The digital revolution has changed the needs and consumption habits of people and it has also influenced advertising. When we talk about advertising and consumers, we think about an audience to entertain and involve through new communication strategies and tools.
From this premise, branded content begins to come to life, a powerful tool through which to convey the cultural value of the brand.
In this post we will take a look at branded content, starting from its definition, explaining the advantages of this strategy, the different ways to use it in B2B and B2C, and its most current achievements.
What is branded content? A definition
To understand what branded content is and how to include it in a marketing strategy, let’s start with a definition.
Branded content can be defined as content without an explicit advertising message that aims to convey the values of a brand and arises from the need to create a more effective alternative to traditional advertising, to which consumers are now too accustomed.
Although it differs from traditional advertising, the means through which branded content is disseminated are the same: TV, web, radio, and paper formats. Creating branded content means advertising through content that responds to the need for engagement and storytelling by a brand.
There is therefore a transition from simple product advertising, which is exclusively commercial, to the promotion of the brand’s cultural values through various forms of entertainment.
Branded content refers more broadly to the concept of branded entertainment, to such an extent that they are often interchanged. Branded entertainment is the result of the convergence of advertising and entertainment that incorporates the brand’s message in a specific context. Branded entertainment content often does not include explicit references to the brand, but refers to a broader context and the values associated with it.
It is now established that the explicit inclusion of a brand (clear product placement) within entertainment content has negative effects on viewers (and potential consumers), who perceive it as too forced. On the contrary, more subtle and implicit product placement can generate positive behavior with viewers.
And it is precisely from these concepts that brand entertainment is considered the most effective communication strategy and is increasingly adopted by companies to create new links with consumers.
Based on the company’s objectives, we can distinguish 3 types of branded content (osservatoriobe.com):
- Hybrid, when the marketing of a brand is included within editorial content, such as a TV program or a newspaper article. This hybridization is achieved through brand integration and is generally associated with product placement. Examples of this are the various cooking shows, such as Masterchef or Bake Off, where the entertainment and the brand to be promoted merge into one large content without there being an interruption of the program.
- Type A, also called commercial branded content, where the message focuses heavily on the brand with explicit shots or references to the product and the storytelling is weak, aiming to enhance the characteristics of the product. An example is the webseries Amiche di Matilde by Matilde Vicenzi, a well-known pastry brand, which was also associated with a competition.
- Type B, also called immersive branded content, with which you communicate to the viewer rather than the consumer. This type of branded content, therefore, has no obvious commercial purpose, but is used to communicate the values and identity of the brand without the product being necessarily present in the explicit narrative (through shots or quotations). In the implicit narrative, on the other hand, you can tell not only the story of the brand but the values linked to it. The most successful and topical example is Barilla’s The Rooftop Match: a video created in response to another video that went viral during the lockdown in which two girls play tennis on the rooftops of their city. In the video, we see the match between the two girls and Roger Federer, the well-known tennis player and brand ambassador of Barilla, and their tennis match on the rooftops. This is branded content that entertains, involves, and fully conveys the values of the brand, which is always attentive to what is happening in the world and its consumers.
After analyzing the main types of branded content and understanding the innovative power of branded entertainment, we just have to explain how to integrate it into a B2B and B2C strategy.
Branded content in B2B and B2C: how to do it?
To integrate branded content into B2B and B2C strategies it is important to first take into account the differences between the two, both from the point of view of the target audience and the message you want to communicate.
In a previous post on copywriting, we said that content creation is based on the concepts of persuasion, emotion, and quality. Quality content is a tool to arouse an emotion and establish a relationship with the user and potential consumer. We should not underestimate how it is disseminated and through which channels.
The same rules apply to branded content and branded entertainment; it’s not only about spreading the cultural values of a brand, but also about the way this process takes place. The commercial objective is pursued through storytelling to leverage emotions, entertain, and increase engagement.
In a B2B communication strategy, branded content is an excellent tool to humanize a brand and bring it closer to people. It is important, therefore, to reflect on B2B buyer personas: what does a potential customer expect? What are their needs?
