Branded Content: The Importance of Sustaining Your Voice


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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Thumb through your high school yearbook and the most consistent message you're likely to see is scribbled in the margins is, "Don't Change." Throughout our lives, we are reminded to "Be true to ourselves," "Don't forget where we came from," and to just "Be ourselves."

Smash cut to freshman year of college. You've shaved your head, denounced your hometown, and written off 99% of your high school friends.

Change is a part of life--people are dynamic by nature. We evolve, for better or worse. The very idea of change often serves as the barometer for how far we've strayed from that high school self we remember, but no longer clearly identify with. No matter how far we stray from that bygone persona, we rarely leave behind many of the natural tendencies that define who we are. The pink hair you sported for your Sweet 16 has given way to a carefully manicured pixie cut, but your laugh hasn't changed. The Camaro IROC-Z may be long gone, but you still reach for your favorite leather jacket. No matter how much we distance or embrace our past, the natural character that defines us rarely departs.

Unfortunately, brands do not evolve the same way we do. Even the best brands-the ones that sustain their message over time-can be susceptible to market trends, investors, and realigned business objectives. These outside pressures can contribute to eroding loyalty, especially if an audience can no longer identify with the brand they've supported over the years.

Thankfully, brands are the work of humans and can inherit many of our characteristics. Brands can be bold and assertive or cute and unassuming. Regardless of their attributes, brands, similar to the humans that curate them, have the ability to captivate their audience. However, as the scale and pace of business increases, so does the pressure on brands to adapt to the changing marketplace they serve.

One of the tactics at the front and center of every brand's image is content. Branded content is the manifestation of attributes, market drivers, research, and business objectives, but the sheer volume of content presented to audiences today can be overwhelming. You simply need to get out of bed to see how branded content has exploded. This amplification of messages is a boon for consumers, but it puts tremendous pressure on companies to support it.

The demand for content from brands is greater than ever. Twenty years ago a tagline was all an advertiser needed to dream up, but today's consumers expect customer reviews, dynamic images, social media feedback, blogs, and viral videos all on the 4" screen that so many customers are carrying in their pockets all of the time. While this volume of content may seem impossible to sustain, many businesses are committed to it for now. As long as customers demand more content, businesses will find a way to meet those needs.

All this content comes at a price. This content renaissance has a lot in common with the industrial revolution (sans the inhumane labor practices). We are creating a product at such a pace that we are sacrificing something as a result. Oftentimes, a brand's biggest casualty is its natural voice. Through blogs, product descriptions, webpages, tweets, and use cases, the overall sense of tying this content back to its original brand has eroded. Many companies farm content production to outside teams, where there is no one to make sure the company's natural voice-the essence of its brand-is still there.

The economies of scale suggest the outpouring of branded content cannot all adhere to the natural voice of a company. The challenge in 2014 for many brands will be to find their natural voice before customers simply migrate to the next brand that is truer to its roots. As marketers, brand experts, and content professionals, it is our job to ensure we maintain our brand's natural voice before it's too late and customers jump ship.

I am delighted to be contributing to EContent magazine. Throughout this year, we'll explore brands that have lost their voice, and we'll talk about getting it back, as well as what can be done to maintain natural branded content in today's content-heavy landscape. Until then, don't change, but if you do, don't forget your laugh.