Why Unbranded Content Should Be Part of Your Marketing Playbook

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Brands have operated as publishers for years now, but consumers have grown tired of overly-branded content and advertising pitches, and are seeking to distance themselves from companies constantly butting into their lives. Many brands have learned that their customers “prefer information rather than promotion, generosity rather than a sales pitch.” It’s why companies are now rolling out, and experimenting with, unbranded content. But why would a company that typically wants a return on investment start such an endeavor without a clear and direct benefit? Why follow their lead? There is actually a lot of potential in unbranded content and it can enhance the ways consumers interact with brands.

Advance the Conversation

The idea is that by creating more dialogue in a new category around sleep, it elevates and accelerates the buying process… It’s a very high-level brand play, a very high-level conversion play.

– Jeff Koyen, editor in chief of Van Winkle’s

Casper, the company revolutionizing how we buy beds, quietly launched a journalistic endeavor surrounding the activity of sleep called Van Winkle’s. They cover news, tips, and even information about bed technology, but you would never know that Casper was behind it at all. They don’t lead their readers to buy their products, they don’t impose their branding messages on the site, and they allow Van Winkle’s to be an independent entity.

Koyen sees Van Winkle’s as a journalist endeavor centered around sleep. They concentrate on traffic and referrals, but they let Casper handle the actual sales. “We want eyeballs, we want users, we want uniques, we want engagement, but we’re not converting sales.” Van Winkle’s is more about telling stories around a budding niche sleep market. Their goal is to establish the conversation, get people talking, learning and researching, and they will naturally find their way to Casper products without anyone telling them to do so.

Trust and Transparency

This is about neutrality, experience, and craft, not about a product destination.

– An Verhulst-Santos, president of the L’Oreal professional products division

L’Oreal is just one of many brands who have learned that “their audience will enjoy their content more—and revisit it more often—if the brand affiliation is dismissed from the spotlight.” Fab Beauty is a website devoted to covering the beauty industry, not just the company’s products. They offer beauty tips, advice, information, and aren’t afraid to talk about their competition because it is truly about the consumer, rather than the brand.

Consumers know brands sell to them, they expect it. When they don’t, it’s a nice change of pace that can help to promote trust and transparency for their publication. Fab Beauty is focused on creating quality engagements that will form lasting loyalty with their readers, not sell products. Some sites might hope to indirectly lead customers to their products, but if there’s no obvious agenda, readers will respond better to what they see in front of them.

Establishing trust is key to creating a strong brand following. By establishing Fab Beauty as an unbiased destination for beauty information, they set themselves up as a trustworthy brand that will have readers coming back for more. The site only launched in summer 2015, and already they boast a bounce rate of less than 25% against a 40-70% industry standard. They have viewers from 150 different countries who spend an average of two minutes per article on the site. Fab Beauty might not be dominating the industry, but they have managed to establish a loyal following only a few months into the endeavor.

Craft an Experience

It’s easy to say you are a lifestyle brand, but if you put money into non-commercial products, you are proving it.

– Dan Williams, planner at Leo Burnett’s luxury and lifestyle division

Branding is all about creating an experience and making lasting connections with potential customers. People don’t buy brands, they buy experiences and feelings. Brands that make consumers feel something through their content are often the most successful because people connect with what evokes an emotional response. Freshwire chief creative officer Sarah Amos says “the best type of content doesn’t make the brand the hero, and lightly or unbranded content often is the best structure for that.” It’s why brands like Chipotle have been producing video content with minimal brand presence for years.

Sometimes too much branding can get in the way of a customer connecting with the content in front of them. They might have a previously formed opinion about the company or simply reject the brand messaging, but by presenting content free of any branding, it allows the customer to truly embrace what is in front of them without being influenced by a logo. Unbranded content can break down barriers and allow consumers to take content at face value without worrying about some ulterior motive. They can then experience the content in a way that is unique to them and will consider the site as a trusted source.

Niche Resource

If you think a non-branded content site would be beneficial to your brand, make sure the content you hope to deliver will be something people want to read.

