Branded Content: What It Is and How to Use It to Fuel Sales

As a small business owner, you understand the importance of branding to raise the profile of your company and fuel sales. However, you don’t have a huge advertising budget to invest in typical (i.e. expensive) branding strategies.

The solution to your dilemma can be found in branding content – an inexpensive (yet highly effective) strategy that can help to build your business’ brand online, and ultimately create more leads, prospects and customers.

Branded content

In this article we’ll start by explaining exactly what branding content is, then introduce six different ways that you can leverage branded content to widen your business’ reach.

Branded Content Explained and Examples Explored

Wikipedia describes branded content as “…a form of advertising that uses the generating of content as a way to promote the particular brand which funds the content’s production.”

It meets at the crossroads of advertising and entertainment. It’s being used very slickly by major brands, but there’s nothing to stop you from at least following the same tack, or even beating them at their own game.

There are several types of branded content that a small business can use to drive sales and brand recognition. We’ll unveil some of the main types below, with some great examples and thoughts on how to create branded content for your small business.

1. Parody

In the context of branded content, a parody is where a company uses a popular TV programme, film or a topical event and creates a humorous tribute to it that includes their own brand in the process.

One great example is GE’s podcast, The Message, which is a sci-fi homage following the attempts of a top team of cryptologists to decipher, decode and understand a (fictional) message from outer space received 70 years ago. It ran to eight episodes in all and had a huge following – no message to buy was involved, it was simply an enjoyable tale.

In the US, a sandwich chain called Quiznos produced a much-praised mashup of Star Wars and a popular TV show, Entourage, for a TV advert – impossible as that might sound!

Parodies are something that can easily be done with a perennially popular film series (such as Star Wars), TV show, or anything else that is currently ‘trending’. Of course, you have to be very careful not to breach copyright, which means you can’t directly use clips or dialogue without express permission.

You could tie a new film, programme or event to your line of business with the brand name or product gently woven in – I’m thinking paintbrushes with light sabres. And from the examples above, it’s probably great fun.

2. Newsletters

Major companies (such as Lush) often have their own newsletters that give details of their products in an entertaining way. Examples range from pure product-led news to opinion articles, and whether you produce these in print or email them to existing customers really depends on how your customers prefer to consume content, and the resources you have available. Print can feel more personal, but there are of course costs attached.

Take a look at Microsoft Stories to see how the big boys do this sort of thing online – there are all sorts of goodies in this “digital pub”, ranging from staff talking about feminism, to lots of interesting detail about futuristic projects (and even a conversation with the executive producer of Halo).

If this option is too expensive or time-consuming, consider contributing opinion pieces to local newspapers to raise your profile. For this to work work, you’ll have to position yourself as a thought leader in a field that’s connected to your company (for example, a company making pollution filters could write about the environment).

3. Advertising

Yes, advertising is an expensive option, but if you’ve got the budget, it’s best that you make the most of it!

There are some great examples of inventive advertising out there – one from 2015 is the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert with Mog, which was a skilful blend of a favourite children’s character and a heartwarming story with quite subtle branding.

Using humour and a clear storyline can help make an advert stand out. There are also some fabulous still ads out there that convey branding in a subtle way, like this one from Australia Post. The message is to write rather than “use our service”, so focusing on your product’s use rather than the product itself could work well.

4. Blogs

Blogging can be a great way of introducing branded content; either on your own website or by guest posting on industry-related blogs.

Denny’s diner in the US has a great blog, if you want to see how it can be done – the posts are essentially just huge fun with very low-key branding (the brand logo and slogan at the top, and the site uses the brand’s colours).

Blogs are a great way of making contact with customers – every small business has a fund of specialist knowledge and expertise that can be mined for information and opinions. And as an alternative approach, Denny’s proves you can move quite far away from your basic products with great success in blogging.

5. Quizzes and Games

A simple form of this would be the ‘what sort of (my product) user are you?’. You could make this serious or humorous: a humorous quiz could use images of popular personalities (if they are in the public domain), or types of animal to indicate a particular buyer type.

This is a modest entry-level example of ‘gamified content’ – an increasingly hot strategy for raising your profile. In today’s game-obsessed society, it’s a tactic that can work very well – it keeps your brand identity in front of your potential consumer for much longer than the usual time spent looking at an advert.

Campbell’s Soup have taken this approach with a game, Alphabet Soup, that scrambles the letters of a soup name for you to unscramble against a timer. You can also tailor this approach closely to your target market – the Content Marketing Institute has an entire workshop on this approach on its website.

Conclusion

The idea of branded content is to create an awareness of your company and brand in a subtle way, with style, panache and ideally (the icing on the cake) humour. There are a range of ways of achieving this based on the above strategies:

  • Create a fun link between your product and a popular topic, TV show or film.
  • Develop a newsletter, either in print or online.
  • Produce a seasonal or event-related advert with subtle branding.
  • Start a blog on topics that interest your target market.
  • Dive into the world of ‘gamification’.

Do you have any other ideas or favourite examples of branded content strategies? Let us know in the comments section below!