Branded content is a term that is thrown around quite a lot in marketing circles, but many people struggle to understand what it actually means.
It’s likely that you’ve come across and engaged with plenty of pieces of branded content before without realizing it, both as a consumer and in a professional context.
In the travel industry, in particular, branded content is frequently used as a way to appeal to certain customer demographics who prioritize the integrity and values of a brand over the specifics of their offering.
Branded content can take a wide variety of forms and approaches, which means that it can be tricky to figure out the best way to make the strategy work for you.
The struggle ends here.
Put simply, branded content is any piece of content that builds brand awareness by associating a company with the values it communicates.
To really understand where this approach comes from, you need to understand the context from which it emerged.
Traditional advertising has the intention of selling a product or experience at its core. Whatever method is used to do this, it is often explicit enough that the customer is aware that they are actively being sold to.
Many of the techniques used in traditional marketing are very effective, but the consumer landscape has changed drastically over the last decade or so.
Potential customers are wise to the classic methods used to catch their attention and subtly manipulate their behavior, which has led to a distrust of brands who use obvious advertising methods to explicitly push what they are selling.
On top of this, what modern consumers want from the brands they support has also changed in recent years.
In fact, 83% of millennials, in particular, prefer to spend their money on products or experiences from businesses whose values align with their own, and actively seek out companies with missions or goals that they also support.
This is particularly relevant in the travel industry as it is in line with many customers’ concerns over the social or environmental impact of their holidays.
Instead of looking for the cheapest deals, many consumers now prioritize booking trips with brands that share their priorities when it comes to travel.
Branded content is the product of these key changes in the marketing landscape.
To appeal to this new generation of consumers, and to avoid the distrust that comes with explicit methods of advertising, branded content focuses on creating all kinds of content that potential customers will enjoy and illustrates the values of a company, instead of its offering.
This could be videos, blog posts, publications, and podcasts that are produced by a brand but not directly related to its product or service.
Branded content taps into the topics that potential customers are interested in to catch their attention and then builds affinity by regularly sharing other engaging content so that the brand becomes synonymous with certain positive values or ideas.
The benefits of this approach are clear: Branded content strengthens brand image, which helps you to stand out from your competitors, improves recall, and increases the number of potential customers who hear about your brand.
Targeting potential customers whose values align with your brand also means that conversion rates are higher and that you’re more likely to gain long-term customer loyalty.
Branded content is an inbound marketing strategy; it attracts new customers by focusing on creating an appealing brand image.
There’s a lot of overlap with other marketing techniques and formats, which makes it easy to integrate this approach into your existing marketing plan.
It should be noted that the term ‘branded content’ is now also used to refer to a kind of collaborative marketing approach on social media platforms such as Instagram, where a creator indicates that a post has been sponsored or inspired by a business partner.
Influencer marketing can involve kinds of branded content, but in this article, we use the term to refer to the wider style of content creation.
Now, you understand what is meant by the term branded content and can see the benefits of adopting the approach for your travel brand, you might have been left wondering how to put these ideas into action.
Company values are a key part of establishing a unique brand image. They’re more than just your business goals and culture.
They dictate the kinds of travel experiences you offer, the way you approach your marketing content, the way you use your profits, and the kinds of consumers who support you.
At the heart of any branded content campaign should be what your company stands for and the impact you want to make in the travel world and beyond.
The whole point of this marketing approach is to highlight brand values that the audience will respond to, so you need to get this straight before you go any further.
If you already have a clear set of company values, fantastic. Identify the ones that you think your audience will relate to most, and go from there.
If you feel your values are lacking, think about issues or trends in the travel and tourism industry that you care about or feel that you could make a difference to.
Cast the net wider and reflect on any social issues that you think your business could support or impact, and consider if there’s a way to work these into your values as well.
Understanding the audience you are marketing to is the backbone of any successful marketing scheme. Branded content is no different.
However, instead of just tapping into what your audience wants from a travel company, you need to dig deep and research into the interests and values of each demographic in your customer base.
