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Branded Content Innovation Tour – Four Key Takeaways

Branded Content Innovation Tour – Four Key Takeaways

December 12, 2019 | By Amber Aldrich

Branded content – also known as native advertising, sponsored content, social content, content marketing or even advertorial – it’s such a new area of advertising that it lacks conformity of a name. The Branded Content Project dubs it “the business of storytelling,” meaning content that engages the user and is supplied or supported by an advertiser. Whatever you call it, it’s hot and it’s one of the fastest-growing areas of advertising. According to eMarketer, by 2020, nearly two thirds of all display advertising budgets will be reallocated to support native advertising, including advertising on social networks, where compelling content lives natively in both paid and unpaid formats.

At The Seattle Times, we know the power of using storytelling to connect with a local audience. We’ve helped local businesses as large as Microsoft and as small as Gregg’s Cycle connect with local readers through our branded content services. Our team develops content to tell our partners’ stories in ways that are engaging, informative and entertaining. These narratives position our advertisers as the experts they are, which translates to reader affinity for their brand. We also provide channels to amplify the content across seattletimes.com via co-branded social postings and native display served to a targeted audience over a network of premium sites. Content is hosted on the seattletimes.com domain, making it organically discoverable via search, in addition to advertising channels.

Branded content is both a focus and a rapidly growing area of our agency services; but since it’s a category in its infancy, we wanted to learn more on how to take our branded content product suite to the next level. In partnership with the Local Media Association’s Branded Content Project (which works with media companies on developing their storytelling businesses), I had the honor of attending their Branded Content Innovation Mission to learn more on this segment and bring best practices back to The Seattle Times and to the media industry at large.

Our group of 12, representing newspapers, broadcasters, the Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium, went on a whirlwind tour of New York City in November. We visited national media companies, agencies and technology providers to learn about this burgeoning area of marketing and advertising from some of the best in the business, including Vox, The New York Times T Brand Studio, Interactive  Advertising Bureau (IAB), Facebook and more. The tour was motivational, sometimes intimidating, but also enlightening on the opportunity and best practices in branded content. I brought back enough ideas to fill multiple pages of insights and plans for The Seattle Times. The following are my top four takeaways:

  • Native advertising is emerging as a preferable alternative to display advertising. “Be a part of the conversation, don’t detract from the conversation,” is the idea behind branded content and native advertising, which live natively within the rest of the page. As we learned at the IAB, native is now 63% of the display ad share, in large part because it is preferable to both brands and readers. Seventy percent of consumers want to learn about products through content (or the perception of content), versus traditional ads.  For marketers, native advertising performs better, as people view native advertising 54% more than banner ads. Creative content can take nearly any form. Articles, explainer videos, infographics, audio and experiences — there is no limit to the forms branded content can take. Vox, The New York Times T Brand Studio and Wavemaker all shared examples of creative content that has gone far beyond an article. From explainer videos on the science of our love for ice cream to The New York Times’ Google Cloud video content to Wavemaker’s Bank of the West interactive events, content for brands is being created in various formats for various audiences. When they are as well-executed as the examples above, the audience forgets that it’s advertising at all.
  • Content strategy is an art and a data-informed science. Facebook shared best practices around CrowdTangle, a research and analytics tool offered exclusively to media companies to learn what’s trending on social media. We also learned from Tubular how data can be used to research video trends on YouTube. Knowing what content is trending can help marketers develop a smart strategy for content production, adding science to the art of creative content.
  • Local media are in a unique position to capitalize on the opportunity in branded content. Wavemaker, a national agency representing brands like L’Oréal and Ikea, shared that they lean on local media because they best know their market, their audiences and the stories that resonate with them. Using best practices from national companies coupled with an intimate knowledge of local audiences and what they read, companies like The Seattle Times can help brands connect in ways national agencies cannot.

One week after the Innovation Mission, The Seattle Times was named part of the beta group of The Branded Content Project, an initiative of the LMA and supported by grants from The Facebook Journalism Project. This will allow The Seattle Times to learn from 20+ alpha and beta group publishers, plus Facebook, the LMA and more. As a leader and innovator in this space, we are excited to share what we’ve learned with our peers and our clients. Our aim is to be at the forefront of this space and to be the authority on branded content for our region.

Amber Aldrich is senior director of advertising for Seattle Times Media Solutions, representing The Seattle Times, seattletimes.com and Seattle Times Media Solutions, our in-house digital agency. If you’d like to learn more, contact Amber at aaldrich@seattletimes.com.


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