In an increasingly saturated market, the stakes are higher than ever to capture audience attention, and it can be difficult for brands to stand out from the crowd. Enter branded content.
The most successful marketers know that it's all about telling stories, and one of the ways to tell these stories is through branded content.
In this post, learn what branded content is, why it's important, and discover high-quality examples from existing businesses that you can use to inspire your own.
What is branded content?
Branded content is directly related to your brand and shares your values in a way that evokes an emotional response in your audiences and allows them to understand what you stand for.
This content can be in the form of a blog, a YouTube video, a news article — really, anything works. It can help you build brand awareness, increase loyalty, and leave an impression on your audience beyond the products and services you sell.
There may be some confusion about how branded content marketing is different from content marketing you may be familiar with, and we'll discuss the difference below.
What is the difference between branded content marketing and content marketing?
Branded content is about highlighting your business' message, values, and story for all audiences to see. It isn't tailored to and shared with a specific segment of your audience; it is for everyone.
On the other hand, content marketing is targeted to specific audiences and focuses on highlighting your products and services.
The aim is to drive leads and sales, while branded content marketing hopes to raise awareness, inspire, and inform.
Importance of Branded Content
No matter how effective technology platforms become in delivering content, people will flock to the same things that have always moved them.
We are suckers for great stories — narratives that remind us of our humanity. Marketing professionals know that no one can resist a good story, and they use it to their full advantage.
According to HubSpot Blog Research, 44% of B2C companies plan to increase their investments in branded challenges in 2022
A compelling story may be enough to evoke interest in your brand but to improve its discoverability, you need to create non-linear content that veers away from single direction brand storytelling.
Consider creating personalized experiences to engage your target market more effectively.
In Gary Viray's article "6 Lessons About Non-Linear Content That SEOs Need to Know," he explains the ability of non-linear content to drive brand discovery.
According to him, "Connecting varying content to serve your restless audience is the way to nudge the search engines to rank your content. Full-circle coverage of your brand using different media is what feeds the search engines, which leads to your brand discovery."
Branded Content Strategy
So, how can you create brand stories that will move your audience without sounding like a self-centered salesperson? Let's discuss.
1. Show, don't tell.
Your branded content aims to tell a story, but simply telling it is not enough. You need to show your audiences how great you are by genuinely sharing your brand's beliefs in the content you create.
For example, while you can say, "We are committed to environmental stewardship," how are you committed to environmental stewardship?
You could create content that shows audiences how you're committed to consistently practicing this value, like a tour of how your facilities use environmentally friendly practices to make your products.
A compelling story entertains your audience, educates them, makes them curious about your brand, and stays in their heads.
2. Hit a nerve.
The branded content stories you create should appeal to your audience's emotions.
This means that you should specifically create your content to tap into a specific emotion, like happiness, to elicit a customer response.
Your messages should inspire your audience to get involved, change their perspective on something, and inspire them to continue doing business with you because you've piqued their interest.
3. Introduce characters who personify your brand's core values.
People like to buy from brands they believe in — brands they can identify with.
If they see people in your stories that they can relate to, they are more likely to connect with your brand, which makes them more likely to become customers.
It's important to recognize this, and use real stories of real people in your branded content, so your audiences can truly see themselves.
It is, however, essential to be genuine, as audiences can pick up on inauthentic attempts to make a connection and won't hesitate to call this out, bringing about the opposite desired effect.
4. Create stories that highlight the benefits of your product or service.
As a marketer, it's your responsibility to show people what's good about your product or service.
While your branded content won't focus on advertising your products as regular marketing content, it's important to highlight their benefits in a new light to show your audience what you're about.
Let's go over some examples of brands that have done an excellent job creating branded content that you can use for inspiration.
Best Branded Content Examples
1. Netflix's 'Strong Black Lens' YouTube Series
Strong Black Lead (SBL) is a sub-brand under Netflix that focuses on highlighting and celebrating black voices in television.
One of SBL's latest forms of branded content is a YouTube series called "Strong Black Lens" in which Black creatives sit at a roundtable to discuss all aspects of Black storytelling.
While the goal here isn't to advertise Netflix shows and TV, some do get mentioned if the conversations warrant them.
2. HubSpot's 'Culture Happens' Podcast
We talked about how branded content is an opportunity to show your values. Here's a great example of it in action.
"Culture Happens" is a podcast series featuring HubSpot employees that centers around the future of work and what it takes to build an inclusive workspace.
What's great here is that stakeholders, customers, and leads alike can enjoy this series and learn more about the narrative HubSpot is building around its company culture.
3. Dove's 'Real Beauty' Campaign
Dove's Real Beauty campaign is a powerful example of branded content that touches on female empowerment, one of its core brand values.
In the video, a forensic artist draws a group of women individually. Each woman gives descriptions of herself, and the artist sketches according to how she describes herself.
A stranger then describes how she sees the woman, and the artist draws another illustration based on that description.
The women are shocked to see the two sketches, which are entirely different from each other. The video highlights that women don't always see themselves in a good light, or even in the same way that a stranger may see them.
Dove created this campaign to teach women to love themselves, and its message resonated with its audience.
4. Patagonia's 'Hasta La Raíz'
Patagonia is a clothing company committed to environmental activism in all forms.
Their new campaign, Hasta La Raíz, translated to English as "Down to the Root," tells the story of Javier Zamora, a farmer who worked his way to owning his own organic farm.
The video's primary focus is that 97% of farmworkers are Hispanic, but only 4% own farms. Patagonia is partnering with the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) to ensure that others can do what Zamora did — displaying their commitment to environmental social justice and sustainable farming.
Again, this branded content isn't meant to promote their products and encourage sales, but those in the video are wearing Patagonia clothing while doing their work.
Getting your message across in an intensely competitive market can be challenging, but it's worth the effort.
Find your brand's humanity and core values, and begin creating branded content that shapes minds and inspires hearts.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in June 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.