I never considered myself much of a fan of any particular brand over another. With sparkling water, sometimes I favored Bubly because of their fun commercials. Other times, La Croix for their colorful packaging. But somehow, when I asked my friends to pick up sparkling water for me, they’d always choose Sparkling Ice. Always. (Mostly because they knew I liked that flavor the best, and I only bought the other ones because I was distracted by other factors.)
If you had asked me a year ago, I would’ve shrugged at the idea of brand loyalty and frowned in confusion at the merits of branded content marketing.
But like many Americans, I’m beginning to notice an attitude change. Chances are, you’ve become pickier about where you spend your money after the events of 2020. With wanting to support small businesses, those run by people of color, and organizations that support your values, few purchases now are as straightforward as click and buy.
Yotpo’s State of Brand Loyalty 2021 report demonstrates COVID-19’s direct effect on consumer loyalty and buyer behavior. Almost 30% of overall respondents — and over 36% of Gen Z respondents — said they have become more loyal to brands to help support them during the pandemic.
As marketers, we have the advantage of knowing what it’s like on the consumer side. I, too, make purchases. But how can we harness the growth of brand loyalty to attract consumers to stay loyal to our brand?
One of the most influential factors is branded content marketing.
What is branded content marketing?
Getting the attention of your target audience does not mean shoving your product in their face.
Branded content marketing is a way to attract consumers to your brand’s values, personality, and goals. When they are attracted to what you have to say and how you say it, they’re more likely to feel confident buying your products.
Say you run a company selling compostable diapers. Your approach to branded content marketing could include topics about the environment and trash removal, toddlers’ health, and tips for parents to practice self-care. None of those tell your audience, “Hey, go buy our thing.” But it does say, “This is what we believe and stand for. You can trust us.”
In short, here’s what you need to know:
- Branded content marketing is addressing topics relevant to your brand and audience to increase likability and trust.
- Talking about how consumers can use your product or service does not connect the audience to your brand values.
- Branded content marketing is not writing whatever you want, slapping your logo and color scheme onto it, and calling it a day.
- And it is definitely not a bizarre car commercial starring Matthew McConaughey. (You’re weird, Lincoln Luxury Vehicles.)
Research proves that branded content creates lasting interest. In IPG Media Lab’s 2016 study with Forbes, consumers reading branded content were 14 percentage points more likely to say they intend to look up more information about the brand in the future.
Many brands don’t execute branded content marketing quite right to gain that lasting interest. And several start-ups don’t even realize how crucial it is.
Here are four tips to not only get branded content marketing right but also to master it:
1. Emphasize your values
Each individual’s values are vital reflections of who they are and what they prioritize. The same applies to organizations as a whole.
The messages you send about the environment, spending time with family, the significance of creativity, and more inform the audience what exactly it is they’re supporting when they consider your product or service. And the absence of those messages can lead to losing customers.
Yotpo’s report found that 84.3% of respondents would be more inclined to stay loyal to a brand whose values aligned with theirs. So is there a chance consumers would be willing to pay a couple dollars more for an equivalent product to support a business they like and trust? HECK. YEAH.
And these matching values don’t have to be lifestyle values. Sharing your position on social or political issues can be a huge positive for your brand in the long run. Just look at the success of Ben & Jerry’s as they continue to proudly proclaim their beliefs. They even have a page on their website dedicated to explaining their values. That way, consumers never feel like the company is hiding anything.
2. Understand the emotions of your audience
No B2C relationship should be all business all the time. There’s no emotional connection to a small perfume company. But a small perfume company with a loud personality in every product description that shares its story and life experiences? Captivating.
In 2017, Capgemini found that 81% of emotionally connected consumers will promote favorite brands to family and friends. Additionally, 70% of those respondents spend up to twice as much on brands they’re loyal to.
You must learn to listen to and communicate with your audience by engaging with them on social media. Visit Facebook groups that you think your target audience would frequent, look at what tags are trending for your demographic on Twitter and Instagram, and pay attention to what people discuss in each location.
Then, you can know what will get their attention. Is it warm, fuzzy feelings? The sense of adventure? Let that inspire your content’s tone and topic. To you, it may feel like a small shift that only impacts the overall aesthetic. But it goes a long way in connecting to buyers on a human level.
For example, the perfume company Sucreabeille caters to women who are looking to embrace their weirdness. While they don’t maintain a blog, each item on their website includes a long, narrative description to make it absolutely clear to readers how wearing that specific scent will make them feel. I spend hours on their website getting attached to different perfumes’ vibes, not even paying attention to whether I would like the smell.
3. Be a resource
Once consumers find you, like you, and learn that you share their values, you’re still not done. The key to brand loyalty is to continue giving your audience something new to keep their attention. Sometimes that might be a new feature the brand is rolling out, but that can only happen so often. All other times, you must inspire engagement with new content on your blog and social media accounts.
One way to do this is to turn yourself into a trusted resource. Offer explanations for topics your audience wants to understand better, tips they’ll actually use, recent research from your brand, or other tidbits.
This helps your brand stay at the top of the consumer’s mind and widens your audience. Particularly on Instagram, users will share informative posts to their stories for friends to learn from and engage with.
On Inauguration Day 2021, Ben & Jerry’s shared this post to their Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
This post is a fantastic example of branded content marketing. The brand informs the audience of their values, educates them on something relevant to that value, and widens their brand recognition by sharing something many will find useful. And on top of all that, they don’t once spell out a “Now go buy our ice cream.”
4. Offer some longer content
There is sense to the practice of catering content to short attention spans. It keeps the reader engaged and encourages them to continue down the funnel to find more short, helpful pieces without getting bored in the process.
But check this out: 18- to 34-year-olds in IPG Media Lab’s 2016 research responded better to long articles. The individuals were more engaged, and it was easier for them to recall the longer pieces.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean you should suddenly write up to 2,000 words for every article you post from now on. But you can start to dip your toes in the water by writing long-form guides on your blog or multi-page posts on Instagram.
Setting that goal may also help you strengthen your branded content marketing. I know you love your product, but you can only babble on about it so long before consumers lose interest. Besides, there are other pages for that on your website. When trying longer posts, you’re forced into finding a topic that you can discuss in-depth in a way that’ll still engage your audience.
Throughout this experiment, keep an eye on the metrics. If the occasional lengthy post isn’t doing well, drop it and revisit the idea in another quarter.
So will all of your content from now on embrace these principles of branded content marketing? Probably not. And it probably shouldn’t. It doesn’t hurt to remind your audience that you’re selling something, especially if there’s some new product or feature you’re excited to roll out. Keep it a healthy mix, and you will surely reap the benefits of recall and brand loyalty in no time.