What is branded content exactly and what is the deal with it? Well, read on to find out…
The range of products and services available in the world today is incredibly diverse. And within any group of similar products or services, there will be various brands positioning themselves towards different customer segments.
This presents a huge opportunity for differentiation in the way a brand communicates with their customers, and what strategies to pursue to grow and achieve better results.
This brings us to the art of branding, or positioning yourself to appeal to a specific niche.
The possibilities of branding for creative marketers are almost limitless. However, one strategy is often overlooked…
Let us introduce you to every marketer’s ace in the hole: branded content.
Table of Contents
What is branded content?
In a nutshell, branded content is content that is tightly connected to a certain brand.
Instead of listing all the advantages of the brand, like a conventional ad, branded content provides people with value through entertainment and experiences that have a strong connection with the brand.
The true purpose of branded content is to create a stronger association between the brand and the audience through appealing to people’s emotions.
This way branded content increases brand engagement and brand recall, which leads to a higher customer purchase intent.
Branded content doesn’t revolve around the brand’s products itself. It focuses on creating value whilst conveying the brand’s personality.
Along with creating a stronger association between the brand and the audience, branded content also tries to resonate with target customers on an emotional level.
Branded content can involve potential customers in various ways: providing entertainment, educational content, or inspiration and motivation, often depending on your brand’s personality.
Modern branded content is distributed through channels and formats such as infographics, videos, memes, podcasts, articles, storytelling, virtual reality, and often spread via social media.
Branded content can be the cornerstone of a holistic digital marketing strategy, as it connects the brand with potential customers in a subversive way that does not appear to directly sell.
Branded content has been around for a lot longer than the internet.
What is branded content in the case of Protect & Gamble? Well it’s one of their best ideas to produce a series of sponsored radio dramas in the 1930s. A fresh way to expose their target customer (housewives) to their products.
P&G understood that women enjoyed being entertained while taking care of their household chores.
P&G wanted to use the drama to advertise its soap, and so the radio dramas were strongly connected to these product ranges. Understanding this, the media soon started to call these radio shows soap operas.
Needless to say, this was a huge success and increased Protect & Gamble’s brand engagement and sales.
What is not branded content?
Now that you know about branded content, you might notice that the term is often used to describe other types of marketing such as standard advertising or product placement.
Clearly not everyone is always aware that all three are actually different from each other.
This is why we decided to shed a light on the three types and clear things out once and for all.
- Focus: conveys the values of the brand through branded messaging
- Appeals to emotion
- Create something memorable and meaningful that consumers will talk about
- Reminds consumers that the brand exists without forcing it on them
- “Providing entertainment, not interrupting it.”
- Advertisers have a say in the storyline
- Has to appear authentic and be entertaining
- Story relates to the values of the brand
Commercial ads contain explicit references to the product or its characteristics as opposed to branded content that attempts to communicate brand values..
- Focus: quality/features of the product
- Appeals to rationality
- To drive sales
- Convince people to buy the product
- Having all the attention on the product and the brand
Advertisers decide everything
Product placement appears across mediums such as social media and TV.
Contrary to branded content, product placement is achieved through the association of the product with the show or influencer they appear in/with. In this case the advertisers have less of a say in the narrative itself.
For example, programs like MasterChef promote cooking products and services by explicitly having the contestants use a specific brand during the competition.
Through this association, the product/service is associated with the brand values of the media/influencer with which they appear, and awareness is generated amongst their audience.
Similarly to branded content, product placement is a more subtle way of promoting a product, but advertisers have less control over the context within which their product appears.
- Build awareness of the product.
- Associate the brand with a certain value or persona.
- Advertisers have minimal control over the context
- Story is not related to the product
Does branded content work?
Branded content has grown to be generally more effective than many traditional marketing models, and it’s now a top-ranking marketing strategies.
According to the BCMA’s content scope study in 2019, companies increased their investment in branded content by 41%, making branded content is a growing trend.
But what’s behind this trend? The answer could lie in the phenomenon of ad fatigue.
Due to increasing ad fatigue, audiences appreciate branded content as a more subtle way to market a product instead of forcing it on them.
Ad fatigue is a phenomenon that comes from the saturation of the internet with advertising. It inevitably creates a feeling of irritation in the target audience, who then instinctively ignore the sales messages.
A recent study found that branded content had higher recall amongst those consumers surveyed, when compared to traditional, pre-roll video ads.
But how do we measure its success? There are some indicators we can rely on:
- Virality: the more your content is shared – through SoMe or word-of-mouth – the more people found your content valuable and worth sharing with other people;
- Impressions: it goes without saying that a high number of impressions or eyeballs on your content is synonymous with success;
- Feedback and interactions: triggering an emotional response often leads to comments or reposts. This provides insight into what your audience thinks about your branded content;
- Key Performance Indicators: KPIs are fundamental in determining whether your content is effective or needs improvements.
