Why defining the role of branded content is so vital

Content. Everyone’s talking about it, lots of people are doing it, but only a handful are doing it well…

By Ben Bleet | August 3rd, 2015

The advertising industry seems to have got caught up in ‘the Emperors New Clothes’ syndrome when it comes to content – jumping in without pausing to think about the role content should actually play for a brand based on the category they operate in and the audiences they are trying to reach.

Naturally we believe there is a role for branded content within almost all of our clients’ communications systems – and that role is likely to become more prevalent in the coming years as linear media consumption continues to diminish.

In a world of app-based entertainment access (the majority of which are subscription and not advertiser funded such as Netflix and Spotify) and digital ad avoidance software, we’re approaching a future where all advertising is going to be opt-in, making branded content the norm.

It’s paramount we begin to understand the true role that content plays in our brands’ communication systems.

That starts with a simple understanding that different content can serve different consumer mindsets – not everything is about the next ‘viral’ sensation (yes, we’re still reading that word in briefs) and therefore content can effectively address different communications objectives.

It’s our job to understand the way our clients’ communications systems thrive and what content is most appropriate to use.

This means examining the dynamics of the categories they operate in; how do people shop the category? Is it rationally or emotionally? Is it in-depth or superficially? Is it daily or once a decade? Are they engaged or apathetic? From this we can begin to say what role content will play.

For example, if I’m buying loo roll (low interest, high frequency category) chances are I’m not going to spend too much time doing diligent research into the backstory of the different loo roll companies out there – I’m just going to use a latent knowledge of brand and probably price promotion at the point of sale to make my decision to purchase. The role of content is therefore to try and drive that latent brand image.

Conversely, if I’m buying a pair of headphones (high interest, low frequency category) chances are that I’ll have a shortlist of appealing brands that I’m initially predisposed to. I’ll then probably do some research around reviews and quite possibly different purchase channels.

The role of content here may be much more about becoming part of the fabric of the category to aid initial brand favorability but to also to provide salient information at key moments.

All this thinking and research is then set against the target audience’s consumption habits and our content framework to determine exactly what the content is required.

Is it big-ticket awareness driving content; an experiential stunt, a hit YouTube video or an ad-funded telly programme designed for wide-scale appeal? Is it about engaging more deeply with a specific section of the audience we can identify as predisposed to our message? Or is it simply information based? Ensuring our stories surface when we can identify category intent.

Of course the advantage of being part of a broader communications agency – well versed in all forms of communications – is that sometimes content is not the answer.

That means we can always be confident we’re genuinely making the best recommendations for our clients’ business rather than peddling The Emperors New Clothes.

In the future, opt-in branded content will simply be viewed as good advertising. Now is the time to be asking us ‘what’s the role of content for my brand?’

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