“On average, unaided awareness was 69 percent and purchase intent was 51 percent after engaging with branded content,” reported the Polar Ipsos Branded Content Study in May 2017
The struggle, it is real. Digital publishers finally have solid proof that branded content works, and boom, a whole raft of new competitors surface, all looking for that same advertiser dollar.
Digiday covers the problem quite nicely in this piece: As branded content pivots to video, publishers face new challenges. The article focuses on the competition offered by video production houses and entertainment studios, with a passing mention for influencers who approach a brand directly. Its central thesis is that the entertainment studios bring top-notch talent, expertise and a blank slate for the brand message, whereas the digital publisher pitch is about its audience and its editorial voice, which may no longer be enough in the new market realities.
I agree and suggest the following additional points that make it easier to go with the independent production versus the publisher.
- Depending on the property, the editorial voice can make brand integration more or less challenging. If it is too hard, the advertiser looks elsewhere, and then can distribute its content through owned channels, content syndication, native advertising and programmatic.
- The studios and video production houses are more distribution channel agnostic, whereas a publisher will always focus its distribution first on its owned properties. That can make it more costly to reach the total audience, unless the publisher is extraordinarily strong on the desired segment.
- Nearly all video needs to be amplified on social to get the results we desire. The advertiser can buy her audiences from the social platform just as easily as the publisher can. The pitch for the editorial voice, and the implied endorsement of it, has to be stellar for brands to pay upcharges on something it can easily buy itself.
The competition isn’t just coming from entertainment studios and video shops. As Digiday noted, influencers are increasingly able to pitch directly to brands, at a level of production quality equal to the studio product. Brands themselves have more in-house capability, as do their media, strategy and PR agencies. Every publisher faces a certain amount of in-category competition and let’s not forget the social platforms. Facebook could do a little more vertical integration at any moment, and open its own branded content studio, which would be a formidable competitor. Note that I think this scenario is unlikely; Facebook has a vested interest in NOT being directly responsible for the content distributed on its service, thus not likely to broadly embrace strategies that put its Russian-hacking defense in jeopardy.
But still, even if Facebook stays out of it, digital publishers are squeezed by competitors on all sides. Here are some thoughts for surviving this branded content squeeze.
- Build a branded content studio that has its own reputation for quality storytelling, that can compete for the brand dollar almost independent of your digital distribution. Great Big Story (Turner) and T Brand (New York Times) are two examples of this approach.It is also the most costly in the short-term. In these days of ever-decreasing media margins, if a publisher hasn’t already started down this road, this may not be a viable strategy.
- Niche. OWN your audience. Make your voice matter. If your publication/channel is the go-to source for the audience, your editorial voice becomes relevant again. Even though the brand can buy your audience elsewhere, it cannot buy your editorial endorsement anywhere but from you.
- Talent. Become the most efficient way to get the best talent. For some publishers. this means celebrities; for others, success is rooted in building the right community of influencers that you can tap into for branded content, both user generated and house branded.
- Think beyond video to other channels. I will have more thoughts on this in a future post, but newsletters and podcasts will be important for advertisers in 2018. I also think the ability to tailor content to individual preferences (using all that data we have) will breathe new life into sponsored content. If we know that only the target audience, the presumed interested audience for a message, will see the sponsored post or branded video, we can offer more brand integration and tailor the messaging to drive conversion. Without wasted audience or irritating casual readers.
I attended AdTech in New York last week, and met two super-interesting video companies.
Shootsta, based in Australia, offers brands a way to create higher quality social video. Basically, they send you the camera set-up, you film your content, and they do post-production. Targeted at the social media and corp comms folks tasked with feeding the social channels. Not intended to replace corporate video production.
Showbox, based in Israel, attacks the problem from a slightly different angle. It’s a cloud based platform that lets websites/communities/publishers offer professional quality video creation tools to users. I haven’t dug in yet, but it would seem to solve the quality problem of user generated branded content at a more efficient cost than what we used to do, which was have our video producers do the post-production.