Leapfrog Strategy Consulting co-founder Hamsini Shivakumar outlines the recipe for a successful branded content playbook for marketers and reminds them to separate their advertising strategy from their branded content strategy.
Branded content is not an advertisement in any other format. It has its own place in the communication mix.
Over the past six months, we’ve analyzed over 60 carefully selected branded content, often against its counterparts, and looked at video content (fictional stories, performance poems, stand-up comedy, and music videos) as well as digital series (comedy show, reality Show and home tour videos), websites (editorial page and repositories), influencer-controlled content (cooking videos and comedy bits) and offline content (cookbook).
Our conclusion: if branded content is created in its purest form without adulteration by promotional codes, it can find a permanent place for the brand in consumers’ lives. I have to make it clear; I don’t think advertising is “dead” and I don’t offer similar hyperbolic inferences. After working as an advertising planner for about 14 years, I experienced it up close and understood that it brings advantages that the world of brands and marketing cannot do without.
But what branded content can do by connecting to content that consumers see has an effect that advertising simply cannot. A challenge that is increasing for advertising as consumers become increasingly saturated with traditional brand communication, the aim of which is to “sell” products and services to them.
What should marketers trained in advertising principles consider when creating branded content for an upcoming project? Here are some key takeaways:
Content doesn’t have to be as straight forward as advertising, and this requires marketers to expand their thinking beyond the familiar:
Advertising is heavily codified and formatted, while branded content is not subject to such restrictions. Since one of the metrics for success is how well it merges with similar unbranded content, it can take any form and technique – provided the approach and style precedes it in the unbranded world. The novelty in the creation is not constrained by requirements for the visibility of the brand, restrictions on the airtime budget or even the moral / social guidelines of a publisher / network.
Your brand needs to act as a publisher, and this requires unlearning the marketer: this is as opposed to being an advertiser or sponsor. You can’t take elaborate product shots or focus the experience on the brand / product. It can’t feel like a badly disguised sale or like your brand trying to get its money’s worth by fitting into as many frames as possible.
As a content publisher, the brand’s job is to enable consumers to experience the socially and emotionally desired. Ask the following questions: Would your audience feel empowered if you joined a cultural debate and created a moving monologue to put into words how they felt? Would your audience be comfortable if you created a cute video to get them out of their daily routine for a moment? Would you be happy to see your favorite celebrity through a fresh lens?
If so, it is your brand’s job as a publisher to do all of this and more without saying anything about yourself or its agenda. Two brands that meet this requirement are Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk with the music video ‘Sang Rahiyo’ (above) and Asian Paints with the celebrity home tour series ‘Where the Heart Is’ (below). Both entertain while the branding remains subtle and the audience’s mood is paramount.
Brand content is a new tool in a brand’s communication mix. Hopefully it will find its own share of the budget over time as it becomes a must-have for brands, not a plus for brands. Marketers considering commissioning branded content should remember:
Branded content does NOT advertise in any other format. It is different and has its own reason for existence. Advertising and branded content are not like powder and liquid laundry detergent, just different forms of the same product. They are more like skin cleansers and skin creams, different products with different uses and benefits.
While the purpose of advertising is to “sell” in an entertaining way, the purpose of branded content is to “engage” with consumers and culture.
While advertising strengthens brand awareness and product preference, brand content forms the symbolic space in a culture that the brand wants to occupy and in which it wants to operate.
Advertising with the aim of sales and brand awareness / image building is included in the category. Branded content crosses the category boundary to enter the realm of culture.
To create effective branded content, marketers need to think like publishers and be open to the many creative ways there are to connect with their consumers. And join easily with the branding. This is a scary prospect, especially when ROI questions need to be answered.
But as we’ve found with many brilliant examples of branded content, there is a lot to be won for those who get it right.
Hamsini Shivakumar is the co-founder of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting