What is branded content exactly?

If a brand funds a piece of content that makes no reference to the brand – is that branded content?

If a fan creates a video about Star Wars – is that branded content? What happens if Lucas Films uses or endorses this piece of content? Does that change things?

These were some of the issues we grappled with at a recent meeting of academics from the Branded Content Network, hosted at the University of Bournemouth. Yes, the semantics and definition of branded content were a big part of the session.

The Branded Content Association provided a very helpful definition for discussion:

“Branded content is any output that is fully or partially funded or endorsed by the legal owner of the brand which promotes the owner’s brand values, and makes audiences choose to engage with the brand based on a pull logic due to entertainment, information and/or education value.”

I was lucky to be able to present my observations from the ‘front-line of Content Marketing’ to the group to hopefully aid the work of the group.

Haven’t we always been doing content?

Yes. Back in my PR days we wrote advertorials, adverts that are thinly veiled as pieces of editorial content. That is, by the definition above, branded content. These days we also talk about content syndication. Using technology such as Outbrain we are able to serve up long-form content on premium sites based on demographics and interests. This type of content is very useful for top of the funnel engagement, where you can use content to attract new prospects. So in a sense, nothing has changed other than the targeting and delivery channel.

I thought branded content meant the end of interruption marketing…

Some of us thought that content marketing and inbound marketing were going to create a different type of relationship with the customers, a different type of marketing, and we’re going to end the constant interruption of advertising. There’s a big problem with this, as you can create lots and lots of content, but you still face the issue of getting it in front of your target audience, and actually, that brings you back to a media argument again. Even if your content is not trying to sell the product directly, we still need to get it in front of the right people at the right time.

Data and robo-marketing.

Many people talk about content being a paradigm shift in marketing. I don’t think it is. I think the big shift is in data and technology. With marketing automation technology, marketers are delivering content in a more personalised way to the target audience based on behaviour. We are entering an era of data-driven content. For example, take a Facebook advert with exactly the same type of audience targeting but with two different creative treatments. The Facebook algorithm is going to decide which one the audience likes the best through the relevancy score. So the data tells us what is the best creative, rather than leaving it to the subjective whim of the creative director!

Why B2B is the sleeping giant of content marketing.

I think the sleeping giant of content marketing is in the business-to-business space. The reason it’s really powerful, and they’re waking up to it, is the way that they sell it has changed. If I’m a B2B customer, I’m 60% -70% through my decision about who I’m going to buy from before I call a salesperson up. That’s because I’ve done all significant online research to narrow down my options. The implication is that sales guys can’t just sit there and wait for things to happen. They need to be creating content and going out there and influencing the conversation.

From branded content to brand experiences.

Final thing, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a BBD client, is moving beyond branded content into the concept of branded experiences. This isn’t just an experiential kind of stunt. The have created an event called Sandstorm which is a tough-mudder style endurance event. This is about creating an event that will position the RNLI in a different way to a new audience and raise money in the process.

Want to give your branded content a boost? Need help to get the content out into the right spaces and places? Get in contact: moc.yadeulbthgirbnull@siwel.mada