What is branded content marketing?

Companies and institutions around the world are rethinking how they can craft an approach to marketing that represents their brand and reflects their values while helping them stand out from the crush of competing advertisements.

This extends to science and health organizations that need to catch the attention of busy researchers and healthcare professionals. And it’s where branded content marketing can play a role.

What is branded content?

Branded content seeks to establish a connection with its audience by leaning into a story, rather than a specific product or service. The focus is on making a statement that conveys a brand’s values and communicates a more expansive vision of who the company is and what it stands for.

For science and health leaders, branded content offers a way to communicate their research and thought leadership, using a narrative that engages their scientific and healthcare audience.

One of the clear strengths of this branded content approach is that it veers dramatically from the more common ― and commonly ignored ― type of advertising we are inundated with in our lives. 

To say we are surrounded by ads is obvious enough. On billboards and buses, on televisions and laptop screens, and of course on our phones while we scroll. Standing out in this environment is difficult, and requires more than a clever tagline. 

Branded content infuses the relationship between brand and individual with more than just the appeal to buy something. The goal isn’t a direct sale but a sparked conversation on a topic that’s trending or an exciting story told in a compelling way.

For scientific and pharmaceutical organizations, that can be igniting conversation about a research field or research breakthrough, a particular disease, or a new medicinal drug or device.

When done well, branded content connects an organization with its target audience while having none of the characteristics of the typical sale-sy dynamic.

It’s a way to build a modern relationship with a modern customer who increasingly knows what they do ―and do not― want. 

Branded content vs. sponsored content vs. traditional advertising

So what’s the difference between branded content, sponsored content, and standard advertising?

Standard online advertising is delivered through display ads of varying design and approach. Most display ads feature a square or rectangle sized-box with a contained image and text or video. There’s an offer and a call-to-action, and anyone sufficiently interested can click the ad and find out more via a landing page and potentially make a purchase. The goal is to drive traffic to a site and inspire a user to take action. 

Both branded content and sponsored content deviate from this type of advertising by prioritizing engagement over clicks.

Branded content and sponsored content can get confused with each other but they differ in one key way: who ultimately drives the content.  

Branded content is driven by the brand. Quite often it is created by the brand itself and lives on brand-owned platforms. (With our branded content service at Springer Nature, our clients bring their objectives and ideas for content, and our writers, editors, and media editors then bring those ideas to life).

With sponsored content, in contrast, the brand will commission a publisher to create content, made by the publisher’s editorial team, and host it on the publisher’s site. The brand’s involvement in the content creation is limited.

In both cases, a more straightforward “sale-sy” approach is replaced by the desire to connect with an audience through content that is useful or interesting on its own, and not purely designed to result in purchases.

4 characteristics of branded content

1. It’s not asking you to buy anything
Branded content is about personality, not products. A well-executed piece of branded content will spark a conversation, create some excitement or awareness around the brand, and be shared freely across platforms. The metric for success isn’t direct sales but attention metrics and social response.

2. Better value for users
The classic arrangement looks like this: you want something of value, you have to pay for it. Well, with so much competition for consumers’ time and attention, reversing that arrangement and offering some free value ―in the form of interesting content― is a welcome change.

3. More connection through stories, emotions, and collaborations
By featuring stories and narrative techniques, branded content can establish a deeper, more intimate connection with its audience. It’s also a perfect format for collaborations, both with renowned creators who can lend a distinct artistry to a project and for user-generated content that builds brand momentum in an organic way.

4. Flexible formats over multiple channels
Branded content can be repurposed to fit a variety of formats and channels. Blogs, videos, audio features, and interactive events can be created as stand-alone branded content pieces or part of a combined release that live on apps, websites, and social networks. A blog can be refashioned into a video, which can be expanded into a podcast, then integrated into a thematic live event, and so on.

Benefits of branded content marketing

Cut through ad fatigue
Standing out in a hyper-cluttered ad landscape is difficult but branded content delivers interesting information that is appealing and relevant to the audience.

Strengthen brand credibility
Providing unique content with no expectation of a purchase is a simple and effective way of building brand credibility. A well-executed branded content strategy will over time help grow a reputation for authority and creative thinking.

Deepen customer loyalty
Increasing awareness and attracting new people is always a goal for any ad, but keeping a return customer connected will pay huge dividends long into the future. Branded content helps reinforce loyalty among users by putting an emphasis on stories and narratives that resonate more than any display ad could.

Increase sales
Just because branded content doesn’t directly attempt to make a sale doesn’t mean it won’t result in one. In fact, a strong campaign can lead to a boost in eventual sales due to the power of highly shareable content, a loyal customer base, and robust word-of-mouth.

Branded content in action

Jackson ImmunoResearch’s story
When Jackson ImmunoResearch sought new ways to communicate with a broader —and younger — audience of science-minded customers, it partnered with our Nature Research Custom Media team to create two pieces of branded content (later developed into a Collections page; a hub for all Jackson ImmunoResearch’s branded content).

Jackson ImmunoResearch arrived at the project with clear goals and we worked from that foundation: adding our experience to funnel the ideas into sharper focus and then using our writers, editors, and media editors to bring the ideas to life.

Besides publishing on Nature.com, the branded content was promoted through a targeted marketing campaign that included display and native ads, plus a carefully selected social media strategy.

Developing branded content helped Jackson ImmunoResearch meet important goals — reaching a new audience — and in the process boosted its brand profile.

Immunomic Therapeutics’ groundbreaking technology
Immunomic Therapeutics (ITI) wanted to bring visibility to its pioneering technologies, as well as expand prospects for collaborations. But science does not happen in a vacuum; cultural, social, and political aspects can have a profound effect on funding priorities and public acceptance of new technologies. To help navigate the tricky landscape, ITI partnered with our Scientific American Custom Media team to create three branded content pieces:

The published content explored the future of vaccine technology in light of some of the most pressing and significant social, political, and cultural challenges. It received high levels of visibility and engagement and resulted in new leads for future collaboration.

Final thoughts: a proven way to reach a modern audience

More and more brands are embracing branded content marketing as a way to communicate with audiences in a fresh way, to deliver a clear statement on who they are, and what they stand for.

There’s no doubt that ad strategies will continue to evolve but organizations today can be sure that branded content has only just begun to realize its potential as a modern marketing tool.

Discover our Springer Nature Branded Content offering here.

 

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