How Branded Content Fits Into the Marketing Mix: 3 Rules
Part 2 in a 4-part series on branded content. Click here for Part 1.
There’s some important marketing lessons to be learned from The LEGO Movie. Catchy theme song that spreads via WOM wildfire? Check. Subject matter that is good for all target demographics? Check. Branded content success story? Check check check.
Is The LEGO Movie a milestone in marketing, marking the moment where audiences are now ready to recognize branded content for its artistic merits? How did we get to a point when people think a two-hour toy commercial should be judged alongside, say, The Tale of Princess Kaguya?
Simple. The LEGO Movie is not a commercial. The company explicitly said so. Which brings us to the first rule of using branded content as a marketing tool:
Rule #1: Branded Content Is Not a Commercial
While it can and should accomplish the same goals—higher sales, increased brand recognition—content does not resemble or function like traditional advertising. Rather than existing primarily to promote a product, branded content is a product. That means a few things:
- It must have value. Consumers trust branded content more than they do other forms of advertising, and even more than they trust journalists. They’re primed to tune in, but brands need to continually earn that trust by offering something more than thinly-veiled advertising. Value proves content is worth one’s time.
- It can become its own revenue stream. Sure, a branded iPhone app is a nice way to reach out to consumers through a new channel. But add in in-app purchases, and it becomes something more. Maybe it starts to pay for itself. Unlike dedicated publishing companies, brands can make money directly from content but don’t always have to. So you’re free to try new approaches without the expectation of their immediate payoff.
- It doesn’t sell itself. Some brands dedicate marketing resources toward publicizing their content; others partner with distribution platforms. In either case, the mechanisms of conventional marketing are reorienting away from straight advertising and toward content promotion. Nothing beats content in terms of efficacy, but only if you’re getting it out there.
Rule #2: Quality and Strategic Focus Are Equally Important
Branded content is Daft Punk, not Hall and Oates. What I mean by that is: both carry equal weight and work in tandem to accomplish more than the sum of their parts.
When the needs of the brand outweigh the needs of the content, the result is disingenuous fluff: a bland listicle stamped with a corporate logo.
But when brands overemphasize the quality of their content and forget to focus on their overall strategy, consumers lose the connection between the incredible movie they’re watching and the company funding it.
When it works, brand and content should seem inseparable — and strike a harmonious balance: the tune that plays in your head when you reach for a bag of chips, or the hilarious video you look up to share with a friend by Googling the associated brand name.
Rule #3: The Brand Does Not Own the Story
You are not the sole arbiter of your brand, nor do you always own your content. Though it sounds a little scary, you have to listen to feedback and trust creators and consumers to determine excellence for themselves. Branded content is not a fixed idea, but a two-way conversation. As Linda Boff, GE’s executive director of global marketing, says:
Don’t interrupt and hit people over the head until they get the message. Find a way to be part of the dialogue, or else just listen.
Smart brands embrace others’ contributions and reactions to their branded while gently setting boundaries. It’s the difference between saying “cool idea—thanks for playing along with us” and “you’ll be hearing from our lawyers.”
Come back next time for a few sources of inspiration: branded content’s “best in show.”