Marketers struggle to gain consumer trust and interest with branded content

With the advent of self-publishing tools, brands have been given the option of generating their own online content directly for consumers.

With the advent of self-publishing tools, brands have been given the option of generating their own online content directly for consumers. But whether this branded content, ranging from blogs to videos, has found viable audiences remains in question.

“Do corporate blogs resonate with consumers? The answer is no,” says Josh Bernoff, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Companies are not very good at talking about what their consumers find interesting.”

Making matters worse, most consumers don't trust corporate content. Last year, Bernoff worked on a study that found only 24% of those who regularly read blogs consider corporate ones to be trustworthy. And with rare exceptions, corporate blogs rarely appear among Technorati's list of the top 100 most popular blogs.

This raises questions about why consumers seek branded content and whether it is worthwhile for companies to reach out to consumers this way.

“It depends on your goals,” explains Todd Defren, principal at Shift Communications, who helped Johnson & Johnson build a YouTube channel that has more than 1,000 subscribers. While that figure is relatively impressive, it is still far from the millions of viewers that morning programs or network news shows reach.

“But in the best-case scenario, you're creating content that you can leverage across different channels,” he says. For example, with J&J, many of the videos were created several years ago for b-roll or other promotions.

“J&J has been able to get $2, $3, or $4 for every dollar they spent on the original creation,” Defren adds. “So it's absolutely been worth it. If you're creating content so that just a few hundred people can find it, that's less exciting.”

External assistance
Troy Rutman, director of external communications at Best Western International, has hired freelance writers to help make its “You Must be Trippin'” blog more appealing to users. The hired writers – which include a Gen X mom traveling with small children and a business travel expert – each have their own blogs. The site's “travel Mom,” Amy Graff, also has an independent blog outside of Best Western's.

“[Graff's] blog that has a broader scope helps Best Western's blog stretch its borders,” Rutman says, adding that the blogs are intended to keep people engaged with the site beyond just booking rooms.

But the site has its obvious limitations. It is unlikely to cover hotel options outside of the Best Western family. Yet it competes against travel sites that offer tips and hotel reviews.

“Our feedback is more anecdotal than quantitative right now,” he says when asked how the site resonates with the audience. “We definitely look for positive and negative comments to our blog posts. That how we're measuring success right now.”

While experimenting is a smart way to get online, companies should know when to abandon fruitless projects and try a new approach to reach consumers.

“The reality is, if it's not generating an audience, you must go back to the drawing board,” says Erik Hauser, VP and executive creative director for Euro RSCG 4D Impact.

Varying challenges
Ultimately the challenge isn't the same for everyone. For example, startups can sometimes connect more easily with consumers, according to Jason Mandell, cofounder of LaunchSquad. Mandell helped develop a video for the Trunk Club, an emerging personalized shopping company for men, which has yielded more than 8,000 views.

He says startups are often willing to be more risky and edgy, actually producing content that rivals independent sites and news outlets.

“There are a lot of fluff pieces right now, so if you can generate your own content that is picked up by someone else [you know], then it's like having a third-party endorsement,” Mandell notes.

Or in the case of Trunk Club, curiosity about its services gave it a boost.

“But,” he adds, “if you're trying to reach mass mainstream consumers – the jury is still out.”

Producing content the resonates

Figure out why consumers will spend time on your site, rather than with independent content that has more perceived credibility

Speak the consumer's language and offer fresh content that is unlikely to be found on other sites

The online sphere is about niches, so consider this when crafting relevant content

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