We are no longer in an era where the value of content for brands is questionable. The need is so great that every big digital publisher has its own team or partnership dedicated to creating it.

The question isn’t whether brands need content; these days, the more important question is, How does that content rise above the noise?

The answer is simple, yet it’s one many brands don’t like to hear.

You have to take risks.

With so much branded content out there, your content needs to feel fresh, innovative and exciting. It needs to break the Internet.

And to break the Internet, brands need to be willing to step outside their comfort zones. Not only do they need to be open to aligning their brand with a larger story that captivates the audience, but they also need to be open to telling that story in cutting edge ways that competitors might not have yet considered.

A Good Story Is One That Hasn’t Been Heard Before

Good content — branded or not — needs to tell a tailored story that meets the audience members where they are and carries them along on the journey. In order for brands to tell these stories, they need to break away from regurgitating brand messaging. This can be scary, but it’s a risk worth taking.

For many brands, content creation is such unfamiliar territory that even producing it feels like a risk. They’ve worked incredibly hard to build out messaging that aligns perfectly with the brand, and they don’t want to mess with perfection by greenlighting content that isn’t littered with brand mentions. It’s an understandable concern. However, it’s this approach that gives us snooze-worthy headlines like “Why You Should Buy [Insert Brand Name Here.]” Sure, it might get some pageviews, but it’s not very likely to leave a lasting impression on the user.

Want to know the types of content that do leave a lasting impression? Consider WSJ Custom Studios’ use of impeccable reporting, video and imagery to create hype for the Netflix series Narcos. From the very first impression, the piece, titled “Cocainenomics”, makes its mark. The animated introduction is interactive and encourages the user to click to make cocaine swirl around the page. As users scroll, they discover world-class bilingual reporting full of jaw-dropping statistics about the history of the drug trade. There are interview experts, compelling graphics, original video and a timed quiz that was played more than 500,000 times. And sprinkled lightly throughout, in a way that does not interrupt the narrative but only adds to it, are clips from the TV show, which has been lauded as the second biggest show on cable in 2015.

The story alone is captivating. The way it is told is disruptive. And beyond the partnership label and supporting video clips from Narcos, there is not a single mention of the TV show. And yet users are enticed to stay for the journey, actively engaged the entire time. Once they’ve gotten to the end, they have gained a fresh sense of curiosity for the topic at hand — after all, who wouldn’t be interested to know more about the sordid history of cocaine? Well, according to Nudge, about 20,000 people thought the same thing and shared the piece as a result. While the brand’s presence is minimal, the impact is maximal. Netflix could have just as easily created a listicle entitled, “10 Reasons to Watch Netflix’s New Show Narcos.” But instead, it took a risk. And it paid off.


Jessyca Dewey is the director of content marketing at Giant Media. She previously led the content team at L’Oréal’s branded beauty website, Makeup.com and has an extensive background in branded content.

Mark Zuckerberg Image attribution: (CC) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com / bub.blicio.us / CC-BY