These indicators imply “a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives.”
A few indicators to take into consideration for example, are affinity and intent.
Importance of branded content
Branded content can be a critical component of a marketing strategy if you want a sustained relationship between the audience and the brand itself.
Thanks to branded content, people will start to look at the brand as a trusted source of information on topics related to your industry, rather than a mere retailer.
The emotional connection that this engenders improves the overall image and status of the brand, leading to an increase in brand loyalty and therefore sales.
As the customer becomes affectionate, they will stick to the brand, and will be less likely to switch to the competition. They might also suggest your brand to a friend!
Examples of branded content
Now that we know more about the topic, let’s take a look at some real-life branded content examples that have been proven successful.
Here is our list of businesses making branded content work for them:
Always – “Like a girl”
A more recent example of branded content is the Always campaign “Like a girl.”
This is one of the examples of branded content because the video does not focus on the product. Instead, Always produced a video where girls would be asked what “like a girl” meant to them.
What did Always discover? That puberty had a major influence on a girl’s confidence.
Always messaging was clear: they want to be an advocate for women and promote values such as female empowerment, confidence, and standing up to stereotypes, much more than making their product central to the commercial.
It just so happens that the women and girls they were championing were also their target customers, making this branded content uniquely tailored to engage with them.
The LEGO Movie
The LEGO Movie is the perfect example of branded entertainment. The Danish toy manufacturer inspired thousands of small kids (as well as an audience of all ages) with the release of an animated movie starring the famous LEGO characters.
This could qualify as one of the best branded content as Lego managed to entertain people with a good storyline and without ever explicitly referring to the characteristics of the product itself.
On top of this, the movie received a very positive response from its audience and sales jumped 14% accordingly.
Google Digital Academy
As part of the best branded content examples, Google really hit the mark with its selection of free, online courses. The Google Digital Academy helps users learn how to use various digital marketing tools such as Google Analytics and Google Ad Manager.
The courses consist of a series of videos. Throughout the series, users take quick quizzes to check their understanding.
At the end of the course, users take a test. If they pass, they earn a certificate that proves they are proficient in a particular skill/tool. This certificate can be shared on LinkedIn and signals to potential employers that a user’s skills have been verified by Google.
This way, Google makes sure that people get acquainted with its tools. This encourages users to prefer Google products over the competition due to their familiarity. At the same time, Google provides value for users in the form of knowledge and validation.
Over the past few years Red Bull has sponsored and organized several large-scale events. Several events could thus fit in these best branded content examples.
However, none had as great of an impact as Felix Baumgarter’s famous free-fall broadcast, Jumping From Space! – Red Bull Space Dive.
The event was a huge success and went viral on social media before the actual event even occurred. On YouTube, the clip has more than 83 million views!
If we were to describe the Red Bull brand in 2 words, we would use courage and adventure. By sponsoring extreme sports events such as this, one of Red Bull’s branded content ideas is to successfully associate themselves with the enthusiasm and desire to conquer the world.
Vogue – Open Minded
In May 2021 Vogue’s branded content was launched with the Youtube series “Open Minded” where supermodel Kendall Jenner opens up about anxiety, social media, panic attacks and her experiences with it.
The series comprises 4 episodes where Jenner talks about different topics relating to anxiety. We chose this show as part of the branded content examples given that Vogue’s intention is to entertain its audience while also showing the importance they attach to mental health.
LOVE BEATS MONEY – ING
The Dutch multinational bank, ING Group, released an advertisement that we classify in our list of branded content examples.
In their commercial ING asked the participants how much friendships are worth. In the clip you can see price cannot be put on relationships, this is also the message the bank wants to give.
Although they’re a bank, ING still cares more about human connection rather than money.
The video below is a very clever way to do branded content marketing given that it does not explicitly promote their brand but rather humanizes the company.
Should B2B use branded content?
Yes! But what is branded content in a B2B context?
Branded content is an efficient way for B2B companies to enhance their businesses.
Branded content contributes to the perception that the business is approachable and human, and this can inspire trust.
In fact, the use of branded content is widely adopted by B2B companies such as General Electric, WeWork, IBM or Cisco.
In the B2B market, the total number of potential customers is smaller, so it’s easier for engagement to be effective and long-lasting. Also, a whopping 39% of businesses’ purchase decisions are driven by brand.
Should B2C use branded content?
This has to be another big YES. The use of branded content in the B2C market is as common as it is important.
B2C market is typified by a high level of competition, making effective branded content marketing essential for a brand to stand out.
An example of a format that has worked brilliantly for a B2C company is Porsche’s interactive Formula E Unlocked video game.
