Over the past decade, brands have invested heavily in digital advertising formats like banner ads, ppc clicks, pre-roll ads and promoted posts across social media. These advertising mediums may be comfortable and familiar by now, but their impact is minimal. More people are simply ignoring traditional advertising in pursuit of interesting content that meets their needs.

As the effectiveness of traditional advertising continues to decline, branded content has emerged as a viable alternative advertising medium.

Why is that?

Because branded content outperforms nearly every other medium for brand marketers.

We define “branded content” as content that is produced by a publisher or brand, but exclusively distributed on a publisher’s platform and/or social channels.

Branded content can be written directly by the publisher on the brand’s behalf by in-house brand studios, like Conde Nast’s 23 Stories or the New York Times’ T Brand Studio, or it can be written by the brand and edited by the publisher, like the Forbes’ BrandVoice.

Content is fundamentally a storytelling and conversational medium, not an interruptive one.

Branded content differs from traditional advertising because it relies on authenticity and trust as the main vehicle for achieving marketing and sales goals

We’re going to cover the key benefits of branded content across 5 areas:

1) Audience Reach

2) Customer Engagement

3) Brand Metrics, Including Lift and Purchase Intent

4) Authenticity and Brand Trust

5) Improved Data Capture

As the impact of branded content becomes clearer, more leading brands are relying on this avenue to boost brand recognition, engage audiences authentically, and boost content ROI.

Audience Reach

When someone comes across a banner advertisement promoting a brand or product, they’re likely not going to share it with their friends on social media. People simply don’t engage with traditional advertising formats in that way. However, when someone comes across an article or video that they enjoy, it’s extremely common to share that piece of content on social media. Whether it’s a funny video on YouTube or an intriguing article by a leading news outlet, content is a great way to provide authentic value to readers and viewers.

Despite the fact that traditional blogs, videos and other content types are engaging and intriguing, for most brands they lack in organic reach. As demonstrated by a Buzzsumo study that analyzed over 880 million Facebook posts published by brands, the average organic engagement number dropped from 340 to 264 over the first six months of the 2017.

As the organic reach of content continues to decline on social media, brands are faced with a dilemma: how can they reach customers effectively through paid efforts?

Branded content combines the engaging format of content with the audience reach of traditional advertising. 

In the same way that a brand posts a banner ad on a popular website, brands are posting content on leading publisher sites. Leveraging a publisher for branded content allows your brand message to be delivered to larger, more engaged audiences. This is especially true when brands choose publishers with an aligned target audience. A well-aligned brand publisher partnership makes it much easier to resonate with new, engaged audiences across a publisher’s website and social channels. Since the audience already trusts that publication for authentic, valuable messages, your branded content will be both expected and well-received.

Increased Engagement

According to Kissmetrics, viewers spend an average of 1.6 seconds looking at a banner ads, which falls under the realm of traditional advertising. In contrast, consumers spend much longer engaging with branded content. Kissmetrics also points out that time engaged with branded content varies from 60 seconds for branded news content, to 323 seconds for branded content in the finance vertical. Furthermore, increased engagement is associated with improved interest in a brand. As shown by Forbes’ study on branded content, 45% of people are likely to seek out content from a brand after viewing traditional advertising. However, 59% of people are likely to seek out future content from a brand after viewing their branded content.

Brand Metrics

Branded content is fundamentally different from traditional advertising in a variety of ways. But these differences can be traced back to the original motivations behind creating the content. For example, banner ads today are a simple attempt to capture audience attention and build brand or product awareness. With branded content, the goals are much more nuanced. Whether it’s creating a piece of B2B content that helps a professional become more productive, or making a piece of B2C content that tugs at a consumer’s heartstrings, the motivations are intensely personal.

For brands struggling to influence their audiences through traditional advertising, branded content outperforms pre-roll advertising by having a greater impact both on brand affinity and brand recall.

Branded Content vs. Pre-Roll Graph
Source: https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1600/1*Vn5z95YPThUG8l14Lilohg.png
Adblocker Installation Chart
‍Source: https://medium.com/the-mission/why-and-how-to-sponsor-branded-content-cd0e44034084
Monthly Active Devices Chart
Source: https://pagefair.com/blog/2017/adblockreport/

Brand Lift and Purchase Intent

One of core achievements of branded content is that it’s been proven to support multiple brand brand metrics, including brand lift and purchase intent. Brand lift is measures the impact of a piece of content on reader perceptions, and purchase intent involves a consumer’s likelihood to buy a product or service.

