Join the conversation
Industry Voice

Branded Content Strategy: 8 Questions That Lead to Great Campaigns

  • Brett Hyman
  • March 22, 2021

Making great branded content is hard. With so much content — both branded and non-branded — competing for audiences’ attention, earning genuine engagement takes serious skill (and a little bit of luck). 

But when it’s done right, branded content can be highly effective, and even outperform traditional advertising.

So what’s the difference between a massive flop and a great branded content campaign? Through our experience producing winning branded content for major brands, we’ve learned that it usually comes down to asking the right questions before you start. 

Here are the 8 questions you need to ask while you’re strategizing a branded content campaign:

1. Why does this campaign need to exist?

Unlike traditional advertising, branded content doesn’t guarantee you a captive audience. That’s why creating something truly engaging is so important. 

But for content to be truly engaging, it has to have a reason for existing — and that reason has to go beyond selling a product.

Dig into the meaning you want to explore with your campaign. What’s it really about? Give your audience a compelling story they can’t look away from. 

Until you have the “why,” you can’t leave the concept stage of production. And you should continually be asking yourself why throughout the process, ensuring everything comes back to the core of why the campaign exists.

2. Am I acting like a tourist?

Platform selection is key for any branded content distribution strategy. But the No. 1 rule of distributing your content is that you should never bring “matching luggage” to different platforms. What works on one platform won’t work on another, and you’ll end up looking like a tourist. 

It’s just like traveling in the real world; if you want to fit in, you have to think like a local. So understand what the locals like — quality is in the eye of the beholder, after all.

For example, you may have a moving and beautifully produced short film that will be perfect for YouTube and earn great engagement. But that campaign format would never work on TikTok, even if it was trimmed to a vertical 15-second clip. 

One of the biggest branded content mistakes we see is brands producing a campaign that fits one platform best, and then trying to fit the same content into different formats after the fact. If you don’t bake the platform distribution into your pre-production process, your likelihood for cross-platform success goes way down. 

3. Should I serialize it? 

Many brands think of content campaigns as discrete entities. But some of the most successful branded content campaigns are actually several pieces of content. Think: video series, podcast series, live presentation/event series, and content that references earlier IP. 

There are many benefits to a branded content series — namely:

  • It allows you to see how the first piece performs so you can make tweaks and optimizations for the second (and third, and fourth) iteration.
  • It can help you build an audience of genuine fans.
  • It reduces costs and production time for subsequent content. 

So ask yourself, does your idea have the legs to extend to several pieces of content? If so, consider capitalizing on the benefits of serialization. 

4. Who am I really competing against?

Typically, when you’re brainstorming marketing initiatives, you’ll see what your competition is up to and try to beat them. 

But when it comes to branded content, you’re not competing against those guys — you’re competing against the entire internet for audience attention (no pressure). 

The bar is actually set by non-branded content — TV shows, viral videos, the news, people’s online communities — so you have to create something really special and unique to earn people’s attention. 

This is a really important concept to grasp, because it can mean the difference between creating a campaign that simply outperforms the competition and a campaign that outperforms your wildest expectations. 

5. Could anyone else tell this story?

This question is one of the best barometers for whether a concept is worth executing. 

Any brand can copy popular content, but these copycat campaigns rarely succeed. So before you decide to slap a branded hashtag on a TikTok challenge, you need to ask: what is it about my brand that makes it uniquely qualified to tell this story?  

In other words, don’t think of it as branded content — think of it as content that is your brand.

6. Am I giving my audience a reason to stick around?

Most branded content is distributed online, which is a double-edged sword: You can reach millions of people, but they’re always one tap or click away from leaving for greener pastures. 

So, yes, content must be engaging (obviously). But more than that, the entirety of the content must be engaging. 

Get down to the nuts and bolts: What’s happening at 1:25 of your video to keep folks engaged? 3:18? 6:34? If you can’t justify every timestamp, then you still have revisions to make. 

Pro tip: engagement isn’t always about the content itself. For example, in a livestream event we did for 2K, we offered free product redemption codes at intervals to give viewers an incentive to stay actively engaged. 

7. Am I measuring what matters?

When it comes to branded content, traditional media KPIs don’t always apply. Things like views are sometimes considered “vanity KPIs” — they show interest, but not engagement. 

The measurements that matter will vary per campaign and per platform. 

For example, you might measure indicators such as shares, bookmarks, comments, new followers, and length of time spent engaging with the content. You might also conduct sentiment analysis of the conversation surrounding the campaign.

Like the rest of your campaign, your KPIs must be customized to each platform and your unique goals.

8. What happens next?

So, you’ve gotten someone to engage with your branded content. Now what?

The best branded content campaigns roll seamlessly into a next step to keep the engagement fire lit. 

This may look like:

  • An invite to a future event
  • A product redemption or coupon code
  • A cliffhanger for the next episode of a branded video content series
  • A contest with results to be announced in the future

Engagement doesn’t end when your content does. Making your audience feel like they want to take action is the ultimate branded content secret sauce. 

Sounds complicated…

And it is. There’s an art and a science to creating great branded content. 

Luckily, partnering with an agency like NVE gives you access to the creators and scientists who can make your campaign great. Be sure to check out our Infographic: Branded Content Statistics 2021

Brett Hyman
President, Founder & CEO
I founded NVE Experience Agency with the guiding principle: "The right moment will transform someone forever.” When I am not leading a team of cross-industry experts in delivering transformative experiences, I am striving to be a cultural champion, a thought leader, and a social advocate.