The most common pitfalls in branded content

If content is king, then branded content is heir apparent. We all understand the importance of brands -- of building brands and brand awareness. Without it, customers are less likely to recall and recognize a particular product, service, or business -- especially at the end of the purchasing funnel.

Gone are the days of straightforward advertisements and commercials. Instead, today's trends are about producing branded content -- entertaining content embedded with advertising opportunities. Don't make the following mistakes when creating and producing branded content.

Over branding
Be wary of over branding. There is nothing wrong with injecting a brand into a digital series where it fits. In fact, if the story is developed around the brand, then often it can enhance the storyline. But there is certainly a danger of overexposing the brand to get the most bang for the budget. Audiences are intelligent, and the second they start to feel that they are simply being advertised to (advertainment), they may feel alienated and turn away from the digital series. The brand exposure should be organic. This applies not only to brand visibility within the series, but also in player skins, on the video homepage, etc. It's crucial to find the ideal balance between generating high recall without "suffocating" viewers with the brand's presence.

Weak foundation
A digital series doesn't excuse sloppy storytelling. Many branded series have the (unintentional) quality of subpar '80s sitcoms as if the audience will forgive lazy, cliché plot, and broad characters just because they're watching it on a different medium. They won't. Depending on the brand, budget, and series concept, high production value may or may not be a prerequisite. However, developing a great concept and characters is always essential. Aim for the performance and depth found in the best TV of today.
 
The vanilla trap
Don't be afraid to step outside the box with your brand personality: Brand exposure inside of a series should absolutely meet the brand's overall communication goals, but when the vehicle to deliver the message is entertainment, don't be afraid to make a statement. Audiences want to see brand personalities from another angle. That's what gets them talking: Orbit did it with Will Arnett; K Swiss did it with a Kenny Powers series. You are dealing in the new emerging media, so be new and emerging. You will achieve a deeper impact on the audience if you truly use your brand as a character.
 
Don't hide your light under a portal
Many drop their content off at YouTube or another portal and hope for the best. At this point, most marketers know creating a viral hit is a crapshoot. To get the attention your content deserves, you have to approach distribution strategy with the same rigor you would in developing and producing the creative. Clients are conscious of the importance of designing a well-thought out distribution, utilizing multiple delivery avenues. Whether it's partnering with a video network to deliver content across a global network or work with social media platforms, be just as creative in distribution strategy as well as your creative. It won't do you any good if no one sees your branded content. 
 
Think beyond the native medium
Strategy should include extensions in the real world -- performances, appearances, gamifying with Foursquare, Places, SCVNGR, etc. -- anything that continues the experience and ingrains awareness in a way that your target embraces and wants to be part of.

Don't show all your cards at once
Entertain your audience, then follow the old vaudeville mantra, "Leave them wanting more" Leave them wanting to see the next episode or wanting to engage with other viewers within the brand community, generate their own content, or voice an opinion.

Be a good date
Don't tell your story and walk away. You've found your target audience and spun an entertaining, relatable narrative; now listen to what they have to say. At this point you and the audience are building the brand together. Tell viewers that you want to hear from them, and let them know that you value their opinions. Pose questions. Keep them talking and thinking and sharing. Just make sure to equip yourself with the capacity to respond and interact with the masses. While "conversation" and "relationship" are buzzwords, many marketers aren't prepared to actually have them on a massive scale. You found each other, you're interested, now talk, engage, and build that date into a second date and beyond.

Analyze and adjust
Equip your campaign with the analytic tools to know what's working and why. Ideally, you should be able to adjust your distribution on the fly based on feedback. Even better if you are releasing episodes one at a time and might be able to adjust edits based on feedback. One of the best things in the digital world is about to obtain tracking reports and analytics to help optimize your branded content. And don't forget user comments -- they can be provide timely insights into all aspect of your content.

Richard Shore is co-founder and president at RedLever.

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