If you really think about it, branded content has been around since 1900. That’s the year Édouard and André Michelin published the first Michelin Guide. What started as a useful guide for French motorists has since become a cultural institution steeped in prestige.
Over a hundred years later and branded content has moved from prestigious pamphlets and fancy restaurants to online publishers, clients and the search for profit and scalability. Branded content can be tricky to navigate, especially for those making it. We’re all trying to hit that sweet spot between profitable commerce and quality content. But how exactly do we reach that Nirvana?
As the Global Director for Content at the Financial Times, it’s a question Lexi Jarman is faced with every day. To get some answers, the FT commissioned research focused on the importance of quality in branded content. In her talk this Monday at AWE, Lexi Jarman went through the findings of this research and pulled out valuable learnings that everyone working with branded content should take home with them. Here’s a four of the best:
“Quality is the driving force behind successful branded content.”
According to the FT’s research, 64% of readers believe that the quality of branded content is more important than the brand sponsoring it. A further 76% of respondents would only read a piece of branded content if they believe it to be good quality. Whilst it should come as no surprise that audiences prefer branded content that’s good, brands and publishers should take serious heed of these stats.As Lexi says, “quality is considered by the majority to be more important than the host publication or the sponsor. If high quality isn’t maintained in every single aspect of branded content, then quite simply no one is going to read it and we’re all going to suffer.”
“Branded content needs to be every bit as stimulating as any of the editorial that you’re publishing around it”
The Financial Times is particularly well known for the discerning nature of its readership. But really, the same can and should be said of any publisher. All readers are smart enough to know an ad when they see one, what they really care about is whether your branded content challenges, inspires and engages them as much as the rest of the content that you’re publishing.It’s like Lexi says, “readers want content that’s credible, well sourced [and] that provides alternative and balanced viewpoints.” Her last point about balanced view points is an especially interesting one. How often do we see more than one point of view in branded content and how does it affect people’s reading of it?
“When it’s done well branded content generates incredibly positive sentiment for all parties.”
The FT’s survey shows that branded content can have tangible positive gains for both publishers and brands. Respondents reported that good content often helped them overcome an unwillingness to engage with brands and publishers they had negative perceptions of.However, the opposite is true when branded content doesn’t meet audience expectations. In short: “Publishing poor branded content is likely to make your consumers think twice not only about reading that branded content, but also the content you’re publishing more generally.”
Agencies, brands and publishers need to come together to deliver quality branded content
Readers want publishers to play a bigger role in the curation of branded content. 70% of those asked agreed that sponsored content should never waiver from a publication’s tone of voice. An even larger demographic felt that publishers should impose stricter vetting on the brands they work with.
To meet these expectations, Lexi Jarman believes that her role involves not only making sure that the quality of the content is good, but also “making sure that the sponsor is right for the audience of [the] publication” There’s no doubt that a client’s own tone of voice is important and absolutely must come through in the content, but that tone needs to match or be close to the tone of a publication in order to effectively communicate with its audience. Achieving this means agencies, brands and publishers need to work together. Each of their reputations depend on it.