics.

1. The concept is king

Gather together the sharpest minds from some of the top media companies in the world, pour in huge sums of money and pull in big celebrity names. Guaranteed content win, right? Wrong. Those are great ingredients and truth be told, they will increase your odds of a worthwhile marketing investment, but if you don’t have a strong concept to back it all up and give it meaning, it’s going to show. And more than that, it’s not going to convert.

Don’t settle for a concept that doesn’t feel fully baked or feels superficial. Push until you land on the right concept. You’ll know it when you hear it. That’s exactly what happened with the video below that we produced together with Google. We had been listening to creative pitches from agency after agency and nothing gave us that ‘Aha!’ moment. After hearing us complain about this for months, Google — one of our largest performance marketing channels — came to us wanting to throw an idea into the ring. Sure enough, the second we heard the concept we knew it would be a hit.

How Do You Know If A Girl Loves Her Diamond Ring? // Presented by JamesAllen.com

The concept is memorable, relatable, and humorous. Both the short and long version of this video have amassed over 5M views on YouTube. Prioritizing the concept paid off in a big way.

2. Arm yourself with consumer insights

Whether a piece of content is good or bad is quite subjective, and oftentimes we’re not the best judge as we’re too close to our own product. To ensure that your content strikes a cord with your audience, come armed to the concept discussions with consumer insights.

For example, we tracked the top informational searches on Google for our category, and developed a series of videos to answer those questions. We worked together with an influencer with klout in the world of engagements and proposals and served these ads as part of our broader remarketing efforts.

These videos weren’t created in a bubble. We started with clear consumer insights. In the case of the video below, we saw that many people were searching Google for ways to tell that the diamond they were looking at was real and they weren’t going to get scammed. This video helps to directly answer that question in an entertaining way while weaving in our proof points.

How to Spot a Real Diamond from a Fake // Presented by JamesAllen.com

3. Start at the end

At the end of the day, you have a limited marketing budget. Whether that’s $500 or $5M, you need to make your dollars work. Before you get too far into the content creation process, it’s important to consider where and how this content will be distributed. What platforms will you utilize? Any specific length or format requirements to consider? Will it be viewed with or without sound? Will your audience be actively searching for this content or will it be a forced view? All of these questions should be considered at the beginning of this process, not the end.

4. Consider the full funnel

In the case of James Allen, our industry sale cycle is quite long. The average person takes approximately 3–4 months from the moment they decide they are ready to get engaged to the day they actually purchase the ring. Over the course of those 3–4 months, we interact with them a tremendous amount of times. In the beginning we may be talking to them more about the values of online. As they move further down the funnel we start to talk to them about why our company is superior, how to choose the right ring, diamond education, credibility-building points, etc.

Every piece of content we create needs to be placed along that funnel. It needs to earn it’s spot and provide something that our existing pieces of content do not. It needs to address the audience at exactly that stage of their journey. Chances are, if you’ve been researching engagement rings for two months already, a video that addresses how to find her ring size would be more valuable to you than a broad branding video.

5. Brand recall is everything

U.S. adults spent 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media in the first quarter of 2016. Whether that’s organic or branded — well, that line is very hard to spot these days. I’m currently reading Start with Why by Simon Sinek. In his book, he references that episode on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in 2004 in which she famously gave away a car to every member of her audience. To this day, we can all hear her exclaiming ‘You get a car! You get a car!’ Now for the million dollar question — anyone remember the car company? Chances are you don’t. It was Pontiac who invested almost $8M in that giveaway, yet the investment never paid out for them.

Let’s go back to your piece of content for a minute. It may be good. Great, even. And it may be memorable, if you’re lucky. But more than that, it has to be memorable as yours. The audience has to remember your brand well beyond the end of your video and it’s your job to think about all the ways that you can guarantee this.

6. Consider a clear call to action

You’ve entertained them with your content and you’ve left a lasting impression of who your brand is. But don’t stop there — drive a clear call to action. This should be considered both in the video’s concept as well as your tactical execution of the concept.

For a great example of a clear CTA built into the concept, take a look at our co-branded video below, created together with Buzzfeed. The concept here was simple — girls want to be surprised with exactly what they want and guys are often left feeling clueless and overwhelmed. We wanted to see what would happen when we challenged guys to design their partner’s dream engagement ring, then compare it with what she actually wants. We dubbed this the ‘Engagement Ring Challenge.’

Couples Take The Engagement Ring Challenge // Presented by BuzzFeed and JamesAllen.com

A call to action is not only present in the video, it is the video. Within the first few days of this going live, we saw a triple digit increase in traffic to our site, some seriously impressive engagement stats on the site itself, plus tons of online social chatter with people tagging their SO’s and calling on them to take the challenge.

Regardless of your concept, you should also be thinking about tactical ways to include a clear call to action. Take a quick look again at this video, but just the ending:

How Do You Know If A Girl Loves Her Diamond Ring? // Presented by JamesAllen.com

It directs you very clearly to our site to design your own engagement ring, going so far as to show (both visually and with audio) how to find us online.

And on that note, here’s my own call to action…

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Have other tips for creating super fantastic video content?

Send them my way at shannondelany@gmail.com and keep in touch on Instagram.