I have been encouraging my clients and readers to invest in content marketing for some time now, but branded content can be a contentious issue. Online content should be created with the end user’s needs and wants in mind. New content brings the search engines and good content gets the search engines to index those pages and over time, as your search engine optimisation (SEO) builds over time, the people will start to come to consume the content you have created for them. And if your content is considered helpful to the user’s that you had intended it for, they will reward you by liking, tweeting, sharing your website content.

Branded content is a somewhat different content marketing strategy. Online content marketing is a broad term that covers written text on a page, video content, images and infographics and audio files. It is very common that such online content will include information about your business and its products or services. Perhaps you format your video content into instructional How To Guides or your images are of the physical products you sell and your webpage information might be about the services you provide the community. But branded content should incorporate your brand identity into a story for the end user, and I mean story in its literal form – a narrative that is designed to be entertaining and capture your imagination.

Your brand has a visual identity and a feeling. The branded content that you produce needs to fit with your brand values

Your brand has a visual identity and a feeling - companies need to be mindful of the content that they create and ensure that it lives up to their brand values.

Your brand has a visual identity, as well as a feeling, as well as a history. Your brand means something to your customers, it stands for something, and it might be slightly different to every person but there should be some common understanding of what your brand communicates. For some of your customers your brand might be about music or perhaps your brand represents innovation and sometimes brands can be inspiring and thought provoking.

I wanted to share with you two examples of branded content that I think are remain true to the brand whilst still selling the product and service that to the customer.

One of the best examples I’ve ever seen of branded content was Toyota USA’s below the line viral campaign for their Hybrid car, the Prius. The campaign was called Life After Santa, and was in market for Christmas 2011. I’ve linked through to the blog from the campaign but its a shell of its former campaign. I’m really disappointed that Toyota have taken down the principle website and removed all content from YouTube for the Life After Santa campaign.

Toyota Prius Life After Santa campaign was an excellent example of branded content

A screenshot from the Life After Santa website

The campaign site was a really well designed website that used a clockwise navigation for the user to work their way through Santa’s twelve reindeer and hear their stories about what they have been doing since Santa replaced them with a Toyota Prius.

I believe Toyota have made a mistake by removing these highly entertaining videos from YouTube and closing down the website. Toyota have left the Life After Santa blog website live with broken links to the individual reindeer websites such as Blitzenkrief and Vixin’s Mixins. This has turned an exceptional example of campaigning and branded content into a case study for what not to do after a campaign finishes. In my video about social media, the first tip I give users is that social media is NOT a campaign – it does not have a start and an end date, online marketing and social media is always on. Once online content goes onto the internet, it should stay there.

Anyway, there are several reasons why Toyota’s Prius Life After Santa branded content is such a stella example, is is/was:

  • Timely. It came out in the lead up to Christmas and was Santa related
  • Contextual. Using the names of Santa’s 12 reindeers to create individual characters with their own personality and hopes and dreams, Toyota created relevance and context so that their story would resonate with people around the country
  • Emotional. Most of us in America and Australia have fond memories of Santa – either from our own childhood or through watching our children enjoy the mythology of Santa and his 12 reindeer
  • Inclusive. The Life After Santa content found an interesting way to include the Toyota Prius into an entertaining story about 12 individuals and how the Prius had changed their life. And the most interesting aspect of this campaign is that the Prius could be interpretted as the villain in this story – ousting these loyal reindeers from their life’s work – but it was flipped on its head because by taking their jobs, the Prius had opened them up to follow their dreams
  • Innovative. There is much consumer research that shows that the public associate Toyota as being an innovative car manufacturer because of the launch of the hybrid Prius. Toyota have taken this insight about how their customers see them and created a story that aids the brand continue to innovate and inspire its customers
  • Entertaining. Lets face it, the story was brilliant. It wove the product and brand into a surprising and delightful story that drew on people’s nostalgia and took a different spin on the usual Christmas theme.

The 2nd example of branded content that I wanted to share is Virgin America’s inflight safety video.

Virgin has a brand is kind of like a chameleon – it seems to be able to blend into its environment wherever it is and feel like its absolutely at home and is supposed to be there. In this example, Virgin have remained true to their values and delivered their customers a simple, fun piece of communication that is completely relevant to the service the customer is engaging in (air travel) and timely – delivered whilst on the aircraft. The animation is thorough, it covers many different characters that represent the type of personas you might find on a typical flight and the video’s format is surprising, innovative and still feels like Virgin.

You will not be surprised to learn that Virgin’s brand values are:
Fun = enjoyment and humour, not offensive and incompetent
Value for Money = Simple, not cheap
Quality = Attention to detail, not expensive for the sake of it
Innovation = challenging convention, not different for the sake of being different
Competitive Challenge = responding to consumer needs, not being irrelevant
Brilliant Customer Service = empowered, not unprofessional people.

So those are my favourite examples of branded content – what are yours. Please comment and share links so we can all be inspired to start creating our own branded content stories.