Branded online content has come a long way over the years, rising from a virtual unknown just a decade ago to become one of the holy grails of modern digital marketing.
Yet for all the awareness around the importance of content, oftentimes brands fail to capitalize on it by producing content that never gets out of first gear — that is, not maximizing reach or engagement with their intended audiences. It’s almost like the term “branded” is being taken too literally: Companies will churn out content on a regular basis but will fill it with too much promotion and not enough of a story to actually engage the consumer.
In my sector of marketing — the luxury hospitality industry — examples of overly branded content are everywhere. Say a hotel is offering a special occasion dinner menu and writes a blog article to promote it. All too often, the article becomes little more than a blatant advertisement for Mother’s Day brunch at the restaurant, only discussing the items on the menu and what to expect, and not a piece of interesting content that readers will take time out of their day to read, enjoy and share with others.
As a more engaging alternative to this approach, why not create a personal spotlight on the Executive Chef? It could feature unique recipes that his/her mother passed down and might still be in use in the kitchen today, and to connect back to the menu, the ending could say something like, “And if you don’t feel like cooking, here is our menu and we can do it all for you.”
It takes on the style of editorial content, much like you’d find in a magazine, and directly aligns with the findings of countless content marketers in recent years. The best type of content, as I’ve seen firsthand with our clients within hospitality, connects on a human level, be it by evoking emotions, providing something informative, or coinciding with a current online trend. In a recent study by Moz, for example, it was found that the highest-performing online content, in terms of shares and referring links, was either opinion-based editorial content (evoking emotion) or research-backed content (providing something informative).
Circling back to the dinner menu example with this frame of logic, there are many ways of promoting the restaurant without focusing solely on the product itself. One path could be to interview the sommelier and get his/her take on the best varietals of the year, wines to bring to a party, up-and-coming wine regions, and a few great menu pairings. Or better yet, pick an exclusive ingredient on the menu (as we once did with white truffles) and tell the story of how it’s sourced, why it’s so sought after, and how it’s best prepared (ours turned into a fascinating story about truffle hunters with sniffing pigs, shipping truffles across international borders, and the thousands of dollars chefs will pay for exceptional truffles).
All these ideas indirectly promote the dinner menu, but more importantly, also share an element of human interest. As consumers, even with our favorite brands, most of us are too inundated with online content to care about anything that doesn’t truly catch our attention. It’s the brands that can tap into editorial storytelling, something the vast majority of us still make time for, that can truly give wings to their content and reach thousands of new consumers organically.
Think of active lifestyle brands like Red Bull or GoPro. One part brand, one part publisher, these companies gain tremendous exposure to their products — almost to a cult-like level — by creating online content campaigns that place much greater emphasis on adventurous lifestyle content than the actual product itself. Their online videos, written content and user-generated content not only speaks to the right demographic, it has also become a go-to source for information on everything from snowboarding to climbing to rafting. It’s not branded in nature, but when consumers associate your brand with engaging content that drives their passions, nothing could possibly market your brand any better.
The key takeaway here is that content marketing only realizes its enormous potential when brands can see themselves as media companies that happen to be sponsored by a brand. Your website is there to provide all the branded information, like accommodation specifics, restaurant menus, travel packages, etc. in the case of a hotel. But in order to get new users to your website, discover your brand, and ultimately convert, first you have to catch their attention through editorial content that resonates with their personal interests.
Brands that can do this proficiently score a domino effect of digital marketing wins. First off, engaging editorial content isn’t just shareable among your target consumers. It’s also highly appealing to social influencers (which, if you haven’t noticed, are the talk of the industry these days). You can create a phenomenal list of social influencers to reach out to, but with overly branded content, your chances of lasting partnerships are slim to none (unless you pay exorbitantly). Engaging, quality editorial content, on the other hand, is always beneficial for social influencers to share, resulting in huge reach and referrals to your site from qualified audiences.
Perhaps most importantly, brands that excel in content marketing — that is, gaining significant inbound traffic through social media, referrals, and email — receive the added bonus of improved search rankings through Google. So by doing something inherently non-branded (creating editorial content), not only are you directly creating new brand traffic through referrals, you’re also improving your branded reach through organic search (widely accepted as the highest percentage acquisition channel in terms of conversions).
Fairly innovative for something as old-fashioned as storytelling.
Adam Deflorian is the CEO of AZDS Interactive Group.