Branded content works by catching the attention of potential customers who are going to want what your business offers, and building up a trusting relationship with them through the content you share.
In order to grab this attention in the first place, you need to have a clear idea of what your target audience cares about.
This goes further than just understanding what kind of holidays they enjoy and what they seek to get out of travel experiences, although this is still quite useful.
You need to find out what other interests intersect or align with their identity as a consumer.
Complete this research for each of the different groups that make up your target audience, the more segmented the better.
Then, identify the areas and topics that have some overlap with your brand, and start seeking branded content inspiration here.
For example, say that you’re a travel brand that specializes in wellness holidays to tropical destinations.
Your target audience may have general interests in things like healthy eating, exercise, and mindfulness, and also care about their environmental impact on the planet, for example.
As a travel brand, it doesn’t make sense for you to share content offering health or nutrition advice, but you could create content that discusses sustainability in travel or the benefits of activities like yoga or meditation on mental wellness.
There doesn’t have to be an explicit travel focus on the branded content you create. As long as it aligns with your overall business values and benefits your brand image, it will attract the right kinds of customers.
A key part of ensuring success when it comes to branded content is choosing a format that your target audience is going to engage with.
There’s no point in spending a huge portion of your budget on an elaborate video marketing campaign if your target audience actually prefers to read content instead of watching it.
Alternately, if the majority of your customers enjoy social media content above all other formats, creating a print publication will get you nowhere.
Branded content makes a big impact because it genuinely engages and excites the people who see it, which prompts them to share and grow the content’s reach.
If you’re not using a platform or a format that your audience is familiar with or want to share content on, you won’t get the desired impact.
Another feature of branded content is that it tends to respond to popular trends.
There’s no point in trying to create something relevant if your audience has already lost interest in the format you use. If you’re going to take inspiration from what’s popular, you need to ensure you act fast.
This is one of the simplest pieces of branded content marketing advice, but it’s an essential part to make the approach work for your travel brand.
Do your research to make sure you’re creating something that potential customers will want to engage with, and then start brainstorming.
Branded content seeks to catch people’s attention and make an impact, even if they’ve never interacted with your brand before.
Tapping into consumers’ emotions is one of the best ways to do this, which is why creating immersive branded content is such an effective approach.
Video and audio formats are particularly successful for travel brands, as they can immediately transport a potential customer to a new destination or experience.
You shouldn’t use this tactic to promote your brand offering (or at least, not in this approach to marketing), but instead, focus on crafting an experience that is so engaging, it will stay in a consumer’s mind afterward.
The worlds of VR and augmented reality are opening up more possibilities than ever before when it comes to immersive content, but even if you don’t quite have the budget for such formats, you can still effectively hook your audience in an instant.
Consider audio content that speaks directly to the listener, visual-heavy social media posts that inspire instant wanderlust, and description-rich written content that your reader can’t help but get lost in.
There are plenty of instances in a marketing strategy where it pays to play it safe.
Branded content isn’t one of those.
This is definitely the time to do something quirky and creative that will get your brand noticed and your content shared.
A partnership with an unexpected brand on a series of social media posts? A response to a hot topic that clearly illustrates your stance on the matter? A venture into an unusual format, such as producing a music video?
The best examples of branded content are the ones that have gone viral, usually due to their unique or unexpected nature.
Communicating your values is important, but you need to catch consumers’ attention first so that they actually listen to what you’re saying.
If there was ever a time to take a risk and try something new, this is it.
It’s possible that your travel business has already dipped its toe in the branded content waters, or you’ve been pursuing similar results with your marketing efforts without knowing the technical term for what you’re doing.
You might also be a total newcomer to this approach, in which case this article should have given you a good idea of the best ways to make branded content work for you in the travel sector.
The nature of branded content is likely to change over the coming years in response to fluctuating consumer interests and priorities, as well as the introduction of new marketing techniques.
What is unlikely to change however is the positive impact of promoting your brand by finding common ground with your target audience, leading to high levels of customer engagement, trust, and loyalty.
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