Branded Content is Now Top Priority

Mary Buhay
Mary Buhay

In the drive to deepen stakeholder relationships, communicators continue to reengineer strategies to include more branded content as part of a paid-earned-owned media engagement strategy. This year, for example, Monster.com partnered with media company Pivot to launch a branded entertainment platform to help the career website engage with its target audience of millennials. However, some argue that B2B brands pioneered the communication approaches leading to today’s proliferation of custom branded content. For instance, farm equipment maker John Deere has published The Furrow since 1895.

Fully realizing that mass media would be an inefficient use of budgets because their audiences were more precisely defined, business-facing enterprises have long included self-published material catering to customers, employees or partners.

With backgrounds in marketing, social media and public relations, three senior B2B communicators shared examples of how their organizations are strengthening community engagement via brand-centered publications and content.

Their publishing methodologies span conventional and digital platforms, and also feature storytelling vehicles that range from industry reports to online newsrooms to documentaries.

Wendell Calhoun Communications Lead, Syngenta
Wendell Calhoun
Communications
Lead, Syngenta

In 2007, we launched the inaugural issue of Thrive, the first and only Syngenta magazine built on custom content created especially for our top reseller partners. We selected this tactic for two reasons.

First, customized content would empower us to not only choose the stories we wanted to tell, but to tell them in a way that would help us personify the Syngenta brand and demonstrate the market leadership of our technologies and the people behind them.

Second, a magazine, complete with bylines, informative copy and appealing visuals, would give us the editorial credibility and depth to earn our readers’ trust.

The hope was that, like a good friend or dependable business partner, readers would look forward to seeing Thrive and welcome it into their homes and offices each quarter.

Today, seven years and 30 issues later, Thrive continues to live up to its name. The print magazine’s readership has more than tripled, and readership surveys consistently show that respondents give the magazine high marks on quality and relevance.

A new chapter in the life of Thrive has opened up additional ways to measure its value as a communications tool. A companion website, which debuted in 2013, has enabled us to expand our audience to the nationwide pool of growers.

Its foundation is the customized content of the magazine, with additional online-only news, articles, photo galleries, videos and exclusive contests. The most recent Google Analytics report, which we use to compare quarter-over-quarter website activity, shows that since April 2014, the number of visits and unique visitors are up 111 percent and 59 percent respectively, and page views have grown 93 percent. These metrics—combined with readership survey results—clearly demonstrate the power of custom content and Thrive’s critical role in bringing the Syngenta story to life.

John Earnhardt, Director of Social Media Communications, Cisco
John Earnhardt,
Director of Social Media Communications, Cisco

Storytelling has never been more important. Today’s consumer is inundated with marketing messages day in and day out. In order to cut through the noise and resonate with audiences, brands must tell authentic and compelling stories. That’s been the focus of Cisco’s brand journalism efforts for the last few years.

In 2013, we recast our online newsroom, The Network, making it a go-to resource for technology news. To ensure we’re telling relevant, newsworthy stories, we handpicked a set of savvy tech journalists to help us spot and capitalize on trending topics.

While the focus is on stories that Cisco cares about (e.g., security, mobility, cloud, data center, Internet of Things), the company is not mentioned in the overwhelming majority of these stories. Cisco’s two broad guidelines: don’t hurt Cisco; don’t help a competitor.

Additionally, we launched a themed, online monthly magazine called Focus, featuring disruptive technologies. And our teams have produced two award-winning documentary series, My Networked Life and True Stories of the Connected, which showcase the human element behind innovation.

Two years ago, in an effort to reach key business decision makers, our marketing team launched a partnership with WIRED.com to publish an online editorial magazine, Connective, about the Internet of Everything and our vision for connecting people, processes, data and things.

Crowdsourced topics from readers added relevance and timeliness to this partnership.

And while it’s essential to tell stories that capture attention, it’s also important that your stories reflect your brand’s values and goals.

We make sure every story we craft ladders up to a company objective, and then we measure against it—both in terms of online engagement and overall corporate objectives. Ultimately, we tell stories that drive Cisco’s key business messages and position us as a thought-leader in our industry.

Brian Gallagher, Director of Public Relations, Radware
Brian Gallagher,
Director of Public Relations, Radware

Most, if not all communicators have heard “content is king” ad nauseam.

But does your content serve the actual kingdom by addressing the needs of the people? When it comes to your branded content, are you serving actionable information to your core audience?

B2B companies are turning to white papers, case studies and other mediums for engagement. Branded content is the driving force to maintain customer loyalty, build a new customer base or to share thought leadership.

It’s important to know that great content can strengthen the connection between you and your customers.

At Radware, one of the branded pieces of content we produce is a quarterly report entitled “State of the Union: Ecommerce Page Speed & Web Performance.” These reports help educate eRetailers on the importance of Web performance optimization.

For instance, the average online shopper expects a page to render in three seconds or less. As our studies show, the median home page of the top 100 eRetailers takes 6.5 seconds to load.

We help to bridge this disconnect by uncovering common pitfalls that plague some retail websites and through the sharing of best practices, we give site owners a “shoppers eye-view” of how their website performs.

Our branded content doesn’t stop short at this robust 15-page report. We also create a blog post authored by our web performance subject matter expert as well as a compelling infographic.

Implementing a variety of related, branded content across different channels has yielded 600-plus leads, more than 3,000 website visits and 17 pieces of media coverage from our past two reports.

Remember, great content informs. It educates. It empowers people to take action. It entertains and can be broken down into snackable pieces of information to share and spread to others. And when great content is executed properly, it can help achieve your business goals.

CONTACT:

Wendell Calhoun, wendell.calhoun@syngenta.com; John Earnhardt, jearnhar@cisco.com; Brian Gallagher, briang@radware.com.

This article originally appeared in the November 24, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.