The Art and Science of Branded Content Are Easier Than You Think

How do you create and distribute branded content? This blog post outlines the basic step-by-step from defining your objectives to distributing and measuring.
branded content

chris rooke

By Chris Rooke
SVP of Strategy at Nativo
Los Angeles, USA
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Creating and distributing branded content is the epitome of art meeting science. Art – imagery, video, copywriting, and storytelling – operates alongside science: targeted media buying. With this delicate balance, it can be daunting to execute a strategy that results in a successful campaign, let alone a successful content advertising practice.

The IAB’s new Branded Content Creation and Distribution Guide: Steps for Success does the much-needed work of cutting through the noise surrounding branded content creation and native distribution, and builds upon the foundation it established with the Native Advertising Playbook and the Deep Dive on In-Feed Ad Units.

Nativo was honored to co-chair the working group that developed the new guide. It outlines key factors to ensure a successful, effective branded content / native advertising program and practice for marketers:

  1. Define your objectives and content strategy
  2. Evaluate the content / creative assets available to you
  3. Select your native / content advertising formats and distribution channels
  4. Distribute your content and measure performance

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The step-by-step guide to branded content is the product of broad collaboration across publishers such as Meredith Corp., social platforms including Twitter and LinkedIn, and various ad tech providers.

Drafted to provide advertisers, media agencies, publishers, native technology platforms, and other intermediaries and inventory suppliers a common language, it promotes understanding of how to remove friction and accelerate the growth of this important brand storytelling medium and paid media channel.

Here are some insights from the guide.

The first step is to review the brand website(s) and owned social channels and identify existing content.  

Where to find content

Brands often assume they don’t have the appropriate content or creative assets for a native or content advertising campaign. A deliberate, strategic approach can demystify and simplify the creative process.

The first step is to review the brand website(s) and owned social channels and identify existing content. Expect to find a treasure trove of useful creative assets including articles, blogs, social media posts, all of which are viable candidates for content-based native advertising programs.

RELATED: A Successful Native Advertising Campaign Starts at the End

Then determine the quantity, alignment to current messaging, substance, and whether the content formats are suited to the environments in which they will be promoted and distributed via a paid media buy.

This criterion is equally important when creating new content assets, whether commissioned through content marketing agencies, publisher-branded content studios, or other third-party content creation partners including influencers and user-generated content.

Using format to support strategy

Once the campaign creative assets are finalized, it’s time to consider which native ad formats best scale and distribute the content to help it reach the target audience and engagement goals. Evaluating formats means considering both the user’s experience in engaging with the content and the media pricing options available for the buy.

For editorial, infographics, and content other than video, three main formats exist: Native Content, Native Display and Content Recommendation Widgets.

RELATED: The Main Categories of Native Advertising Everybody Needs to Understand

Native Content is a click-in experience, meaning that when a user discovers and clicks on the native in-feed ad unit, they stay on the publisher site

Native Content

Native Content is a click-in experience, meaning that when a user discovers and clicks on the native in-feed ad unit, they stay on the publisher site and arrive on a fully integrated, non-interruptive custom article page.

This advertising format is most aligned with the publisher storytelling toolset and closely mirrors the editorial content experience.

Native Display

Native Display is a click-out experience, so the user leaves the publisher site and travels to an external URL when they click on this in-feed ad unit.

An advertiser may prefer this format when they simply want to drive traffic to their site, since the redirect can bring a user to a destination of the brand’s choosing, such as a homepage, app download or product page.

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Content Recommendation Widgets

Finally, there’s the Content Recommendation Widget, also known as a Discovery Widget. Also a click-out experience, this experience is similar to Native Display: when readers click on a sponsored headline in the widget, they leave the publisher site and travel to an external URL.

Content Recommendation Widgets do not live directly in the editorial feed, rather, readers discover these widgets at the bottom of an article page or in a set location on publisher pages.

Video is ideal for how-to and tutorial content, as well as mobile content since it is typically easier to consume on a small screen than formats such as long-form editorial.

