Data can help you craft the story you want to tell about your brand.
Successful branded content “tells your audience what your brand stands for,” not just what your product does, as Kaaren Whitney-Vernon, SVP, Branded Entertainment at Shaftesbury, writes in Adweek.
Marketers have an underutilized resource in their arsenal for crafting strong brand narratives: data.
Not only does data indicate how audiences are responding to branded content, but it can help you craft the story you want to tell about your brand. With data behind you and your native ad campaign, you’ll be able to better connect with the audience without ever having to push your product.
Here are four options to get past talking about your product, and ways to use data in each.
Like with personal relationships, transparency goes two ways between brands and customers.
1. Pull back the curtain for your audience
Imagine you’re on a first date…and it’s not going well. The conversation is stilted. You keep asking questions but your date offers short answers or deflects them. If you could just get your date to open up, you’d be able to decide if you’re interested in going out again.
Like with personal relationships, transparency goes two ways between brands and customers. Get personal with what you’re willing to put out there. Vulnerability resonates with people and transparency builds trust.
Patagonia’s transparency about their footprint ties into their mission: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
The Footprint Chronicles provide data about everything from synthetic microfiber pollution to business impact on climate change. Specific data like their carbon footprint estimate show customers that Patagonia doesn’t just sell outdoor gear, but it cares about the world just like they do.
Buffer reinforces their radical internal transparency with external transparency. For instance, in their Q4 2017 recap, the support team shares their mission (“provide an engaging and impactful customer support/success experience) and their strategy (including “Be transparent”). True to their word, they reinforce their mission and strategy with performance metrics like “Customers helped via email” and percent change over time.
Being open about data that describes your organization can help express what you stand for.
Data about existing interest can help you connect audiences with content that matters to them.
2. Newsjacking: Know what people are paying attention to
If a piece of your content would fit perfectly into a Venn diagram connecting the news of the day and your brand values, you might have found a sweet spot for newsjacking.
But to figure out where you fit in the Venn diagram, first, you have to know what people are paying attention to. Data about existing interest can help you connect audiences with content that matters to them.
For example, USA Today’s branded content studio, GET Creative, uses their own data to figure out “which stories will perform best depending on the industry, vertical and market.” If you’re keeping tabs on aggregate data trends about what people are paying attention to, it’s possible to put that to use as well.
Merriam-Webster reigns supreme when it comes to understanding trends and owning how their brand relates to current events. Lauren Naturale, content and social media manager for Merriam-Webster, tracks trends in what words people are looking up.
Then, she and her team craft Trend Watch pieces and tweets that relate to current events, like the recent unveiling of the Obamas’ portraits. Whether it’s tweeting sly political commentary or the origin of doggos, Merriam-Webster understands the power of putting your content where people are already paying attention.
What was more impactful than us preaching to the choir was featuring the people our target audience looks up to for advice and wisdom.
3. Who (or what) will your audience listen to?
While landing Selena Gomez may not be in your budget, understanding who is already talking about the stories your brand relates to can uncover potential brand spokespeople or people to interview for campaigns with built-in audiences.
My team applied this strategy to a native campaign we ran with Digiday. What was more impactful than us preaching to the choir was featuring the people our target audience looks up to for advice and wisdom.
We worked with Digiday to interview professionals at major news brands, including The Washington Post and The New York Post. When we distributed the content via high-impact ads on Digiday.com and via their own channels, they drew more than 270,000 views.
Not sure where to look for people to feature? Use social media tools to find related industry articles, and search through the people who shared those articles, and the people they follow.
Native ad campaigns that feature original data based on your users, audience, or in-house data have an element no one can duplicate.
4. Your data is the story
“Dear person, who played ‘Sorry’ 42 times on Valentine’s Day, what did you do?” So said Spotify to the world in its 2016 “It’s been weird” campaign, which showcased what the brand stands for by putting data at the center of the messaging.
Based on the success of the first campaign, Spotify ran “2018 Goals” ads last year. Spotify CMO Seth Farbman explains how data added an emotional element that appealed to audiences:
“We take individual experiences, individual data points, and use them to represent a broader feeling. If we just talked about how many people listened to this one song, or streamed this, or did this other thing, it stays up high. But when you get very concrete, you’re realizing this is a real person with real listening habits, real playlists, real playlist names. Then it just cuts through the clutter.”
Even though the Spotify campaign isn’t an example of native advertising, there is a lot to learn from their smart use of data.
Native ad campaigns that feature original data based on your users, audience or in-house data have an element no one can duplicate. And you don’t have to mention your product once.
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