The core aspect of branded content is emotional connection.

It’s not realizing that what you’re watching is part of a marketing campaign. But it’s not a trick, either. A successful branded content piece is something that can stand alone as a unique work of valuable storytelling—the branding is just icing on the proverbial cake, can of Coke, or BMW sedan. People share branded content, and that increases brand awareness, which raises brand loyalty and customer engagement and retention.

It’s a careful balance to tell a story and promote a brand. Place a product in the spotlight and talk about its features for too long, and the content becomes straight-up advertising. Branded content requires typing an emotional angle to a brand – often as an extension of that brand’s social campaigns or missions, such as education, or an exploration of values. When done well and with authenticity, it can be a powerful thing.

Here are a few ways brands can leverage branded content in an authentic way for their customers:  

Include Your Customers’ Stories

While reading a book or watching a movie, people want to feel they’re the main character in the story. The same goes for branded content, and thanks to social media it’s easier than ever to include the customer’s involvement in a campaign (nearly 70 percent of Americans use social media). Customer engagement should already be a main staple in your marketing plan, including answered questions, sharing content, and updating users on new features or services.

But answering and updating doesn’t accomplish much in the way of emotional engagement. User-generated content such as fan photos or videos can connect to customers on an emotional and creative level. Ask customers their favorite memory related to your brand. Or ask them how your services helped solve their problem. A #ShareYourStory campaign on Facebook or Twitter invites users to write, photograph, or video blog their unique, personal connection to a brand. Share the best, most authentic stories to form authentic connections with your audience.

Personalize the Content to the Audience

Not everyone wants to participate in a branded social media campaign. But they still want to see themselves represented in marketing—it’s one of the reasons representations in media are so important (it can also educate how groups see themselves, and boost confidence). Is your audience a certain, age, ethnicity, or gender? What are their hobbies and interests? Can you find people with stories who fit those demographics for your next bit of branded content? Make it feel personal, more niche, and you’ll likely engage audiences on a whole new, emotional level.  

Millennials in particular require marketing to feel more personal. Nearly all millennial users in a media survey said they actively avoid seeing ads. But content personalized to them and their interests has a 60 percent higher chance of engagement. If the user believes the content is targeted towards them, they’re much more likely to seek more information or make a purchase. Inspire them, and give them something to aspire or be proud of.  

Educate Customers with Video

Video is one of the best ways to form emotional connections with an audience. It’s also one of the best options for educating an audience on how a product or service works. If your audience is already familiar with your product, but you have an update coming soon, producing a how-to video or tutorial (such as how to update software or adjust hardware) is a short, easy way to let users know what to expect or how to complete potentially complicated tasks. Partnering with an animation or comedic entertainment group, however, will add some flavor to an otherwise straightforward tutorial and upgrade it into a valuable, shareable piece of branded content. Make it energetic, funny, and full of useful, authentic information, and audiences will warm up to your brand.      

Leverage Those Media Contacts

Branded content works well on its own. But are people going to find it automatically on their own? Probably not. You’ll need to amplify it through social media, email campaigns, and by letting industry influencers, media professionals, and other partners know about the great branded content you create. But you also need to make sure you’re targeting the right publications:

  • Do they have the reach you desire?
  • Are their distribution channels more robust than yours?
  • Does your target audience follow these channels and publications?
  • Most importantly, will the publication tell your authentic story?

If the focus stays on the storytelling and not a product, with a message the customer can be invested in, then that article about your branded content can succeed as a piece of branded content itself.    

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