The social reactions and engagement generated by the branded content campaign gets fed back into the attribution models at Squarespace, which have grown in sophistication as the company has evolved from a targeting-focused, direct response marketer to one focused on driving broader awareness. In the past two years, it’s expanded from running in two channels to running in 22 channels, including hard-to-track channels like TV, radio and out-of-home.
“We definitely take a portfolio approach to the different marketing channels,” Paul said. “Some we expect to be very efficient and have a high ROI because they’re close to making a decision, but in many other cases [like this branded content initiative], we’re doing more to raise awareness – not only of who we are as a brand, but what people are doing with us.”
That’s where creating authentic content comes in. Finding the right stories for brands to tell is a passion point for Israel, who left the agency world searching for a more creative role. As the lead of Guardian Labs, she’s grown the branded content team from seven to 26 in seven months.
“It was a labor of love and very Guardian-ish,” Israel said of Squarespace’s “Side Hustle” campaign, meaning that the sponsored content was very similar to the type of stories the editorial team would write about.
“We knew from content we’ve done before that readers would really be engaged with this content,” she said, “and it fit with Squarespace’s strategy to engage new entrepreneurs who are millennials.”
Paul first heard of the idea for “Side Hustle” before he even joined Squarespace. During a pitch to the agency where he worked at the time, the Guardian mentioned the idea and thought it would be a good fit for a brand like Squarespace. It just so happened that Paul was about to make the jump to Squarespace, so he reached back out when he joined.
The evolution of that idea – reader first, and brands second – speaks to how the Guardian thinks about branded content.
The Guardian has a strict policy toward its branded content that helps guarantee that authenticity. The left-leaning newspaper, which posted many stories using Edward Snowden-leaked documents, won’t do branded content in certain categories.
“We had a big client that wanted to do a post around the energy efficiencies of fracking,” Israel said. “That’s not something the Guardian stands for, and it’s not something we think our readers will respond to, which is always the first thing we look at.”
Paul stands behind that mindset. He wants authentic content, which only works when both sides are thoughtful and mindful of how to reach consumers.
“As a marketer, it’s just as important to align your brand with the right topic area as it is to align with the publisher’s voice,” Paul advised.