As marketers continue to shell out millions for banner, paid search, video and mobile ads every year, they are starting to wonder if these massive investments in “paid media” ads are worth it. After all, a recent Deloitte & Touche study found that 75% of U.S. consumers consider Internet ads intrusive, and many estimates report more than 90% of Internet advertising is ignored.
The truth is, consumers simply have less and less tolerance for being “marketed at” — and instead are turning to peers and trusted figures within their social networks to get and share authentic opinions on brands, products and services.
This profound shift in the way consumers engage with brands is already having a direct effect on ad sales. U.S. spending on online display ads has been flat for the past three years and will decline more than 50% by 2012, while paid search advertising will peak at $16.9 billion in 2009 and then start declining, according to Borrell Associates.
So what can brand marketers do to connect with jaded consumers in an ad-saturated world? The answer is to create and distribute branded content.
More and more marketers are re-allocating some of their interactive advertising budget to create articles, posts, tweets, videos, contests, social networking pages and other content to engage customers in an ongoing dialogue — informing and entertaining them instead of marketing “at” them. And they’re encouraging people to share this content with friends and family to spread brand engagement virally.
Unlike traditional ad copy, branded content’s first aim is to educate, inform, entertain or engage the audience — and the marketing message is secondary to the overall “experience” of the content. Ad copy declares a message about your brand, while branded content invites a conversation about your brand.
There are many types of branded content that drives consumer engagement, including Facebook pages; Twitter posts; sponsored entertainment videos, articles and blogs; and how-to videos.
A successful branded content strategy has many moving parts — from content creation, to targeting and distribution, encouragement of sharing, to measurement and analytics. You need a clear plan for launching, measuring and monetizing a branded content program that will not only engage your customers, but turn them into brand evangelists and repeat buyers.
The following five tips will get you started with branded content.
Create your content. Ask yourself which groups you want to reach, what you want to say to them, and what type of content will best meet those goals. Work with your creative agency or create the content in house.
Your best bet is to pick one or two types of content to get started, perhaps a few how-to articles that deliver helpful, useful information about your products or services, and a short, entertaining video clip that subtly mentions your brand.
Don’t act like an advertiser. As hard as it may be for a marketer to step away from the “message,” with branded content, the goal is to create compelling, interesting content in and of itself. Don’t worry if there is only a subtle mention of your brand at the end of an article or video; if you can get people to engage with your content on a personal level, your brand will get the recognition it deserves.
Distribute your content. There are many places to distribute your branded content for free online: Facebook, Twitter, corporate blogs, third-party blogs, YouTube, forums and so forth. Explore all of these free channels, but remember that most of them don’t offer targeted distribution, monetization and measurement platforms for your content.
If you want to make sure your content is seen by the right audiences — and measure the effect this engagement has on bottom-line sales — try working with a “living search” partner like Dorthy.com that presents branded content in personal search results pages. With a living search site, searchers tap into relevant branded content instead of ads to get the information they need to make purchase decisions and can easily share this content with others.
Encourage sharing. Make sure all the branded content you create is easily shareable, so that people who find it useful, educational, or entertaining can pass it along to others.
It’s commonly agreed that about 20% of all traffic to brand websites today comes from “shared links” — which means 20% of visitors arrive from a link shared by a friend via email or a social network. The more you encourage sharing, the more traffic your site will receive. As more and more people engage with your content, the stronger the ongoing dialogue with your brand will be.
Measure, measure, measure. A branded content strategy is only as strong as your measurement capabilities. Marketers must measure every step of a consumer’s interaction with the content — from first click, to sharing, to actions taken after viewing the content, all the way through to eventual conversion.
Use analytics tools to track “media value metrics,” which allow marketers to analyze the bottom-line impact of branded content on engagement and sales with the same precision as they’ve long measured paid media campaigns.