Branded Content

Four Simple Rules for Getting Started with Branded Content

Means Mark  pro photoMark Means is the VP, Director of Communications Planning at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Mark is a 20-year veteran of media planning.  He has worked for a solid cross-section of media agencies, including Maxus, PHD, MPG, Initiative, Media Edge and Mindshare.  His media experience runs the gamut from packaged goods to retail to automotive to financial to health.  You name it and he has most likely had experience in that business segment.

No matter how much disruption takes place in the media business, one thing holds true – People will pay attention to content that matters to them. On a media landscape where that continues to be true, it’s impossible for marketers to ignore the urge to become publishers themselves.  It’s not a new idea, but it’s still a relevant one.

While the demise of the thirty second TV spot continues to be espoused by industry pundits, it’s not quite reality.  There are numerous reasons and circumstances for push communications like TV commercials.

This is not to say the pundits are all wrong.  The demography of our country is changing along with media usage habits. The demand for immediate gratification of one’s needs, wants or desires will only continue to be the norm as it pertains to media.  I call this phenomenon the “Googleafication” of American media.

But how do marketers successfully adapt to the changes occurring and mix more pull elements into their communication campaigns?  Here are rules we follow when discussing Branded Content, with clients

Start with the Strategy

As with any other communication channel, Branded Content needs to be tethered to a brand’s marketing objective.  Many times in our industry, people get excited by the new bright and shiny concept (see 360 Communications, Programmatic Buying) and want to adopt it immediately, fearing they will be left behind by the competition.  A marketer can create a Facebook page, Pinterest boards, employ an army of bloggers to “talk up” a brand, have paid experts doing the chat show circuit on their behalf, PR pieces picked up by the local printed and broadcast news and or run advertorials in any and all relevant magazines.  In some instances, when the financial resources are available, all of these types of pull messages are running concurrently.  Unfortunately, they are not always running in concert.  Thus the brand’s voice is loud but not in tune.

Prior to creating anything, we must address the communication challenge at hand.  Any Branded Content recommendation has to be supported with solid strategic rationale.   In the case of a low-involvement CPG brand, for instance, consumers might think of your product category only in a time of need.  If influential bloggers can cost-effectively keep a brand top of mind with consumers, it may make strategic sense to recommend it.

State your position and get to the point

Content helps build a relationship between a brand and consumers.  A good story grabs a potential customer’s attention.  Think about how we make personal friends; many times shared experiences communicated via stories connect us to others. The same method can connect consumers and brands. A 2013 CMA study found 82% of those surveyed like “reading content from brands if it’s perceived as valuable”.

We recommend sharing content (stories) in digestible forms.  This means the story is provided in a transparent manner with no hard sell and is easily understood in a short period of time. Keep in mind that attention to even relevant material is often fleeting.  Think more in terms of a “Game of Thrones” comic book series versus an actual “Songs of Fire and Ice” novel (1000+ page work the hit series is based on).

Consumers will appreciate not just your story, but also the respect you’ve shown for their time. As marketers, we seek that appreciation and respect from those we like to interact with on a regular basis.

Stay True To Your Brand

Pepsi has done a wonderful job of creating a bridge with consumers (worldwide) via its “Beats of a Beautiful Game” (BBG) campaign. BBG takes advantage of the hysteria behind the 2014 World Cup by offering hip content from celebrities as well as original music mixes, all tied to the most widely-followed sporting event in the world. Most importantly, the entire effort has a look and feel that is indelibly Pepsi’s.

BBG’s content bridge allows users a multitude of ways to take part in the campaign via the Pepsi site, YouTube pages or even iTunes downloads.  Even with a huge volume of content, Pepsi has gone out of its way to ensure that each content piece can be quickly and easily consumed (just like a Pepsi Cola).

Content Marketing Platforms Are Amplifiers

Not even the best Content Marketing platform can make inferior content go viral.  That’s why marketers and agencies need to view them as amplifiers.  While it’s true that some of these platforms can get content placed on some of the top news, entertainment and information sites, they can’t make somebody engage with your story.  Following the other three rules won’t guarantee that your brand story becomes the next viral sensation, but it will give you your best shot at it.  Don’t be discouraged, but instead keep amplifying your owned and earned media.  With enough experimentation, some hits will emerge.

We hope that marketers can keep these four simple rules in mind when it comes to Branded Content, whether it’s their first cautious toe dip or a fully-blown Content Marketing effort


  • Hemali Lakhani

    Great read, thanks for the insight, like the bit on state your position and get to your point – there is great emphasis on brand storytelling, but some marketers are so long winded, it loses consumers attention. Recently Guinness launched their new spot during the World Cup – it ties to your example of Pepsi – an iconic brand that continues to do things right –
    Again well-written 🙂