PR has changed radically in the last few years, and the tools in our arsenal seem to expand on an almost daily basis. Perhaps none has been getting as much attention as the advent of branded content. Suddenly, it’s everywhere—from blogs to Vine videos, from long-form stories to listicles. Clearly, branded content is here to stay, but making it effective remains a matter of debate.
At its best, branded content can spark engagement. It can amuse, educate and ultimately, enhance brand reputation. When Skype began to engage consumers on social channels, the company quickly realized that it needed to humanize its brand story in order to create engaging and shareable content that would result in product awareness and downloads.
Skype made a strategic decision to change the conversation from tech talk to user stories that highlighted the deep emotional connections with friends and loved ones that Skype enables.
The brand partnered with Kaplow Communications in order to leverage branded content to amplify that message. By sharing users’ moving stories, consumers learned about the many every day uses of Skype. As a result, Skype’s key business metrics skyrocketed.
To get in front of consumers and win their trust, brands have to be highly creative in how they talk about their key messages. Overt selling is not always the answer.
Branded content provides an authentic way to reach consumers, whom Skype says are 52% more likely to look at native ads than banner.
But branded content takes many forms. At its heart it is the fusion of advertising and entertainment—or storytelling— funded by a brand. There are some great examples, especially in video.
In 2012, Prada did a video series with highly recognizable talent, including Roman Polanski as director and Helen Bonham Carter as the main star. The result is quirky, original and witty—and the brand’s message, though subtle, is unmistakable: Prada is all about luxury, style and sophistication.
Another great example is 2013’s award-winning Chipotle animated video about a scarecrow creating a restaurant and using the highest standards of food quality.
The video is beautifully made, and it subtly communicates the key messaging of Chipotle’s high-standards in food quality. It has been viewed nearly five million times.
Chipotle created an entire online content universe around this concept with a game, a song and a charitable initiative that accompanies the video and destination site.
But branded content can also go dangerously wrong when the story and the audience are at odds. In early 2013, an advertorial for the Church of Scientology appeared on TheAtlantic.com.
The piece covered the growth of the group and the key role the church’s leader, David Miscavige, played. Atlantic readers were upset by the sponsored content especially since both the magazine and audience have long expressed concerns about the church.
The Atlantic quickly pulled down the article and apologized to readers. Ultimately, The Atlantic had not considered the impact branded content could have on its readers.
THE POWER OF ‘S.C.A’
The best branded is communicative without being jarring. It grabs its audience’s attention, and it’s relevant to its target market. To achieve this, Skype and Kaplow follow three key steps— Strategize, Create, Amplify.
▶ Strategize: Know Your Audience. Make sure you deeply understand the audience your brand is trying to reach—where they go for entertainment, news, and to interact with friends and peers. Additionally, where content is published must match the core audience’s interest.
When Skype understood it needed to make a shift in its narrative, the company first looked at its target audience and determined that audience’s wants and needs through an exercise in social listening, market research, competitive analysis and existing Skype blog content evaluation.
As a result, Kaplow and Skype discovered that Skype users had one thing in common: a propensity for sharing personal stories.
▶ Create: Tell a Good Story. Much like the Prada and Chipotle examples, a good story captures and keeps an audience’s attention, and it most likely will inspire them to share or talk about the brand experience. Skype followed key best practices to source, craft and tell stories similar to what would be expected from a media outlet.
For its Stay Together campaign, Skype monitored traditional and social media channels, and identified unique Skype users with rich stories. Kaplow and Skype reached out to those users and conducted interviews to learn more about their Skype experiences.
One user sourced was Denis from Uganda. He hadn’t seen his family for many years, but Skype enabled him to participate in a family portrait despite being half a world away. Skype created a video showcasing the portrait, and it has been viewed over 500,000 views.
Another video is about Paige and Sarah, two young girls who were best friends but had never met in person. Skype allowed them to grow up together and share experiences about their physical challenges. The video has had more than two million views.
▶ Amplify: Build the Right Ecosystem. Picking the right platforms and timing is fundamental to succeeding in getting eyeballs to content. Before embarking on the Stay Together Campaign, a clear and strategic content marketing plan was crafted with potential content types and channels to leverage. For Skype, this meant considering its owned, earned and paid channels including the Skype blog, Facebook, Twitter channels and media and blogger outlets.
Skype also recognized that it needed to make its blog network the center of its branded content efforts as well as a business driver in terms of product downloads, new user registrations and premium orders.
Together, Skype and Kaplow fostered a deeper connection with consumers and turned the blog network into a significant driver of Skype’s core business metrics. Ultimately, visitors to the blog network increased, as did downloads of Skype apps and products. PRN
We’re all Journalists Now
A good story will include these characteristics:
- It draws people in.
- It’s easily retold.
- It connects with us on an emotional level.
- It includes some element of romance, drama, humanity, conflict and resolution.
- It’s a narrative—not a report or a press release.
(This article was written by Shana Pearlman, social media manager at Skype; Nadina Guglielmetti, chief digital officer at Kaplow and Emily Listfield, chief content officer at Kaplow. The article is an excerpt from PR News’ Digital PR & Social Media Guidebook. For a copy, please go to www.prnewsonline.com/pr-press/.)
This article originally appeared in the March 17, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.