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Building Breakthrough Branded Content

  • Matt Molino
  • June 03, 2021

More than 15 million views were racked up during #2KFest, as people all over the world tuned in to the first-of-its-kind virtual experience. The 24-hour global livestream event hyped fans up for the upcoming launch of NBA 2K21, with content featuring NBA stars, musical talent, and cultural icons entertaining audiences, driving engagement, and generating sales. The campaign was a massive win.

From #2KFest to YETI’s Stories, well-produced content across creative channels can be a cornerstone in shaping consumer opinion and has increasingly become an integral part of the larger brand marketing ecosystem. When it’s done right, it is a dominant driver of “brand recall and brand lift.” Instead, brand partners often spend massive amounts of money, energy, political capital, and, most importantly, time to produce a single piece of content for all platforms, only for it to end up being untimely, irrelevant, and impersonal.

Luckily, the rules of the game are changing. Brands that want to be successful in the new media landscape will have to abandon traditional perspectives and approach content development differently. It’s no longer about matching luggage. The key behind an effective content strategy is having the right understanding of what branded content is, focusing on experience, impact, and connection, and delivering it all at the speed of culture and in the right places.

The Value Your Audience Wants

Understanding branded content starts with focusing on the driver behind its success: the audience.

We all know that consumers are savvier and more in touch with what a brand is trying to share with them. They’ve become “banner blind” and have perfected the skill of ignoring advertisements that disrupt their daily lives and provide no value.

Ironically, the trick to bypassing these defenses is to not be tricky at all. Clear, authentic, and honest messaging is the foundation of effective content. It’s how you establish and keep the trust of your consumers. With that in mind, you can then provide value through the content itself by delivering your message in a way that is non-invasive, entertaining, and contributive to the audience’s lives — all while enlisting the right authentic talent or spokespeople to help do so.

Don’t treat the content as a soapbox to shout your core brand messages from. Explore how your brand — your product or service — can contribute to your customers’ lives, communities, or cultures. Show it to them through honest actions and share that story in a way that not only illustrates your brand’s unique voice but is genuinely beneficial and entertaining.

Moving At The Speed Of Culture

Creating lean-in content that is truly entertaining and unique requires moving at the speed of culture to maintain relevancy and brand authenticity. Ever-changing values and the constant news cycle present challenges, but with any challenge comes opportunity and, in this case, one to connect directly with the most important audience: the engaged.

For example, Stella Artois’s holiday campaign understood the pain of a pandemic holiday season and sought to soothe it through a celebration of family and traditions. Released right on time in early December, “Stella Reignites a Family Tradition” made a deep connection with its audience by sharing the story of the Martinez family, who were rekindling their cultural tradition of making tamales.

For example, Tanqueray recently launched their Sevilla Orange product nationwide in time to capture the excitement of the upcoming summer season. The content series features pop-culture icon Joe Jonas as a “not-so-average” weatherman predicting “Sunshine In a Glass.” The comedic content not only leveraged Joe’s audience and showcased his creative talents but captured the nostalgia of socializing outdoors while keeping the brand front and center. The content quickly drew buzz across earned and social media.

It’s not just about being able to keep a pulse on cultural developments and trends. Moving at the speed of culture requires a readiness to move and the ability to move quickly. This means being willing (with the proper guidelines, of course) to hand your brand over to the relevant artists, talent, and creators to work their magic, as well as having an agile team of diverse experts that represent the culture you’re trying to reach and can provide astute insights.

Being Where The Action Is

Branded content works because it goes beyond being an advertisement and puts you directly in the middle of the action with your audience. The trick is to utilize all kinds of formats and mediums that your audience enjoys, from podcasts and films to influencer work and brand documentaries. It’s asking: How can we communicate our unique message in a way that the consumer wants to consume, experience, and share with others? How does that differ from place to place?

Created content should be specific to the platforms that your audience lives on so that once they do encounter it, it’s easy for them to lean into the content, experience the benefits, and be compelled to commit to a clear, impactful call-to-action.

At the end of the day, branded content is about creating something that people actually care about. It’s effectively delivering content that entertains, improves their lives, or inspires them to be a part of something bigger. Doing so does more than just drive engagement or boost sales. It brings a brand to life.|

Matt Molino
EVP, Strategy & Communications