Video

For native out-stream video, there are two primary options. Click-to-Play video is an in-feed ad unit viewers click to initiate the video while remaining on the publisher site. This opt-in experience supports engagement: because users take action to initiate viewing, the format helps reach a highly qualified audience.

The second, more common, option is Scroll-to-Play video. Also in-feed, the video starts when the player scrolls into view within the active browser window. Because Scroll-to-Play does not require an opt-in to commence playback, this format is best when video views are a key objective, and most effective when accompanied by a headline and caption.

RELATED: As the Shift to Mobile Continues, Look to Video to Drive Growth

Video is ideal for how-to and tutorial content, as well as mobile content since it is typically easier to consume on a small screen than formats such as long-form editorial.

After an advertiser defines their objectives and content strategy and identifies the creative assets to support them, choosing the appropriate distribution methods will help the creative reach its intended audience and achieve scale against the desired engagement goals.

More buyers see the value of a managed service when it comes to branded content, using supplier expertise to inform their campaigns.

Managed service vs. self-serve

Today’s marketers have the option to operate their own branded content campaigns or rely on suppliers with a managed offering, which generally provides both access and specialized in-campaign support.

Though many managed service budgets are moving to programmatic self-serve, the opposite is the case with content advertising.

RELATED: Best Practices for Programmatic Native Advertising

More buyers see the value of a managed service when it comes to branded content, using supplier expertise to inform their campaigns and in many cases, their broader marketing efforts.

A managed service supplier provides consultative guidance on campaign creatives, optimization tactics, the most effective headline and preview image combinations, which publisher environments and audiences to target, and more.

Value adds such as content creation, creative consultation, and content-specific insights and analytics make some managed services more cost-effective and impactful than a self-serve, à la carte offering.

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Audience reach and clicks intuitively connect to awareness, while time spent, user interactions, page scroll and completion metrics can be used to confirm and illustrate active engagement.

The right way to measure lift

Identification and measurement of success metrics is another area of content advertising for which the IAB guide provides much-needed clarity and guidance; IAB notes that historically “measuring the success of branded content marketing campaigns can be complicated given the nuances of various tactics, and also because the strategic objective of branded content initiatives is largely upper-funnel-related.”

As with the majority of digital media campaigns, brand lift is one of the most commonly measured KPIs, however, with content advertising, it can also be one of the most misunderstood.

More value can be extracted from campaigns when lift metrics are measured not by overall exposure to the brand, but from exposure to the actual branded content itself, i.e. the post-click exposure.

RELATED: 3 Reasons Why You Should Measure Top-of-Funnel Content by Engagement

Publisher-direct content advertising programs, as well as the Nativo platform, are built to measure such lift, and as such are well-equipped to evaluate success in awareness, affinity, favorability, consideration, and intent.

For example, audience reach and clicks intuitively connect to awareness, while time spent, user interactions, page scroll and completion metrics can be used to confirm and illustrate active engagement.

Pre- and post-exposure Content Influence Studies can show consideration and persuasion; view-throughs and other post-click actions such as brand site conversions and social media follow prove out action.

Suppliers that can measure success along the entire consumer journey are best positioned to service a brand’s long-term investment in content advertising.

Following a streamlined, uniform process from before submitting the first RFP all the way through to the conclusion of a campaign will result in greater efficiency.

Looking to the future

IAB’s Steps for Success helps resolve the confusion surrounding branded content language, and in doing so, simplifies creating and executing a campaign.

Matching a campaign objective to the right content to tell the story and executing a media buy crafted with the right formats, pricing, and service model may involve a marriage of art and science, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be hard or complex.

It only means buyers are able to formulate a strategy and tactical approach more customized to their needs. Following a streamlined, uniform process from before submitting the first RFP all the way through to the conclusion of a campaign will result in greater efficiency and a higher success rate achieving target KPIs.

Simpler, better avenues to share information, stories, and solutions enable brands to focus on building the loyalty and trust necessary for meaningful connections and relationships with consumers.

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