It’s distinct, immature, still misunderstood. But if you’re fully invested, there’s a powerful business case.
As media of all kind enters a new era, branded content has pushed its way to the front of marketing conversations. There’s an influx of investment — and, in parallel, increased scrutiny on its impact.
Having been in the center of these conversations with lots of clients, we have a working sense on what’s unfolding and why content — through the lens of sustained brand publishing — is an essential new marketing competency.
Here’s a host of honest takes on what matters in branded content:
1) It’s editorially-based (but not journalism).
Let’s be clear— brand content is commercial content. But when produced with consumer value in mind and honest intent it’s still unquestionably an avenue for engagement.
Every brand has a depth of expertise and point-of-view that complements independent publishers covering the same space, in deep niches no single media outlet could profitably cover. The best brands commit to share that expertise — and don’t call it journalism.
2) It’s honest.
Branded content is powerful when it offers something of value. It doesn’t trick, alarm or manipulate the user in any way. Branded content masquerading as independent coverage is misleading.
The most adept brands think deeply about what they can credibly and consistently publish to — and don’t resort to bad ideas like this.
3) It’s anti-broadcast.
Successful publishing aligns with people’s needs, interests, identities and content platforms of choice. The context is everything.
The most common barrier is about reuse of broadcast-minded content. It’s critical to understand the nuances of each and what people will find interesting and insightful.
4) It’s distributed.
Winning is not about blindly filling in boxes on web or social media pages with brand content. Build it and they will come does not apply here.
Audience development practices from publishers apply to brands too — often requiring a mix of SEO, PR, paid, and email to get visibility, engagement and recurring visits to the work.
5) It’s institutional.
Moving brand publishing to the center of marketing is a change management exercise. Without a refreshed operating system — factoring in culture, talent, performance measures and processes — long-term value is dead on arrival.
A recent Accenture content marketing report claims less than one in five leaders believe they manage content well. Leadership is required to work on the model as much as what comes from it.
6) It’s collaborative.
Programs can’t be be delivered through talents that sit solely inside one company or agency. Too much innovation is happening in too many camps to say any single entity will do.
Impact might be delivered by a new dynamic production entity, CMS, distribution partner — or something that defies any category slot. Leaders invest to bring the best capabilities together — from inside their halls and out.
7) It’s measurable.
How you choose to measure content impact must happen early in the conversation.
Put aside standard “content” KPIs (page views, visits, unique visitors) for a moment and take the time to assess potential business ROI — like media efficiency, lead gen avenues, brand lift, and engagement across the customer journey. A business focus, backed by measurement, is the only way to make the case for sustained brand publishing investment.
8) It’s distinct.
Done right, brand publishing borrows from editorial, creative, analytical, production, digital marketing and media disciplines. It’s a blend of these specialties that leads to something new.
Whether driving through a brand or PR function, avoid the idea that it’s “just an extension of what we’ve always done.” The orchestration requires new thinking and an appetite for experimentation.
9) It’s powerful.
Doug Holt recently questioned the value of brand content in his Harvard Business Review cover story. He suggests that brands can’t win by trying to hijack social media audiences. And he’s right. Brands can win when they put credibility and service value over stunts and novelty. When you give people insights and power through your content, you can see returns.
10) It’s essential.
Some believe brand publishing is already a passing fad or that branded content is nothing new. But the reality is we’re just beginning. In the face of ad blocking and the power shift from publishers to social platforms, effective brand content will only become more essential to win in the hearts and minds of people critical to your business.
Chris Perry is Chief Digital Officer of Weber Shandwick and global chair of Mediaco, Weber Shandwick’s brand publishing arm.