We’re living in the age of “banner blindness,” where internet users are either subconsciously or consciously (read: grumpily) ignoring display ads.
This means that of the small number of readers that are seeing these ads, a truly dismal percentage — 0.05%, to be exact — are clicking on them. But this wasn’t always the case. If you ask some old guard advertisers about the golden age of display ads, they might speak reverently about the pixelated 1994 banner ad (purchased by AT&T on HotWired.com) that inspired 44% of viewers to click on it. What brilliantly crafted message garnered this level of engagement, you ask? “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? YOU WILL.”
Needless to say, times have changed. People increasingly seek out companies with a human face behind them, and the best way to show your humanity as a brand or publisher is through storytelling.
However, story-driven content has a major problem: scalability.
Fifteen percent of publishers cite scaling content production as a stumbling block. Yet 90% expect their company’s revenue from branded content to increase over the next year. With most publishers creating content for multiple different brands and clients, it can feel like an insurmountable task to give each one the attention they deserve.
The 3 Rs of Scale
If you’re looking to scale your branded content production, there are three words you need to keep in mind: reduce, reuse, and refocus.
Rather than over-saturating your readers’ feeds with branded content, consider focusing your efforts on a smaller number of pieces that do more heavy lifting when it comes to engaging your audience and building your client’s brand.
Instead of putting all your time and energy into creating a wealth of broad, generic content, try homing in on a few key topics or issues that align with your client’s goals and your audience’s interests — and be honest with yourself about what those interests are. A quality piece of content is one that tells a story. Stories — especially ones with a compelling character or cause behind them — engage our entire brain, which is why we remember them and forget every banner ad we’ve ever seen.
For example, if you’re working with a travel and hospitality client, hunt for a compelling story about the destination that you’re promoting and then tell it in an inspiring way. The New York Times’ T Brand Studio knew this when they teamed up with the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver. Rather than discussing room service options or bedsheet thread count, their article introduced readers to the quarter of a million honeybees that call the Fairmont home, and shared what its staff are doing to protect them.
There’s a great deal of pressure placed on publishers and content creators to consistently produce new, original content. While staying on top of industry trends and addressing topical audience concerns is certainly important, you should also be taking stock of pieces that you’ve produced in the past and coming up with ways to repurpose them.
To effectively reuse (and by extension, scale) your content, start thinking “modular.” Focus on writing foundational pieces that you can then add building blocks onto, like videos, photo galleries, or infographics. If your client has hosted a brand activation or event (or even has just a few evergreen pieces of content under their belt), you could easily turn that into a string of modular content.
Another tactic is to take stock of what kind of content you already have on your site that the client could lend their support to. Maybe you have an exceptionally popular series that their brand could be integrated into. This is a great way to lend your publication’s authority to their company and allow for a more seamless content creation process.
The key to refocusing your content efforts is to keep revenue top of mind. Think about what you’re selling and why. Then, consider how you can make the content more profitable for you and your brand partner. The right decision will help you maximize revenue while also giving your sales team room to negotiate with clients.
When it comes to branded content, not all business models are created equal. However, depending on your and your brand partner’s goals (i.e. impressions versus engagement), one model may be much better suited for your needs than another.
For instance, the Flat Fee model ensures all costs are fixed, from creation to distribution. It’s advantageous for partners who have strictly defined expectations for their content. If you prefer to adapt your strategy on the fly, this isn’t the model for you. Another option is to split the costs of production from distribution. This makes it easier to charge incrementally based on client expectations, while still making sure your creation costs are covered. You can also use this method to turn a single content piece into a significant revenue-earner by selling the client extra promotional assets, like reads and impressions.
Choosing between these two is important, too. The Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM) model measures cursory views, not engagements. Therefore, it’s not the best choice for those seeking to build a connection with readers. It is, however, perfectly suited to a campaign that includes a large number of assets like banners and other display ads. In contrast, the Cost Per Engagement (CPE) or Cost Per Read (CPR) model is well-suited to branded content, as it bundles the content with a number of high-quality reads so advertisers know exactly what to expect.
As you’re scaling your content, keep in mind that even a small amount of high-quality content can go a long way if you’re smart about what you’re creating and how you’re packaging it. The overarching goal is to communicate your brand partner’s unique selling features to your customers, so keep your target audience in mind. Set yourself up for success by finding new and unique ways to scale your content, from production through to distribution.