We are in a unique time. In the past, businesses were encouraged to hold trade secrets close to their chests. In today’s world of 24/7 sharing, distributing knowledge and insight through your brand can help put you on the map. Corporations have come to understand that consumers will learn about them through different communication channels, so they have taken a more proactive approach to supply valuable content by replacing ads with articles. Startups seem to be catching up to corporations with branded content of their own. What can startups expect to gain and how to go about it?
Opportunities for branded content:
There are varied opportunities to help you deliver valuable, relevant and compelling branded content:
Guest blogging - When you guest blog, you get immediate access to an existing audience. Blogs will accept helpful and in-depth guest articles you write. To find the most authoritative blog, you can research info on your intended blog’s influence through Alexa.com. Here you can find demographics, number of site visits, search traffic and more. At the end of your guest blog add a clear call to action, something you want the reader to do, such as download an ebook or sign up to your newsletter.
Native advertising - Native advertising is content that is presented as part of the platform or site they are on. The content is demarcated as branded with a title such as “sponsored story” and can take the form of a written piece, infographic, video or any other promoted material. If you are looking to expand your user base, using native advertising on social platforms such as Facebook’s Promoted Posts and LinkedIn’s Sponsored Content could be a good way to go.
Taboola and Outbrain are two additional tools you may have seen at the bottom of larger media websites with titles such as “ You May Also Like,” "Around the Web" and "Recommended For You."
Online magazines like the New York Times T Brand Studio have taken this idea one step further with entire marketing units dedicated to quality branded content. It goes beyond native advertising to supporting events and launches with live editorial interviews and more.
Branded podcasts - Branded podcasts require greater budgets and a team to create the content that can hold an audience's attention for a good 25-30 minutes. Brands like Virgin Atlantic and eBay have taken on this exciting path by partnering with established podcast companies and talking about business. Startups could be a natural player in this space and offer a unique perspective on their struggles and triumphs.
What’s in it for me?
Is it realistic to expect immediate revenue streams from branded content? Possibly. But your branded content has better results when it’s part of a long term strategy. It is more about establishing yourself as an authority and becoming a thought leader in the industry rather than driving leads. Some additional goals you may consider are increased readership, better brand loyalty and a larger audience.
Branded content requires a targeted approach to reach the audience you are addressing. To succeed, you need to be able to answer the question where do my audience members spend their time online, what types of questions are they asking and where are they looking to expand their knowledge. To answer these questions you can monitor media content consumption. For example, you can uncover rich audience data with Facebook Ads Manager to estimate the size of your audience and other key info about them. Another option is to survey your audience with simple surveys offered through Google Surveys. Ask your audience whether they read blogs or listen to podcasts and which ones. These types of questions will help you find the media sources your audience pays attention to and opportunities to place your content.
Dos and Don’ts
Do choose a tone: Make a clear choice early on regarding the tone of your content. Whether you choose to be humorous, empathetic, fresh and unruly or fact-friendly and anything in-between, your voice needs to be consistent throughout your content materials.
Do be straightforward: Make it known and visible where the content is coming from and who’s paying for it.
Do create a roadmap: Charting your content in a roadmap over a few months will keep you on track.
Do edit professionally: Whether it’s you who are writing or a third party, make sure there is a professional editor looking at it before it goes out to the world.
Don’t be promotional: Focusing heavily on your products and services could deter readers. A disengeous attempt to disguise an ad can come out transparent and dishonest. Be careful.
How do I measure success?
Should you measure the bottom line? Of course! But remember that engagement is an ongoing process. You you should be measuring the results over a long enough period to truly evaluate whether it is producing the results you want. The platform you are using should be equipped to supply data on page views and social action such as thoughtful comments or shares. Going further, users who arrive at your website via these outlets should show, on average, greater interest and engagement than other users. This can take the shape of longer time spent on site, signing up to your newsletter, making a request on a contact form, etc.
Remember to publish your content more than once. Too many content marketers mistakenly think one time is enough. Your audience is busy and may have missed a great piece of content you created. So if it’s still relevant a week or a month from now, it might be a good idea to repost with an updated title or a follow up on what you’ve last written.
Finally, keep nurturing leads by getting your sales team involved. Sales reps can send prospective leads to a topic they are interested in or an answer to a question you address in one of your publications as a way to deepen that connection.
More on this topic:
The Content Marketing Revolution/Harvard Business Review
Can Tech Startups Do Journalism?/The Ringer
3 examples of branded content marketing done really, really well/Our Social Times