Defining 'branded content' in an evolving marketplace

While content marketing as an overall marketing strategy in both B2B and B2C has more momentum now than ever before, there is still some ambiguity among those in the industry about what "branded content" actually means. Further, there is a subjective element to branded content that is at odds with many marketing objectives, according to an extensive report by Branded Content Marketing Association research. While many marketers simply believe that it is an extension of their brand others see it as a manifestation associated with a particular brand in the eye of the beholder.

The report stresses that conflicting views on what branded content is and how best to define it is crucial because a misunderstanding of branded content can feed into haphazard executions, misaligned aims and outcomes or an ignorance of crucial questions about distribution and campaign planning.

In a recent article, the CMO of marketing at General Electric was quoted as saying “There is a lot of talk about native content, branded advertising and the like and I don't like to speak in those terms. Is it native or is it branded? I don't know but it is just great content."

The report states that the concept of content can be divided into a managerial type of content or a more holistic perspective. A holistic or all-encompassing perspective is, for example, a video on YouTube created by somebody outside the organization but for whatever reason it is associated with your brand. Meanwhile, branded content is defined as 'any manifestation associated with a particular brand in the eye of the beholder.' In this scenario, branded content is not necessarily the legal trademark of the brand owner nor is it distributed by the brand. Branded content from a holistic perspective is created and distributed broadly but is not necessarily proprietary.

It also suggests that most marketers want branded content to be managed by the brand and claims that good branded content is primarily about engagement and 'good branded content can be almost anything. It is something that the audience wants to engage with and is good enough for people to opt to see it or read it.' Branded content is also perceived as the 'stuff that people choose to spend time with from brands --- with people wanting to watch, read or engage with it.'

Content marketing is defined here as the discipline of marketing branded content while branded content is a deliverable or outcome. It is noted that in branded content, authenticity is key but branded content must primarily embody the brand itself and be aligned with the objectives that branded content should achieve.

Branded content from a managerial perspective should reflect and amplify a brands' core values, it is claimed, and should also provide value to the brand owner's audience.

The increasing appeal and interaction with branded content, according to the research, is due in part to the way in which audiences consume and use media and digital technologies. Consumers today want uninterrupted experiences (with the advent of ad blocking and sites like Netflix), it is important to acknowledge that branded content can also be used within an interruption-based marketing communications context (for example, in an integrated marketing communications campaign).

However, distribution of branded content is not carefully thought out in many cases. Great branded content needs a well thought out distribution plan or else it falls flat. The report notes that if "content is King, than distribution is Queen. But, ultimately, the Queen is in charge."

Further, measuring and evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of branded content within the content marketing discipline is another key stage but this is another area that requires more clarity and expertise as well as engagement.

When it comes to traditional advertising settings, it is very easy to measure success. How much has been sold? How many impressions have been delivered? But, when one moves into the realm of content, the measure of that success is more obscure. The content must offer "added value" One of those surveyed said, "I think anything can be branded content. As long as the consumer is getting something of value out of it."

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