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.
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.
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.