Content: When it’s time to talk brand and when it’s not

Q&A with Deana Henn, editorial content director of content marketing at ADG


Marketers routinely put brand front and centre in any campaign, but there is a growing argument to be more subtle with brand messages and instead, take a journalistic approach to create a conversation around your product category.


“Native advertising has taken off as brands and publishers have rushed to work together with the goal of better engaging their customers and boosting their revenues,” writes US marketer Jerrid Grimm in an article for the Native Advertising Institute.


“In fact, in just three years, from 2014 to 2016, native ad spending increased a whopping 600%. Marketers have learned that sponsored written content is the number one opportunity for brands,” he writes.


As such, journalists are frequently brought into marketing departments for their editorial nous and ability to tell a story which is increasingly recognised as a valuable part of the marketing mix.


The argument is that journalists are adept at creating stories using carefully crafted angles and headlines that generate high audience engagement. Typically, that means creating noise around your product or brand and, crucially, getting more bang for your marketing dollar.


The strategy is paying off.


“In the increasingly digital world, consumers have begun to express a strong distaste for the current state of in-your-face advertising with almost a third of internet users in the US expected to be using ad blockers by the end of this year,” says Grimm.

“As native advertising [sponsored content] has promised to help brands reach consumers in a less intrusive way, a cautious industry mentality has developed based on the idea that sponsored content shouldn’t contain any brand mentions whatsoever, so as not to come off as overly promotional.”

But there is a wrinkle to this: content that includes brands still performs well.


A study by Grimm’s company Pressboard, a content marketing tech platform, revealed some surprising results about how readers/customers perceive branding in sponsored content.

It showed that “incorporating brand mentions sparingly and strategically can boost reader engagement significantly”, suggesting that brands need not shy away from self-promotion entirely when creating content for their readers.

So, the million-dollar question is, do you talk about brand or do you avoid it?


The answer is both – and here’s why. We sat down with Deana Henn, editorial content director at Australian Doctor Group to understand when and how brand-developed content can work for pharma marketers.


When is it ok to be heavy handed with brand?

The truth is, it depends on where the product sits in its lifecycle and its category market share.


For the pharma industry in Australia, brand is an important part of the educational message for doctors. If the product is new and in launch phase, brand awareness is a key objective – think Boehringer Ingelheim’s Glyxambi, a new product which has just launched in the diabetes area.


Similarly, if marketers want to generate a conversation or raise awareness about an existing or mature product in a congested category, branding is crucial.


We created a content campaign for Sanofi’s anticoagulant Clexane which is a mature product that competes with newer novel anticoagulants (NOACs). Branding was an important part of the content campaign for Clexane to educate doctors about how it differs from the newer agents, which have received much media coverage over the past decade.


Still in the NOAC space, another example is Boehringer Ingelheim’s Pradaxa – the only NOAC in Australia that can be immediately reversed with a specific agent in case of emergency. Brand awareness becomes a key element of any educational messages for Pradaxa where the objective is to educate GPs that in Australia, it is currently the only NOAC that can be 100% reversed if required.


Do readers actually engage with branded content?

Here, at Australian Doctor Group (ADG), our metrics show branded content produced with an editorial, rather than marketing, approach can yield high readership.

In terms of page views of the content we produce for clients, it outperforms traditional advertorial by 75%. Click-through rates are high and time-on-page metrics confirm readers are consuming the content.

But the key is to apply a journalistic approach. Our content marketing team spends a lot of time understanding what ‘the story’ is that we need to tell for clients and crafting compelling angles that are relevant to the readers.

Clients frequently ask do readers really engage with the branded content. The truth is, if it’s good content that entertains or educates the reader and is directly relevant to them, they will engage with it. The metrics don’t lie.


When should brand be avoided?

In most marketing/content campaigns, it’s always effective to initially create a conversation around a therapeutic area and put it on doctors’ radars.  Journalists do this by honing in on a news angle which establishes a conversation on a topic.


Rather than focussing on the brand, create a conversation or highlight the need for education in a specific therapeutic area. For example, highlight that the incidence of a disease is on the rise, doctors are not following clinical guidelines, screening and diagnosis need improving, a new treatment is available, controversial research is challenging current practice, and so on.


In this case, mentioning the brand too early can taint the content and deter the reader. The most effective content is that which is authentic and genuinely addresses doctors’ needs. The product typically then becomes the solution.


Grimm’s research backs this thinking: “According to the results of our study, a single brand mention has the power to boost reader engagement as long as it doesn’t come too soon.”


“These mentions would come part-way through the article, ideally in the 300- to 600-word range, and play a supportive role by adding relevant value or insights for the reader,” says Grimm.


Where do marketers get it wrong?

For marketers, brand is always front and centre of any campaign. But good content – whether journalism or content marketing – should always put the reader first, not the product. This is where marketers typically get it wrong.


Based on his study, Grimm concurs: “Brand is always a turn off when it’s the focus of the content – regardless of what sector you’re creating content for.”


“The study found articles that mentioned the brand within the first 100 words had the lowest active reading time of all. Conversely, the later the brand mention in an article, the higher the reader engagement.”

The solution is to identify readers’ information needs or pain points, make that the focus of the content, raise awareness of the patients’ problems within the relevant therapeutic area, and the product or brand then becomes the solution.

It’s a balancing act, but ultimately the focus of any content should put the readers’ needs first.

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