– Tim League, CEO and Founder of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

At the end of the day, the goal of unbranded content should be to serve as a resource for potential customers. Entertaining, helpful, or informative content will quickly become a resource that consumers will revisit again and again. As League came to understand when he launched Badass Digest under Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, consumers will appreciate it more when that content comes without the restraints of a brand getting in the way. By serving a niche audience, whether it be beauty or sleep or movies, unbranded content can resonate easier with individual consumers.

Data Collection

Brands succeed when they break through in culture.

– Douglas Holt, Branding in the Age of Social Media

Unbranded content has already seen some success when it comes to traffic, but another benefit to getting in the game is gaining access to a pool of industry data concerning readers’ interests and habits. Brands like L’Oreal can use their platform to understand the culture of the beauty industry and use that information to improve their business when it comes to creating new products and testing marketing initiatives.
Unbranded content might be just one tool in the brand marketing toolbox, but it can do a lot for any business as long as they have something to say with the content.

The Social Media Accounts Your Small Business Should Take Pointers From

Infographic_the social media accounts your small business should take pointers from

Many popular companies use social media as a tool to enhance their brand. Your small business might not have the built-in audience many of these companies have, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look to these bigger accounts for inspiration. Each social media platform has its own functionality and purpose, so consider which are right for you, and pay attention to what others are already doing.

For Images

Whether you’re advertising a physical product or selling an experience, Instagram is a great platform to showcase aspects of your brand through fantastic visuals. Regardless of what your business is, the company you should be paying attention to is National Geographic. Their 45.5 million followers is a testament to the amazing work they do. The pictures they post come from all over the world, so it can get pretty eclectic at times, but their success is proof that beautiful pictures have their own market.

NatGeo’s Chief Marketing Brand Officer Claudia Malley had her own keynote panel at Social Media Week New York where she talked about their success in social. Malley spoke about the importance of giving their photographers the keys to the castle on their Instagram account in order to let them dictate the content. Of course, it’s hard to follow in the footsteps of a company like National Geographic, but there is something to be said for giving your employees control over the content you push out. No matter what your company does, introducing personal perspectives humanizes your brand. Adding small touches like names or personal accounts to their perspectives keeps your audience engaged.

For Video

If you’re looking to create shareable video content for your brand, watch what Buzzfeed’s Tasty account is doing on Facebook. Buzzfeed takes advantage of the platform’s algorithm that favors native videos over third party content . Their content is made specifically for the platform, and exists almost entirely on Facebook. That means they don’t count on clickbacks to the Buzzfeed website, and you shouldn’t be either. If you’re trying to create content for Facebook, make content that will live there. You’ll find more success that way.

Tasty’s videos work well with Facebook’s soundless autoplay feature, and are optimized with fast-motion to make them easier to watch. It’s easy to see how much value they put into production. If you’re going to put in the time to create video content, make sure it’s well planned out, looks great, and has your audience in mind. Do they want to sit through a five minute video, or can it be turned into a more compact format? Consider your audience’s attention span, then create content that will keep them interested. The more watchable it is, the easier it will be to share. And while Tasty’s videos work best on Facebook, they can still be shared across multiple platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

For Customer Service

Good customer service is important, but it’s crucial for many small businesses trying to get a foothold in the market. Social media’s connectivity can make for a great way to administer customer service, but if you’re going to devote one channel to support, it should be Twitter. People are tweeting to brands more than ever, and 80% of customer service requests on social are happening on the platform. According to a study, companies that use social care services have improved year-over-year revenue per contact by 18.8% over companies without. The platform has proven to be a much cheaper and more effective means to offer support.

Having an active social media presence makes it easier for customers to reach out if they have a problem or need to ask a question. Many large brands devote separate Twitter accounts to offer customer-focused channels. Maybe your company isn’t ready for multiple Twitter accounts, but the lessons still apply. @NikeSupport shows how important it is to remain active and respond quickly in order to form a level of trust with customers. Accounts like @JetBlue are taking a more proactive approach to customer service by tracking keywords and relevant hashtags to interact with people even if they don’t tag them in their tweets. You might also want to consider following @TMobileHelp by letting your customer service specialists sign their tweets in order to provide a personal touch, and show your audience that there are real people behind the account.