2014 Future of Branded Content Report: Strategic Considerations

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This article was originally published in the Expert Predictions: The Future of Branded Content Marketing Report in the 2014 Edition of Best of Branded Content Marketing, and it looks at the branded content marketing strategy:

Strategic Considerations 

Some of the response from experts focused less on the future, and more on the strategic considerations that brands need to be thinking about with regard to branded content marketing. We’ve grouped these in themes to provide a context for the predictions in the following sections.

The 3 Circles of Branded Content Marketing diagram on the right is a helpful prompt to start thinking about practice more holistically. The diagram was inspired by the Three Pillars of Connected Marketing model developed by Idil Cakim, the analyst and author of Implementing Word of Mouth Marketing.

I often hear the cry “We need a social media strategy” when what is really needed first is a customer engagement strategy based on content.

Dave Chaffey, CEO,

As Dave Chaffey at Smart Insights explains, content and social media marketing have become the de facto way of explaining customer engagement approaches and so it’s “unfortunate” that these are too often considered separately. He says what is needed is a “customer engagement strategy based on content”. Idil’s model shows how these can be unified.

3-circles-of-branded-content-marketingSmart Insights

I’ve adapted Idil’s model to provide a prompt for thinking through the following questions as part of developing a branded content marketing strategy:

  • What kind of branded content is created (or co-created) by ‘Who’ and for ‘Whom’?
  • How is engagement managed?
  • How is content distributed? (i.e. ‘Where’ in the converged landscape of earned, owned and paid media, and ‘When’ in the customer decision journey?)
  • How is the success of the different parts and their sum measured?

These are also useful questions for analysing the predictions in the following sections, as are these strategic considerations raised by contributors:

We are media

Chris Gorell Barnes at Adjust Your Set suggests that we’re also moving from a world where mass media ruled to one where the masses themselves are the media: “People not only decide what, when and where they want to consume media, but also whether or not the message is passed on.”

Your brand is a social construct that you no longer control

That’s why Bjoern Asmussen at Oxford Brooks University thinks that marketers will increasingly realise that brands “are best understood as socially constructed organisms”. They will consist of “all kinds of brand meanings, brand manifestations and brand stakeholders, such as consumers, employees, competitors, suppliers, pressure groups and the media.”

so get yourself invited, don’t just buy your way in

Blended Republic’s Chris Sice thinks that right now, “too many brands follow an outdated ‘push’ content model. They create content and look to ‘buy’ audiences.” Chris Gorell Barnes adds that “if a brand wants to be a part of this world they must be invited in – you can’t buy your way in.”

or just try and catch the next big wave

Branded content is also “no longer about client strategies or wanting to be in on the next big wave” according to Vodafone’s Melissa Hopkins. She says it is now “simply a news provider, a conversation piece, a portal for stimulation, with a brand discreetly behind it.” Melissa believes only the brave brands understand this.

and ensure that your branded content marketing strategies are truly consumer-centric

Chris Gorell Barnes predicts that “the brands that will thrive in this new world will be those that put the needs of the consumer at the heart of what they do.” Max Garner at Aegis Media adds that “authentic and constant consumer-centric behaviour from a brand will always be the best way to aid success in our rapidly changing convergent media world.” For Patricia Weiss of the BCMA’s South American Chapter this means creating branded content in all formats and platforms that are personally relevant for consumers, so that brands move from a media-centric approach to one based on human context where the “consumer is the protagonist and hero of every story.”

and that your branding is aligned with your branded content marketing strategy

Veteran advertiser turned brand consultant Robert Bean explained that what were once walls that companies could control have now become windows as a result of the digital explosion, and anyone can see into an organisation from any number of vantage points. As such it “behoves brands or companies generally to sharpen up their act and decide who they are and what they’re about and be true to themselves in a way that they’ve never really had to before.” This means branding needs to start from the inside out, so that the people within the business are aligned around what they are trying to do and create a culture that produces a commensurate product that when managed properly results in a commensurate reputation.

or you’ll get found out!

Put another way, Robert thinks digital is a great way of exposing organisations that are “disorganisations” for want of a better term. Brands can no longer get away with trying to project an image that attempts to engineer a reputation. In summary, brands cannot “fake” another five years, believes Jan Godsk.

Welcome to the rise of the narrative brands

Robert Bean’s inside-out branding approach is based on the alignment of a brand’s culture, product or service, and reputation around what he calls the ‘Single Organising Principle’. This provides a clear sense of purpose of what a brand does.

Purposeful content and alignment are themes that are raised in the following section, as is the importance of storytelling.


My colleagues at Tenthwave produced the diagram above that is helpful for thinking about how branding can be aligned with a branded content marketing strategy. It’s based around the idea that the strongest social brands are described as ‘narrative brands’, i.e. brand storytelling that combines the following:

Driving Purpose

As Tenthwave’s Gretchen Ramsey explains, a purpose is simply a tangible reason for being a brand (why the brand exists): “It’s that flag in the ground, that rally cry that everything ladders to and that is visible and visceral throughout the entire consumer experience.” For example, Red Bull’s purpose in simple terms is ‘adventure’.

Cultural Context 

A cultural context ensures that the brand is culturally relevant. Gretchen believes that in practice this means capturing macro and micro cultural trends. A branded content marketing strategy must be developed with these cultural factors in mind. Another way of looking at cultural context was highlighted in a comment made by the dotcom pioneer Joe Kraus of Excite fame in a BBC interview last year: “If the 20th century was about dozens of markets of millions of consumers, then the 21st century is about millions of markets of dozens of consumers.” Unruly’s Barney Worfolk-Smith talks about interacting with people through “fractured passion centres.” The Duck Tape ‘Race of Gentlemen’ campaign is a good example of how a brand got itself invited to a very culturally relevant ‘fractured passion centre’.

Personal Relevance

As Patricia Weiss explains, if your branded content is interesting for your audience, “they will be interested in it.” Being personally relevant is behind the ‘passion’ in the fractured passion centres that Barney talks about. Gretchen Ramsey believes personal relevance is at a “nascent stage” but a feed customised for the individual user could include helpful personal visualised data (think loyalty programming and smart CRM), geo-context as well as social graph integration. (see more on this theme in the More Platforms, Devices & Personalisation section.)

We hope that you find this introduction to the following predictions both interesting and useful. The ideas presented here provide a backdrop to our contributors’ thoughts on what they expect to see change in the next five years and what they expect will remain the same.

Check out the other sections of this report:

About the author

Justin Kirby is a consultant, educator and thought leader with a 20+ year career in industry as a digital strategist, producer and entrepreneur. He chairs and speaks at conferences around the globe, judge industry awards, and advise brands and agencies.