We cannot leave out the emotional factor: even in B2B, emotions count. Customers need to trust a brand, and to do so, they need to feel positive emotions that can be generated by proposing the content best suited to their needs.
In addition, recent research has shown that in B2B, the brand influences purchasing decisions more than B2C (lippincot.com). This is mainly because in B2C there is much more choice, and it is easier to switch from one product to another. In B2B, switching from one service or product to another requires a longer adaptation process that involves the entire company. For this reason, it is important to promote the cultural value of the brand and inspire customer confidence by exploiting the potential of branded content.
When it comes to branded content for B2B, we can identify the types of content that are most often used and most effective:
- Blogs, Whitepapers, Ebooks, and Infographics that inform and deal with current topics related to the brand’s activities;
- Videos, which highlight the values or services offered by the brand. This is the case of Hootsuite, a well-known social media management tool, and the branded video Hootsuite’s Game of Social Thrones inspired by the Game of Thrones series;
- Social media content, which offers endless possibilities of branded content. One example is General Electric’s #GEInstawalk campaign that offered a tour of the company to young Instagram influencers who shared this experience.
As we have already anticipated, we are at a time when traditional advertising no longer has the same impact on consumers. Therefore, it is important to create innovative content and storytelling.
In a B2C strategy, the possibilities of branded content are numerous and evolve as new communication channels emerge. The fact of being able to communicate directly with the consumer allows brands to think about more engaging approaches. In this regard, we can identify some examples of innovative branded content for B2C:
- Branded interactive video games are the result of the great popularity of Twitch and its diffusion not only in the video games sector. A successful example is “Formula E Unlocked” video game made by Porsche in which players had to face challenges at the end of which the new Porsche racing car was presented. This project achieved about 2 million live views.
- The web series became a relevant phenomenon in the branded content world. Thanks to their brevity, storytelling, and the platforms on which they are shared, the web series has proven to be very effective in increasing engagement and visibility. An example of success is the Girls Room series of Dove that addresses the theme of body positivity.
To the types of branded content we have mentioned, we can add another one that is currently widely used for both B2B and B2C: the branded podcast.
The new frontier of branded content: the podcast
Thanks to the expansion of hosting platforms, podcasts are the protagonists of an audio revolution now underway.
The diffusion and success of this type of content depends mainly on the need for users to try something different from visual content, without giving up information and entertainment.
The combination of these two elements and the ability to access content without interrupting other activities are strengths of the podcast format. According to recent research conducted by BBC, about 94% of users listen to a podcast while engaged in other activities, with positive results also in terms of message reception and attention (bbc.co.uk).
For these reasons, the podcast is proving to be an essential opportunity for any marketing strategy, bringing a breath of fresh air to the content available.
It is with this in mind that many companies are focusing on branded podcasts to entertain and promote corporate culture. The effectiveness of this choice lies entirely in the storytelling, which should not be too self-referential, but should share anecdotes or go deeper into topics related to brand activities. For example, the Gucci Podcast presents the company’s products or news through the voices of employees or celebrities, without being too commercial.
Another important fact emerged from BBC research concerns the subconscious associations that users make with the brand. According to the results, users tend to associate what they hear in the podcast with the brand. This can be an advantage because it affects the user’s perception of the brand. For this reason, it is important to put an effort into storytelling and the creation of interesting, engaging, and innovative content.
This is the case with Ikea’s Out-of-Catalogue Stories: a perfect example of how to entertain through branded content via storytelling and promoting corporate values such as sustainability and the importance of sharing and family.
The podcast is also proving to be an excellent choice for the B2B world. However, we cannot forget that B2B communication, unlike B2C communication, is aimed at a more niche audience. It is therefore essential to find the right strategy, tone of voice and topics to deal with. In this context, it is worth mentioning the IBM Cloud Podcast on cloud-native and Security Unlocked topics from Microsoft which explores the issue of cybersecurity.
In conclusion, we can say that branded content opens new avenues in the creation of a marketing strategy and offers endless possibilities to promote your brand in a completely innovative way, focusing more on brand values and culture without being limited to the more traditional product advertising. Finally, we must take into account that this is a phenomenon that is in constant evolution and as such, requires continuous research and experimentation.