As a marketer, you're in constant competition with your peers to find new ways to promote your brand. Once upon a time, that promotion happened through advertising. But as brands have become more sophisticated in how they reach their audience, branded content has emerged as a powerful alternative to engage with customers and build brand equity.

In this guide, we’re going to explain why your business should invest in branded content, how to go about creating branded content, and provide you with some examples of brands hitting the mark with their branded content.

But first, let’s learn a bit more about what branded content is—and what it isn’t.

What is Branded Content?

In a word, branded content is any type of content that does not include traditional advertising (i.e. banner ad, social media ad, commercial etc.). It can take the form of an article, video, podcast, infographic, or pretty much any other type of format. Typically, branded content has some marketing spend behind it, and is usually slickly produced and of a higher-quality than most other types of content.

Using Knotch data, we analyzed the branded content activities of nine different brands over the past year, and found that articles and social media content tend to be the two most popular branded content formats:

The goal of branded content is to foster brand affinity by associating your brand with content that shares its values. At its best, branded content creates a conversation around the brand—such as this New York Times article about female inmates that was written by Netflix as a subtle way of promoting their show “Orange is the New Black.” The article makes no mention of the show, instead providing value to readers by focusing on the struggles of female inmates.

As you can see, your branded content can be entertaining, educational, or surprising—but it cannot be an overt sales pitch.

Why Invest in Branded Content?

There are many reasons to invest in branded content. But if there’s one statistic to keep in mind, it’s this: brand recall for branded content is 59% higher than display ads. When you consider that the New York Times article was viewed over 1 million times, that could translate to a lot of new leads for Netflix. 

What’s more, click-through rate (the ratio of how many people see your link to the number of people who click on it) is much higher on branded content when compared to Google ads—which have an average CTR of 3.17%. Because of this viewers are 14% more likely to seek out additional content from brands that produce branded content. 

Consumers are also 9% more likely to make a purchase from a brand with branded content.

Why is branded content so effective? There are several things it has going for it:

  • Branded content is designed to be interesting and provide value, rather than sell a product or service. This makes it more likely to attract your audience’s attention. Compare this to online ads, which 82% of Americans ignore. 
  • If done well, branded content is memorable, which makes it much more likely for a consumer to recall a brand when it comes time to make a purchasing decision.
  • Branded content is versatile. For example, you can create a branded video content piece, write a blog post about it, promote it on a third-party outlet, and share it on your social media channels. 
  • Branded content can present an opportunity to collaborate with another high-profile brand, thereby making the content all the more memorable. An example would be this interactive piece of content on the opioid epidemic created by the Washington Post in conjunction with the healthcare company Optum. 

Furthermore, our data shows that positive sentiment toward branded content is typically high relative to negative sentiment.

For all these reasons, we believe that branded content is a worthwhile investment for most business types.

How to Create Branded Content

Now that you understand the value of branded content, you’re probably wondering how you can create some of your own.

Your north star should be to create something that toes the line between content that’s entertaining or interesting, and content that’s on brand. For example, think of what your audience might seek out if they were looking for an entertaining YouTube video or a fun show to watch on TV. 

If you’re ready to get started, here are the steps you should take to create a branded piece of content:

  1. Think about what your brand values are, and how they can be distilled in a way that’s not transactional.
  2. Consider how your content can provide something of value to your customers that’s also related to your brand. The value could be information, entertainment, or even a downloadable asset—anything that your audience will want to consume.
  3. Consider how your content can tap into the emotions of your audience. This requires a deep understanding of who your audience is. By making an emotional connection, your audience will be able to recall your brand more easily when it comes time to make a purchasing decision. One such way to tap into your audience’s emotions is by telling a story with your content. A great example is the LEGO movie franchise, which is really just branded content for LEGO. 
  4. Speaking of films, branded content should be immersive, as this helps foster more memorable experiences than typical blog content. In the previously mentioned New York Times and Washington Post examples, you saw how both of them featured interactive elements. This type of experience is more likely to stay with your audience long after they finish reading/viewing your content.
  5. Last, you need to measure your success. You’ll be able to tell how successful your branded content is by looking at quantitative and qualitative metrics, and audience demographics. 

According to a Nielsen study, successful branded content campaigns feature a unique personality representative of the brand, an interesting concept, and strive to form a connection with the audience. Keep these things in mind as you go about creating your branded content.

Also consider where your content will be viewed, and if the content you’re creating matches the location where your audience will be consuming it, both in terms of length and format. For example, your customers may be unlikely to watch a long video on their mobile device.

Branded Content vs. Advertising

We’ve already said that branded content is any type of content that does not include traditional advertising—but what does that mean?

