Most Branded Content Businesses Need An Upgrade

kunalData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Kunal Gupta, founder and CEO at Polar.

When I ask publishers how they are differentiating their branded content business, the common response I hear is, We create the highest-quality content.”

Publishers risk looking the same if their value proposition is limited to only producing high-quality branded content. All premium publishers pride themselves in creating high-quality content.

Opportunities for greater differentiation for a publisher’s branded content business include creating more bite-sized content packages at lower price points or helping a marketer use content to better engage with their customers. Publishers can also leverage the many content assets brands are producing on social and offering solutions to meet the real-time and immediate content marketing needs a brand sometimes has, or exploring how content and commerce come together.

The common challenge is that, given the high-touch and expensive nature of branded content, marketers are choosing to only work with one or two publishers at any given time. And even if the results are spectacular, marketers are interested to see what’s available in the market so retaining clients is challenging.

Now is the time for publishers to upgrade their branded content business, which starts with taking a longer-term view of their business. This means investing in building a robust offer for clients that has staying power and one that will still be relevant one or two years out.

Branded content is fundamentally different than display advertising. The creative process, success metrics, pricing model and user experience with branded content programs challenge the traditional display advertising execution patterns. Where success in display was measured based on clicks, success with branded content is focused on engagement, which is commonly measured using data on time spent and views of the branded content.

I see more attention on audience segmentation to influence how content is used to engage audiences, and not only a publisher’s existing audience but rather a marketer’s desired audience, which may extend beyond the organic reach of a publisher has. In this way, publishers are providing agencylike services to help a brand reach their target audience.

However, the buying and selling of branded content programs today predominantly happens by following a traditional media-buying process: media agencies sending RFPs.

Looking at the larger ecosystem, there are many parties that have a vested interest in content programs, including creative agencies, public relations agencies, communications firms, social marketing agencies and in-house marketing departments. I have seen most publishers focused on media agencies; however, publishers would be served well to increase the breadth of their relationships with a variety of agencies that ultimately support clients.

Additionally, I have always heard that the content programs where the client is directly involved often are the most successful, since alignment between the brand’s goals and program execution is maintained. It may not result in immediate new business but for those with a long-term view on their business, it’s a smart move to make now.

Another common trap that leads to the market feeling crowded is publisher sales teams being reactive to agency RFPs. A reactive strategy will naturally lead to incredible competition, which inevitably leads to price pressure and margin compression. Instead, publishers should start to be proactive with the market by showing a wide variety of clients the content solutions they have to offer, including price, and making it easier for them to buy.

A major benefit of this strategy is being able to influence the strategy and conversation earlier in the process, as branded content is new territory. Clients need help before that RFP is written, and perhaps publishers will give them a reason to not write that RFP in the first place.

The marketing, training and sales enablement strate­gy to empower a team to proactively approach a wide variety of clients will look different than what is being done today. And that is a good sign. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, so change is good.

Given that the process to execute a branded content program, from planning to creative, approvals, delivery and measurement, is so different than what clients are used to, a lot more attention needs to be paid to the overall client experience. Being clear about expectations upfront and reminding the client of the focus throughout the execution process are common areas where programs may stumble. The client experience may ultimately influence repeat business more than actual campaign results.

Understandably, people do business with people they like. Investing in strong client services and project management talent who can lead and drive the process will keep clients coming back.

Oh, and one more thing: Publishers should eat their own dog food and invest in running their B2B content marketing programs for their branded content business. Their teams will learn from this experience and their culture will be stronger thanks to it.

Follow Kunal Gupta (@kunalfrompolar), Polar (@AboutPolar) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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