How to overcome execution level challenges involving branded content

Intel's Gayatri Makhijani, Perfetti's Ritesh Sud, TVF's Pranav Thakker, and Nobel Hygiene's Kartik Johari discuss the challenges faced by brands and publishers while working on branded content and how one can overcome the same

BuzzInContent Bureau
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Hundreds of brands today invest big bucks on branded content. In fact, recently Lenovo used its entire marketing budget for one long-form branded content series in partnership with Dice Media.

However, brands often complain that the reported numbers of clicks, shares and likes by the publishers are not in tandem with the real impact felt by the brand through branded content initiatives. Besides, there are several other challenges related to the execution of a branded content strategy.

BuzzInContnet in the eighth episode of its Content Conversations, discussed the execution-level challenges with the expert panel including Pranav Thakker, National Head - Brand Partnerships, The Viral Fever; Ritesh Sud, Associate Director, Marketing, Perfetti Van Melle India; Kartik Johari, Vice President, Marketing and Commerce, Nobel Hygiene; and Gayatri Makhijani, Head of Media and Digital, Intel.

The panellists discussed the execution level pain points that marketers, agencies, creators and platforms face while executing branded content. They also discussed various other topics, including challenges related to measurement, pricing, relationships while creating brand led properties, and series.

Makhijani of Intel started off the discussion by sharing how content marketing is easier said than done. It is not a buzzword anymore and has evolved enough to be an integral part of the go to market mix. Some of the pain points are actually sort of finding the right mix between content creation spend, quality and reach. It also is about how to make the content stand out among the plethora and to find the right partner to create it with. For this, Intel works with its media agency to streamline the proper evaluation matrix. The evaluation is a complete grid that builds on different parameters and also includes the qualitative index. It also gets testing done across partners to figure out their capabilities and choose the right partner.

Speaking on behalf of agencies on challenges faced while partnering with brands for branded content, TVF’s Thakker said that a few brands take the wrong approach today, conceptualising the idea themselves at first and then approaching creators or agencies to execute it.

He said that figuring out the concept idea or the content idea is actually the creator's job. What the brand essentially is bringing to the table is the challenge- the objective it needs to meet. He suggested brands first understand the audiences, their consumption patterns and then approach creators with the brief. Also, at times brands come to agencies directly with solutions.

“In the content space what's happening is often we get approached from a media partnership perspective, where people are trying to buy content like they're buying media inventory. Creative units like us have the power to bring organic reach, as well as we are bringing content and creativity. If brands keep talking about the numbers, we have realised the discussion does not land up in a very great place eventually. So these are some structural problems that we face,” Thakker added.

In terms of tactical-level execution-related challenges, he said that other than the timelines and script level challenges, there are also at times approval level challenges, especially with global brands.

Sharing insights on how Perfetti Van Melle India goes about executing branded content, Sud said that at times its agency, Wavemaker, helps find it the right partner for co-creation and at times it also comes up with its own ideas. However, he said that the brand remains open to hearing suggestions from its partners to be in sync with the brand propositions.

Johari of Nobel Hygiene said that the best ideas are brought out when there is co-ownership on both sides- brands and the creator agency.

“We usually approach with the idea and carry a very simple brief because that is the entire point of creating content. As long as you have a very crystal clear idea, then it's a process of co-creation only. The most important thing to keep in mind is your core insight, which always helps the creative team also to stay centred on the proposition. And usually, these conversations are very subjective, so you want to make sure that you keep that very strongly in mind, as you meander all over the place. Consequently, that's where we have very strong levers of research. If research points us in a certain direction, then we love to experiment,” he added.

Another very common and strenuous challenge often faced is to find the right rate for the branded content as there is no standard market rate or chart for it.

So how does one decide how much to spend on a particular creator or on a platform? More importantly, how to ensure that a brand is not paying more than what it is getting in return?

Perfetti’s ​​Sud said that the confectionary brand evaluates these proposals looking at all the elements, using its own expertise, and also the media partners. Since they work with multiple clients, it helps the brand arrive at a cost which it feels is right.

Nowadays, marketers have also started to demand more performance and conversion on branded content, while ignoring the brand affinity and recall bit. So is branded content restricted to performance only and immediate business results?

Johari of Nobel Hygiene answered this saying everything should be counted as performance. “I think if marketers or brands want to track the traction on content, they want to understand more about the TG. I think it behoves everyone, including the creative agencies and the content creators themselves, to track it. Having a performance paradigm does not dictate that you're going to base everything on your CPIs. There are certain calculated risks that you do and there are various other ways to track the efficacy of what content you create. All the people on the brand side, I'm sure would agree that certain courageous steps are sometimes not linked very much with numbers,” he said.

