Branded Content Marketing: The Business Case for Viral Campaigns

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Branded content marketing is becoming a powerful top-of-the-funnel strategy for many businesses.

It keeps them at the forefront of consumer’s minds, and it helps to build a positive brand image.

This form of content marketing also takes advantage of social media to spread brand awareness.

What Is Branded Content Marketing?

You might be asking yourself:

“What is branded content marketing?”

A Forrester report defines “branded content” as:

“Content that is developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education. It is designed to build brand consideration and affinity, not sell a product or service.”

Branded content marketing primarily provides entertainment or educational value. It connects that value to the brand’s overall image.

Here are a few types:

  • Creative videos
  • Social media engagement campaigns
  • Consumer input into product decisions
  • Educational ebooks and content
  • Participation-based content
  • Responding to what consumers are discussing in real time with content that’s related to those conversations

We’ll be discussing each of these in full.

Forrester has identified four ways branded content can help build a brand’s image:

  • Educate and inform to build a trusted brand.
  • Create topical, shareable content to build a remarkable brand.
  • Develop stand-out content to build an unmistakable brand.
  • Become part of your customers’ daily routine to build an essential brand.

(Source: Forbes)

This type of content marketing builds trust and helps a brand stand out amongst its competitors. It also tends to get shared and talked about on social media more than other forms of digital marketing.

The selling is kept to a minimum. That’s what makes branded content a smart top-of-the-funnel strategy.

Branded content marketing help you build a trusted and remarkable brand
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The Difference Between Regular Content Marketing and Branded Content

According to Our Social Times, regular content marketing campaigns focus more on the product or service. The content is usually more rational and informative.

It also takes place further down the buying cycle. Unlike branded content, ROI is more about lead generation and sales than building a positive image of the brand.

Branded content marketing campaigns are often focused on promoting entertainment-type content, such as creative video advertising.

The aim is to resonate with the consumer on an emotional level, rather than focusing on the actual product and unique selling propositions.

3 Successful Branded Content Marketing Examples

These three companies used branded content to effectively spread awareness, educate and help their consumers, and cultivate a positive brand image:

General Electric’s — “GE Reports”

GE Reports is General Electric’s digital magazine. Launched in 2008, it covers research, strategy, innovation, and opinions on a range of topics:

  • Business
  • Digital transformation
  • The Internet
  • GE’s business results
  • Manufacturing
  • Public policy
  • The global economy

branded content marketing

Tomas Kellner, a former Forbes journalist with a background in engineering, is the managing editor of GE Reports. According to an interview by NewsCred, Tomas and his team aim to publish content that gets noticed by the press. This earns additional coverage for GE.

They have also used the GE Reports platform to launch more than a few pieces of branded content.

In one video, they had Matthew Dear, a prominent DJ, record sounds of GE’s jet engines. He then mixed and looped these sounds into a techno beat.

It got over 400,000 views on Youtube and allowed GE to tap into a new audience they would have otherwise missed: Fans of electronic dance music (EDM) and Matthew Dear.

Brand value for GE: GE Reports helps them get free coverage on social media and news sites (as opposed to sending out paid press releases) and they can be more creative with the audiences they tap into.

Australian Metro’s — “Dumb Ways to Die”

Despite its whacky name, this campaign actually lead to less train-related accidents in Melbourne.

Public service announcements are notoriously boring. They’re like your parents scolding you for not doing the dishes or cleaning your room.

They tend to get tuned out.

Metro took a different approach that was bound to get attention. They created a short, animated video called “Dumb Ways to Die.”

The cute little characters begin by dying in silly and outrageous ways, but by the end of the video, they’re all dying in the train-related accidents that are actually happening in real life.

Then, finally, it ends with Metro’s core message. Take a look:


Because of this campaign, there was 10% reduction in near misses and accidents, and the campaign website received over 1 million pledges to be safe around trains.

They also created an app that got downloaded over 35 million times.

Try getting those results from a regular public service announcement.

Brand value for Metro: Not only did they accomplish their goal of reduced accidents, but the video showed that Metro cares about their passengers’ welfare. This spread a very positive brand image.

Red Bull and The Stratos Jump

The Stratos Jump: A viral internet sensation sponsored by none other than adrenalin junkie energy drink, Red Bull.

branded content marketing

On October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner executed the supersonic freefall from outer space.

He became the fastest man ever in freefall, by reaching a preliminary speed of Mach 1.24 (833.9 mph). In other words, he broke the speed of sound.

“When you are standing on top of the world, you don’t think of records anymore; all you think is that you want to come back alive.” — Felix Baumgartner

Nowhere on the official website do they discuss that Red Bull’s mission was to spread brand awareness and their image as a high-octane energy drink.

In fact, Red Bull Stratos’ stated mission is “to transcend human limits.”

Yet they were able to transcend human limits and help their brand go viral. I’m sure Red Bull’s competitors were watching and weeping.

Check out the jump for yourself, and don’t forget to take note of the branding:


Red Bull sales in the U.S. rose 7% to $1.6 billion in the six months after The Stratos Jump.