Porsche used a branded video game to allow a wider range of consumers to explore Porsche’s products, drawing them closer to the brand. This branded content has generated a significant increase in engagement for Porsche, including on Twitch, a social media platform dedicated to gamers.
How do you create the best branded content? A 5-step guide
Branded content can be a game-changer for your marketing strategy, especially through its ability to achieve and build customer engagement.
If you want to find out how to stand out from the crowd then keep reading!
Here is our 5-step guide with some branded content ideas and tips for creating the best branded content!
1. Choose the value you want to convey
It is important to remember that you aren’t advertising your products/services when creating branded content meaning the core message is not related to the product’s characteristics..
What you should be doing instead is communicating a value that you want the audience to unconsciously identify with your brand.
So instead of promoting product features, focus on the emotions you want to trigger in people, or what positive connotations you want the audience to associate your brand with. See the Brand Archetypes below for inspiration.
Branded content can be based on a brand archetype which presents the brand’s values, behavior, and messages as a persona. This makes the brand more relatable which leads to the best branded content.
If you are struggling to define your strategy, get inspired by your audience through social media feedback.
A tip to make the values come across could be to take the audience on personal journeys. By inciting an emotional response, the audience feels closer to the business and makes them unconsciously identify with your brand.
People will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou
Airbnb did this in 2014 when they created a campaign that produced a strong and emotional response in potential customers. In this series of Youtube videos, we follow the stories of Airbnb hosts in New York City and how the platform has improved their lives. The videos chronicle how hosting has improved their lives.
The campaign was a huge success for Airbnb, and led to higher sales over the summer
2. Identify the right type of content for your goals
Have a plan for the kind of content you want to create.
Not everything is for everyone. Some formats and types of content might be perfect for certain brands, but may not align with your brand’s tone or messaging.
This is why we encourage quality to take precedence over quantity. Your branded content should be unique to your audience. Remember the Pareto principle: that 20% of your content will produce 80% of your results.
The best chance you have of producing significant gains across Key Performance Indicators is with well thought-out content.
To know what content is right for you, conduct a market analysis and research your competitors. This allows you to assess the content your brand will have to compete with.
You can also use social media to discover the type of content your target customers engage with the most.
3. Be original and keep it simple
The more unique the content, the more people will engage with it.
Branded content is all about giving people an unforgettable experience while communicating the value of your brand.
For your branded content to be memorable it is key to spark a voluntary and natural interest in the company.
Maintaining a simple and friendly tone will help keep your audience’s attention beyond the average attention span of around 8 seconds.
If you still need some extra help, you might want to take a look at the following tips by Neil Patel on How to Outsource Your Digital Marketing Efforts With a Small Budget.
4. Be real and relatable
It has been proven that real experiences and the words of testimonials help bring consumers together. Being vulnerable humanizes you as a brand.
Today more than ever there is a need for brand trust. Honesty plays a key role in building your brand and keeping customers engaged with it.
Above all other behaviors, consumers value the perception of honesty from brands in storytelling. This can be seen as a reaction to the idea that brands are often excessively positive in campaigns.
Moreover, people tend to trust the opinion of fellow consumers and tend to follow the recommendations of peers. Paying attention to transparency and letting your audience provide feedback on your content will increase loyalty.
An example of such a campaign came from KFC UK in 2017, when they openly acknowledged their mistakes in a humorous apology campaign.
The campaign highlighted KFC’s failure rather than it’s success. This endeared the brand to its audience, ultimately leading to an increase in brand perception following the mishap.
5. Make it shareable – maybe even viral
When people have an emotional reaction to something, they typically want to share it with people they know.
So, once you’ve created the branded content for your business, try to post it across social media. The more people you can reach, the more people can share your content!
Visual images that fit the values can strongly support your branded content strategy and make it more effective.
Exploiting popular memes has proved hugely successful for many brands on social media. However there are two kinds of people when it comes to memes: those who are amused, and those who are horrified.
Unfortunately, there is no secret formula for creating viral content, but the share button is certainly your springboard towards virality.
Branded content ideas
If you’re looking for some inspiration for your branded content, what follows is a list of some examples of branded content ideas.
How-to’s are interactive and easy to understand, thanks to their step-by-step-structure, and they’re usually made to help people solve some of their most common problems.
People are constantly searching for how-to’s, and consumers value the information they provide. This makes them highly shareable as people try to help their friends with similar problems.
This practical approach is very effective as it brings the potential consumers closer to your product/service while providing valuable information.
The internet is full of relevant examples, and how-to guides can be created for tasks ranging from the easily achievable to the extremely difficult.
For example, House Beautiful has published a how-to video guide explaining how to build an Ikea bed frame in 14 easy steps.
Take some inspiration from wikiHow – you might be surprised by what you find!
2. Free guides
This addition to the examples of branded content ideas has educational purposes.
