Is “branded content” killing your content marketing?

“Branded content” is officially the biggest drain on marketers’ resources, but brand’s videos, blogs, social media posts and infographics are all showing more value this year than last. In this Content & Coffee, I want to discuss new research on the result-deadly qualities of “branded content.”

The CMI released two studies this month – the State of B2B and State of B2C reports. In both cases, the data says branded content doesn’t pull its weight among the up to 13 formats marketers use on average. 46% of B2C brands and 42% of B2B brands use “branded content tools” but NEITHER group cited it as an effective format. So less than half of the marketers who use branded content tools get value from this approach.

Branded Content Effectiveness Pic 2

But what IS this approach? A spokesperson for the Cannes Lions – which offers an award for branded content – struggles to define it. He said “We want to leave it open. It’s the brand and audience coming together.” But no one has ever actually won this award category, and our friend Joe Pulizzi at the CMI thinks it’s clear why no one wins at branded content.

Joe defines it much more simply: “Content that aims to get the product out there in some way” or “advertising.” This may be through some guise of entertainment, with no real effort to build audience relationships.”

The B2C Content Report found that marketers’ top goal is sales, but the most effective B2C marketers prioritize traffic over sales , and they rate customer renewals as more important than their peers. This shows us putting audience needs and customer engagement ahead of products can drive your success. Don’t try to go viral with an entertaining clip that has product placement: If the intention of a piece is to sell, then be transparent, about that, and remember content as a sales tool is just one way content fits into your marketing funnel.

To avoid pitfalls of branded content, ask yourself:

  • Is this useful?
  • What question, or idea does it address for my audience?
  • Does my company provide something new to the conversation?
  • Might someone have been willing to pay for this – eBook, infographic, tip, whatever – and I’m giving it to them for free?

4 Quality CHecksMake sure your content is the best it can be with this 4 step quality content checklist. 

Katherine Griwert
Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.


  • Len Diamoond

    Do I detect the faint beginning of a tentative move toward a modest attempt at an indirect criticism of King Content?
    “Don’t try to go viral with an entertaining clip that has product placement: If the intention of a piece is to sell, then be transparent about that”
    That’s called “advertising.” Nice to see it back.

    • Katherine_E_Griwert

      Hey Len, thanks for viewing and considering this perspective! Re: your comment – Advertising has never gone away. But advertising is not content marketing. The two are related: Ads runs on content, and as I said, content geared toward conversion has its place in a strategy — but I view “branded content” as one of two possible things:
      1. Content that is irrelevant to a brand – the brand makes the loosest of connections between the story and its offering/ core values in a forced attempt to insert said brand into a conversation.
      2. Content that claims it is not an ad, yet “sells” instead of educating or engaging.

      Good content marketing adopts the philosophy that sometimes you need to give something relevant and useful without selling to your audience.

      Appreciate your perspective, and hope I’ve made the distinction as I see it more clear.

      • Len Diamoond

        I have a problem with “content” in general but will restrain myself from getting into that here. Suffice it to say I don’t agree with the implied premise that relevant/useful and selling are mutually exclusive, and that that creates the need for something called “content.”

        To your point: I wonder what you think of Dos Equis’ campaign, one element of which was a video of two dudes discussing how to start a fire without matches. They hoist a glass at the end, but that’s the only connection to the product. It was hailed as a great success; I know that because I would not otherwise have seen it if it hadn’t been called to my attention. I think I was viewer 200,001.

        Did it win any new customers for them? I never heard any results, and you or they can correct me if I’m wrong, but I would be surprised if it did. Nevertheless it was declared a triumph, apparently on the basis of “views,” or maybe “likes.” As long as marketers are allowed to claim success with those soft metrics rather than sales, branded stuff will never go away.