Most brands are already pushing out content, whether it’s just a weekly blog or a full-blown native advertising partnership with Buzzfeed.
And for good reason. A recent Neilsen study showed that consumers shown branded content recalled the brand 86% of the time compared to 65% for pre-roll ads.
Now for the troubling part.
While many brands have seen an uptick in awareness and conversions wth their content marketing efforts, others are frustrated with a lack of perceived ROI. 51% of marketers told Forrester their content marketing efforts are only “somewhat effective“.
What’s the difference between a so-so branded content campaign and a campaign that actually drives conversions?
We spoke with Vitaly Pecherskiy, the co-founder and COO at Stackadapt, a content distribution platform featuring an auction for targeted native ad placements. Percherskiy was featured as one of Marketing Mag’s “30 Under 30,” and his team has worked on campaigns for companies like M2, LoudClear, and NoiseDigital.
Pecherskiy sheds light on the difference between a mediocre branded content strategy vs. a successful one that drives conversions.
Successful Brands Don’t Just Rely On Retargeting
Many clients request retargeting options, which enable an advertiser to reach customers who have already completed certain actions—say, adding an item to their cart—on their ecommerce site.
Retargeting type of ad targeting is all the rage on Facebook and on Google simply because it’s more easier to convert “warm” leads (those familiar with your brand) than cold ones.
However, retailers are frequently unsure how to start, and can end up retargeting ads to the same stale audience.
“The challenge comes when you start thinking about scaling [your retargeting strategy], because you could be doing really great at capturing users at the bottom of the funnel, but what are you doing to increase the absolute number of purchases? We can increase the number of purchases per user, or increase the number of users making purchases.”
Oh, and let’s not forget that you have to have traffic coming to your site first before you retarget them. For a lot of newer retailers, that’s a catch-22.
Successful Brands Invest in Relationships
Wondering why your Facebook posts aren’t getting as much engagement as they used to? Don’t blame Facebook’s changing algorithm. More and more brands are investing in content, but shoppers’ attention is just about the same, and there are still only 24 hours in a day.
What’s a brand to do? Percherskiy recommends brands stop focusing on gaining more one-off purchases.
“We’re seeing increased competition across every vertical,” Percherskiy explains. “In order to stand out, online retailers need to invest in strategies that will build relationships with their customers and not result in just one single purchase.”
That’s why it’s important to focus on building loyalty amongst your customers. And part of this is by telling your story in a way that resonates with them. Content can help brands both build loyalty and walk away with new leads. And the more loyal customers you gain, the more robust your retargeting strategy can be.
“You can build better connections with customers by aligning your values with theirs, and content marketing is a powerful way to do that,” says Percherskiy.
Redbull is a classic example of a brand doing content right.
Their main Youtube channel has over 5 million subscribers—yet none of the videos I’ve seen feature blatant product placement or trumpet the merits of Redbull. Instead, they present people doing amazing things (presumably with the power of Redbull).
Successful Brands Have a Killer Distribution Strategy (And They Pay For It)
Now for one of the most important parts of a branded content strategy: distribution.
There are three main ways online advertisers showcase branded content:
- On Social Networks: Content that lives on various social platforms (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.). This can give brands an immediate boost. Nordstrom’s Facebook-published 360 video is a good example of this.
- On-Site Organic (SEO-Driven): Content that lives on owned property (e.g. a website). This can drive traffic to a site over a long period of time, and can potentially be amplified by email blasts. Nordstrom’s blog, “The Thread,” is a good example of on-site content.
- Native Ads: Content lives on the brand’s website, and is promoted via natural-looking “native” spots on popular publishers websites. (This is what Stackadapt does.) Native ads are sometimes created by a particular publisher on behalf of a brand, such as this Harper’s Bazaar post on its blog:
There are two big issues with the first two distribution strategies. Social posts tend to have a shorter lifespan, and on-site content’s SEO power takes a long time to kick in.
Programmatic native ads can help a brand gain more “street cred” by showing up on trusted websites, but Percherskiy recommends a combination of these three for the best results.
“We’re seeing more and more companies invest in paid distribution on social, through programmatic data platforms, etc. instead of waiting for that piece of content to surface on search results after 12 months,” says Percherskiy.
However you decide to split your funds between social and programmatic, the key is to build out high-quality content on an ecommerce site, then use promotional pieces of content across the web to drive traffic back to that main piece of content.
“Once those shoppers have more context around why they should care about that retailer, they can easily navigate to that second page,” says Percherskiy.
