Branded Content: Sell Without Selling

by Nate Fleming

Hot take: your marketing doesn't need to tell folks what your product does. Branded content can be used to tell stories and build relationships. That's it. No selling-out, no pandering, no boring your audience. In fact, customers are 62% more likely to react positively to branded content compared to other forms of advertising, according to research. Whether your business is B2B or B2C, there are a lot of ways benefits to focusing on creativity and personality vs. selling.

Branded content allows you to connect emotionally with your audience.

In a world where we're constantly bombarded by pitches and sales messages disguised as marketing, it's no wonder that brands are struggling to connect with their customers.

Branded content is an opportunity for you to create a deeper emotional connection with your audience than traditional advertising allows. And when that happens? Well, let's just say those customers will be more likely to buy from you (and refer their friends).

Emotional connection can be created through storytelling: When we see ourselves reflected in someone else's story--whether it's real or fictional--we feel like they're speaking directly to us. It makes us feel understood, which increases trust and keeps people engaged.

Branded content is storytelling.

We've all heard of storytelling, but what does it actually mean? Well, here's one way to define it:

  • Telling a story. That's it! You're already doing this if you have any kind of marketing plan at all (and even if you don't). There are three key elements to any good piece of branded content that uses storytelling to connect: 1) A character 2) Who has some sort of problem 3) That must be solved in order for them to achieve their goal.

Here are the types of stories you can tell as a brand:

  • Stories about the people behind your brand.
  • A series of short videos that showcase the benefits of your product or service in an entertaining way.
  • Behind-the-scenes stories from events, conferences and other activities where your brand is featured prominently (e.g., if you're a sponsor of a local charity event).
  • Testimonials from real customers about how your product changed their lives can be particularly effective for products and services in which there's no obvious benefit to the user but have potential to make life better (e.g., mobility devices).
  • A video series that features members of your team talking about what they do at work and why they love it — this will help humanize the company while giving viewers an idea of what makes it unique as well as what drives its employees to do great work every day.

Branded content is personal.

It's not just about you, your brand or your product; it's about the personalities of all three. And that means building trust with your audience by showing them who you really are--not just what you do or sell.

Here are a few questions to ask before you begin a branded content project.

  • "What's our brand's point of view?" (If your brand doesn't have one, it's time to find one.)
  • "What's the purpose of this content?" 
  • "Who is my target audience? What does this piece represent to them?"

Branded content can help drive sales.

Branded content is about thinking outside the box and being innovative, different and fun. It's about using your imagination to create something that people will want to share with their friends.

When you think about branded content as merely another form of advertising--or worse yet, when you treat it like an afterthought--you're missing out on all these possibilities for creativity in favor of something more traditional or expected. After all, storytelling is inherently "sticky", giving you a long-term sales advantage. Even if your branded content reaches a potential customer when they aren't necessarily ready to buy, they'll be more likely to positively recall your brand later on when they're in-market.

Moral of this Story? Give your sales pitch a day off.

If you're looking to make stronger emotional connections with your audience using branded content, there are plenty of ways to get started. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Use characters in your brand advertising. A character who is relatable and likable will help you build credibility and trust, making it easier for customers to accept the message you’re conveying.
  • Use real stories in your brand advertising. Authenticity is key when it comes to storytelling — people want to see real people and real experiences in their advertising. If you can relate a story about how your product has helped someone, even better!
  • Make sure your stories tie into your brand values, mission and/or purpose statement. Stories are more effective if they reinforce what your company stands for rather than simply selling a product or service.
  • Incorporate humor into your brand storytelling. Humor has been proven to increase engagement with content, so don’t be afraid to throw in some funny moments in your brand storytelling efforts!
  • Be consistent with the voice and tone of your brand advertising through all channels of communication (social media posts, blog posts, etc.). This will ensure that consumers have an easy time recognizing your brand voice

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