By Tom Mcloughlin, Founder, SEO Travel
“Content” is a word that is thrown all over the place in the marketing world.
You’ve got social media content, video content, blog content, email content … and now branded content, which is a bit of a new kid on the block.
So what actually is branded content, and how can travel businesses make the most of this format when it comes to engaging their audience, building a brand identity and reaching new potential customers?
This post has the answers.
What is Branded Content?
Modern consumers are much wiser to classic methods of advertising than they once were. They also tend to care much more about a brand’s values and identity instead of just what they are offering, particularly those in the 18-35 age bracket.
In the travel industry, potential customers aren’t just looking for the best deal when they book a holiday. They’re looking for agencies or companies that share their desires and priorities when it comes to travel, and want to support businesses that they feel a genuine connection with.
These factors have all meant that companies can no longer rely on simply advertising the travel experience, product or service that they sell when it comes to developing a marketing strategy. They have to devise ways to appeal to their target audience’s interests and show an affinity with their values, creating content that is going to catch potential customers’ attention whilst also building their trust.
This is where branded content comes in.
The easiest way to define branded content is that it is the total opposite of traditional advertising.
Traditional advertising doesn’t try to hide that it is selling something; it uses clear techniques to catch your attention, shares the benefits of a product or service, and tries to persuade the viewer to consider making a purchase. Branded content on the other hand is an inbound marketing technique that seeks to simply build awareness of a brand by associating it with content that shares its values, with no direct ‘sell’ to the viewer.
Branded content intends to bridge the gap between customer awareness and affinity. Creating valuable content that appeals to a target audience’s interests will catch their attention initially, then build ongoing engagement and loyalty by continuing to give them content they care about and increase the appeal of your travel brand.
It’s also been found to improve brand recall by up to 59% in comparison to traditional display ads.
Increased engagement and affinity leads to more sales in the long run. If your audience is frequently coming to your brand for travel advice, insight and inspiration, when they come to book a trip, your company is likely to be the first that comes to mind.
Branded content comes in many different forms, from blog posts to podcast episodes and vlogs or short-form video content. Audio and video are some of the most popular formats at the moment because of their immersive nature, but branded content could also be physical publications like a destination guide or online tools such as an itinerary or route planning website.
A key thing to remember when it comes to defining branded content is that your target audience should have to seek it out to engage with it. Traditional advertising relies on methods that put content in front of potential customers whether they like it or not, whereas branded content should be created to fulfil a need that your target audience has so that they come to your brand voluntarily and don’t feel like they have been manipulated into booking a trip with you.
5 Examples of Branded Content for Travel Businesses
If you’re already doing blog content right, then hopefully you won’t just be publishing pieces that are directly trying to push your travel offering onto the reader.
When it comes to branded content, blog posts are one of the best ways to bring this approach into your marketing strategy. You can appeal to a wide range of your audience’s interests with long-form pieces of writing that also capture your travel brand’s unique ‘voice’ and attitude.
The key to branded blog content is writing informative pieces that relate to your travel company in some way but don’t openly try to push the reader towards becoming a customer.
For example, a standard piece of blog content for a travel brand might share recommendations of the best cities in a country and close with a call to action advising the reader to book a trip to one of these destinations with the company, whilst a branded piece of blog content might comment on a particular event that aligns with their reader’s interests and is happening in one of these destinations.
If you’re stuck trying to figure out what you can write branded blog content about, conduct existing customer research to identify the kinds of people who engage with your business offering. Investigate their hobbies, interests, beliefs, values and even political alignments, then brainstorm all the different topics that they are likely to read about and figure out which ones are relevant to your brand identity.
In the age of the digital revolution, a print publication might seem like a ludicrous idea. But in the travel industry in particular, the appeal of a glossy magazine filled with inspiring images and insightful articles is strong when it comes to potential customers looking for travel inspiration and advice.
There are some areas of the travel industry where print publications won’t work as well, and also some groups of customers that won’t be as likely to engage with physical copies of your content. However, if you find the right angle then producing a branded magazine can be an amazing way to grow your audience and cultivate a strong brand identity.
If you’re still not convinced, you can read more about AirBnB’s print magazine here.
Viral Video Content
Viral videos are one of the hardest types of content to get right, which is unfortunate because it’s also one of the most impactful forms of branded content you can produce.
A viral video is a piece of video content that gets shared on a mass scale and quickly escalates in popularity. This rapidly increases a brand’s visibility and following and also usually establishes them as a ‘big name’ in their industry, which means that potential customers are more likely to think of them before making a purchase.
Travel viral videos are particularly successful because so many people like to engage with video content that shows them new places or experiences. Your content doesn’t have to be directly related to your travel offering however; you could create a video interviewing people in a destination you target, or feature members of your industry in a short film.
