In case you missed our last post, my colleague Sydney Katona and I got the chance to attend the Inbounder Conference in NYC at the Microsoft Center. It was a packed day of speakers who are at the forefront of the best marketing thinkers and developers. But one speaker stood out to us both: Melanie Deziel, a branded content strategist who had worked for giants like T Brand Studio, the branded arm of the New York Times.
Her talk stood out for a number of reasons. The first was her background: a journalist by training, Melanie worked in editorial settings that ran the gamut. She wasn’t trained in marketing at all but came to it only later as she looked for ways to pay the bills.
Rather than being a fish out of water, she brought a unique set of skills and perspectives to the table. We see this mix at Rowland. Sydney and I both have unique backgrounds—Sydney has journalism training and editorial experience. I have an academic and literary background, which includes creative writing and writing coaching. We both bring unique perspectives and approaches to language and communication, and ultimately necessary strengths to our marketing roles. It was exciting to see the ways that our differences, rather than limiting our effectiveness, could expand our impact.
Personally, branded content—also known as native advertising—had previously seemed to me a dubious way of tricking someone into trusting you. But what I see in Deziel’s work is the opposite: she was simply paid to write something that was really good, and not just good by native advertising standards but good in its own right. In many cases, the content was just as good as investigative journalism—because that’s what it was. It stood as excellent in the genre it was written in and for. It just happened to be bought and paid for by Netflix instead of the NYT where it was published.
Many of Deziel’s examples were B2C, but there are certainly vast creative opportunities in branded content for marketers of all backgrounds that shouldn’t be ignored. To be a marketer, you don’t have to stay write only website copy or sales copy. You can create in avenues in ways that then have far greater impact on your role than otherwise. For B2B, this means you can move beyond the white paper to animated videos, or perhaps pen an investigative piece and place it in a tech journal.
The goal isn’t to look legit—the goal is to be legit. The NYT piece on women in prison was shared in the top 2% of any NYT article that year. It was good journalism in its own right. Branded content has the opportunity to remake the conversation around how we pitch and sell to clients and how we build relationships. People are more inclined to trust marketing that is committed to making great work in all contexts, outside of a client relationship and within it. That’s what branded content does.
And creating dynamic content is fun! There’s room for the creativity behind unexpected content that both speaks to your audience and offers real value. We can think beyond white papers and think beyond technical posts. We can find genuine and vibrant ways to share the ideas that we want to share. It introduces dynamism into the content production machine and gives permission to think differently and outside of the box that we put marketers in.
We see this popping up in B2B marketing across markets. More businesses are going to new media companies like Gimlet Creative and tasking them to create branded podcasts with a quality and caliber matching the best of the best. Video has already become critical in marketing and sales—it can also be branded content that is value for value’s sake.
It’s easy to pick it out for B2C, sure (like this Heineken ad we keep watching in the office) but B2B is in this game too. Hubspot just recently wrote an entire blogpost of their recent favorite B2B content. And branded content has even more power in industry platforms and must-read journals and conferences.
We can’t underestimate the power of being useful in the things we create in B2B marketing. To do so is just being lazy and not thinking big enough. This isn’t just about “us”—it never was. It’s about bringing meaningful, creative, useful content to our customers and clients. It’s about marketing at its best: true storytelling and adding value with strong ROI and relationship building. We can’t wait to keep expanding the borders of effective, trust-building B2B content and see where it takes us.