This article was originally published on Mumbrella.
The appeal of branded content is it places enough distance between you and your customer that if done correctly, the consumer shouldn’t even notice they’re being sold to. But when a brand tries to manipulate that content, all authenticity is lost, explains The Remarkables Group’s Natalie Giddings.
Let’s remind ourselves what branded content is. It must take on the form and function of the other editorial or influencer’s content, so it offers the same level of value for readers or viewers. Hence the original term ‘native’.
So why do brands often hit the panic button mid-production?
The temptation to include more brand cues and try and control every part of the message is understandable. It is a talent to be able to integrate a product in a way that feels natural to the audience. The industry clung tightly to the flat-lay product photo, because at least the product was front and centre. However, anybody could snap a picture and slap a few key messages in a caption. It is at this point most branded content attempts freeze. Short of a pretty product shot, where is the middle ground, keeping branded content authentic to the audience, but still with a clear focus on the product?
Brands need to be front of mind to as many people as possible, as often as possible. This is the very basic essence of advertising. The classic quote “customers don’t care about your product, they care about how you impact their lives” is where branded content can come into its own. In the case of social influencers, it is the careful crafting of relatable stories that successfully integrate your product.
For the YouTube influencers we work with, some of their videos are up to fifteen minutes long. The introduction and time taken to set the scene is all part of the tone of voice and connection they have with their audience. It might be two minutes before the brand is introduced as part of branded video, which (understandably) can induce fear in brand marketers used to planning for 15 or 30-second broadcast slots.
We have always said influencer marketing is like having a conversation with a friend. Audiences are watching the 12 plus minutes of videos of the influencers lives in place of episodes of a show they might have watched on traditional television.
In recent months, many online publications such as The Huff Post have deliberately rebadged their native advertising or brand studio offerings as ‘branded content’; to reduce confusion, reset the brand’s expectations of the content produced and to differentiate from what traditional advertising looks like.
Careful analysis must go into making sure it’s a genuine connection to start with. In the case of an influencer, they must be actual advocates of the brand (use it themselves or are excited when told about it). If you’ve done this homework upfront, then don’t be afraid to trust the content producers that are experts at engaging with your audience.
Brands should also remember the reason why this publication or influencer has built this audience in the first place. Their focus and expertise is on making the content very appealing. Plus, they are monitoring and interacting with their audience on a daily basis. Journalists must keep themselves to very strict editorial standards, while influencers stick to a very distinct tone of voice. It’s a brand partnership, not a 30 second slot or programmatic buy.
A scenario that regularly plays out is that a more senior person involved in sign-off of the content hasn’t been taken on the journey from the outset. They see the draft as a standalone piece, rather than in context of the end placement. To provide them with more context, share the due diligence you’ve done on the audiences segments you are hoping to reach, along with examples of previous branded content the influencer has created.
Keeping the lines of communication flowing between the publisher or influencer you are partnering with is critical to not just creating effective content, but also to forging a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. This can often require some frank conversations, which are essential to iron out any glitches as you move through the process together.
Finally, always fully disclose. All branded content must be clearly labeled. Nobody wants to feel tricked. Audiences are looking for the brands their favourite influencers endorse. Important call-outs include links, upfront disclosures, amplification tags and titles, sign-offs, video outros or captions, social media captions. Plan on what they might look like from the beginning of the collaboration process.