Mapping the Brand-Funded Content Space

- in 2016, ARTICLES
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Over the last few months our curator Justin Kirby has been reviewing new frameworks that attempt to map the brand-funded content space now that the term Content Marketing is widely understood as meaning any marketing that uses content, including:

He has now summarised these in a new White Paper that he’screated in partnership with Smart Digital Publishing Platform provider Edition Digital that you can read below. There’s also a summary of the White Paper on the Edition Digital’s new content hub:

Mapping the brand-funded content space

As part of our partnership with the Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM) series, we asked their curator Justin Kirby to provide a preview of the key and emerging themes last year. He explained how all marketing is increasingly becoming based around content, and how it makes placing the word ‘content’ in front of ‘marketing’, or ‘branded’ in front of ‘content’ meaningless unless the terms help explain how what you are doing is different from other brand-funded content forms. There have been some recent attempts to address this issue, which Justin reviewed as part of developing the simple illustration below for thinking through your content strategy:

I’ve been looking at a number of attempts to map the content-based marketing territory now that the term Content Marketing is understood by many to simply mean any marketing that uses content. These include the Don’t Confuse Media-Led And Customer-Led Content Marketing report from Ryan Skinner at Forrester, the Content Marketing Quadrants framework from Andrew Davis and  Content Marketing Spectrum  from Robert Rose at the Content Marketing Institute. They’re all helpful ways of thinking through your content strategies more holistically, but  the one I still find  most useful is Google’s deceptively simple Hero, Help and Hub (HHH) framework:

google-hero-help-hubVenn Diagram to also show how marketing is rapidly being reshaped by content from 3 different directions that are all being driven by technology:




Every major advertising award show now has a Branded Content and/or Branded Entertainment category, and for some this represents where the media landscape will be further reshaped by the collision of the advertising and entertainment industries. These are the inspiring examples that Google categorises as HERO content. It’s also the space we tend to cover in the BOBCM series, where we chronicle outstanding examples like Real Beauty Sketches from Dove, Epic Splits from Volvo Trucks and #LikeAGirl from P&G’s Always.

The content tends to be video and longer form, unless you’re ‘dunkin in the dark’, and is also occasionally full-length, like the LEGO movie. As Mediacom Beyond Advertising’s Global Head James Morris pointed out on BOBCM last year, these ‘big culture moment’ campaigns only represent a small fraction of the content output from brands. Yet they still set the benchmark by which all content-based marketing is judged.

The objective is usually to raise awareness and win hearts rather than price-comparing minds, but the LEGO movie also helped shift a lot of toys and so the approach can also be used to drive demand. There’s still, however, some debate about who is best suited to tell a brand’s story using branded entertainment, as PiRo’s Founding Partner Tim Piper mentioned at the launch of the 2015 Global Edition of BOBCM in New York:

 “In advertising, people are thrilled if an ad goes viral or even gets watched. Then there’s a few thousand people in LA who create work that people pay to go and see.”


Both Andrew Davis and the Content Marketing Institute’s Robert Rose plot Customer Experience on their frameworks, and Ryan Skinner also alludes to this space with the introduction of his Customer-led content marketing term. What’s less clear is whether they are referring to the Customer Experience (CX) discipline, or simply how content can add value to the customer experiences in general, e.g. through the likes of Customer Service or Marketing as a Service (MaaS) type apps.

The HELP content category eclipses all others on YouTube, and includes online tutorials, how-to videos, life hacks, etc. Seeing the great examples there I can’t help thinking that there maybe others who are better at telling these types of stories than those CX and Customer Service-types, given that they’re usually more concerned with optimizing customer journeys, integrating tech and the more process-orientated side of things.

I wouldn’t restrict the Customer Experience circle to Google’s HELP category, because it could also be linked to Pine and Gilmore’s Experience Economy (aka Exponomy) by including the customer’s ‘experience as content’ and how they now share these socially, both good and bad. And so the space could also include the kind of mechanisms that allow customers to share their stories at scale, e.g. like the Create AirBnB one that content marketing guru Ann Handly talks about in the BOBCM Expert Examples section, or the Duncan Hines case study we featured in the latest edition.

Experiential and more event-orientated marketing could also be included although perhaps at the intersections with the Branded Entertainment circle, and I will also mention some examples that blur the lines between the different approaches below.


