Content Marketing

“Stories Sell Products”: Mashable’s Lauren Drell On The New Normal In Advertising

As Mashable’s Branded Content Editor, I meet a lot of people who reply to my title with a matter-of-fact tone, “Oh, so you do advertorials.” No sentence makes me cringe more.

The native advertising / branded content / custom content / sponsored content / content marketing space is a gray area, with varying standards and varying degrees of editorial integrity, some more stringent than others.

But Branded Content is not a dirty word, and readers shouldn’t discount something because it was created by a brand. In fact, brands are creating some of the most innovative and engaging content on the web.

Content engages the reader. It evokes emotion. It morphs brand perceptions. If it’s good, it’ll inspire the reader. And if it’s really good, it will compel consumers to share, which enables their friends and family to connect with the brand, too.

Everyone loves a good story. Brands need to recognize that they can tell great stories.

But it takes hard work and a vision. You don’t want to create content for content’s sake – you need to develop a strategy, a point of view and a personality. And the content needs to be organic and native to the platform where it lives.

The greatest brands understand that they’re more than what they sell. Every brand has a mission statement, a target audience and core values. Every brand is looking to build a long-term relationship with consumers, and they’re looking to convert their existing consumers’ friends, too. But they often don’t understand that they can accomplish both goals by thinking like a human, instead of a brand.

You don’t want to create content for content’s sake – you need to develop a strategy, a point of view and a personality. And the content needs to be organic and native to the platform where it lives.”

Look at Burberry. Earlier this year, the iconic British brand wanted to promote a new line of lipsticks. It partnered with Google and built a microsite that let consumers send a note sealed with a lipstick-laden kiss to someone they love, anywhere in the world. The campaign oozes surprise and delight, whether you’re on the sending or receiving end of the kiss. And consumers see what Burberry is doing – trying to sell lipstick – but that’s secondary to the fact that this content is irresistibly charming.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s outdoor outpost REI, which sells everything from tents to hiking boots to carabiners. But rather than highlighting the products it sells, REI’s 1440 Project embraces the lifestyle its consumers aspire to. The site “celebrates every minute spent outside” (there are 1,440 minutes in a day), and it’s populated by user photos of the outdoors. The site engages the user, it’s beautiful to peruse, and it makes me want to get up from my desk and do eagle’s pose in Madison Square Park. REI isn’t selling something, it’s standing for something. It’s championing a lifestyle, not a product — and that has staying power.

Of course, not every brand has the wherewithal to execute a fancy website like Burberry and REI did. But branded content doesn’t need to be big-budget – it needs to be good. It needs to serve the reader and offer information, entertainment or some other benefit, while making sense for the brand. Every brand has a story to tell, and the theme of that story isn’t necessarily dictated by your industry – auto brands can embrace design, apparel brands can celebrate entrepreneurship, and a bank can rally around social good.

It’s usually at this point in my discussion that agencies and marketers interject to ask about the ROI. That’s great, but are you actually selling product?

Yes. Mashable – and other publishers – are helping brands create meaningful connections that translate to ROI. But it’s a long game. The new norm is that stories sell products. An article about travel apps might not prompt you to book a room at a Marriott hotel that day. But when you’re planning a vacation next month, who’s going to be top of mind – probably the brand whose article you bookmarked because it highlighted 10 apps to enhance your travel experience.

Content engages the reader. It evokes emotion. It morphs brand perceptions.”

We’ve seen that display combined with Branded Content is a powerful combination: CTR on display ads around branded content is 50% higher than that of the average article, and 2x the industry average for display. And we’re increasingly conducting brand studies that demonstrate how content campaigns move brand awareness or purchase intent. For example, one client saw a 305% increase in awareness for a new product among Mashable readers that were exposed to their content campaign. Similar studies have demonstrated lift in brand perception and purchase intent as a result of consuming branded content on Mashable.

Brands, you’re selling yourself short if you sell the audience short. Show them you respect them by engaging them and compelling them to share your stories.

The Content Strategist is our brand’s story. What’s yours? Let us help you find the answer.

Image by Leonidovich /

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