According to a private company, Red Bull sold 5.2 billion cans worldwide in 2012, a 13% increase over the year prior.

Branded content marketing gave Red Bull wings.

Brand value for Red Bull: The Stratos Jump reinforced Red Bull’s image as an energy drink that supports action, adventure, and risk taking — the same core values their target audience exemplifies.

Learn how Red Bull used branded content to sell 5.2 billion cans in 2012
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The Move From Traditional Advertising to Branded Content (And Content Marketing in General)

There’s a reason why older advertising techniques, like billboards, newspapers, and radio, are now dubbed “traditional” advertising.

These techniques are being supplemented by, and in some cases, completely replaced, by newer forms of marketing.

These forms achieve the same objectives as traditional advertising, but in ways that consumers actually want to be advertised and marketed to.

Consumers want to become educated buyers who glean as much information as they can before making a buying decision. They want to do their research and have conversations using this knowledge.

Branded content (and content marketing in general) facilitates these conversations. They become inroads into consumer’s lives where brands can engage them on the same level.

They’re not talking to consumers, like traditional advertising, but rather with consumers.

Sharing, tweeting, liking, and commenting all become digital word-of-mouth that fits in seamlessly with the social networking consumers are already doing.

Not to mention, word-of-mouth is still the #1 most trusted form of advertising and promotion:

branded content marketing

branded content marketing

Not coincidentally, word-of-mouth is followed closely by branded websites, consumer opinions posted online, editorial content, and brand sponsorships.

The move from traditional advertising to branded content marketing can be seen both theoretically and in the data.

How Consumers Want to be Sold to These Days

Consumers hold the power.

Whereas brands and salespeople used to hold the knowledge about their products and services, consumers now have access to this information before making a purchase or engaging with a brand.

They’re smarter, and they want brands to acknowledge that and market to them in ways that facilitate this new buying process.

Here are four ways consumers want to be sold to these days:

  • Storytelling
  • Useful (free) information
  • Getting involved in the marketing and promotion
  • Feeling as though brands have insight into their lives

Let’s break down each of these branded content marketing methods:

1. Storytelling

People love stories.

Stories move you, consume you, and engulf you in new worlds and insights. And guess what? Every brand has a story, and every consumer engaged with that brand has a story.

These are the stories that help your brand resonate in consumer’s hearts and minds.

Lyft does a great job of this. Their #WhyILyft campaign showcases why drivers and passengers choose Lyft and how the service has affected their lives.

Here’s an example:

branded content marketing

This tiny blurb communicates that Lyft is more than a job for Justine. She uses it to unwind from stressful days, connect with people, and see the city through their eyes.

This form of branded content reaches people on a higher level, by capturing the deeper emotions behind the product or service.

Lyft has a full page of these stories from their campaign:

branded content marketing

2. Useful (Free) Information

Consumers have the power to research anything they want about a product or service,

But it can be even more powerful if that learning material is provided by the same business that’s selling the product or service.

Here’s an example:

Copyblogger is a content marketing blog that sells a number of digital products. Their digital products help people achieve certain goals online:

  • More sales
  • More traffic
  • Increased search engine rankings
  • High performing websites

They’ve paired their products with 16 in-depth resources that give people the background they need to use them effectively (and a free 20-part course in internet marketing):

branded content marketing

Each ebook breaks down the subject so readers can fully understand it. Then they finish with a branded pitch that leads naturally into one of their products:

branded content marketing

This useful free information gives potential customers the foundation they need to want that product or service and the skills to use it effectively.

Prospects see Copyblogger as a teacher and mentor, rather than a retailer.

3. Getting Involved in the Marketing and Promotion

Social media is a powerful platform to build engagement with your brand.

In many cases, you can build this engagement and achieve your business goals at the same time. Two entities have done this beautifully:

  • The ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Association
  • Starbucks

Do you remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? It took social media by storm.

Everyone from average Joe’s to famous celebrities were pouring buckets of ice on their head, stating a donation to the ALS foundation, and nominating someone else to do the same thing.

branded content marketing

Talk about viral marketing!

The campaign has raised $77 million in research funds and $23 million in patient services, among other areas:

branded content marketing

The Ice Bucket Challenge did a number things right:

  • They got people involved. They riled up support for a cause and gave people an exciting way to participate.
  • They introduced a viral component. They didn’t just say, “Use the #ALSIceBucketChallenge hashtag and share it with your friends.” They said, “Nominate someone else and get them involved!”
  • They took advantage of influencers. In society, famous people are the influencers. Once these people began accepting the challenge, the campaign really took off.

People felt good about supporting the organization. They got involved and had a part in the impact it made. That was the key component that lead to its success.

Starbucks has done something similar with their Frappuccino Flav-Off campaign.

They took votes from fans and launched six new Frappuccino flavors:

branded content marketing

Using #FanFlavors, they were able to spread the vote to as many people as possible.

When these customers enter a Starbucks, they get excited to pick one of the new flavors, because they took part in that launch.

4. Feeling As Though Brands Have Insight Into Their Lives

When someone “gets” you, that’s a strong connection.

