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How to make branded content people won’t hate

How to make branded content people won’t hate

Fact: People hate branded content. 

Think about yourself, would you feel comfortable reading an article about the “10 best ways to get healthy in 2016” knowing it was sponsored by a health supplements company? No! It sucks to be sold to.

The thing is, content marketing works and it is far more effective in onboarding better customers (=loyal customers with higher life time value). So basically, as a marketer, you’re in a pickle – how do you make branded content people won’t hate?

Have you heard of Blendtec’s Will it blend? campaign?


Topics covered in this post:

  1. What is “branded content”? 
  2. Misleading the customer
  3. How to make branded content people don’t hate
  4. So what can you learn from all of this…

Before we get to the absolute branded content perfection that is the “Will it blend?” campaign and learn from the best, let’s start with answering some pressing questions:

What is “branded content”?

Basically, it is all forms of content (Blog posts, Tweets, Facebook page posts, videos, photos, eBooks, whitepapers, PR pieces, by-lines, magazine articles, etc.) that promotes a brand, either directly or indirectly, and was either created by the company (=the brand) or the company paid for its creation.

Content you create for your brand is wonderful for business – it’s great for demand generation, user acquisition and retention. A good content marketing plan will include touch-points with users at every stage of the buyer journey.

You want to first expose people to the brand and generate demand for its services through thought leadership articles, PR and more.

Then you want to get them to sign up and make a purchase so you use lead generation tactics which include creating content for direct response PPC ads on Google and Facebook or offering something for free (like an ebook) and then retargeting them in order to convert.

After this you want to make sure these new customers stick around so you send them weekly newsletter, you build a thriving community revolving around your brand on Facebook, you send them retention emails and more.

All of the above are based on creating good branded content (thought leadership articles, ads, ebook, newsletter, Facebook posts, emails) and it is hugely valuable to your business to do so.

There is only 1 reason why your company should not create such content: your “brand” is not well-defined yet. If you don’t yet know who your company is, what its values are, haven’t decided on the brand “voice”, what its unique selling points are, which customer persona’s you want to attract, haven’t researched what they care about from a company in your sector and so on, if you don’t know the answer to ALL these questions, you essentially don’t have a “brand” yet, so don’t start making branded content.

[*BTW, just because you don’t have a well-defined brand, doesn’t mean people will hate the content you produce for it. In fact, people might love it, which is amazing, but are those people the customers you want? Creating content before you’ve built your brand is simply a waste of time and money. Think about it this way – a wonderful article your PR team gets you in a top news outlet about how your product is great for HR employee management will only help your business if:

1. Your product actually solves a problem HR personnel have

2. A cost-benefit analysis (which takes into account how saturated the market for products like yours in the HR market already is and how much potential revenue you can expect it to bring in) shows that the return on investment is positive

3. HR personnel actually read that news outlet ]

Misleading the customer, or: Doesn’t content marketing only work because people don’t actually know they’re being sold to?

As mentioned, content marketing, or branded content creation and distribution is just about any marketing message you create or pay for. This includes ads and banners and Facebook posts that people know come from your company.

This also includes content you “place” in other news sources either by paying for its placement or by some other form of barter (link-exchange, business cooperation, etc.).

The latter doesn’t necessarily name you as the source of the content distributed. This could be an editorial article, a “sponsored” story on a news site, a bunch of tweets and posts coming from a prominent influencer in your field.

Both of the above-mentioned content types have one main goal – to get people to become your customers (and if they already are – get them to become returning customers).

Some ways are direct (like ads), and in them you’d use a “hard-sell” approach in which you speak directly to the pain point of your target audience and immediately offer a solution.

The other way is more subtle, you’re building a long-term relationship with your audience by sharing knowledge on a subject related to your business and positioning yourself as an expert. In this way you build demand for your service, gain trust and in the end get people to become your customers.

For effective user acquisition and retention, you should always utilize both approaches to content marketing and they will both work whether your audience already understands you’re trying to sell something, and whether it doesn’t realize your end-goal yet. There is only one reason why your branded content would work – because it brings value.

How to make branded content people don’t hate (learning from “Will it blend?”)

I only moved to the US a few months ago so I was not aware of the viral phenomenon that is “Will it blend” that took this country by storm until about a year ago when I read about it in Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

In short, Blendtec is a company that wanted to sell its blenders. They wanted to get people excited about this useful, yet not very interesting, appliance.

They identified that what makes their blender unique is strength – it can blend anything! From that came the idea of how to make branded content that people would love – instead of just talking about how strong their blenders are, actually show it.

Then started a wonderful video series that you can watch on their Youtube channel (linked above) in which they took items we all know (and either love or hate) and put their blender to the test. The series became an instant hit – the shock and excitement of seeing an iphone being shredded to pieces was so incredible people had to watch, watch again, and again and then share with their friends.

While “Will it blend?” has it’s own website, separate from the Blendtec website and its own Youtube channel, there was no mistaking that this is branded content. The product is center stage (the blender), it’s core value and unique selling point (strength) clearly conveyed throughout the series and it’s audience, or various audience types, are present in the campaign through the products being blended. Each video features only one blended items, smartly chosen (I assume) so that their different audience personas would have a personal connection with the video series.

Do you think that the huge jump in sales Blendtec experienced after starting this campaign only happened because people didn’t understand that they were being sold to? It wasn’t. Blendtec was just smart enough (or lucky enough) to create branded content that people loved to consume, positioning themselves as experts in all things blending and giving entertainment value to all those who watched.

So what can you learn from all of this…

  1. People don’t hate all forms of branded content (“Will it blend?” made this very clear)
  2. If you want to make content people love make sure it gives them value. Either make it entertaining and interesting. Make sure people feel that they took the time to engage with your content and got something out of it
  3. Have a plan, a content marketing plan, that depicts what your content marketing topics are and how you’re going to distribute them (would you follow a company that Tweets sales promos 20 times a day?)
  4. Know your brand. If you know who you are, who your audiences are and what your value proposition is for each audience type then you can build a cohesive branded content strategy so people will learn to know the brand, what to expect from it and trust it. If you don’t have a clear view of your brand, your audience will be just as confused.

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