Branded Content: Growth for Marketers and Media Companies

Branded Content: Growth for Marketers and Media Companies

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Branded Content: Growth for Marketers and Media Companies

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  • An Imperative for Brands

    Brands need branded content. They need it today to reach through the clutter and engage consumers; even more, they will need it to stay relevant tomorrow as competitors ramp up their own branded-content programs. Already we are seeing marketers as varied as Nike, Titleist, Red Bull, and Lenovo set the branded-content bar high in their respective categories. They are unlikely to rest on their laurels.

    There’s nothing stopping other brands from catching up and overtaking. And plenty of help is available. The expanding ecosystem of creative, distribution, publishing, and measurement companies continues to bring more players into the market, with more specialized skills and services. Traditional marketing agencies are active, but new entrants with purpose-built capabilities and technology have also made deep inroads.

    Smart marketers will recognize that the goal is not to kick out a few clever videos or ramp up an interactive campaign that generates buzz in the trade press. Brands need to build a capability that can perform over the long term, integrated with and supporting the broader marketing strategy. For this reason, marketers should learn to walk before they try to run.

    The Must-Haves

    We recommend that marketers follow these steps up the branded-content sophistication curve.

    • Clearly define the branded-content goals and strategy. A brand’s desired position with consumers and the goals of its marketing at each stage of the purchasing pathway should inform creative specifications and media strategy. A 2015 study found that only 27 percent of brands have a documented branded-content strategy.

    • Centralize creative expertise in a dedicated unit. Branded-content campaigns will differ from a company’s other marketing communications in both form and content. Centralization of content development expertise improves efficiency and quality and facilitates efficient adaptation of content across delivery channels. The same study showed that only 45 percent of brands have dedicated content units.

    • Allow editors to drive content development. Traditional content creators, rather than brand marketers and managers, are best equipped to meet consumers’ desire for authenticity.

    • Centralize media buying. Marketers should manage traditional and branded-content media purchases jointly with a centralized team to maximize negotiating power and scale efficiencies.

    • Measure and track ROI. The importance of measuring success against the right KPIs and having access to the necessary analytics and measurement tools will rise as branded-content budgets increase. Research indicates that only 23 percent of brands today successfully track ROI for branded content. (See “Setting Goals, Demonstrating Impact.”)

    • Invest in content storage and management tools. The growing volume of content generates operational complexity. Technology solutions can reduce the time spent on file management and help deploy content efficiently.


    Marketing departments often struggle to demonstrate the impact of content marketing. Research shows that less than a quarter of marketers in North America believe they are even barely successful at demonstrating content marketing’s impact. There are multiple reasons. Some of the most commonly cited: too many metrics to track, lack of skilled staff, no adequate measurement tools, and low levels of trust in the data itself. One inevitable result is corporate reluctance to devote more money to content marketing.

    To measure branded content more effectively, marketers need to augment their existing marketing measurement methods with new thinking, upgraded tools, and a stronger appreciation for what good measurement goals and progress monitoring can achieve. Here are seven steps that any company pursuing a branded-content strategy should consider.

    • Adopt a measurement mind-set. Ensure that the content-marketing team is ready, willing, and able to embrace accountability. Set self-enforcing guardrails that prevent investments in content marketing without an accompanying plan to measure a campaign’s effectiveness.

    • Specify the overall business goal at the outset. Unlike most traditional advertising, branded content plays a role beyond driving volume, sales, and profits. Other, nonfinancial outcomes, such as augmenting the customer experience or improving brand health, need to be defined and communicated before execution so everyone knows what the criteria are for success.

    • Track the right metrics. Based on the business goals, generate a long list of raw metrics that can be tracked. Then prune the list to include those metrics and KPIs that best reflect performance against the business goals.

    • Expand the analytical toolkit to link branded-content metrics to business goals. There are many measurement tools available to marketers today, including on-site A/B testing, marketing-mix models, digital attribution models, discrete-choice models, and customer analytics. Existing tools need to be adapted to measure the impact of branded content alongside other marketing efforts.

    • Speak a “common language.” Branded content’s contribution to the overall marketing strategy has to be viewed on an equal basis with the measured impact of other marketing efforts. Marketers need to agree on common metrics and calculations to enable apples-to-apples comparisons between marketing investments.

    • Find the root causes of success or failure. If something is not performing as expected, dig deep to understand why by analyzing creative content, messaging, platforms, reach, execution, and costs. Jettison what’s not working early on.

    • Turn insights into action. A company’s content-marketing success will depend on how well management is able to assess what worked and what didn’t and why—and to translate these insights into action. Content-​marketing metrics and measurement outcomes should form an integral part of the budget decision-making process. Set budgets based on desired impact. Make campaign alterations in real time. Learn from what doesn’t work; isolate areas for improvement to achieve greater impact next time.
    Building a Full Media-Support Capability

    Some brands that experience success with branded content may ultimately aspire to build their own standalone media business, allowing them to leverage brand loyalty with consumers and even create an additional revenue stream. These will be brands with widespread consumer followings and favorability; it is a strategy that can backfire for more controversial or polarizing brands, since branded content amplifies existing perceptions and reactions.

    Red Bull Media House provides one model. The company’s multiformat ecosystem includes content created expressly for multiple platforms—film, TV, the Web, mobile apps, music, magazines, and games. The results are hard to ignore. More than 500,000 unique visitors go to every day. Red Bulletin magazine has built a global circulation of more than 3 million readers a month. Some 72 million people follow the brand on social media. Individual content initiatives reach millions: the trailer for the documentary The Art of Flight recorded some 10 million views across various platforms. Red Bull generates revenue through ad sales, content licensing to other media purveyors, and direct sales to consumers of content such as books and DVDs.

    Branded content is big business that will get much bigger. For marketers and media companies it represents both a necessity and an opportunity.

    For marketers, the challenge is more complex. What content do they create? How do they create it? Which delivery platforms do they use, and in what combination? How does branded content fit within their broader marketing strategy?

    The challenge for media companies is subtler—but the stakes are no less high. Media companies have a clear set of assets they can extend to brands, including, critically, creative capabilities and audience trust. These advantages, which many media companies have spent decades building, can help brands meet their branded-content objectives and give media players an opportunity to profit in the process. But they must be treated with care, as consumer trust is fragile and can be quickly eroded.

    Experimentation and a test-and-learn approach will be key. For those that have yet to wade into the branded-content waters, the time to start is now—while consumers are still curious, the marketplace is taking shape, and there is room for anyone who wants to play.