Offering free downloadable guides can be a crucial step towards transforming potential clients into loyal customers, as people feel like you are sharing your secrets with them.
This allows your brand to be perceived as trustworthy and transparent.
We produced a free guide on Customer Perception, because it was something our audience wanted, that aligned with our business’ core competencies.
If you want to build trust by creating guides, it should be about something you have expert knowledge in because that will increase your credibility.
Social Media offers thousands of possibilities for branded content, including hashtags.
Creating a hashtag for your brand’s campaign is a good way to involve a lot of people and have them share your content.
For it to be branded content, you want to create a hashtag that touches upon a theme that stands close to your values as a company and not your product.
One example of this kind of branded content marketing is L’Oréal Paris’ #WorthSaying.
The purpose of this campaign was to empower women and give them a chance to open up about things that matter to them.
4. Case study
Conducting research that includes the values of your brand can be a subtle way to promote your brand.
Branded content through case studies are a way to look more professional as aswell as increasing the credibility of the brand.
Laying the focus on informing people makes the company seem less obsessed about profit and more active in the public’s interest.
A case study should include interesting results and a lot of visuals to increase the shareability of the content.
It is always a good idea for branded content marketing to organize contests to engage with your consumers… or is it?
Let’s take a look at a virtual contest that turned out to be one massive success, and one that, instead, ended up being a total fail.
In 2013, Eggo Waffles started a contest via social media, named “The Great Eggo Waffle Off”. Eggo invited its audience to get creative and submit their favorite recipes that used Eggo. The most voted-for recipe would win a cash prize of $5000.
The goal of this kind of branded content was to showcase Eggo’s versatility whilst letting consumers generate free content for the waffle company.
Two birds with one stone!
Many took part in the contest and engaged with Eggo on social media for voting – an overall success.
Contests are surely a powerful tool, but it is also risky business.
Giving this much freedom to your audience might backfire and turn out to be a total disaster! This is what happened to Durex and its SOS Condoms campaign.
Durex invited its audience on Facebook to select what city in the world should be the recipient of their brand-new idea, a service that would deliver emergency condoms to all couples in need in record times.
Unfortunately for Durex, voters never took the initiative seriously and the winning city ended up being Batman, a conservative city in Turkey.
Needless to say, SOS Condoms ended before having a chance of getting started.
So, be careful on how you handle this double-edged sword!
Infographic branded content is a powerful tool with a lot of viral potential (58% of marketers use some kind of infographics).
Here’s an example from LinkedIn Marketing Solutions – they help marketers to engage with potential customers through the LinkedIn platform.
LMS came up with the idea that creating a content strategy is just like the need for a balanced diet – we need a little bit of everything to be healthy.
The branded content marketing project allowed the audience to better understand the value LMS could provide them, whilst also being a fun visual that they could use in their own lives.
The infographic was widely shared amongst communities of professionals (LMS’ target audience), increasing awareness and intent for the brand.
7. Events / webinars
Direct interaction with your consumers and followers can be the way to go to optimise engagement and generate trust in your brand.
It doesn’t really matter if you organise in-person or online events (the latter have increased exponentially in number during COVID), hosting a webinar maximizes audience attendance.
What matters is showing your audience that you are always ready to teach them something new and relevant to your brand.
At Klint we are often organizing events – check out our LinkedIn page to keep up to date on our webinar calendar.
8. Social experiments
By conducting social experiments the brand seems more relatable and human. It shows that the company doesn’t only care about selling its products but also holdson to some core values.
One of the famous examples of branded content through social experiments is the before mentioned advertisement video “Like a girl” made by the brand Always.
How to market your branded content?
In order to get your branded content to lead to brand engagement and brand recognition, you need to close deals and get your content out there.
Branded content can be put out on different channels. Whether it’s through social media, on the radio, on tv or on a blog it needs to be accessible and engaging.
The results in terms of ROI can be unbelievable – and what’s crazy is that this is achieved simply by providing valuable content.
Although implementation of branded content marketing might take time to build a strong audience connection, the results are significantly more valuable than the short-term gains we observe when throwing money at generic ads.
In a world where people are constantly connected to the internet, most of us end up feeling exhausted by the constant overexposure to predictable – and sometimes lame – product advertisements.
The phenomenon known as ad fatigue makes it harder and harder to reach your target audience.
This is where branded content comes into play but what is branded content? Branded content meaning a more personal and subtle approach to advertisement, leads to extraordinary results without frustrating the audience.
Reaching your audience with branded content allows them to engage with your brand on a personal level, generating a feeling of closeness between the customer and the brand. This can create customer loyalty.
Through branded content, both you and your audience will obtain something valuable. Next to being entertained, the audience also gets emotional and educational content.
On the other hand, the business builds market presence, as well as increases brand recognition and attracts new customers.
It’s a win-win!