Society is obsessed with consuming and creating content—we simply can’t get enough of it. Every second, there is more content being produced than ever before. In a world where attention is the most valuable commodity, if you aren’t producing solid storytelling, it’s like shouting into the wind.
Enter branded content into the conversation.
There are so many articles written about taking the brand out of branded content. Yet, funnily enough, most aren’t written by brand marketers. They are written by people begging brand marketers to stop making branded content. So where does this leave the brand marketer in a world where content is supposedly king?
All too often brands look at branded content as a means to put themselves front and center, making it all about me, myself and I. As a result, the content feels like an elaborate and over-produced ad. Therein lies the problem: Brands look at branded content as the brand’s content, forgetting about the viewer.
As a result, brands are being told to simply sponsor the story, make it “brought to you by” or to appear only in the credits. Essentially, brands are being asked to sit on the sidelines and hold up a poster with their logo on it.
It shouldn’t be about removing the brand from the content but instead about providing a more meaningful role for the brand within the story. What that doesn’t mean is simply inserting the logo or product in the middle; that’s where things can go incredibly wrong.
To create a meaningful role, the brand/product must be critical to the story. This character must build the plot, push the narrative and add substance. For example, is the product the connection point between two strangers? Does the product enable a function to happen? Does the brand provide a unique point of view on a situation? When done correctly, if you were to remove the brand—or in this case, the character—the story should fall apart.
But above all, any story worth telling must be inherent to your brand’s DNA, the fabric of your past, present and future. Even the best-told story coming out of the wrong brand’s mouth will immediately seem disingenuous, and the internet will very quickly sniff you out. So, as a marketer, you must first ask yourself, “Is this a story that my brand can credibly tell?”
And believe it or not, there are some brands that not only create great content, but they also create great branded content. The role of the brand or product can have a multitude of rules. Ranging from a highly integrated character, such as Lego’s insanely successful Lego Movie, where an entire story is developed around the brand’s product to an online video where the product—in this case, a Heineken beer that acts as the connector between two people with very diverse points of view—to less integrated but just as meaningful that showcases the brand’s values coming to life, just as when Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black leveraged The New York Times to continue to shine a light on the struggles facing female inmates through a thought-provoking, interactive article that could only be written in partnership with the prison drama.
At the end of the day, branded content can’t only get the viewer to learn about your product. The best content keeps the consumer in mind, aiming to entertain, inspire or educate, whether the brand is there or not. Because, always and forever, good content will be good content.
Want to create a compelling user experience for your customers? User experience design is a journey, not a destination. Constantly iterate and improve or you'll fall behind.
Follow these five rules to make that happen.
Know Your Users
Before you can design a pleasing user experience, you need to know what users actually want. Unfortunately, many brands don’t do enough to understand their customers and how the business can meet their needs, says Jonathan Goldmacher, managing director for Valtech in New York.
“You need to start with the audience you’re serving,” he says. “Understand their lives intimately, the role your category and brand play in their lives, and the places where you have an opportunity to do things in an exceptionally better way. You also need to understand the business you’re in and what’s possible inside that environment.”
Look Beyond Your Category
You might be doing a fine job keeping up with other brands in your competitive set, but you also need to keep up with Amazon, Netflix and other digital startups.
“People bring their expectations from every category,” says Elephant vp Kevin Kearney. “You may be best in your category, but if you’re not thinking about where people’s expectations are going and what their needs are, someone will enter your category and meet those needs the way other brands do.”
But Don’t be a Copycat
There’s a long history of brands imitating other successful products. That’s a really dumb idea, says Charming Robot CEO Dan Maccarone, because that brand’s strategy and audience might be entirely different.
“A few years ago, every company would come to us and say, ‘Our homepage needs to look like Pinterest because Pinterest is successful,'” says Maccarone. “Well, maybe it’s successful for their strategy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your strategy. And just because someone else is doing it, doesn’t mean they’re doing it right.”
Go Where Your Customers Are
Brands spend millions trying to lure customers to their own sites, when they should focus on improving the customer experience across all platforms, says Linda Holliday, CEO of Citia.
“Most companies spend most of their money trying to drag attention back to their own website,” says Holliday. “If you’re Condé Nast and you want readers to have an extended experience with Vogue, it doesn’t matter whether it happens on the company website, YouTube or Instagram when the alternative is ‘not at all.'”
User experience design is a journey, not a destination. You need to keep constantly iterating and improving or you’ll fall behind.
“People don’t understand how much failure goes into every successful interface they see,” says Khoi Vinh, principal designer at Adobe. “They also don’t see how essential it is to continue to experiment with new ways of doing things to adapt to users’ changing habits. No UX design can stay fixed for very long; it needs to evolve with the user if brands want to stay relevant.”
By Dan Tynan | July 23, 2018
This story first appeared in the July 23, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine.