New research from Forrester shows that, with consumer faith in digital ads falling again, branded content offers marketers a better way into the customer awareness. But few CMOs have the right staff or systems in place to do so.
First the bad news, based on responses from 58,000 people in Europe and the U.S: Trust in one-way push communications is dismal, with Europeans slightly more skeptical of just about every type of communications. Only 9% of Americans, and 8% of Europeans trust text messages sent from brands. And banner ads on Web sites? Just 10% and 8%. For mobile apps, trust inches up to 12% and 10%. And emails fare slightly better, with 18% of Americans saying they trust such messages, compared to just 11% of those in Europe.
Messages with the highest credibility continue to be recommendations from friends and family (70% of Americans, 61% of Europeans); professionally written product reviews (55%; 33%), and reviews written by consumers (46%; 38%).
Since push marketing has lost its impact, many marketers have rushed into branded content, which “has the ability to create brand differentiation by bridging the gap between TV’s emotive power and digital media’s efficient reach,” writes Forrester analyst Tracy Stokes. Almost 80% of marketers report that they are now spending on branded content; 55% of B2C marketers say they are increasing that investment.
But for every Old Spice and Oreo success story, she says, there are hundreds of flops, unseen messages and videos sinking to the bottom of the Internet.
Nor does it help that many companies don’t even have a clear definition of branded content. (Forrester defines it as “content that is developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education. It is designed to build brand consideration and affinity, not sell a product or service. It is not a paid ad, sponsorship, or product placement.”)
The solution, she argues, is that CMOs need to see themselves as content czars, actively guiding the entire branded content effort. That includes making sure all content captures the brand’s “North Star,” connects with consumers in the right context, and creates visible value. “Then it needs to continuously measure and optimize results,” she writes.
Done well, branded content can create brand differentiation. And it can amplify TV ad spending. “Brands that seed and tease ads as content two weeks before the Super Bowl achieve seven times the greater online reach than those that don’t,” the report says.” And 45 million people watched Procter & Gamble’s athlete videos as part of its “Proud Sponsor Of Moms” 2012 Olympics campaign, producing 17 incremental views for every paid view.”
Other brands that have excelled include Cisco, the Cleveland Clinic, Red Bull, and Chanel No. 5. Michelob Ultra. BMW, Schiff, and Chipotle are also standouts.
Essential to the process is focusing on good storytelling, creating content that is “interesting, useful, and inspiring.” Doing so requires an integrated editorial calendar that allows for topical spontaneity, and thinking of themselves as either a publisher or a newsroom.
“Many marketers are bringing in journalists and editorial staff who understand how to develop great topical, shareable content. But while they know how to produce great content, they don’t know how to build a brand,” she writes. Seasoned marketers are figuring out how to partner “content creators with content marketers to keep the creative within brand guardrails.”