Johari said that it is the responsibility of the marketers to put the right construct of the matrix for the right proposition. It is their responsibility to make sure the finance team, the board, everyone understands different constructs of metrics apply to different pieces of content.

Many times it is seen that brands do branded content on a project basis with different creators and platforms, but shouldn't they also think about long term creator and platform relationships?

TVF has been involved in long term relationships for quite some time with multiple brands.

Thakker said that such relationships are very well charted out on the basis of what the brand is planning to achieve each year. It's very carefully constructed and there is a responsibility to keep the brand image fresh among the audience. 

He said that brands certainly and actively look at long term partnerships.

Intel’s Makhijani added that while long term partnerships are good for economies of scale, it kind of eliminates the fact that they cannot work with some of the competing brands and this is where they might lose the neutral voice. For the buzz orientation, virality and engagement and a refreshing perspective are preferred. She suggested brands have both – a few long term partnerships and the rest 50% for these tactical interventions.

Tactical is something that is needed and which pushes brands to be a bit wary of long term engagements or with singular partners.

Once the objective, idea and strategy for branded content is in place, and the deal is locked between the brand and the creator, how much involvement of the brand should be there at the execution level? Should creators be given a free hand until the final product is ready or should the brand be involved at every level?

Sud shared that Perfetti believes in giving complete creative freedom to the creators.

He said, “At the start of the project, along with all stakeholders, including the platform or the channel, our vision for the partnership is explained as to why we are doing it in the first place and so that we can all visualise the output including certain guardrails and expectations from the partnership. Once that is closed, we give complete freedom to the creators because they are the experts. We can't dictate scripts or who should be the host of the show.”

Makhijani added that creators or platforms shouldn't forget the brand while pitching brands for branded content.

“I've been in many situations where there is a killer content idea but my reaction to it is why should the brand do this? The idea cannot be so generic that any brand can pick it up. You need to have a very compelling reason for why this brand should invest in this particular piece of content, and also fine-tune the idea to make it specific to a brand, and not just a great independent idea that anybody can sort of ride on. Also, often there is a great mix of creative ideas, but there is no amplification strategy or retention strategy. So that it becomes a mixture of a content partnership and not just the creative content recommendation. Thirdly, from a content creator’s perspective, it's becoming slightly templated. While there is a lot of talent out there, coming to brands some of the sheen is now wearing off. Quality and differentiators need to be there.”

Also, when it comes to the measurement of branded content, many times the numbers reported to brands are not in tandem with the impact the brand has seen.

Answering how to deal with such challenges, Johari said that while there is no specific strategy to this, there are multiple proxies that the brand tries.

“We talk to distributors, partners and everyone to understand the impact. We also track other metrics. But there is nothing standard. There are multiple channels online and everyone has their own definition of what counts as an impression. Therefore engagement counts much more than impressions and other numbers,” he said.

According to Thakker, for small scale brands, it is easier to isolate the numbers on the spends. With brands with low levels of awareness, it is easier to measure the ROI via Google search even. But with brands of a high level of awareness, it is challenging. Here research reports, brand-related reports or surveys that might not be direct but are directional in nature, are helpful. And this reinforces the belief to keep growing in that direction.

Apart from this, the industry has seen multiple successful long-format content. However, the number is still very low. Other than measurement, is there any other challenge also why brands refrain from this?

This particular space is still not very organised for brands to associate with it, said Makhijani. She added that there are way too many people involved and no clear understanding as to what exactly should be the investments in it, timelines of it. Especially due to Covid-19 this has been impacted a lot and this needs a formal approach. In terms of textual long format, there is not much quality left when compared to the reduced attention span of people.

Apart from the financial challenges, Johari said that this format is risky. It is like putting all the eggs in one basket. It needs to have a very specific agenda.

For brands to deliver great output on mediums like TV, where huge investments are involved, Sud suggested that brands don’t need to integrate too much in the content. There has to be a fine balance.

Towards the end of the conversations when the panellists were asked what is holding back the brands to invest more in content-led properties on news websites or publishers, they shared that it is the environment in the news space that has become toxic, unlike the entertainment space.

Johari shared that everybody needs credibility and if news portals can bridge that gap, there can be a resurgence of ad rates on branded content in this space as well. Also, there is a lot of news fragmenting going on and dynamics are changing. Content that is more education-led is suited here. Not many product categories are there that need education. Also, it is the environment of news these days that a lot of brands are shying away from these websites.

Perfetti’s Sud said that the brands will ultimately go where the audience is. Also, it can be the function of content. On news platforms, you cannot control the content. Especially in the last one year brands are trying to stay away.

Echoing the same thought, Makhijani too added that there is at times negative news, some pieces of opinion, it becomes tricky and brands don't want to upset potential consumers.

Watch the full video here:

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