In its broadest definition, branded content is any content that helps support and promote a business’s brand, which is an image based on a unique selling benefit, a company’s expertise/authority or a feeling a business wants consumers to associate with the company or its product or service.
In this broad context, the term should actually be “brand content” which is then further defined by the method used to create and deliver the content (branded, sponsored, native, etc.). But, as brand content marketing is still in its infancy, you will often hear and read the term “branded content” used in this broad sense.
Narrow (New) Definition
In the newer, more narrow world of content marketing, “branded content” (vs. “brand content”) often refers to original content that resides on a business’s website, blog or other owned marketing materials, as opposed to marketing content that appears in second-party publications or websites. This created-and-owned content is also pushed out via tweets, Vines, Tumblr messages, YouTube videos, Instagrams, Flickr uploads, podcasts, Facebook posts, Pinterest pins and LinkedIn articles.
The business creates the content and owns it outright. The goal of the content is to establish the business as an expert in its field or the go-to product or service a target customer wants.
Sample blog post for DNA Diagnostics (click for larger view)
Two Ways to Brand Your Content
Companies use content not just to directly generate short-term sales, but also to maintain, strengthen or promote a brand, or image, in the minds of their target customers. They do this by providing content that either:
- Positions the company as an expert in its field
- Promotes the company and/or its products as interesting enough that the target customer wants to associate with it
#1 Product-Specific Branded Content
A product-specific branded content strategy involves creating content for target customers that helps the customers use the company’s product better, and/or helps customers in a specific pursuit related to the product or service.
For example, a paint company might provide branded content by educating homeowners about how to choose a color for an accent wall, how to properly remove wallpaper before painting or how to staining cabinets. This is an example of branded content specifically geared to customer use of a product or service.
Examples of Product-Specific Branded Content
Below are examples of businesses providing customers and potential customers with information directly related to the product or service the company sells.
The first three examples are true branded content, appearing on the companies’ websites. The final Baer’s example is a native ad appearing in the Orlando Sun-Sentinel (Note the disclaimer on this page). This same article could also appear on Baer’s website (without the disclaimer), but would reach a smaller audience.
#2 Customer-General Branded Content
One way to create a stronger bond with your customers is to NOT sell to them, overtly or otherwise. Our paint company might create content that teaches homeowners how choose the right decorative plants for a home, DIY tips on adding lighting to rooms, ideas for adding throw rugs as a design element in a room or ways to jazz up table settings. This positions the paint store as an overall expert in home décor and a paint company of choice.
Rather than providing information for homeowners on when to fertilize and seed, a landscape company might create general outdoor home and garden content for its customers. It could post content on its website about how to buy lawn furniture, make a bird feeder for children, shop for a barbecue or choose fencing. This positions the landscaper as an overall expert in keeping homes well maintained and livable, and a lawn care company of choice.
It might be easier to get customers back to your website or blog if you provide a variety of interesting content they want, rather than supplying them with an endless stream of articles on how to use your product or service. Two brands that took this approach are Michelob Ultra and Coca-Cola.
Michelob Ultra’s Lifestyle Brand Campaign
Michelob Ultra targets younger, active and social persons as its target customer. It wants those people to associate Michelob Ultra as the beer to drink when at a cookout, on a boat, watching the game or otherwise having fun.
Michelob created a stand-alone lifestyles website for its Ultra brand’s target customers. The site provided articles on fitness, nutrition, sports, health and other topics for people interested in a fun, active lifestyle. The site did NOT have beer-related articles, such as “How to Pick the Right Beer for a Cookout,” or “What’s the Difference Between Ale and Lager?”
I wrote the following titles for the site, using no information supplied or suggested by Michelob Ultra. I was given information about the program’s desired audience and program goals, but was my own, free to create content that would attract Ultra’s target audience. My articles included:
- Organizing Beach Volleyball
- Tennis Stretches and Exercises
- How to Buy Golf Clubs
- How to Get a Fit Body
- Tennis for the Weekend Warrior
- Golf Grip Techniques
- 7 Fitness Myths
- Keys to a Good Tennis Serve
- The Art of Putting
- Doubles Tennis 101
- Golf Techniques for the Beginner
As of March 2015, the Michelob Ultra website was gone. So much for that campaign.
Coca-Cola “Journey” Brand Campaign
Have you visited Coke’s website lately? It’s no longer an informational portal about the corporation for investors and business writers. It’s now a “journey” for consumers, providing a mix of content about music, sports, sustainability and Coke product history. You might find an article like “Special Olympics Athletes, Pro Shine in Unified Game” near “Coke Increases Focus on Women’s Empowerment in North America.” Or, can read about “5 Unlikely Hot Spots to Vacation This Winter” near “Cherry Coke Turns 30.”
Check out these articles for more information on Coke’s strategy and how it’s working:
Examples of Customer-General Branded Content
Below are examples of businesses providing customers and potential customers with information not directly related to using the product or service the company sells.
•Mobile Mini (storage container company): What’s Involved in a Retail Store Remodel?
•Dollar Days: Alibaba and the Billion Dollar Battle for Business Buying
•Aluminum Boat Guide: Booking Your Next Amazing Fishing Trip
•NextCare (urgent care centers): Moms Are Key to Preventing & Treating Flu
•Academy Sports (online retailer): 6 Tips for Making Youth Sports More Affordable
•Vectren Energy (Florida utility company): Choosing Energy Efficient Holiday Lights
•Art Stover Plumbing: Water Conservation Tips for Homeowners
The first three unlinked pieces of content above ran as blog posts on the companies’ websites. The next four unlinked pieces of content ran as native ads in newspapers. The final link is an example of a piece of content originally created as native advertising that appeared in a newspaper, and which now serves as branded content on the advertiser’s blog.
What is a Brand?
A brand is an image a company or product has based on its unique selling benefit. The unique selling benefit of many marketers has nothing to do with a product’s features, but is instead intended to sell an intangible feeling that attracts customers. Car buyers, for example, often start by looking for automobiles that provide one primary intangible feeling, such as safety, affordability, luxury or reliability. Carmakers create brands around these concepts, rather than based on the features of their cars.
Honda makes and sells Honda and Acura automobiles because it wants to sell cars to people who want reliable, affordable cars, and to people who want to buy luxury cars. One car won’t appeal to both audiences, so Honda has created two different brands to go after two different markets (types of car buyers). All of the marketing content Honda creates for each of these brands focuses first on their images. Marketing content can support an image with information about product’s features, but features are secondary to the main message: “What do you REALLY get when you buy from us?”
As defined by many content marketers, branded content is different from sponsored content or native advertising in that the content is created and owned by the business and used in the company’s own marketing materials and/or on its website.