Marketing is changing in very exciting ways and the common trend? Putting creative storytelling at the forefront of winning business strategies and using marketing attribution to measure their effectiveness.
There is much revenue to be won as a result of creative storytelling. Tracking that revenue, however, gets complicated. Success still boils down to the creative team’s ability to prove return on investment (or “ROI”). When a strong ROI can be achieved, projects receive more budget and create revenue across the board. This piece explores the continued rise of creative storytelling through branded content, how ROI might be quantified on these projects, and the impact of being a data-driven creative.
The Rise Branded Content
Tech companies are attracting creatives of all types including visual artists and film directors. Marketing teams are rethinking their formats and distribution strategies largely due to the rise in branded content.
Branded content is a practice of producing articles, videos, podcasts, or other media that relates to a brand, but doesn’t directly sell the products or services of that brand. Strong branded content educates and equally importantly, entertains audiences for continued engagement.
Branded content is not to be confused with content marketing. “Branded content is about highlighting your business’ message, value, and story for all audiences to see. It isn’t tailored to a segment of your audience; it’s for everyone,” as Hubspot’s Anna Rodriquez puts it. “On the other hand, content marketing is targeted to specific audiences and focuses on highlighting your products and services. The aim is to drive leads and sales, while branded content marketing hopes to raise awareness, inspire, and inform.”
Marketing Attribution: Where to Use Branded Content
Most marketers think of their content in terms of the marketing funnel, the journey which potential prospects take as they consider buying a product.
- The top of the funnel is where prospects discover a brand and generally get to know what the company is about.
- The middle of the funnel is where they begin to consider a purchase.
- The bottom of the funnel is where they finalize their decision to buy.
Content has to be created at all levels of the funnel, starting at the top with general content. The middle of the funnel gets more specific, often featuring content about product, as well as use cases. And the bottom of the funnel usually has even more granular product content, like customer case studies.
Branded content lives at the top of the funnel and does not begin to touch the actual product. It looks more like a piece of entertainment that focuses on a subject that relatess to the company producing it. For example, when I was working for a sales software company, we produced a short documentary about the evolution of sales roles. Other companies have even created characters and fictional stories that resonate with their audience. The Emmy Award-winning show, Ted Lasso, started off as branded content about a soccer coach and it was so funny as a viral promo that it eventually was produced as a full series (now, strictly for entertainment).
Tech Companies Are Transforming into “Media Companies”
Consumers want to be educated and entertained when they watch branded content. So, progressive tech companies are building media divisions and even becoming media companies to meet the demand. The most noteworthy example is SaaS industry giant, Salesforce.
Salesforce in 2021 rolled out Salesforce Plus, a streaming service for live experiences and original content focused on business leadership, entrepreneurism, and customer success. The subjects of each series or film focus on the core business activities that Salesforce helps support. The content resembles shows you might find on Netflix or Hulu. They are not simply long-form commercials for Salesforce. They are thought provoking and inspiring pieces that make sellers and entrepreneurs the heroes of the story.
Salesforce is far from alone. Other companies like 3M, Sephora, Delta, and Intel are producing multi-million dollar films and premiering them at Sundance, which now has a dedicated division of Branded Content. These enterprise companies are shining examples of branded content engines, but others are catching on quickly. Late stage startups and newly public companies like BetterUp and Zoom have their own in-house studios that allow them to produce high quality video content every day.
A New Marketing Trend: In-house Production Studios
Building in-house production studios may have been a trend that was fueled by the pandemic, when social distancing was a must and brands thought of new ways to connect with their customers. New technologies sprang up from this circumstance to make content production easier. Sammy Nikalls of Backstage Magazine writes,” From remote viewing and production programs to no-contact studios-in-a-box, tech was already revolutionizing the way marketers and creators thought about branded content, but COVID-19 has led to even more cataclysmic change in the industry.”
It’s not just the content itself that has been impacted by the change, it’s also the way it is delivered to audiences. Brands are shifting to new media models that include media partnerships with established media companies like Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other household names. Or in some cases, brands are either buying or creating their own media properties, as marketing influencer and Forbes contributor, Kaleigh Moore points out. Hubspot owns The Hustle, Outreach owns Sales Hacker, Anderson Horowitz owns Future, and the list continues.
