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Making Branded Content Worth It

Is making branded content too complicated? It doesn’t have to be.

Corri Skinner presented on managing modern marketing, productivity, and workflow, with Asana at Adobe MAX 2019 in Los Angeles. Here, she shares best practices from her experience operationalizing Vox Creative, Vox Media’s branded content practice and Digiday’s 2019 Best Content Studio of the Year.

Vox Creative works with hundreds of clients — 50+ branded content builds at any time of the year — each with unique asks, goals, and deliverables. As the role of content in any effective marketing strategy continues to grow, and the distribution channels for that content proliferate, many brands and agencies must weigh the costs and benefits of producing that creative work. Despite the growing evidence that our content works hard to meet our clients’ business objectives, branded content production bears a cost to Vox Media, too. As such, it’s our mission to make it worth the effort.

The many moving parts of a campaign can intimidate even the most seasoned advertiser. A video campaign here at Vox Creative takes as many as 25 people to complete from start to finish. This includes a creative strategist, seller, account manager, writer, producer, editor, creative director, and social strategist, not to mention input from our insights, analytics and operations teams. “It takes a village,” as they say. Our standard timelines run from six to 10 weeks, which are shorter than many suppliers in our field, but is still a bigger investment of resources than, say, a glossy banner ad.

First, I want to be very clear — branded content is worth it. If brand awareness and persuasion is what you’re going for, the data doesn’t lie:

  • 30% Point Boost of key brand resonance metrics
  • 12 Point Boost of purchase intent for tech campaign
  • 95% average recall score for Food/Bev campaigns

But there is often valid and legitimate trepidation. We’ve heard questions such as:

  • “There are way too many cooks in the kitchen. Who do I talk to about what?”
  • “How and when can I review progress and weigh in to ensure my inputs and brand needs are being heard?
  • “How can we do something truly special and ‘NBDB’ without reinventing the wheel?”

To answer these questions, we’ve created a scalable, streamlined process that ensures our clients have positive experiences, and that our creative teams produce quality work that audiences love.

Our Three Ps

People

In looking back on our most successful campaigns, we realized that those with a single point of contact, owning correspondence across internal and external teams, kept the process moving and communications clear. So a little more than a year ago, we created a role to streamline management and ownership. Who would be the client’s main point of contact on the day to day of a campaign? Who would hear their opinions and make them known to the larger Vox Creative team? Our answer: the Content Manager. The Content Manager facilitates dialogue, manages deliverables, and operationalizes best practices and processes. They are a single point of contact on all post-sale content execution and they help maintain the balance between creative freedom and client happiness.


Process

Committing to an 8-week build timeline without fully understanding what the day-to-day looks like during can be daunting for any advertiser. Our partners want to understand how we create branded content, and what is expected of them. Process is my answer to solve the “how” and we tackled this in a couple different ways.

We created a personalized scope of work for every campaign. It gives clients clear expectations and outlines the build steps and touch-points where they can give feedback throughout the process. But this is also human-first document and the Content Manager walks the client through it to ensure they feel good. Through the scope of work, both external and internal teams are clear on what’s expected and what milestones they must hit.

Asana is also a huge part of our process. We have a saying on our team: If it’s not in Asana, then it didn’t happen. Knowing that our sellers are more comfortable in SalesForce, we’ve created several connections between the two tools. This way, they can remain in their familiar environment but still feed the necessary information to the multiple teams that need this to move a campaign forward. Thanks to Asana, we have beginning-to-end insight into a campaign at any given time, which provides crucial context for our many teams touching a campaign.


Products

We love a groundbreaking campaign: just see the modern house we built for Ford Home of the Future, which took home Digiday’s award for Best Branded Content Campaign of 2019. But other campaigns we consider to be a success — and made our advertising partners walk away confident and satisfied — are rooted in products that are tried-and-true, repeatable hits. Though Vox Creative is a separate entity from our editorial networks, we look to their signature formats to see what’s working with our audiences and adapt them to serve our advertising partners.

The first of these — built off of the secret sauce Vox’s Ezra Klein gave us – is Vox Creative’s Explainer Studio. The team at Vox has perfected the Explainer approach to making important issues clear and comprehensible. This branded content extension gives us the tools to explain topics on behalf of our advertisers. The launch of the Explainer Studio has been extremely successful; we’re seeing an average time spent over three minutes on Explainer content.

Another signature format we offer is Eater Heatmaps. For a decade, Eater has been creating maps to guide readers through the best dining and drinking experiences in the most important food cities in the US. One-third of all Eater traffic comes from Heatmaps, and over half of that is on mobile devices. In the last year we created nearly 70 branded Heatmaps to serve local audiences the same utility content on behalf of our advertisers. For example, if you’re looking for the best spots in your city for tacos and margaritas (and really, who isn’t looking for that?), we’ve got you covered thanks to Cazadores Tequila.

The Vox Creative Approach

People, process and product enable us to create impactful content and long-lasting client partnerships. Still think branded content is more trouble than it’s worth? Let us show you a different way.


Corri Skinner Levine is the Senior Director of Creative Operations for Vox Creative. She is responsible for leading project management for all branded content executions and, in her four years at Vox Media, has created new processes and led special projects like the launch of The Explainer Studio. In the fall of 2019, she presented at Adobe MAX.