There’s no exact formula to what creates a viral video; a lot of it is simply down to luck. However, taking the time to research what kinds of video content and formats your target audience have previously shared and enjoyed will increase your chances of success, along with paying close attention to current trends and interests highlighted in the media that are likely to gain lots of attention.
Podcast or Radio Station
As we’ve already mentioned, audio is an excellent format for branded content because it’s so immersive. It allows you to speak directly to your audience in a way that presents your brand as undoubtedly ‘human’ and is also a brilliant ‘on-the-go’ format which means potential customers can engage with your content almost anywhere.
Things like podcasts or radio stations/shows are also a great approach to branded content because it makes it easy to produce something that is aligned with your travel company without explicitly promoting the service, product or packages you offer.
When it comes to deciding what to make audio content about, return to your target audience’s wider interests and also take a look at the kind of shows they already listen to. There are a lot of travel podcasts already out there, so you’ll need to ensure you pick a theme or topic that hasn’t been done before.
If you’re a company that offers holidays to one specific destination, why not create a podcast interviewing notable individuals who grew up or were born there, and ask them to make recommendations of what to see and where to go. Or if your business offers bespoke, luxury cruises, create a show designed to be listened to whilst onboard a boat. Does your brand have a focus on eco-friendly holidays that don’t have an impact on the planet? Why not plan a series talking about the other ways that your listeners can change their day-to-day lives to live more sustainably?
Partnerships are a brilliant marketing technique that can cross over into the category of branded content, depending on their format. These two approaches go hand in hand, as branded content is all about getting new potential customers to notice and engage with your company, and a great way to catch their attention and instantly create positive associations is by partnering with a celebrity or famous face in your industry sector.
Creating branded content in a partnership could look like getting a celebrity or influencer to do a series of social media posts for your business, starring in a video or series or writing guest posts on your blog or in your newsletter. Unlike traditional partnership content, there shouldn’t be a focus on what your travel company offers, and instead you should be working with someone to offer valuable or entertaining content that your target audience is going to want to interact with.
Partnering with well-known figures is one of the best ways to get potential customers to identify with your brand and get a clear understanding of your values. You’ll also get your branded content in front of your partners’ audience, many of whom are likely to share your business’ values and be interested in what you have to offer.
Starting Points for Branded Content
If you’re keen to get branded content incorporated in your travel business’ marketing strategy, there are several questions it can be worth asking yourself before you begin.
How does our audience like to consume content?
Any branded content strategy should begin with an analysis of your target audience. You’re trying to get an understanding of the kind of topics they will actively go and seek out more information on, so that they find your brand organically and associate you with help and guidance.
Something else you should consider however, is how your audience generally likes to consume their content. Format is a big part of branded content, and you want to ensure you’re producing something in a form that your target audience is going to enjoy engaging with.
There’s no point in spending lots of time and resources on a YouTube series if none of your potential customers regularly engage with video content. Also consider whether they’re more likely to read or watch something on their phone instead of a computer, and factor this into your ideas.
How can we educate, entertain and connect them to our brand?
This is the million-dollar question when it comes to branded content. You’re aiming to create something that fits all three of the above requirements if you want to really make an impact.
If your audience is educated then they’ll be more likely to remember you because they have learnt something new. They’ll also trust your brand more and seek you out again when looking for advice or information, building a stronger relationship.
If your audience is entertained then they’ll have an emotional connection to the content and once again be more likely to remember it. They’ll also be more inclined to share it with others, which will improve your reach and grow your customer base.
Finally, your audience needs to feel connected to your content because it illustrates that your brand has similar values. From a passion for sustainable travel to a focus on wellness, this link will build more affinity and hopefully lead to more conversions in the future.
What can we create that isn’t already out there?
Creating valuable content is partly about ensuring that the content itself is useful or interesting. But it’s also about making sure that you’re filling a gap in the market instead of adding to an already saturated topic.
You want your travel business to become the most obvious choice for customers interested in your niche of the industry, and you’re only going to do this if you’re sharing content that hasn’t already been published somewhere else.
The best way to make sure of this is to really know your sector of the travel industry and the competitors who have a similar offering or create similar content to you already. That way, you won’t get halfway through the content creation process and suddenly have all your plans ruined because your ‘unique’ idea has been done before.
There are many crossovers between branded content and other content marketing techniques, so it could be that your travel business is already employing this approach. It’s not one you should rely on entirely, as traditional advertising and persuasive marketing material are effective and necessary for business growth. But if you want to compete in today’s industry, you also need to ensure that you’re building out content that establishes your brand identity and allows potential customers to find you organically and build a relationship with your business over time.
If you need more information or help with your travel marketing strategy or want to find out more about approaches like destination marketing, get in touch with SEO Travel for a chat and to find out more about the range of marketing services that we offer.