How to Create Branded Content Your Audience Loves

Today’s consumers are enthralled with storytelling and simultaneously annoyed by advertising. As a result, brands are creating content that avoids self-promotion and instead seeks to offer something more valuable.

Some companies are even minimizing their brand’s role in creating a piece of content, all for sake of highlighting its authenticity. While this may seem like a risky move, it’s actually paying off for brands like GE, Saucony, and Casper.

Using these brands as examples, we’ve outlined six key ways you can create compelling digital content, amass a dedicated audience, and cut through the digital clutter head-on — all while barely mentioning your brand name.

Podcast: ‘The Message’ By GE

Since the success of the hit drama “Serial” swept the nation, podcasts have become an excellent medium for brands.

One example of a successfully branded podcast is the science fiction thriller, ‘The Message.’ This podcast follows a team of cryptographers through a harrowing effort to decode an extraterrestrial message. At first glance, this podcast seems like nothing more than true sci-fi entertainment. But after a bit of research, listeners soon learn the podcast was sponsored by General Electric.

At first, this doesn’t quite add up. How does GE make any money off a podcast that doesn’t advertise their product or services?

According to Andy Goldberg, GE’s CCO, it’s all about connecting people to the GE brand mission. ‘The Message’ is “a podcast show that just happens to be produced by a brand instead of a network. It’s a science fiction story to connect listeners with what the GE brand is about, without selling the GE brand.”

While you may not have the funds to support a team of writers and actors for a sci-fi podcast, ‘The Message’ offers some helpful tips for creating a branded podcast.

Demonstrate value without being promotional.

Before you create a podcast of your own, determine tangible ways you can create value for your audience. Do you want to offer tips and advice? Will you further your audience’s knowledge on a certain unexplored topic? No matter what you decide, remember it’s not enough to rely strictly on entertainment value. If you really want to resonate with your audience, your podcast has to challenge your audience and provoke a new way of thinking.

Connect listeners to what your brand is about.

Just like GE’s COO explained, ‘The Message’ instills the core values of GE’s brand into consumers’ minds. Yes, it is gripping, shocking, and addicting, but upon closer look, it’s actually an accurate representation of GE’s brand mission. The main characters in the ‘The Message’ are investigative, determined, and reliant on technology to solve problems which affect all of humanity.

Short Film: ‘A Seeker Story’ Saucony

A Seeker Story’ tells the tale of Matthew Inman, founder of comic site “The Oatmeal” and avid long-distance runner. In the film, Inman details his fear of a fictional character named “The Blerch,” an overweight version of himself compelling him to run faster and longer.

This short film is highly entertaining and combines all the elements of your favorite movie: humor, compassion, and an emotional connection with the main character. The beginning of the video shows credits and states how Saucony is presenting the video. However, the brand immediately takes a role as a publisher and steps back to let the story told in the video shine.

How does Saucony tell a story directly about running, without focusing on running shoes?

It’s all about telling a story beyond your product —  one so compelling and entertaining the viewer quickly forgets any association to the brand.

If you’re thinking about creating a short film or storytelling video, here’s what ‘A Seeker Story’ can teach you about video creation.

Tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The narrator of  ‘A Seeker Story’ tackles real issues — his fears of being overweight, his house burning down at a young age, and the truth behind his motivation for running. Your viewers aren’t going to be transformed into brand advocates if you’re sugarcoating something or leaving out the truth. If you do take a risk to tackle real world issues, your fans will be able to relate to you, and they’ll thank you for your honesty.

Use your audience to your advantage.

The main character in this video isn’t an olympic runner or world record holder. Instead, he actually fits into the Saucony target market. Inman is just an average runner with faults, fears, and inner desires, so the stories he tells feel authentic and relatable. If you’re a consumer-facing brand, you probably have an army of brand evangelists just waiting to talk about their own experiences.

Online Publication: Van Winkle’s by Casper


How do you take a boring topic like mattresses and turn it into a thriving content hub for millennials?

Just ask Casper, the up-and-coming brand who is determined to disrupt the mattress industry. Casper launched Van Winkle’s, a website dedicated to generating interesting discussions about sleep. From true tales of sleep paralysis to breakfast quiche recipes, this content talks about everything sleep culture (except mattresses). That’s right — mattresses are Casper’s only product, but Van Winkle’s editorial team blacklisted the word from their site.

How does Casper expect to build brand awareness on a website where their brand is barely mentioned, and their product is obsolete?

It’s all about building an audience. According to Philip Krim, Casper co-founder, “we just have to create the best editorial content out there and build a big stand alone site that will resonate with people.”

To help you learn from the brilliance (and success) of Casper’s Van Winkle, follow these tips for creating your own not-so-branded content hub.

Choose a niche topic you know well.

Instead of trying to cover everything under the sun, stick to one topic you and your team are well-versed in. It’s also important to have the physical capacity to write extensively about the topic. Can you handle all the writing in-house? If not, can you afford to hire freelancers? Answer these types of questions before you get started.

Lay out a detailed future plan.

Casper may be advancing a conversation about sleep, but they’re hoping to gain brand awareness and revenue from it, too. When they first launched Van Winkle’s, they announced they were planning on teaming up with other publications and eventually adding advertising space to the website. It’s important to think about a long term plan ahead of time, then focus in on each step along the way, and how you’ll accomplish it.

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