The branded content space is always evolving, and with 86 percent of business to consumer (B2C) brands now employing content marketing, the quality of stories being told is at an all-time high. But with so many brands jockeying for audience attention, it's more important than ever to stand out from the crowd. Let's take a look at the most effective trends brands and publishers leveraged in their content partnerships in 2018. Which ones will your company capitalize on in the next year?
Show, don't tell.
Use your client's products to create your content or help the characters in your story accomplish their goals. If you work with a software provider, for example, consider what problem their technology solves, and tell a story about someone overcoming that same problem. Or, use their product as the storytelling medium itself. Uproxx and Intel did this in their CRE8: Celebrate the Process campaign by creating 10 hero pieces of content using a laptop loaded with Intel's Optane Memory. This tactic could be a clever way to showcase your client's products without turning your piece into an advertorial.
Turn fiction into fact.
When crafting content to promote a TV show, find a connecting thread between fiction and reality to add depth to the content. Do your characters live in an interesting city or have unique careers? Investigate what their life would look like in the real world and share those stories. We saw this in VICE and Amazon Prime's latest project, "The Real Jack Ryan." The videos follow former CIA operatives as they share thrilling stories from their time working for America's foreign intelligence service.
Get up close and personal.
Try thinking of your branded content not as just articles, but as human interest stories. After all, stories resonate with audiences far more than run-of-the-mill content. A great example of this trend is Poetry and Paint, a collaboration between Canada Keep Exploring and The New Yorker's TNY Studio, which tells the stories of poet Cleo Wade and visual artist Bareket Kezwer. The goal was to connect with viewers by showing them what Toronto, Canada's most populated city, means to these two creatives.
Connect church and state.
Publishers have incredible editorial programs that resonate with their readers, so why not capitalize on this by collaborating on popular editorial features? Look at publications with readerships that match your target audience, then ask if you can support an existing program. We saw the National Association of Realtors (NAR) embrace this in its latest collaboration with Apartment Therapy. Building on the success of the publisher's House Tours, NAR worked with the publisher to add featured stats that homebuyers would find useful, such as median home price.
Go big or go home.
Leveraging the audience of a media network with multiple publications is a great way to distribute content to a wide range of readers. A large-scale example of a campaign like this in action is Ally Bank and The Studio @ XO's We're in this Together. This partnership produced financial advice content on the network's three sites: The Bump, The Nest and The Knot. By working with one studio across multiple sites, you could reach more readers without significant added costs or extra work.
Invest in brand journalism.
Journalists have been teasing emotional stories out of broad topics for decades, and that sentiment has carried over to branded content. Consider partnering with a publisher with a legacy of journalism, or task your team with finding unique stories within your company. A standout piece this year comes from The Washington Post's WP BrandStudio, which partnered with Optum, a pioneer in the opioid prevention, treatment and recovery services space, to dig deep into the nation's opioid crisis.
Seek out underrepresented voices.
Though the industry is evolving, marketing still faces challenges when it comes to inclusivity. By giving a platform to underrepresented groups, you position your brand as culturally engaged and forward-thinking. Just be mindful -- the partnership needs to be honest, or readers will be turned off. For example, Variety and Easterseals created a thoughtful series called Abilities Unlimited, with the goal of encouraging those in the entertainment industry to work with people with disabilities.
Let pictures paint a thousand words.
Including visuals can help to increase the likelihood that readers will engage with your content, but telling a story wholly through visuals creates a more immersive experience. This year, Great Big Story and Coors Light created a video series to tell stories about photographers and artists exploring North America. Working with creators who can be featured in your content -- while also creating imagery for it -- is a win-win.
Repurpose events into content.
Seek out opportunities (like events) where you can collect content to use in a cohesive and extensive campaign. Decide what you want to create ahead of time, interview attendees and then use their responses to develop all kinds of videos, industry analyses, advice-based pieces and more. Synchrony did just that in its State of Pay collaboration with CNBC, which featured interviews with thought leaders in the retail commerce space.
Stay on the pulse of social issues.
Speaking to the issues of the day through content is a great way to align your brand with important causes and show that you share your audience's concerns. A great way to do this is by connecting with individuals affected by an issue in person, such as at an event. For instance, NowThis and American Woman teamed up to create WikiWomen, which sought to increase the low percentage of female editors on Wikipedia by hosting a female-focused Edit-a-Thon.
There are many ways to tell an amazing story: It all comes down to who you're trying to reach, what resources you have, and then finding a unique message to share with your audience. Take these lessons from some of these top brands and publishers to make your content shine in 2019.