Branded Content: Bridging the Gap Between Earned and Paid Media

Cara Hogan, Head of Content, Zaius

You’re not imagining it: content marketing is getting tougher.

The cost of paid ads is rising by the day — Facebook CPM rates alone are up ( 122% in 2018. At the same time, journalists are increasingly skeptical of business coverage, making earned media harder to, well, earn. Even worse, Google is referring less organic traffic to your site thanks to “no-click” searches ( growing 11% in the past two years.

This means less paid traffic, less media coverage, and less organic traffic to your company’s site overall. So how do you get new people to discover your company and your products? 

The answer is branded content.

Whether it’s a video series, a podcast, or even a newsletter, branded content is the best way to build and engage your audience online today. The best branded content stands out in that it’s high quality, entertaining, and will bring people back to your site again and again. 

But it’s easier said than done to create a great B2B branded content series. I’ll be sharing a few best practices for branded content, what I learned from launching three branded series myself, and more. Here’s how you can take advantage of branded content and build an audience of true fans.

What is branded content exactly?

I’m sorry to break it to you, but your corporate blog is not branded content. Branded content is defined as top-of-the-funnel content that’s not about your company, but simply sponsored by it. More importantly, the best branded content is entertaining, interesting, and fun for your target audience.

The goal of branded content is to market to your mission, instead of marketing your product or company. This content should stand out from everything else you create and be the highest quality you can possibly produce. Ideally, you’ll build an audience that follows your branded enthusiastically and can’t wait for the next episode to come out.

How do you create a great branded content series? That’s a bit tougher. Let’s jump into the steps you should take to get your branded content off the ground.

1. Create something people want

Step 1 is both the simplest and the toughest. You have to come up with an idea for branded content that people actually want to watch, listen to, or read. With so much competition out there in the market, it’s incredibly tough to stand out as a content creator.

But start by having some fun with your concept! Make something that is ( more like a show, and less like marketing.  

This is exactly what we tried to do with the Zaius-branded series, ( Marketing Unboxed.

Our goal was to create videos like YouTube influencers. We decided to do a play on the wildly popular “unboxing videos”, but with marketing (get it?). You’ll notice that though it’s focused on ecommerce, we try to keep the whole video light and fun. The branding is also super subtle. The only mention of Zaius is at the very start on the title card — and that’s it!

In addition, this series is genuinely helpful to our audience. Like all good content marketing, it offers tips, insights, and tactical advice that any ecommerce marketer can apply to their own business. But unlike most content, it’s aimed at bringing the audience back time and time again for each new episode.

2. Build a brand for your branded content

It seems like a small thing, but it’s ideal if you create a separate identity and website for your branded content. This differentiates the content from your blog, for example, and helps it stand out more clearly to your audience.


Branded Content


For Marketing Unboxed, we created a sub-brand for the series with its very own logo. We also built a separate page on our site for all the episodes. That way, it’s easy to direct all traffic there and keep the message consistent. Hopefully, once people visit to watch the newest episode, they click around to other areas of the site. But we never push the audience to learn more about Zaius. It’s all about the series and the mission.

3. Create an email acquisition plan

When you launch your exciting new branded content series, don’t just assume people will seek you out for the next episode. If you create a great series and do a coordinated launch across channels, you’ll ideally get a ton of attention and traffic. But if you’re not converting those initial visitors into new subscribers, you’ve missed out on a huge opportunity to build your email list.

Branded Content

Always create a separate email list for your branded content so you can notify your audience when the next episode is out. For video, you can also use something like Wistia to convert new subscribers directly as they watch by snagging their email in a form. For podcasts, you can incentivize subscriptions on their favorite podcast platform. But everything really comes back to email — you want to be able to ( talk directly to your audience.

You can also run some sort of contest rewarding people who subscribe. For Marketing Unboxed, we actually give away the products we order from ecommerce brands. That way, our newest subscribers are rewarded and, hopefully, share a photo about the exciting gift they got from the show. It’s a great way to drive both new subscriptions and buzz.

4. Create a happy habit

Because of the wide gap between paid and earned media today, you have to treat this new audience you’ve acquired like gold. If someone new subscribes to your branded content, make sure you’re only reaching out with new and fantastic content. This is how you create a sticky series that your audience really wants to engage with every time.

You’ve likely heard of a newsletter or a podcast that people rave about to all their friends. They open every week or listen to every single episode — no matter what. You’ll even get some great word-of-mouth for the best branded content, like this:


Branded Content


That’s a branded newsletter from PitchBook directly sandwiched between traditional media newsletters, all in a tweet from a journalist. Your branded content should aspire to this level. Make sure the emails you send about your branded content are a must-open for your audience. This means you should only send it when you have something great to share or something interesting to say. Never be boring!

Branded content is challenging, but then again, so is content marketing. With more noise than ever and an audience with an even shorter attention span, you can’t afford to create basic content. It’s time to invest in the best: branded content.

About the Author: Cara is the Content Strategist at Zaius, the B2C CRM. She is also the host of The Empowered Marketer podcast and Marketing Unboxed, a video series examining ecommerce marketing from top brands. She is a grammar perfectionist, a surfer, and a rock climber.



About the Author: Cara is the Content Strategist at Zaius, the B2C CRM. She is also the host of The Empowered Marketer podcast and Marketing Unboxed, a video series examining ecommerce marketing from top brands. She is a grammar perfectionist, a surfer, and a rock climber. LinkedIn:  Twitter: