3 Simple Lessons in Branded Content

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As content marketing continues to dominate inbound marketing channels, branding has become a crucial component in helping quality content to stand out from the crowd.

Branding isn’t a recent phenomenon, and despite pop culture hype, it also pre-dates the Golden Age of advertising a la Mad Men (circa 1960s). The Michelin tire company was one of the first to leverage branded content in 1900, when it released a restaurant and hotel guide for travelers. Nearly 50 years later, Pan American Airlines unveiled the world’s first in-flight magazine.

But this was a different age. Although the principles of sound marketing and good business haven’t changed much (at their core), we live in a digital world where branding is no longer static. On a stage that is more populated by consumers than brand managers, brands are dynamic, palpable, and accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This puts most brand touchpoints outside the silo they once existed in. As information is more readily available, more pressure is placed on advertisers and marketers to produce creative means of conveying a consumption-based message without “interrupting” the experience of the intended consumer.

To bring this history lesson full-circle, this is accomplished most successfully by providing quality, branded content through multiple channels.

Social media and the age of sharing have changed the game. The modern day consumer is engaged; she has open lines of communication on all sides, talks with friends in Wisconsin, shares with co-workers, and engages multinational brands at the same time.

Brands can make the most of these opportunities to seamlessly become part of a consumer’s natural conversation by abiding by some simple, but key principles.

First, listen. The digital age provides unparalleled opportunity for marketing research. Before a brand even creates content, the decision makers need to have a fixed understanding of what people are discussing in the related markets, where they’re talking about those topics, and what factors can influence those consumers.

Second, target. You might hit some clay pigeons with a shotgun spray, but only precise and targeted shots will bring in the big game. It’s not enough to target consumers any more, however; brands need to focus on appealing to influencers. With the advent of digital influence measurement tools such as PeerIndex and Klout, this is a simple task.

Las Vegas hotels have been known to quietly check the Klout score of guests and offer free upgrades or amenities to those with a powerful score; those pleasantly surprised guests, in turn, share their positive experiences with their networks, over whom they wield powerful influence, and the hotels reap the rewards of the positive brand advocacy. Whether it’s reaching out to influential bloggers or giving perks to influential consumers, make sure you’re talking to an audience that will talk about you.

Third, understand the importance of tone. It’s no longer enough to be “clear” in your communications. Clarity isn’t what will make you stand out from the competition. In our new age, we’re inundated with messages, content, and distractions. We experience information overload on almost every topic.

However, we have become more refined at parsing through these messages and uncovering those that provide us with the most utility and that come through the noise of our chit-chatty landscape. To connect with your target audience and influencers, your content must clearly convey the essence of your brand, and it must demonstrate the fulfilling of a need.

So, conduct this short exercise: pick out a piece of content before you post it, read it over thoroughly, and ask yourself if it fulfills a need that your target audience has. Does it provide them with entertainment? Valuable information? The opportunity to win an all expenses paid trip for 2 to Cancun? Whatever your value-added proposition is, make it clear that your content is solving a problem for the consumer, even if that problem is boredom.

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