Marketing Success: Branded Content, Not Ads

The reality for advertisers and marketers is that people just don’t like ads. Ad blocker use is widespread globally and on the rise. People pay extra to not watch ads on their streaming services. And research by Hubspot indicates that 9 out of 10 people think that ads are becoming more intrusive. Tracking and retargeting are also perceived to be rising. And the spend on advertising is only increasing. We’ve all been there. After searching for something online, over the next two days we get interrupted by ads for that very something by a number of brands that offer that something. The bottom line is that old-school interruption advertising is alive and well, thanks to the online world we live in. The marketing technology that allows the interruptions to get ever “better” for those marketing their wares feels “worse” for those on the receiving end.

Why do people get so annoyed by ads?

The answer lies in our psychology. People do not like it when their behavioral activity—their intended goal—is interrupted and delayed. It’s no different than the frustration we feel when, in a conversation, the other person doesn’t let us finish what we’re saying before “jumping in.” People also, quite understandably, perceive retargeting as an invasion of their privacy, which is commonly followed by feeling a lack of control, if not being “creeped out.” It’s how we’re wired.

So, why do marketers persist?

The simple answer is that it’s easy. This seems to be the main reason why the volume of ads is rising while the perceived quality of ads is declining. Beyond making it easy to push out ads, another “benefit” of today’s marketing technology comes in the form of key performance indicators (KPIs), like impressions and clicks, that can be easily measured, tracked and reported up the organizational hierarchy as evidence of marketing progress. But impressions and clicks don’t readily equate to creating a positive brand image and sales, as we discuss in another post. There is, of course, an alternative to disruptive advertising. It goes by different names such as inbound marketing, content marketing and affinity marketing. Regardless of the term, the idea is the same: Rather than pushing out what the brand has to offer as a fairly self-serving interruption, invite your target audiences to consume content they want and value in a creative and compelling way. Good content marketing comes from brands that really understand their customer targets—what their pain points are, what they need, and what motivates them. The brand then offers those customers information that they perceive as interesting and valuable, because it addresses what they are looking for. The brand simply is associated with providing that valuable information, setting up an implicit quid pro quo from the customer to prefer purchasing from the brand—again, because that’s the way we’re wired (see the Ben Franklin effect and cognitive dissonance for more information on this).

Let’s consider a few examples of how this works:

  • If your brand is selling expertise, then good content marketing provides target customers with relevant knowledge (e.g., through blog posts, white papers, etc.) that educates and helps them in their daily lives.
  • If your brand is part of or an ingredient in what your target customer does, you may develop a webinar or video series explaining all the novel ways in which the product you offer can be used.
  • If your target customers care about ESG-related issues, you may develop content that explains how a provider of your offering can do more as a good citizen and showcase specifically what the brand is doing in that regard.

There are many more examples but suffice it to say that what all of these have in common is that they are offering a softer sell while catering to the interests, needs, and wants of their target customers. Rather than force-feeding your offering to customers on your terms, help your customers first and rely on them to reciprocate later. Content marketing is heavily driven by storytelling because storytelling is fundamental to humans. It’s how we process and remember information. Good content marketing is about the brand telling stories your customers care about. When they are ready to buy, you will be the preferred choice (all other things, like price and availability, being reasonably equal). For more information on the power of storytelling in branding, here are two related posts:

Why You Should Use Storytelling in Brand Marketing

Why Storytelling Is So Powerful

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Frank Schab
An experienced marketing and branding strategist, Frank has been helping clients optimize the value of their brands through insightful analysis and effective strategy for more than three decades. Along with holding positions at General Motors and Pfizer, Frank served as a Managing Partner at Interbrand New York and VP of Global Brand Research at Opinion Research Corporation before co-founding Six Degrees. His brand-building work in various sectors including hospitality, medical device, pharmaceutical, automotive and technology has taken him to 17 countries on four continents. Frank holds a doctorate in psychology from Yale University and speaks fluent German.

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