In a study by Buzzfeed, who was publishing branded content by Virgin Mobile, 14.6% of consumers exposed to the branded content said that they’d consider Virgin Mobile for their next mobile purchase decision. This data marked a significant increase from the 4.3% of consumers who had purchase intent after being exposed to traditional promotional content. Consider a Nielsen branded content study, which compared pre roll advertisements against branded content from the same brand. The branded content generated an average of 86% brand recall among viewers, whereas the pre-roll ad garnered just 65%.

Authenticity and Trust

As digital content becomes more accessible in our daily lives, it is becoming the main format for delivering and sharing information. In fact, a Pew Research Center study found that almost half of all people aged 18 to 49 rely on online content for news and information. However, consumers are also more passionate about finding brands that are authentic and trustworthy. As shown in in the 2015 BCG Consumer Survey, 51% of US consumers refuse to engage with a brand before a sense of trust has been established. Plus, 60% of them do not believe that traditional advertising is based on factual information.

If today’s consumers demand more authenticity, how can brands continue to forge strong connections and drive purchase intent? According to a Forbes study, branded content may be the answer. In fact, 22% of engaged consumers had high purchase intent when viewing branded content on Forbes.com. Alternatively, just 7% of engaged viewers had high purchase intent when that same branded content was viewed on the brand’s website. Moreover, content has six times the conversion rate of traditional marketing and advertising formats.

Branded content leverages the power of content marketing and combines it with the impact of traditional advertising. It tells an authentic story that builds trust and keeps audiences engaged in ways that traditional advertising cannot. Yet, it also leverages leading publishers to reach new, targeted audiences.

Think about it this way: in both interpersonal relationships and those between consumers and brands, authenticity begets trust. When you feel that someone has honest intentions, you’re more likely to turn to them when you’re in need of assistance or general information. Since branded content has the honest intention of providing value, it has the added benefit of building trust with consumers.

Branded content can also build trust because there’s room to tell a story before any products or services are pitched. Although not all branded content follows this format, it’s essentially the opposite of the traditional advertising approach–which aims to establish brand awareness as quickly as possible. With a piece of branded content, businesses have the opportunity to tell an authentic and intriguing story that aligns with and reinforces their values and mission. As shown in the BCG consumer study, this is an important consideration for customers today. 96% of consumers trust brands that provide useful information without selling something, and 96% also trust brands that use content to inform or meet a need. Today’s consumers are looking for brands that have a genuine interest in improving their lives, and branded content has the ability to tell that story.  

As a result, branded content gives you a competitive advantage over brands that rely too heavily on either traditional advertising or traditional content.

Data Capture

Branded content helps businesses increase brand lift and reach among large, more targeted audiences that they couldn’t reach before.  And thanks to the use of technologies such as cookies, brands are able to track their audience’s behavior and glean more insight into their preferences. In turn, this allows brands to segment their audiences and improve their retargeting efforts. Brands who retarget their audiences with traditional advertising saw their ad responses increase by over 400%, and visitors retargeted with display ads are 70% more likely to convert. When brands combine the power of retargeting with content that’s inherently more engaging, the impact is staggering.

To understand how data capture and retargeting of branded content works, consider an example from a Fortune 100 global logistics brand. This brand used SimpleReach’s container tag system and publisher network to directly cookie the audience reading content on publisher sites and track content interactions. Using SimpleReach’s granular content data, the logistics brand was able to segment their audience based on article topics. This resulted in a highly targeted prospect list that required no additional resources to create. In turn, the list was used to retarget each segment with specific themes and messages relevant to their interests. Equipped with new reporting dashboards, the logistics brand was able to track the  performance of this new strategy and optimize campaigns. This new approach resulted in an 80% increase in marketing ROI and 1 million net new targetable prospects.

As shown in this example, branded content has high engagement and reach that enables brands to tap into qualified audiences that are immense in size and opportunity. These audiences can then be segmented and retargeted in a low cost way that boosts overall ROI.

Seizing The Future of Advertising

In a digital world that’s oversaturated with traditional advertising, promotional content is becoming less and less effective. Meanwhile, branded content provides an invaluable opportunity for brands of all shapes and sizes to better engage with their audiences. Branded content also offers the ability to stay nimble and adapt to changing digital trends, helping keep businesses afloat when competition is at an all-time high. As more industry-leading brands turn to branded content as their primary form of advertising, brands who stick to traditional promotions risk falling behind.

About the author:

Matt Levin is the VP of Marketing at SimpleReach.

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