How branded content can help reach consumers

In the age of the consumer, marketers are struggling to capture the hearts and minds of customers.

In the age of the consumer, marketers are struggling to capture the hearts and minds of customers. They no longer have the luxury of consumers' undivided attention when they tune in for the latest episode of their favorite TV show. 

Today's perpetually connected consumers are calling the shots as they switch from smartphone to tablet to laptop, opting in and out of content as they choose.

Forrester Research's data shows that 42% of online adults in the US and 37% in Europe access the Internet multiple times a day from different locations with at least three devices. With so much content, old-school push communications lose their impact.

And it's not just TV and print. Digital communications such as banner ads, text, and mobile apps are the least trusted form of marketing communications; only 8% of European online adults trust banner ads on websites or text messages from brands.

Consumers now trust self-selected pull content, such as reviews and information on brand websites. A significant 38% of online Europeans trust consumer-written reviews and 37% trust natural search engine results.

But all is not lost. Marketers now have the power to directly connect with consumers as branded content can bridge the gap between TV's emotive power and digital marketing's measurability and efficiency. This content has the power to build brand differentiation by telling a story that goes beyond product features and benefits. But to reap these benefits, marketers face a gauntlet of obstacles such as how to scale their efforts.

The marketing-agency model that creates a few carefully crafted TV spots a year is not enough. And many companies are held back by nervous legal departments who fear the uncertainty of branded content.

To make the leap, marketers must shift from random acts of content to purposeful storytelling. At Forrester, we advise following what we call the Four C's.

  • Capture the brand's North Star. The journey must be anchored by a brand's fundamentals in order for consumers to make the connection. Authenticity is critical to get approval from consumers. And authentic content begins with knowing who you are.

    So ask yourself, "What's the North Star - the brand promise - that will guide my content on this journey?"
  • Connect to consumers in context. Having great content is just the beginning. Consider the context in which it will be consumed. Today's customers use several channels for different needs. Are they looking for quick-hit information on a smartphone, snackable content on Facebook, or in-depth information on your website?

    Automakers are tagging content based on where consumers are in the customer life cycle - style content in the discovery part and service information in the buy phase.
  • Create visible value. There are a lot of people producing content out there. Marketers must ask themselves what they bring to the party that hasn't already been done.

    Ask yourself what topics you can provide value on, either through information, education, or entertainment. And tell a good story. People will always remember stories that create an emotional connection.
  • Continuously measure and optimize results. Go beyond tracking data to measure impact. What did it do for my business or brand? Few marketers go beyond traditional brand-tracking measures to connect consumption with business results.

    Procter & Gamble is one of the few that has taken this leap. The CPG giant tapped into analytics firm Visible Measures to use sentiment analysis to understand how its primary audience of mothers thought and felt about the brand as a result of its "Thank You, Mom" 2012 Olympics campaign.

    To build a brand advantage, shift from an ad-hoc approach where content is an afterthought to content production with a systematic, integrated data-driven approach.

    Remember, you are in the brand-building business, not the content-publishing business, so always guide your content strategy by the light of your brand's North Star, and stay focused on your business purpose. 

Tracy Stokes is a principal analyst at Forrester Research. She is an expert on building brands through deep consumer understanding.

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