• Colby Horton

Your Members Are Suffering From Ad Blindness. Use Branded Content to Tell Your Association’s Story

Branded content helps brands emotionally connect with their audience while conveying organizational values. Like some of the most successful companies using branded content, associations should be ready to jump on the marketing tactic as well.

Every association has a story to tell. And that story should be told in every recruitment initiative, renewal effort, industry outreach, or event promotion. But with members and prospects becoming so inundated with online ads and information, how exactly do you promote your story without falling by the wayside to their ad blindness?


It’s all about making your association’s story stand out in a crowded digital space. While there’s still room for traditional banner ads, social media ads, and paid search ads in some promotional situations, telling your organization’s story will most likely be lost using these traditional forms of digital advertising. Instead, a concept called branded content is helping brands emotionally connect with their audience while conveying company values. Like some of the most successful companies using branded content (Red Bull, Lego and Dove, to name a few), associations should be ready to jump on the tactic as well.


What is Branded Content?


Think of branded content as a marketing technique that focuses on creating content that is linked to a brand, not a product or service. In other words, it’s content without a definitive advertising message that ultimately conveys the values of a brand, allowing consumers (or in this case, members) to make a connection with it.


Unlike other “invasive” forms of advertising, branded content is not centered around a sales pitch. In fact, branded content tells a story, is considered entertaining and often evokes emotion. It’s an effective marketing technique because it often builds trust between an organization and its audience.


For simplicity sake, branded content has the following characteristics:


  • Engages an audience through emotion and entertainment

  • Focuses on the brand, not a product or service

  • Utilizes storytelling techniques

  • Highlights a brands values, building trust

  • Seeks to generate conversations

  • Presented through multiple formats and channels

  • Often makes a social statement - global or industry-specific


Branded content isn’t a term to replace “content marketing.” It’s actually a specific type of content within an organization’s overall content marketing strategy.


Dove provided the original branded content approach in 2013, which remains a quintessential example today. The company’s Real Beauty campaign intended to bridge the gap between reality and perception. Focusing on the discovery that only 4% of women would describe themselves as beautiful, the campaign used a sketch artist to create two drawings of multiple women. The first drawing was based on the woman’s description of herself. The second drawing is based on how a stranger describes the woman’s appearance. The video was viewed over 100 million times in just one month, with no product placement included.



Examples of Branded Content for Associations


Now that we’ve defined the term, let’s take a look at some branded content examples your association can implement.


Podcasts


According to recent research, 55% of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast, with 37% listening to a podcast in the last month. But wait, there’s more! By 2024, it’s estimated there will be 100 million podcast listeners in the U.S. If your association isn’t already podcasting, it’s time.


Podcasting is a great branded content technique for organizations of all sizes. With a low barrier to entry and potentially high yield in customer engagement, podcasting is a great way for an association to keep its brand in front of the industry.


Take a page out of eBay’s podcasting book. The company’s 16-episode “Open for Business” podcast is told in a journalistic/interview style, and focuses on entrepreneurs who grew their business from an idea to a full-fledged company. The podcast focuses on building a business from the ground up, but never really references eBay. It entertains and educates without becoming a sales pitch for eBay and its sellers.


Shopify has a similar podcast called “Thank God it’s Monday.” The series aims to inspire Shopify’s audience by telling success stories of like-minded entrepreneurs.


This concept makes perfect sense for associations. Imagine reaching a young industry professional early in their career rather than later, providing great business advice and, in turn, making them familiar with your association’s brand. Most likely, these professionals will join your association when the time is right.



User-Generated Content


As consumers battled through the “new normal” of 2020, brands were desperate to continue to connect with their audience. User-generated content (UGC) helped with the efforts. From a marketer’s perspective, 2020 gave us a dramatic surge in customer-created photos and videos, allowing brands to collect and share content under tighter budgets, and tighter deadlines. But more importantly, marketers were able to share content that tapped into a growing need for human connection.


UGC isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, it continues to be a great technique in the branded content ecosystem. Every association has a great pool of members willing to provide UGC. Seriously, who better to tell your association’s story than your members? No sales pitch needed.


Take a look at Mastercard’s “Apart, but united” campaign. The company pieced together real footage from customers into a docu-style video that was emotional and relatable.

Like Mastercard, your association can create similar messages that tell your story. Then have your members submit the content to fill the “storyboard.” The end result is branded content that will likely be shared by those that participate in the UGC.


Live Events


Any association - no matter what size or structure - should utilize branded content for its events. There’s so much accessible content during a 3-day tradeshow or full-day education event. Interviews, footage, keynotes, or any other content gathered from live events can be used on your association’s website or social media channels as a form of branded content. Think about it - this approach works as advertising for your organization, but more importantly, it also garners attendee interest for your next event. Combine this approach with UGC and you’ve got yourself a full branded content campaign ready to tell the story of your event.


Member Interview Series


A thoughtful member interview can be far more compelling than a typical testimonial. Testimonials tend to feel boring or choppy, especially because most members struggle with articulating the value they’ve experienced from an association. But adding an interviewer to the equation allows you to point a member in the right direction, focusing on an experience or benefit you want to convey.


Now, take the concept from a standard interview to an interview that falls in line with the branded content technique. Think about a challenge your industry faces. Imagine discussing that challenge -- one-on-one -- with a member of your association. Perhaps facing that challenge is easier by networking with like-minded people; or is better understood with continuing education. Sound like something your association offers?


Members love hearing directly from other members. And that’s where video interviews come in.


The Drum, a media outlet focused on advertising and marketing, released an interview series called “Socially Challenged” where experts were put in the hotseat to field questions on a certain topic. Each video runs 6-8 minutes, but the end result is educational, engaging and topical.



Branded Documentaries


Documentary-style videos are an immersive way to engage your audience, while driving conversions for your campaign. This type of branded content allows association marketers to take a storytelling approach when presenting their members’ success stories. Documentaries share information with a more human touch, while still keeping your organization’s brand in focus. Ultimately, this format builds credibility, educates your audience (members, prospects and industry stakeholders) and generates brand awareness.


There are several approaches to a branded documentary format. One that fits nicely within the association space centers around member success stories and how the association has helped with that success. Take, for example, Google Small Business. The company’s branded documentaries show how their advertising products help support the marketing goals of entrepreneurs and startups, by making the startups the hero, not Google.



But if you’re looking for another example, take a look at Norton’s two-episode series, The Most Dangerous Town on the Internet. It dives into the reality of cybercrime and the effect digital threats have on the world. It’s definitely an ambitious project for an association to consider. But finding the right story could certainly build needed trust and educate the industry the organization serves.



Final Thoughts on Branded Content


Advertising practices and marketing techniques are constantly evolving. And they have to. Consumers - association members included - have a low tolerance for anything that sounds anything like a sales pitch. That’s where branded content comes in. But the success of branded content isn’t contingent only on the production value of the content. Distribution is equally important. Don’t forget to include branded content in your digital newsletters, social media channels, email signatures, website, landing pages, and digital marketing initiatives. In the end, your association is building trust, humanizing your brand and educating the industry in an entertaining, non-invasive way.


How Can We Help?


Association Briefings has a team of association-focused experts excited to help with your branded content initiatives. Let’s chat about how we can help with all your branded content needs - from podcasts and member interview series to newscasts and branded documentaries. Reach out here to get started.



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