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Branded content versus sponsored content – which campaign is right for you?

The distinction between branded content and sponsored content is an important one to understand, and can have a big impact on the kind of campaign you produce. 

While on the surface the two might seem similar, the core differences between them are where the content will eventually end up, and who creates it. So which one is right for your campaign?

Branded content

Branded content is generally published on your own channels, be it your website, YouTube channel, blog, email newsletter or podcast. Many brands are mini publishing houses in their own right, with entire teams dedicated to producing content. 

One of the main benefits of branded content is that you have 100% control over the message, tone of voice and channel. You’re the creator, editor, publisher and distributor, all rolled into one.

But while branded content’s promise of 100% control might seem like an obvious selling point, in some circumstances, it can turn into a drawback. Without the wise words of an editor to guide you, branded content can easily turn into a blatant sales pitch with no real value. 

Customers can smell inauthentic sales ploys a mile away, so don’t try to dress up an advertising campaign as ‘branded content’. In order to pass the test, your content should inspire, educate, inform or entertain your potential customer without pushing too hard for a direct sale. 

Instead, think of content as a brand-building exercise, one that will keep your business top of mind when your potential customers are finally ready to buy. 

Sponsored content

On the other side of the fence is sponsored content, also known as native content. This is published on external platforms, including publications, blogs and podcasts. 

The concept draws its roots from old magazine advertorials, where ads were designed to blend in with the magazine’s editorial content. Modern native content is even more convincing, and can appear almost indistinguishable from the actual editorial. 

Publications work with brands on their ideas, helping to create content that they know will resonate with their audience. Expect honest and straightforward feedback, and don’t be offended if they come back with an outright ‘no’ to your initial ideas.

In order to help the whole process run smoothly, choose a publication whose audience looks very similar to your ideal customer. This will ensure you’re on the same wavelength, and that your final campaign will have the highest chance of success.

Of course, sponsored content isn’t free, since it involves input from highly trained and experienced publishers. But that input is precisely why sponsored content is a great marketing tool, and an increasingly popular choice among brands. 

A third option

Imagine a form of content marketing with all the editorial input of sponsored content, but none of the costs. Impossible? Not quite. Many publications, especially those on niche or trade subjects, will accept opinion pieces or advice articles from external contributors. If you’re an expert in your field and have a strong opinion on a topic relevant to your industry, this can be a great way to get your name out there. 

Journalists are busy people, so try to keep your pitch brief and to the point. In order to nail your pitch, spend some time reading the publication’s existing articles to get a feel for the kind of content they accept. 

While each form of content marketing clearly has its own pros and cons, the most effective strategy would combine them all. Now, we’re not suggesting you create content in every single category under the sun – that would be impossible. 

Instead, try linking your branded content to your sponsored articles or vice versa, so that a customer is able to move seamlessly between them. Once a holistic content strategy is in place, you’ll be well on your way to increased sales and brand recognition.