In a word, advertising is paid content that is primarily transactional. We all interact with this type of content on a daily basis, be it through banner ads at the top of a webpage or Google ads at the top of a search results page.

Rather than aiming to entertain or engage, ads are primarily there to get us to take a desired action.

However, there is another form of advertising that is more closely related to branded content, and that’s native ads. Native ads are ads that more seamlessly match the form and function of the platform on which they appear. These are also paid pieces of content—but they don’t necessarily look like ads, and are often mistaken for branded content.

Here's an example of a native ad on LinkedIn. You can tell it’s a native ad by the “Promoted” text at the top of the post. While these non-disruptive pieces of content aren’t as overtly sales-y as traditional ads, they differ greatly from the aim of branded content—which is to engage with your audience on an emotional level and build brand trust.

There’s nothing emotional about an ebook on marketing automation.

Branded Content vs. Content Marketing

Another lingering question you might have is how branded content differs from content marketing. In truth, all branded content is content marketing—but not all content marketing is branded content.

The key difference is that content marketing is a long-term strategy, while branded content is a tactic within that strategy. As part of your content marketing strategy, you may produce a piece of branded content, but you may also produce a series of educational blog posts, some Instagram content, and a thought leadership post for a third-party site.

Typically, your content marketing leans more into educating your audience and fostering trust. It should be values-based and can appeal to emotion, but it’s primary aim is to be informative and helpful. Branded content is designed to communicate the values of your brand in a unique way that will help it stay top-of-mind with consumers. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that your branded content will often be the most expensive aspect of your content marketing strategy, given that it usually requires outside resources to produce (videographers, high-quality graphics, photography, etc.).

Branded Content Examples

Now that you understand the ins and outs of branded content, let’s look at some examples of good branded content.

Bringing Awareness to a Cause (Walmart & the New York Times)

Our first example comes from Walmart, which partnered with the New York Times to create an interactive piece of content for Live Better U—an online education program for all Walmart employees that allows them to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university for as little as $1 per day.

The piece works as branded content because it doesn’t only talk about the Live Better U program, but the importance of access to education for all Americans. Walmart also aims to make the piece engaging by using high quality imagery and focusing on the personal stories of employees in the Live Better U program, and how it has helped them improve their lives. 

By focusing on an issue and showcasing how Walmart is helping to solve it, they are projecting their people-first values. This helps readers create a positive association with Walmart, which wouldn’t be possible with an overt product pitch.

Providing Valuable Information (Vox and Netflix)

Branded content can provide value by being informational. That’s the aim of “Explained,” a Netflix series produced by Vox that explains complex topics in short, easy-to-digest episodes (previous episodes featured explanations of topics as varied as Korean pop music to the racial wealth gap).

Each episode is slickly produced and features engaging graphics and commentary from experts, as well as Vox personalities who serve as hosts.

With this type of branded content, Vox positions itself as a reliable source of news and information without explicitly asking you to go read their website. It also implies Vox’s value as a place where you can get no-nonsense information in a straightforward way. 

Furthermore, it’s simply entertaining.

Becoming a Publisher Yourself (Casper Mattress)

Rather than partnering with third-party outlets to publish their branded content, Casper went a different direction and became a publisher themselves. Their website, Woolly, publishes content on topics related to physical and emotional wellness, sleeping habits, and culture.

Mentions of Casper on Woolly are minimal, but with each piece of content, readers get a better feel for who Casper is and what they stand for. By receiving information on how to manage their physical and mental well-being, readers make the association that Casper is a brand that cares about their customers.

And as with all branded content, Woolly is a professional looking website with content that’s truly unique and engaging.

Pros & Content Podcast (Knotch)

Shameless self-promotion time. At Knotch, we also invest in branded content through our Pros & Content podcast. In these podcasts, our CEO Anda Gansca interviews marketing industry leaders in order to share insights that can be helpful to other marketing professionals.

We invest a lot in these podcasts because we feel they provide value to our listeners. In turn, we hope listeners think of Knotch as a place where they can find reliable marketing insights. 

You can listen to the latest episodes at

Grow Your Business With Branded Content

Branded content is a unique tactic marketers should use to communicate their brand’s values and drive awareness without being overly sales-y. But keep in mind that creating branded content is an investment of both time and money. 

If you’re ready to create a piece of branded content, be sure to follow our steps so that you get the most bang for your buck. And if you ever need help evaluating the performance of your branded content, Knotch can help. The Knotch Content Intelligence Platform offers transparent and actionable insights for content across all owned sites and paid channels.

To learn more, visit our website.