Brands attempt to establish this connection all the time by portraying real life situations in TV commercials and other ads.


Because consumers want to feel like brands “get” them — that they understand them.

How Your Brand Can Use Branded Content Marketing

You’ve seen how other brands have done it. Let’s talk about your business can incorporate branded content.

Here are three of the most powerful tactics:

  • Run campaigns that get customers more involved in your products.
  • Invite your audience into the content creation process, through participation-based content.
  • Listen and respond to what consumers are discussing on social media in real time and create content to address those discussions.

1. Run Campaigns That Get Customers Involved in Your Products

You don’t have to ask people to pour ice on their heads, but you can use a similar process to the Ice Bucket Challenge and Frappuccino Flav-Off campaigns.

First, decide how you want to get your audience involved:

  • Do you want them to vote on a new product?
  • Do you want their help creating a new product?
  • Do you want their help Improving existing products?
  • Would you like them to buy a certain product so you can donate a portion of sales to charity or medical research?

Be creative, but make your campaign the center of focus, with your product as the vehicle.

Then determine a hashtag to go with it. Almost all successful branded content marketing campaigns use hashtags.

They help your campaign stand out in the clutter of social media, and it acts as branding each time someone participates.

After you’ve chosen a hashtag, create official rules/guidelines and put them on your website.

branded content marketing

Then promote the campaign like crazy:

  • Announce it to your email list and on all of your social media accounts.
  • Run paid advertising campaigns using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Choose the networks that match up best for your audience.
  • Use different forms of media to promote the campaign, including videos, articles, testimonials, stories, and infographics.

2. Invite Your Audience Into the Content Creation Process

To do this one, first choose a form of content for people to participate in:

  • Article
  • Video
  • Infographic
  • Song

For articles, you might have seen expert roundups before. If not, expert round ups are articles that collect opinions from influencers on one topic.

Usually, the publisher emails as many influencers as possible and asks them to answer a specific question.

Here’s an example:

branded content marketing

Once the article is published, the publisher reaches out to each expert and lets them know the post is live and that it would be awesome if they shared it.

You can do the same thing with your audience.

Just like any campaign, create rules/guidelines on your site, a hashtag, and promote it like crazy.

But this time, send people to a page where they’re asked to submit their opinion on one topic. Then ask for their contact info if they want to be notified when the post is live.

Collect all of those opinions into one article, reach out to each person who participated, and ask them to share it.

You can follow a similar process with videos, infographics (like promoting a survey), songs — whichever form works best for your audience.

3. Listen to What Consumers Are Discussing on Social Media and Create Content to Address Those Discussions

One of the most powerful notions in content marketing is to create content that is timely.

This means the topic is relevant to your audience, and you promote it as soon as possible after that relevance exists.

This can mean responding to current events, social change, changes in consumer behavior, etc.

One way to do this is to monitor what consumers are discussing on social media, create branded content that relates to those discussions, and promote it to those people.

The best tool I’ve seen for social monitoring is BuzzBundle.

BuzzBundle is a piece of social media management software that allows you to monitor discussions on multiple social networks. You can then respond to those discussions in real time — all from one convenient user interface.

branded content marketing

First, download the free trial of BuzzBundle. Then open the program.

It will ask you to create a few personas. Each persona links up to a social media account of your choice.

Create a persona for each network you’d like to participate on:

branded content marketing

Then head into the Keyword Groups tab on the left and click Add:

branded content marketing

Type in keywords related to topics your audience might be discussing. BuzzBundle will use these keywords to scrape social media networks and find where these discussions are happening.

branded content marketing

Once you’ve created a keyword group, click the Streams Tab and Find Buzz:

branded content marketing

BuzzBundle will start scraping social media for those conversations. (This could take a few minutes.)

When it’s done, the program will have pulled up all of the conversations that include your keywords. You can now go through these conversations and respond directly from BuzzBundle.

Next, create content that addresses these discussions. This could be an article that helps your audience achieve a certain goal, a branded video, or an infographic.

When you’ve published that piece of content, head back into BuzzBundle and promote it.

Using Branded Content to Stay Ahead of Your Competitors

Just to reiterate, here are the goals of branded content marketing once more:

  • Provide educational or entertainment value
  • Build trust in your brand
  • Stand out in consumer’s minds
  • Become a part of your customer’s daily routine
  • Resonate with the consumer on an emotional level

Your aim is to spread awareness and a positive brand image. By involving your customers and engaging them on an emotional level, you become the brand they trust and connect with.

When deciding whether or not to choose you or your competitors (that aren’t as involved in their lives) you will become a more obvious choice for them.

People buy from brands they trust. They buy from brands they’re accustomed to buying from. And they buy from brands they’re exposed to more often.

This is exactly what branded content marketing does.

It keeps you at the forefront of their thoughts when considering which products to buy, and helps your business become one of their first choices when they have a need to fulfill.

Create a plan to incorporate branded content into your strategy, and let it rip.

Oct 12, 2015

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Michael K.

Michael is a content marketer who teaches people how to grow their businesses online and make a difference in people's lives at the same time.

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