What is the role of Branded Content?
In the vast array of media opportunities and ways to create dialogue with clients, stakeholders and employees, there is an area still rarely exploited by companies: branded content. It’s not difficult to understand why, it’s an area of storytelling misunderstood by both management and companies alike. Even most advertising agencies haven’t understood the question because it’s an area of communications usually dealt with in the entertainment and film industries and not within the business community. But the gap is more and more evident in the growing need for customer’s attention.
Formally, branded content is any visual, audio or written content created for social media. Practically, it really means any story, event or adventure created not only to gain attention from viewers or listeners, but to associate the company’s core values
to the viewer’s or listener’s memory. Branded content could be an adventure in an exotic setting associated with the joy of discovery that is part of any journey, all tied to a hotel chain or a travel agent. What they’re selling isn’t just the trip, it’s the experience and the best way to communicate that is through a kind of storytelling which emphasises the spirit and joy of travelling over the price, destination and dates of the tour package. In the same way, a short film could deal, in a funny way, with the memory loss of it’s protagonist (“I don’t know where I put my passport!”), sponsored by a company making memory cards for cameras and computers.
The point is to create entertainment or simply infotainment which represents the core value of the brand or its products, therefor transmitting the value of what a company does through a storytelling metaphor instead of a list of unique selling points which, ever so often, are similar to the competition’s. Branded content is not really an advertisement, it doesn’t describe the product nor does it show someone using the product. The message is created in the mind of the viewer as he or she is watching You Tube, TikTok, Instagram or Facebook and associates the entertainment value of what they’ve watched with the brand itself. This creates brand equity which helps sales as well as the value of the brand.
Now, you might be wondering how any of this could help a brand B2B, that is a company which simply sells to other companies. I asked myself the same question and had one of my students at Bocconi University, here in Milan, conduct a series of research with the help of the Confindustria di Cuneo in 2014. In that study, it was confirmed that Purchasing Department managers throughout the Piemonte Region, convinced to choose suppliers on an objective basis, were decidedly in favour of those companies that presented themselves through storytelling as opposed to those that simply presented a list of technical qualities connected to their products. The managers themselves did not believe in their bias, but it was proven by the study.
Everyone, whether in the general public or in specialised capabilities, are affected emotionally by the structure of storytelling. We are all humans in the same way. This gives a decisive edge to those companies that are aware of story’s strategic advantage which shows the value of Branded Content. For these reasons, Branded Content, in B2B, B2C or D2C scenarios, is a valid and effective contribution to any communication strategy.