Inbound: Content Marketing & Branded Content

Ok, I’m just going to say it. Don Draper and the Mad Men cronies were, for the most part, alcoholic womanisers and narcissistic habitual liars… not geniuses. They all seemed to be verging on nervous breakdowns even though their job basically amounted to creating a slogan for a brand and then ramming it down the target market’s throat until, starved of alternatives, consumers started to believe it and flock to stores like thoughtless sheep.

Alright, that might be a bit harsh. These 60’s marketers had their own cultural and societal battles that most young marketers today couldn’t even fathom as reality. They were also still struggling with that blurry line between culture creation and culture-jacking.

what you call love was invented by guys like me to sell Nylons – Don Draper, Mad Men (AMC)

But while there will always be a place for the psychologically-aware copywriter, my point is this… pushing out self-interested content and shouting ‘me, me, me’ the way old-school marketers did is no longer enough to guarantee success.

This ‘Outbound Marketing’ approach alone doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.

Inbound Marketing

Particularly since the advent of Digital, three things have thrown a spanner in the wheels of modern marketing:

  • Increased competition for ever-narrower market segments with ever-more specific needs
  • Tech-savvy consumers with access to huge volumes of product information and reviews
  • Consumers with an uncanny ability to see straight through cheap marketing tactics

People will no longer be pushed into buying mode; they will get there in their own time and seek out products or services when they are good and ready. Likewise, people no longer trust the ad-man; they trust their friends, family and community peers. Finally, people are bombarded by so much outbound advertising nowadays that, even if the latter statements weren’t true, they would struggle to see the wood for the trees anyway.

The solution? Rather than simply hedging your bets with expensive outbound campaigns (TV, radio, magazines, flyers, billboards), remember that self-promotion is a turn-off and people will only buy when they choose to. Flip the accepted protocol on its head: The best approach is to make it easy for people to find you, in their own time.

Enter the age of ‘Inbound Marketing’.

You can make yourself easier to contact via Search Engine Optimisation and Social Media Marketing, for example. One step further would be to ensure that your general web presence is set up to properly track and record analytical information about the audience; so you can keep making it even easier to find you (as well as lead-nurturing where applicable).

But most importantly, you need high-value content to entice people to these inbound channels in the first place.

Branded Content

How do you create valuable experiences? A good place to start is with ‘branded content’.

The philosophy is simple: wrap up a marketing message in a valuable vehicle that people will actually want to consume whether they are in buying mode or not. Remember that people will only buy when they want to, not when they are told to? This approach enables you to engage with them regardless.

Of course the content should be aimed at the right demographics and can even play on the same emotional drivers as other more promotional forms of content. In this way at least, it is not a complete move away from the Mad Men days when creative and copy formed ‘campaign content’.

But the crucial difference is that where old-school campaigns hi-jacked needs and desires and crudely twisted them towards products, the branded content approach gets the brand (which takes a back-seat) in front of a willing audience by offering value in the experience offered by the content itself.

Where do I start?

Some examples of media that are often used for branded content include:

  • Blogs, eBooks, Whitepapers – ‘how-to’ articles and useful info
  • Advertorials – sales copy written as editorial
  • Music
  • Podcasts, TV channels – creating brand platforms (think Chelsea T V)
  • Video – any entertaining or educational film, regardless of length, that may go viral
  • Gamification – the integration of game mechanics and dynamics into campaigns to create reward pathways to encourage engagement

Similar to Seth Grodin’s ‘Permission Marketing, you must make sure that consumers would genuinely want your branded content. The best litmus test is to ask yourself whether or not a target consumer might actually pay for the content. If you think they wouldn’t pay, then make the content better! If you think that they would pay, then give it to them for free, ensuring consumption of the content; and in turn, consumption of the brand message wrapped up inside.

The sky is the limit—just ask Red Bull, who filmed Felix Baumgartner jumping to Earth from the edge of space with nothing but a parachute (watch the Red Bull space jump video here). The actual stunt itself had nothing to do with Red Bull the product, so it might seem odd that this was chosen as a campaign.

It was however sponsored by Red Bull and their logo and name was used in the background of the videos and related media. The official video alone got 35 million views just on YouTube, not to mention all the other instances of the video, supporting videos, other social platforms and hype from the press and media.

Content Marketing

If the value in your content is strong enough and you have set up your marketing channels correctly, you’ll also find that consumers will actively share your branded content without further incentive or input from you. Red Bull didn’t have to ask 35 million people to watch their video; people watched it because their friends told them to.

So does it matter that the stunt had little to do with energy drinks? No, of course it doesn’t. It still positioned awareness of the Red Bull brand front-and-centre in the consumer consciousness; plus it corroborated the brands adrenaline-fueled emotional message.

The key to the success of the Red Bull video was that it offered a valuable experience to all of Red Bull’s customers and potential customers; regardless of their desire for a can of energy drink at that precise moment in time. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a supersonic skydive from 130,000 feet?

But moreover, the campaign’s success was hinged on the way Red Bull marketed the video… a tactical mix of traditional social media, YouTube, PR and other channels. The experience was seamless across these channels for all consumers and the brand sponsorship took second priority, meaning the stunt actually became a part of everyday culture rather than an unnatural hi-jacking of culture.

Are You Ready?

Branded content is not only an incredibly powerful tool for marketers to harness, it is also an opportunity to do something fun and exciting with your strategy. Branded content can be whatever you want it to be, guided by the truest and purest desires of your customers. A wonderful definition of Inbound Marketing is:

… to create valuable, enjoyable experiences; instead of interrupting them
Sam Mallikarjunan, HubSpot

And one of the most effective ways to do that is to start creating branded content instead of cheap-shot promotional humdrum.

Do you create content purely for self-serving self-promotion? Or are you trying to create something valuable to engage and benefit your customers?

Are you demanding attention? Or are you earning it?

Posted by Paul

Paul is our Head of Marketing and digital strategy specialist. A Google certified SEO expert and Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he has worked on award-winning campaigns since 2003.

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