Why Branded Content Needs Marketing Attribution
The last ten years or so have seen an interesting evolution in the way creatives think about brand storytelling. Numerous professionals and scholars, such as Gabriele Pereira and Miri Rodriguez have written books and essays about how to execute effective brand storytelling from a writing perspective. Marketing companies such as Marketing Insider Group and Edelman have certainly outlined the business benefits of brand storytelling and thought leadership. But there are no tangible numbers when it comes to ROI. The effectiveness of branded content is currently being measured by executive studies that involve questionnaires and theories – not actual revenue generated. Marketing attribution can help make this distinction, but we’ll come to that in a moment.
The investment in branded content is colossal. Companies are staffing in-house production companies, buying media properties, deploying ad campaigns, partnering with media entities, or producing feature length films. So herein lies the million dollar question that executive teams wrestle with day in and day out: what is the return on investment?
Branded content is not meant to immediately drive leads or sales, as mentioned earlier. Since it’s a “top of funnel activity,” it should cast the widest net. Potential customers become aware of a brand through a top of funnel activity. So, when they are served with an ad or a sales call, they are already aware of the company and more likely to respond positively. Eventually they engage in a “middle of funnel activity” which is taking a sales call or considering a purchase. If that stage is done right, the prospect will eventually progress to “bottom of funnel,” where they more seriously consider the purchase. Then the deal is closed.
The Impact of Branded Content
Branded content does eventually need to generate sales or other business positive results, albeit down the line. The true value of that content needs to be quantified, otherwise investing in could cost the company millions of dollars that may never be made back.
Chief Marketing Officers of companies large and small are struggling to answer the ROI question. They often can’t say for sure how their prospects came to know about their services because their marketing attribution software only measures “last touch,” the step in the online customer journey that comes right before a prospect fills out an online form.
This is a critical point because most customer activity happens online while the customer is still anonymous. A prospect might learn about a company through branded content and may continuously visit the website as they decide whether they’re ready to buy. Research from Gartner shows that 83% of typical B2B purchasing decisions happen before buyers directly engage with providers. TrustRadius reported in 2021 that 87% of buyers want self-serve options as part or all of their buyer’s journey and 57% are already making purchasing decisions without ever contacting a seller.
A lot of anonymous activity happening that is never attributed to a true top of funnel activity. Marketers can guess how a prospect found them, based on click-through rates–or maybe they ask the prospect how they came to know the company. But in both cases, the answer will not be accurate. And especially in a downturn economy, revenue teams need to be accurate.
Digital Marketing Measurements and Attribution Modeling
The benefits of a branded content’s potential success touches multiple departments. To begin to quantify the ROI, executives must look more closely at their funnels to determine how much revenue was influenced by branded content efforts:
- Top of Funnel. How many prospects discovered a company through branded content and eventually became paying customers?
- Middle of Funnel. How many prospects that were familiar with the company became re-engaged with the sales cycle after viewing branded content?
- Bottom of Funnel. How many existing prospects in the funnel closed a deal as a result of becoming more confident in the company’s product or mission because of branded content?
The above questions can be answered through marketing attribution, which is also referred to as “multi touch attribution.” This is when marketers use a marketing attribution software like Dealtale to track their customer journey and learn which pieces of content drove specific actions. For more information about B2B attribution modeling, please read The Multi Touch Attribution Guide for Marketers.
More Added Value of Branded Content
There are secondary factors in addition to those sales functions that add to the ROI of branded content that mostly have to do with audience sentiment. Branded content should be rooted in the ethos of the company. Audiences, therefore, can begin to hold a brand in higher regard because they connect with the company’s mission. Nike, for example, used Colin Kapernick in their ad campaigns after he was fired from the NFL for protesting the national anthem and its racial lyrics and history. Many who support Kapernick and his stance now resonate deeply with Nike because of shared morals or purpose.
Brand sentiment is trickier to quantify, but ultimately companies need to be able to answer the following questions:
- How many top job candidates became interested in working for the company after viewing branded content?
- Did customer sentiment become stronger, based on branded content about the company’s mission?
Measuring the ROI for each of these five points can give companies a clear understanding of how much revenue was generated from a particular campaign. This would help them make better decisions in the future.
Our mission at Dealtale is to help creative marketers prove ROI–especially top of funnel activities that are harder to quantify. Learn more about our marketing attribution software by clicking here.