And that means more leads and retargeting options for you.
Successful Brands Repurpose Their Customers’ Content on Social
In a 2015 survey, marketers claimed most effective types of video content were customer testimonials (51%), explainer/tutorial videos (50%), and demonstration videos (49%).
There’s a reason why customer testimonials happen to have the biggest impact. More shoppers trust their peer’s opinions over the brands themselves.
“It’s a trend in the space—showcasing how customers are using the products,” says Percherskiy, “And I think that can be really powerful for retailers who want to share how other people, for instance, wear your brand’s shirt.”
This is where the principles in #3 come into play.
A lot of retailers start by creating content on their own site and repurpose it across their other channels. Percherskiy gives the example of a brand that will post a “snackable” piece of content on a social network with a link that pulls readers to their site for more. REI is a brand that frequently gets this right:
Learn more about repurposing user-generated content in our recent post.
Successful Brands Are Honest About the Quality of Their Content
Let’s face it. It doesn’t matter how good your distribution strategy is if you’re putting out boring content.
Many brands claim they want to create more engaging content—72%, according to one study—but are still falling flat.
“Quality of content is the number one problem I’ve seen,” says Pecherskiy. “A lot of retailers will rush and won’t think about what will really engage their customers. It’s not just a problem for retailers. Industry-wide, there’s a general lack of understanding about how to create good content.”
Many brands would love to create viral content, but end up falling short of the mark or settling for “safe” but boring content. Well, at the end of the day, it comes down to being really honest about the quality of your content. And there’s a good litmus test to tell if your audience will actually like your content.
“Ask yourself if you would [enjoy it],” says Percherskiy. “A lot of marketers in general think consumers will just read or watch whatever. But [that’s not true]. If we as marketers don’t see content as being valuable, or get goosebumps while reading it, then consumers won’t either.”
So what should that content look like?
Well, let’s examine one brand that was called out by one Huffington Post writer for being “boring” in 2015. Here’s an example of what this writer was talking about (unfortunately, this was a 2016 ad):
But in 2016, Walgreens launched a funny new short video ad series called “Whatever Makes You Feel Beautiful.” The short quippy series featuring two 30-somethings, Heather and Kate, garners rave reviews from their female audience and won the U.S. Creative Works Ad of the Week in February.
This is a good example of content that’s funny, catchy, and always ends with a Walgreens logo—without mentioning the brand once in any of the clips.
“Use inspirational, motivating content that connects with a value level, where they don’t sell themselves,” says Percherskiy. “Celebrate the consumer and showcase people who do amazing things, and let people see that your brand just happens to have the same values. If you’re a really sophisticated marketer, you’ll never sell yourself.”
Successful Brands Think Mobile-First
No, we’re not just talking about mobile-optimizing your content. We’re talking about making content that’s downright made-for-mobile.
And Percherskiy believes this is still a problem for many retailers.
“As marketers, we spend so much time in front of our computers, we think that’s how everyone experiences the web. Mobile use is so big, but…we just don’t understand how big it is.”
Here are some stats to illuminate how big mobile has grown:
- In 2015, Google announced more searches took place on mobile devices than on computer (Google)
- Smartphones accounted for 45.1% of web-shopping traffic in early 2016 (Bloomberg)
- 60% of omnichannel shoppers said they planned to start making more purchases using mobile devices in 2016 (Facebook)
This doesn’t mean you have to create an app to serve up content on (although that can be a valuable play). However, the truth is some brands are still creating content geared toward desktop users.
“The mistake I see a lot from advertisers is they don’t think mobile-first,” says Percherskiy. “Even responsive websites don’t just automatically create a great website experience…the way you experience mobile is totally different than desktop. Build your content to fit mobile first, and then see how it looks on desktop.”
Successful Brands Don’t Get Louder—They Get More Targeted
One thing is clear—branded content isn’t just a trend. It’s only going to be harder to capture shoppers’ attention online in the future.
“Only more content is going to get consumed every day, and it’s going to get harder for marketers and advertisers to break through the noise,” says Percherskiy. “This is especially true for retailers—for them to build a brand, they really have to think of the value they bring consumers beyond the transaction.”
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to put out quality content in the right places at the right time. High quality targeted content can be the key to gaining loyal customers in a noisy world.
“Consumers are becoming so sophisticated in how they buy online. They try to look at the brand voice, the content they’re putting out. We found that 43% of consumers read a brand’s blog and content…and that’s why communicating these values is so important.”