If you’re like us, you found it hard not to get sucked into this “Dear Kitten” video Purina and Buzzfeed created to launch a new wet cat food line. It had all the right elements: cute fluffy animals, humor, emotion, and most importantly — weaving great storytelling without clobbering the viewer with a brand message.


This video was a massive hit for Buzzfeed and launched a franchise that soon after spawned a Super Bowl commercial. It also wasn’t an accident — the campaign was co-created by Buzzfeed and a variety of brand strategists and researchers from Nestle’s Friskies brand — and was supported by a distribution plan that was precisely targeted and optimized to nurture viral audience growth.

Our research at SimpleReach shows that 10% of content drives 90% of all returns — meaning outcomes like “Dear Kitten” can have extraordinary impacts for a brand.

So what separates great branded content like this from videos or articles that end up in a content black hole, floating amongst the detritus of misbegotten memes and failed celebrity partnerships?

Over the last 7 years, we’ve seen a pattern emerge among brands and agencies that consistently hit the jackpot.

Here are five ways you can create a meaningful and successful branded content program:

1. Treat publishers as creative partners, not just execution outlets

Actively involve publishers in the creative brainstorming process — think of them as an essential third partner in the brand and agency creative process.

It’s a shared mission, and a team approach with different viewpoints and feedback mechanisms makes for better, more effective relationships. Equally important is building trust and communicating to ensure you’re on the same page on goals for defining success.

Remember: publishers know their audience and have the best data on what their readers like. Use it to your advantage.

2. Plan for measurement first  not just overall outcomes, but also for the nature of your campaign

Often, we make assumptions that measurement strategies used for other media formats can be used in branded content. But the reality is content is a unique medium that requires unique measurement.

To understand the value content is providing, make sure you have analytics set up to measure the full impact of your content, in all of its permutations.

If partners are going to be producing multiple format types, you’ll need them to properly tag each one, so you can understand performance by formatThe same goes for campaign themes and other qualitative characteristics. Marketers that closely monitor and measure these touchpoints can better assess the overall effectiveness of their campaigns.

3. Don’t just check the box on performance data

The great thing about content is the many ways it can be leveraged. Yet, without the right content analysis tools, you don’t have the ability to make predictions or take meaningful action against it. If you’re using a platform like SimpleReach, you get deep insights into content consumption, not just views or clicks. Unlike display or other formats, content generates detailed consumption data, which can be incredibly insightful.

For example, if you notice that engagement is higher on certain content themes, this can help inform future creative strategy, even if you’re not measuring brand lift down to the theme level. When you go deeper than traditional website metrics, you gain more insightful intelligence on what your audience is interested in.

4. Take full advantage of the audience you're building

A publisher can generate hundreds, thousands, or millions of readers who engage with the content, yet almost 100% of engagement is on channels not owned by your brand.

Imagine being able to drop pixels on partner sites to generate new, targetable audiences. Or having functionality for your marketing systems to receive behavioral data to connect content consumption with conversions. There is massive value in the hundreds of thousands of readers who have already engaged with your content and been exposed to your brand — you should activate and leverage them further.

5. Trust, but validate

Engaging with partners on a deeper creative level is important, but so is the ability to analyze program performance and benchmark it against comparable content. Publishers will give you performance reports as exports or decks, but working with a third party like SimpleReach, which captures all the granularity of the content data, ensures all metrics and performance are standardized.

This jives with the findings from a 2015 Forbes Insights report “Reaching the Right Audience: How Brands Are Using Audience Targeting in Digital Advertising.” Half the companies surveyed said they always validate that their display and digital video campaigns reach the right audience. Eighty-five percent said they expect the frequency with which they validate these campaigns to increase.

Putting it all together

Gathering and cleaning reporting data from your partners and social platforms is time-consuming. So is trying to identify partners, topics, themes, and formats performing below (or well above) expectations. You need a blueprint for developing a highly informed content program that gives you data measurement capabilities from the program level all the way down to a single article or video.

With the right data framework, you can easily build new, highly qualified, and targetable audiences. A platform that not only collects data, but analyzes campaign outcomes, identifies reproducible insights for future campaigns and enables you to adjust your strategy, is the difference between playing content roulette — and knowing where to place solid bets.

About the author:

Matt Levin is the VP of Marketing at SimpleReach.

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