Changing Consumer Expectations

With Branded Content advertising spend at an all time high, what’s the reason for this precipitous growth? The answer lies in changing consumer expectations.

Loss of Trust in Traditional Online Marketing:  An article published by Mashable “98% of Americans Distrust the Internet,” cites a study by Harris Interactive that finds:

  • 98% distrust information found on the Internet
  • 94% say acting on inaccurate information you find online can result in “bad things”

Leading concerns include wasting time, getting a virus, losing money and fraud. The majority surveyed traced their distrust to ads, outdated information and self-promotional content.

Consumers Want Genuine Engagement: The proliferation of potential advertising channels accompanies a marked shift in power from the brand to the consumer.  Having reached the point of advertising saturation,  consumers now expect far more from advertisers, and advertisers are struggling to find ways for true engagement. Yet, a recent Harvard study revealed that only 23% of participants actually want a relationship with a brand. Some prospects just want to date, explore, and have fun first. So how do Marketers become more responsive and genuine?

Solving The Dilemma of Customer Engagement

While engaging with consumers in more genuine, meaningful ways has become increasingly important, it is increasingly difficult for Marketers to accomplish, due to the volume of advertising messages and background noise that brands must cut through, across multiple platforms, to ensure that their messages are heard, trusted and responsive.

While there’s no perfect solution to the dilemma of providing content that better engages customers and, when done well, interaction with branded content can create a value exchange that consumers and advertisers both benefit from.

This value exchange is not just created through any branded content. To cut through the noise and really resonate with the consumer, it needs to be relevant and properly targeted. Brands have a much better chance of their messages getting through if they are able to build true emotional engagement with the consumer on a subconscious level.

This means delivering both personalised and contextually relevant branded content to the right audience in meaningful numbers. This is something Yahoo! has focused on since the launch of Yahoo! Studio last year, which provides a premium and holistic service inventing, creating and executing solutions for brands working with Yahoo!.

The Value of Branded Content: Subconscious Storytelling

What value do consumers derive from branded content?

Research: Yahoo! investigated this in its recent Subconscious Storytelling research. A UK primary research study, Subconscious Storytelling looked at how online branded content is enabling marketing communications that go beyond rational understanding to lasting emotional meaning, and in doing so bringing consumers closer to brands.

By testing case studies of branded content from leading global brands including McCain and Shell, Yahoo!’s study measured both the conscious (or rational) and subconscious (or emotional) impact that can be derived through brand partnerships in digital, as well as the longer term impact brands can receive through truly integrated campaigns.

Key Findings: The research found that digital branded content campaigns can cause shifts in subconscious brand values, with key findings including:

  • Online branded content is 47% more likely to deliver consumer value than social media sites.
  • A cross-platform approach has the greatest subconscious impact – integrated branded content executions delivered 39% greater subconscious impact than offline campaigns.
  • There is a 79% uplift in ‘brand closeness’ for integrated online and offline campaigns, versus offline on its own.
  • Digital branded content is as good as TV sponsorship at driving awareness and consumer value

The 5 Chapters of Digital Storytelling

To ensure maximum effectiveness for a branded content strategy however, brands must also look to tell consumers a story through content, encompassing a variety of key attributes. The five chapters of digital storytelling were discovered from the consumer study, and can be of great use to marketers:

  1. A beginning, a middle and a never-ending – Unlike other platforms, digital branded content is unrestrained by time, it can run for months and be constantly available for any user to access at any time, which allows a deeper engagement with consumers
  2. Brand values and the moral of the story – Brands must ensure that the idea at the heart of their campaign will connect in some way with the shift in values that the campaign trying to create. This will be dependent on the strength of creative, content fit, and how persuasive the execution is
  3. Stories in context – There must be a natural fit for the brand and the content otherwise there is a risk of consumers finding the link tenuous and not engaging as a result. A recent example of a natural fit was Canon’s EOS Adventures campaign with Yahoo! across Europe that aimed to appeal to entry level DSLR camera users. However, an opportunity fit is also a potential context, with brands creating a link through an extending and powerful campaign, for example, Diet Coke’s association with fashion through its Style it Light campaign
  4. Collaborative storytelling – Integrated, multi-platform branded content will deliver a greater impact on target audiences as opposed to content through just one channel
  5. Long-form storytelling on the web – The overwhelming theme from Yahoo!’s Subconscious Storytelling research is that truly interactive, in-depth digital branded content is having a clear emotional impact and can be the key to engagement that advertisers are looking for

Engage, Don’t Tell

Regardless of the segment a brand is trying to reach, a relevant and emotional connection must be forged with the audience. With the proliferation of media vehicles that people have to choose from today – or perhaps more likely, that they are trying to avoid – brands and programmers must reach beyond the traditional and embrace new, powerful forms of storytelling communications.

“Branded content” or “entertainment networks” can be built by creatively leveraging existing media assets, generating original programming, and encouraging consumer generated media. That programming can then be distributed in a number of ways – by the brand itself, via syndication with other sites and networks, or through the right social media worlds. And finally, how individuals engage with that content should be monitored and measured in real time in order to inform changes that should be considered for the programming, network or campaign.

These solutions can be integrated with more traditional media to create a powerful, effective and ongoing program that promotes the creation and sharing of content and story.

For instance, an online web event or broadcast program could drive awareness to a live event. The live event could provide additional content for more online programming distributed at the website and through partner sites, blogs and social networks, and generate real-time micro-blogging from influencers. Then, that programming series could inspire a consumer generated media campaign, the unique and passionate stories of which would go on to fuel new print, broadcast and digital coverage and programming.

The Future of Branded Content

Online branded content is enabling marketing communications that go beyond rational understanding, to lasting emotional meaning, and in doing so, is bringing consumers closer to brands. As a result, we’re seeing brands focusing more and more of their budgets on premium branded content. These campaigns tend to run for longer periods of time and aim to truly reinforce the brand messages in ways that resonate with their target audience.

Related Article:

The Incredible Growth of Branded Content As an Engagement Strategy