The business case for unbranded content

unbranded content

In this age of overwhelming content, our consumers can steer around whatever bores them. You could have a massive marketing budget and team of writers and designers, but if no one engages enough to share your content and ideas, then it’s just not working.

Power on the web comes from social sharing and that happens by focusing your resources on building trust, not traffic. Clearly we must move toward a day when corporate content puts people first and aims to be as good or better than something we would read in our favorite magazines.

One trend that seems to be building steam is content that has so little branding, so little selling, that it may be difficult to tell who is behind it at all.

What? Why would you create content and not even take credit for it? Turns out, there could be some very good reasons. Let’s take a deeper look at the business case for unbranded content through three interesting case studies.

1. Using unbranded content when branding is impossible

Like every pharmaceutical company, Merck (a client) is dramatically constrained on what they can say about their products. How do you help people and answer their questions with all these federal regulations?

The answer? You don’t make the content about the product. You make it about the problem.

Merck’s new drug Belsomra provides new hope for people who suffer with insomnia. The company created an unbranded television commercial encouraging people to visit a “Why So Awake” website:

Screenshot 2016-02-28 16.20.43

The website discusses new research on the causes of insomnia and encourages them to talk to their doctor about alternatives. The site never mentions the new drug, and in fact the only branding on the entire site is that tiny blue ball in the lower left corner, which says “Merck.”

Turns out, people are smart and a high percentage of them are moving from this site to the Merck site to learn about the drug. The unbranded content is driving new customers to the branded site where, by law, the amount of information about insomnia is limited.

2. Unbranded content as a conversational moment.

Boutique online clothing retailer Wren faced the ultimate marketing dilemma: How to create a conversational moment for a start-up on a low budget.

The answer in this case was a short film called First Kiss, which shows 20 strangers (all friends of Wren’s founder Melissa Coker). The company had launched little films each season for the past three years, but Kiss went crazy.

The film, which cost just $1,500 to make was shared 1.1 million times on Buzzfeed alone and has earned more than 110 million views on YouTube. First Kiss also received significant media coverage, including The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, and Harper’s Bazaar, making Wren a globally-recognized brand.

The beauty of the film is that the content was about the content and the awkwardness of a first kiss, not about the clothes (although it did feature Wren clothing):

If you can’t view this video in your browser, you can see it on YouTube: First Kiss.

The only way you would know who created this film are brief words at the beginning: “presented by Wren.” It doesn’t even identify Wren as a clothing company. But the film created such a frenzy (both positive and negative) that people dug deep to find out who was behind it. Here are the results, directly attributable to the lightly-branded film:

  • 1,400 percent increase in sales
  • 15,000 percent increase in traffic
  • 96 percent first-time visitors

3. When the community is more important than your product

One of my favorite content marketing case studies is BabyCenter. This site is among the top destinations on the web for baby and parenting advice and has so much wonderful content for new parents and young families. It even provides personalized content for you in each month of your baby’s life.

But who owns it, and who is creating the volumes and volumes of content that fuels the site? You probably won’t find it on the website:

baby center

BabyCenter is owned by multinational company Johnson & Johnson (a client). J&J has some of the best marketers in the world and they know that connecting baby-related content to new parents is a very special privilege, a sacred privilege in fact. Blasting J&J all over the site would have jeopardized that trust by making it seem like too much of an ad.

So the site is completely unbranded. But what it might be losing in name recognition, it more than makes up in data — a global database of new parents and their children. The site is also sustained through advertising, coupons, and sampling.

Six ways to make unbranded content work for you

The fact that companies willingly spend money to NOT promote their products represents a power shift and a logical response to Content Shock and the overwhelming choices before our customers.

In many respects unbranded content is good news for those consumers.

In the case of Merck, it unshackled a marketer from regulatory agencies that are out of step with consumer needs.

For Wren, a lightly-branded film provided a spark of mystery and delight that provoked a conversational moment and emotional connection.

BabyCenter provides J&J with a space to tell a story and to honor the sanctity of parenthood without a pressure to sell.

Unbranded content places the focus on the content, the story, the viewer — which is where it should have been all along.

As I learn about this trend, here are six best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Add value to a consumer’s life
  2. Take a risk, do something conversation-worthy
  3. People like emotional content. A lot. Bring emotion into the story.
  4. Spark curiosity
  5. Look for the open space. If your content niche is saturated, this might be a differentiation strategy
  6. Create a strategy that builds momentum, not just one hit. All of these sites continue to provoke thought, deliver value and inform.

I would love to hear about your thoughts on unbranded content, and other success stories, in the comment section.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and abstracted eye

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

All posts

  • Curt Franke

    Mark, your “adding value” hits on the Youtility approach, popularized by our friend, Jay Baer, where he espouses the idea of “Don’t sell. Be authentically useful to your customers.” Thanks for the post and examples.

  • Curt Franke

    Mark, your “adding value” hits on the Youtility approach, popularized by our friend, Jay Baer, where he espouses the idea of “Don’t sell. Be authentically useful to your customers.” Thanks for the post and examples.

  • Thanks Curt. I don’t think Jay covered unbranded content in the book but it certainly reinforces the point of serving our customers to the Nth degree! Thanks for taking the time to comment sir.

  • Thanks Curt. I don’t think Jay covered unbranded content in the book but it certainly reinforces the point of serving our customers to the Nth degree! Thanks for taking the time to comment sir.

  • Brooke Ballard

    This is so timely … and thought-provoking. At this time, our clients want us to BRAND EVERYTHING. Perhaps there is quiet power in not branding. Something to chew on … Thanks, Mark!

  • Brooke Ballard

    This is so timely … and thought-provoking. At this time, our clients want us to BRAND EVERYTHING. Perhaps there is quiet power in not branding. Something to chew on … Thanks, Mark!

  • Glad I could help Brooke! : )

  • Glad I could help Brooke! : )

  • Billy Delaney

    Would you consider this really breadcrumb content? or Cat content: curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back! As you know I’m going to be doing short video’s 5 to 8 minutes that ask one questions: who taught you that? I will try this out with these video’s… coming soon let you know what happend. Thanks, always pushing the space between the obvious with the not so obvious.

  • Billy Delaney

    Would you consider this really breadcrumb content? or Cat content: curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back! As you know I’m going to be doing short video’s 5 to 8 minutes that ask one questions: who taught you that? I will try this out with these video’s… coming soon let you know what happend. Thanks, always pushing the space between the obvious with the not so obvious.

  • Pingback: 5 Ways to keep up with the avalanche of online customer feedback - Freya Media()

  • Perspective 3-D

    Such a great approach, especially when so much of our growth and success is based on relationships and a human connection. Bringing this to the forefront of marketing is continuing to fuel the concept that, even though this approach may bring business to competitors, information, service and generosity based marketing is making our communities (global and local) stronger. As a small business owner, we now need to take this information and figure out how to use it to best meet our customer. -Sherry

  • Perspective 3-D

    Such a great approach, especially when so much of our growth and success is based on relationships and a human connection. Bringing this to the forefront of marketing is continuing to fuel the concept that, even though this approach may bring business to competitors, information, service and generosity based marketing is making our communities (global and local) stronger. As a small business owner, we now need to take this information and figure out how to use it to best meet our customer. -Sherry

  • Pingback: Four Ways Facebook Instant Articles Will Dramatically Impact Marketing | SEO()

  • Pingback: If you don’t have anything valuable to say, be quiet. « j1schulze()

  • Pingback: Say Something Valuable – Or Don't Say Anything At All()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Close