Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

David Jenkins

Consumers, brands, and marketers have a new post-COVID perception of branded content

By David Jenkins, Commercial Director, EMEA at Nativo

Let’s get this out of the way first: COVID happened and is still happening. We’ll be dealing with the consequences for decades, but it’s already apparent this global event has been an unexpected accelerant of many of the digital trends we’ve seen developing for many years. People are spending more time online, and in different ways. Relationships between reader and news source or consumer and brand have evolved dramatically.

The “new world of marketing” is upon us.

A shift in perception for branded content

The last two years (and the next few to come) mark a period of huge change in the way people think and act online. Consumers are smarter and more discerning. Two-thirds say COVID has elevated their expectations of brands’ digital capabilities. More than half expect offers to be personalised to their interests and desires. Savvy brands will have anticipated these multi-year trends crystallising. Sophisticated marketing engines have outgrown just using banner ads to, as we say in adspeak, “reach eyeballs.”

Consumers want to learn and be entertained — the tipping point is that they’re willing and able to engage with branded content to do so. Give them the right content, and they’ll readily ask for more. The challenge now is winning over those discerning, but more valuable, fans.

A way forward for consumers, brands, and advertisers

A Nativo survey found almost all advertisers (92%) believe branded content to be more critical to their digital advertising strategies than before the pandemic. There’s no shortage of stats showing how good branded content outperforms display or pre-roll. Anecdotally, brands and marketers understand this. As actual digital consumers ourselves, we all know we appreciate or even enjoy great content regardless of its origin. In brief, branded content works, and consumers are craving it more than ever. 

Branded content has also become the vehicle for the new paradigm of mission-driven brands — arguably another consequence of a global crisis of consumer confidence. 79% of consumers worldwide believe brand awareness increases from positive, purpose-driven campaigns, and 23% say these campaigns make them perceive the brand more positively. Actions that do not align with brands’ perceived purpose drive consumers to abandon those brands. Branded content is the ideal vessel for communicating these nuances, so it’s no accident marketers and brands are so focused on it in a time when consumers are demanding more.

Technology’s role in changing perceptions

Finally, there’s a technological undercurrent to all this change: third-party identifiers and hyper targeting are going away. The future increasingly looks like a first-party data one, with advertisers having less access to the invasive cookies ubiquitous today. And to consumers changing their relationship with the content they consume online, it’s commonsensical: When a consumer sees an ad for luggage while reading a travel site, it makes contextual sense. When they see the same ad across every other page they visit, they know they’re being tracked and followed.

Consumers are savvier than ever and care about what a brand stands for — and how it lives up to its promises. So much continues to change during this extended pandemic lockdown, and it’s obvious that marketers, advertisers, and brands need to build a new way of reaching people centred around engaging, relevant and high-quality content. Consumers have entered a new phase of their relationship with digital content and media and are wise to the value that brands can deliver.

In this new era of branded content, quality beats quantity every time. Technology is a commodity. Brands don’t need a new-fangled AI-powered gimmick, they need trusted partners who understand their mission, their vision and the advertising ecosystem.