How Good Storytelling Can Keep Your Brand in Its Branded Content

Your company must resonate with consumers in these stories

Branded content needs to impact consumers while also teaching them about the product. Getty Images

Society is obsessed with consuming and creating content—we simply can’t get enough of it. Every second, there is more content being produced than ever before. In a world where attention is the most valuable commodity, if you aren’t producing solid storytelling, it’s like shouting into the wind.

Enter branded content into the conversation.

There are so many articles written about taking the brand out of branded content. Yet, funnily enough, most aren’t written by brand marketers. They are written by people begging brand marketers to stop making branded content. So where does this leave the brand marketer in a world where content is supposedly king?

All too often brands look at branded content as a means to put themselves front and center, making it all about me, myself and I. As a result, the content feels like an elaborate and over-produced ad. Therein lies the problem: Brands look at branded content as the brand’s content, forgetting about the viewer.

Therein lies the problem: Brands look at branded content as the brand’s content, forgetting about the viewer.

As a result, brands are being told to simply sponsor the story, make it “brought to you by” or to appear only in the credits. Essentially, brands are being asked to sit on the sidelines and hold up a poster with their logo on it.

It shouldn’t be about removing the brand from the content but instead about providing a more meaningful role for the brand within the story. What that doesn’t mean is simply inserting the logo or product in the middle; that’s where things can go incredibly wrong.

To create a meaningful role, the brand/product must be critical to the story. This character must build the plot, push the narrative and add substance. For example, is the product the connection point between two strangers? Does the product enable a function to happen? Does the brand provide a unique point of view on a situation? When done correctly, if you were to remove the brand—or in this case, the character—the story should fall apart.

But above all, any story worth telling must be inherent to your brand’s DNA, the fabric of your past, present and future. Even the best-told story coming out of the wrong brand’s mouth will immediately seem disingenuous, and the internet will very quickly sniff you out. So, as a marketer, you must first ask yourself, “Is this a story that my brand can credibly tell?”

And believe it or not, there are some brands that not only create great content, but they also create great branded content. The role of the brand or product can have a multitude of rules. Ranging from a highly integrated character, such as Lego’s insanely successful Lego Movie, where an entire story is developed around the brand’s product to an online video where the product—in this case, a Heineken beer that acts as the connector between two people with very diverse points of view—to less integrated but just as meaningful that showcases the brand’s values coming to life, just as when Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black leveraged The New York Times to continue to shine a light on the struggles facing female inmates through a thought-provoking, interactive article that could only be written in partnership with the prison drama.

At the end of the day, branded content can’t only get the viewer to learn about your product. The best content keeps the consumer in mind, aiming to entertain, inspire or educate, whether the brand is there or not. Because, always and forever, good content will be good content.

Kate Santore is content excellence lead at Coca-Cola.