Branded Communications

At the Software and Information Industry Association‘s (SIIA’s) summit, David Meerman Scott’s session, “Advertising and PR for Everyone,” discussed transforming user-generated content (UCG) into marketing materials. The term he was “branded journalism.”

Branded journalism is marketers’ intentional, selective use of the conversation that surrounds a brand. The idea is to make use of the viewpoint set by the brand guardians and tap into UGC created both in- and outside of the company.

Traditionally, media companies controlled most content. They acted as a conduit for aggregating and distributing information, which they put into a context and format to reflect their viewpoint. Marketers subsidized this content with advertising (which provided distinct branded messages). There was limited, if any, consumer engagement.

The Internet expanded user engagement. As a byproduct, UGC was created and the publisher/marketer/consumer dynamic changed. Marketers can now tap into true feelings about and experiences with their brands. This authenticity strikes a chord.

Branded communications require a different perspective in regard to how a brand is embodied and experienced. The goal is no longer limited to creating branded messages that drive sales but rather to engage a broader audience and get them to experience your brand and product. In the process, this translates into a need to extend your role into that of an online publisher and to expand your content strategy.

What Branded Communications Mean for Marketers?

  • Ask consumers for input at all customer touch points. This includes your Web site, e-mail, toll-free numbers, and retail.
  • Set up systems to monitor the broader conversation. It may not always occur on your Web site, intranet, or other company-controlled communications channel.
  • Allow a level of transparency. Although this may not work for more regulated businesses, such as financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies, it’s critical because these are the true feelings about your company and brand that touch consumers.
  • Engage employees at all levels. Although senior executives may be known through the media, it’s often the employees who engage directly with customers that give your firm a highly credible face. Gather their input and stories. Determine guidelines for consumer engagement and acceptable corporate response.

Once you’ve tapped into the conversation, capture and package the content, particularly those stories that support your brand. Colleen DeCourcy, chief experience officer at JWT, used the Ford Bold Moves campaign as an example when discussing this point.

Integrating Branded Communications Into Your Marketing?

You must think differently about your messages and where you place them. Here’s how:

  • Understand your target market. Think broadly about how you profile your target customers and what their interests are.
  • Participate in social media. It’s best to be where your target market consumes this media. IBM created a set of mockumentaries, for example.
  • Work with publishers to reach aggregated audiences. While marketers may create compelling content, their Web sites usually aren’t destination sites. Explore other ways to integrate your message or branding into the consumer experience. Use publishers to sponsor a targeted section on a content site that reaches your ideal audience, for example.
  • Consider other ways to extend the conversation. Given limited consumer focus in light of message overload, look for opportunities to engage them further or at a later time to reinforce your message.
  • Magnify the conversation. Seek out ways to engage consumers, bloggers, and the media.

Measuring the Results

Depending on your implementation, your choice of metrics may vary. Some often useful metrics include:

  • Traffic. Think beyond measuring your Web site’s total visitors, unique visitors, and monthly page views. Consider statistics available on other sites where consumers engage with your brand, such as YouTube.
  • House file. Track the size of your house e-mail file if you’re trying to build a list. This enables you to reengage with prospects. You may need this list not only for short-term initiatives but also to distribute other content later.
  • PR. Track PR impact beyond traditional outlets.
  • Branding. Use traditional metrics to assess changes in your brand impact.

As you consider using branded communications for your company, think about how to engage your audience, both internally and externally, in a dialogue. Once you’ve become part of the conversation, assess your options for using the content created to extend your company’s branding. From a marketing perspective, this form of communications embodies the brand and helps articulate an authentic voice.

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