cword
Warning: if you’re a big fan of censorship, stop reading now. We’re going to drop the “C” word a number of times in this article. Yep, that’s right, the “C” word. Got it?

Content.

Boom! There’s the first one.

Content.

There it goes again. It’s got such a nice ring to it, we might even add the “B” word.

Branded Content.

Ouch. What a badass!

OK, now that your blood pressure is dropping and you may even be cracking a wry smile over that air of judgment, let’s talk seriously about branded content.

It’s the new black and you, yes you, on the other side of those glowing pixels, need to be thinking about how it can be used for your brand. Why? Because advertising as we know it is changing. Rapidly. Branded content is now and the future, just ask Seth Godin. But first…

Bizarre-Tobacco-AdvertisingYou’re probably too young to remember this       (I certainly am), but screen advertising (ie, TV) was invented to sell stuff to housewives and guys who smoke in bed and was all kinds of wrong. Got a light, Mr Draper? It treated people like idiots and was solely based on features and benefits. It was very direct and literally told people what to do. Big Brother style. That’s because in the “olden days”, brands were a lot more generic as were the products they were touting. There was no subtlety or brand personality required. The content they were producing had to be forceful and painfully obvious, because it truly was a source of education. It was the first time consumers were able to see a range of products in action right from the comfort of their homes. Of course they could go into a store or have a sweaty salesman accost them unannounced at their front door, but to experience it whilst eating their meat and three veg in their brown lounge rooms, was a monumental achievement. They were a captive, yet passive audience and they totally bought it.

The advertising industry flourished. They cottoned on to the fact that psychologically people were open to suggestion and brands as well as their ad agencies started figuring out the best ways to manipulate convince consumers to eat their food, use their services and buy their stuff. Of course, this went ballistic to the point of people selling ad space…in space! Life has become saturated with traditional advertising and consumers, surprise surprise, have become very savvy about being sold to. Backlash.

But then… let’s take a breath here… the internet happened. Thanks geeks! You saved us all.

The beautiful thing about the internet is that it has more or less democratized advertising. No longer are consumers just passive Pavlovian lab rats drooling in front of a screen, waiting for their next hit. Instead, they are in charge of what they see, when they see it and how. So the traditional features and benefits style “pushvertising” ain’t as hypnotic as it used to be. That’s because as consumers we can find as much practical information as we need about a product or service without ever having to turn on a television and wait. We are in charge of our brains again (dubious, but humour me on this one). Brands are now forced to earn their customers’ loyalty, not demand it, because consumers are craving more than information. They want truth and connection.

heartSo what’s left for a brand wanting to connect with its audience? Please refer to the top of this article. Yes, the “C” word. Content is the way. The loving, heartfelt, insightful way. The respectful, “we get you” way. The, “hey here’s an idea, let’s build a community, start some conversations and deliver to our VALUED customers the kinds of interesting information they actually want” way. You feel me?

So when we talk about branded content, we’re simply talking about great storytelling. Good old-fashioned human connection wrapped up in modern imagery and emotive soundtracks that tug at the TRUTH strings because it is actually RELEVANT to us. It’s about delivering bite-sized chunks of delicious data that can be consumed on the spot without any request to pay the bill.

That’s the scary part: it involves no “advertising”. There’s no selling here. Well there is, but it’s so subtle that it’s not really part of the equation. The selling comes through a gentle, longer-term, positive association that’s made between your brand and your audience through the branded content you’re sharing.

You need to have the guts to back yourself, to trust that your brand is strong enough to present itself and its values in a fashion that it can give away awesome content for free and that consumers are smart enough (and yes, they are) to be grateful for this content and think of YOU when THEY decide to make a purchase. Hence the title of this article. It takes some balls and it’s so so worth it.

There are countless examples of success stories out there where brands have ditched the traditional and embraced the effective. We’ll leave you with just one: Mint.com. This online personal finance company started in 2006 and grew to almost 2 million customers within three years when it was sold to Intuit for $170 million. How did they do it? Branded content. And it wasn’t big budget OTT stuff. It was mostly just infographics. Why did it work? They gave their customers what they needed.

Will you do the same? There’s only one answer because traditional advertising is now the “F” word: finished! Stick that in your electronic cigarette and inhale the vapour. Some sayings are better from the olden days. Wink.