Branded Content: Heir to the throne

September 21, 2012  |  Alicia Androich  |  Comments

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Marketing and Postmedia polled marketers and consumers for insights on this relatively new approach and how to use it more effectively

Excited about the possibilities of branded content? You’re not alone. In fact, 78% of Canadian marketers believe it’s the future of marketing.

In fact, fully a third of marketers are already devoting more than 20% of their marketing spend on branded content. Just 8% said they commit more than 40% of their budget to branded content, but that number will more than double (to 17%) two years from now.

These results come from a survey by Marketing and Postmedia that was produced by Rogers Connect Market Research Group. Its findings reveal that while marketers and consumers alike find branded content to be valuable, there is opportunity to create it in a better way (see a selection of findings at right). That requires a mixture of the right deployment, strategy and resources. And measurable ROI definitely helps, too.

While branded content is not new, the tactic has changed in revolutionary ways in recent years. New platforms and channels—little things like, ohhh, YouTube and Facebook—have made it cheaper to deliver and share content. At the same time, advertising pioneers redefined what quality branded content could and should look like. With consumers increasingly empowered to avoid advertising messages they don’t want to see, read or hear, the focus for many marketers has shifted from disrupting consumers to engaging them through branded content, aka content marketing, aka owned media.

No matter which name you use, at its core this tactic is about creating and distributing that content with the goal of boosting brand awareness (as 45% of marketers said in the study) and customer loyalty (27%). Sales are another key objective for marketers using branded content (23%), along with providing information (13%) and creating interest (11%).

In July and August, 249 marketers across Canada were polled online to ask about how and why they use branded content. Respondents came from a wide scope of companies, from those with four or fewer employees to those with more than 5,000. Respondents held roles from marketing executive to media planner in industries including retail trade, business and public sector. The mean total annual advertising and marketing spend of respondents’ organizations was $12 million.

The survey also polled 1,412 Canadian consumers. They had a mean total annual household income of $83,700 before taxes, 70% were married or common law and 51% were female.

An interesting paradox emerged from the consumer feedback: while 54% of respondents said they like that branded content is informative, almost as many said they dislike that it is biased, excessive information.

Content that skews towards “beneficial” and away from “biased and excessive” takes skill to produce. Yuri Machado, vice-president of integrated advertising at Postmedia, says that when producing branded content programs for clients, his team focuses on being clear, concise and transparent to maximize reader involvement.

He says the high-quality editorial—”big J journalism,” he calls it—of Postmedia’s newspaper and media websites sets the stage by putting readers in the mindset of looking for more information on a product or service, and his group can complement that with branded content that’s labeled as such.

“With clear transparency of where [that content] is coming from, the option is with the reader to engage with it,” says Machado.

And, in this digital era, more opportunities are opening up to measure how people are doing that in real-time. As part of the behavioural targeting trend, Machado says his group is learning how to use real-time data to curate and provide readers with relevant information when they’re looking for it.

Being able to technically measure sentiment and how consumers share content is especially helpful, he says. “They say ‘data is the new oil’ and the data we can impart back to our partners is so much more than just that CTR to their site; it can even be followed through to an engagement.”

Nino Di Cara, executive director of custom content at Rogers Communications, believes combining online engagement with data showing how customers react when exposed to a program is an ideal way to create a broad picture of a program’s effectiveness.

Good programs, Di Cara says, deliver content that builds engagement with consumers without focusing on brand itself. For example, a financial institution could deliver content about tips to save money as they shop “but it doesn’t need to link back to using one of the bank’s products,” says Di Cara.

And in cases where there are explicit references to a brand’s product or service, Di Cara says it doesn’t need to be a hard sell. “With a content-drive approach, it’s not a brochure or a catalogue—it’s a much gentler approach to engage with the customer,” he says. Instead, the brand could position itself alongside the content and give context on how the product or service can make a positive difference in their lives beyond price.

As Di Cara says, one of the main benefits of producing branded content is that it “creates a voice for a brand and…really brings it to life.”

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