This is  the area that’s represented by bodies such as  the Content Marketing Institute and Content Council in the USA, and the Content Marketing Association in the UK. Interestingly, Andrew Davis and Robert Rose now uses the term Content Brands to describe this space in their respective frameworks, which they see as a subset of the wider Content Marketing territory. Forrester’s Ryan Skinner sees it as the evolution of the direct marketing industry, but the more editorial-style content could also be seen as the evolution of Customer Publishing, particularly through its digital delivery. The more regularly published, and often scheduled output, is akin to what Google refer to as HUB content that people ‘subscribe’ to. The idea being – according to both Andrew and Robert – to build a subscriber-base that is monetized over time.

Adobe’s is an Owned Media example, as is the BOBCM series that’s published using the Edition Digital platform, which is also used by Redwood for the bi-annual ‘Fiat Us’ digital magazine that we featured in the latest edition. The sector is one that looks set to receive significant investment as marketing budgets get relocated around content creation, particularly in B2B. But the merging of direct marketing with customer publishing comes with some interesting challenges, e.g. the skills required for optimizing SEO or driving response through tech are not necessarily the same as those needed to craft a good story or create engaging editorial, and vice versa.


Andrew Davis and Robert Rose plot Native Advertising on their frameworks. I haven’t done this with the Venn Diagram above because it could in theory be placed in any of the 3 circles. In practice, Native Advertising is most closely linked to Brand Publishing simply because the content is usually editorially-based as a result of the digital publishing environments where it’s served and possibly also due to budget constraints. The IAB UK Content and Native Definition framework we featured in the 2015 Global Edition of BOBCM highlights how the two areas are seen to be linked by the industry. That said the Traveller Filmed Reviews partnership between the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and Trip Advisor shows how Branded Content can be more strategically integrated and delivered through paid media, and we can expect to see more examples like this given News Corp’s acquisition of social video ad platform Unruly.


The 3 directions I’ve presented above may not map neatly onto Google’s Hero | Help | Hub framework, but together they provide useful lenses for thinking through what kind of content is used where and when in the Customer Decision Journey. This strikes me as a better starting place to think about what content is created and the reasons why rather than the converged media landscape of paid, owned and earned media that Andrew Davis and Robert Rose plot their frameworks around. There’s also the question of how often to use the different approaches, and Lazar Dzamic present this useful graph in his feature about redefining what content is and how it shapes the future of advertising. It helps show the frequency of HHH content activity over time and how they are used in combination to reach audiences through the different ways they consume content:


As Lazar rightly points out, this matching of story to consumer signals is where content marketing meets the programmatic delivery of content, which can help reach audiences at scale. But there’s still a huge skills gap, and that’s why there are so few examples like the early Brazilian one for Axe  where the technology has been used to tell better and more personalized stories rather than fire out traditional campaigns.

There might also be more creative solutions, such as playing through the lines in the way that Pereira O’Dell’s co-founder and chief content officer PJ Pereira discussed in our interview. That’s probably the secret to not just their multiple award winning success, but why other examples cut through like Lowe’s Fix in Six Vine animations. These DIY Hacks may have been short form HELP-type content, but are also examples of HERO-type branded content that customers seek out and share. Jack Rocks The Macbeth is another example that blurs the lines between the categories by enhancing a live experience through a content partnership with the NME that used ongoing editorial to engage an audience way beyond those just attending a gig at a sponsored venue.


What I haven’t done so far is define content, and not doing so is why advertising veteran Dave Trott recently warned in Campaign Magazine that the future of content looks set to be nothing more than “the unimportant stuff that gets delivered by efficient, exciting new delivery systems”. This prompted me to make the distinction between Story-led marketing and marketing that just uses content-like stuff. Chris McCarthy from  Google’s creative technologist division ‘The Zoo’ explained in my interview with him last year why this is so important:

This White Paper followed on from an interview with Justin by FIPP on Why ‘story-led’ marketing changes ‘everything’, and his Branded content: A survival strategy for the coming ‘Adblocalypse’ post for WAN | IFRA.

Justin also recently introduced the Venn Diagram framework above at the FIPP London conference and you can seem my presentation on Slideshare. There’s also a summary of his presentation that he put together for FIPP you can read here, which contains an inspiration library of mobile-focused examples.

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.