Insights and Observations

What is the ROI of Branded Content?


What is the ROI of branded content? This is a common question and a question that doesn’t often have a clear answer. The challenge of quantifying the return on investment (ROI) for branded storytelling is a frequent stumbling block for many marketing teams. Imagine this scenario: Your team invests in a top-notch film production company to bring a story to life. Everyone was buzzing with excitement from the start, even though the budget was stretched a bit thin. However, six months post-launch, as you're planning the next year's budget, you're faced with the daunting question: "What ROI did this film generate?" The results are ambiguous, and you find yourself struggling to justify the initial purpose behind creating the film. It becomes evident that, despite your belief in the power of storytelling, articulating its value to those higher up remains a challenge. This intangibility leads to the difficult decision to cut the storytelling budget for the upcoming year.

The belief in storytelling's power is universal among marketers. Yet, securing approval and support from senior management for storytelling initiatives can be daunting. Like any marketing strategy, without careful planning, storytelling projects can end in disappointment, leaving teams questioning their purpose.

Despite these challenges, the potential of storytelling in marketing is undeniable. It's important to understand that storytelling is only a piece of the equation. Distribution, a well-laid-out plan, and strategy are equally critical. A story, no matter how compelling, cannot stand alone without support.

Stories resonate so effectively in building brand-consumer relationships partly because of a concept known as narrative transportation. This powerful psychological mechanism allows storytelling to deeply affect human cognition, emotions, and behavior. When people become immersed in a story, they are mentally transported into its world, experiencing its events, emotions, and characters as if they were their own. Narrative transportation is essential in branding and marketing because it connects with the innate human love for stories, enabling brands to establish deeper and more emotional connections with their audiences. In a landscape flooded with advertisements and corporate messages, storytelling emerges as a beacon, cutting through the noise and connecting with people on a fundamental level.

In my conversations with potential clients, a recurring theme emerges: Marketing teams with the following elements in place find it easier to get storytelling projects off the ground, while those lacking clarity on these elements often realize they need to organize their priorities first.

Brand Identity

Every story is built on your brand. Who are you? What do you stand for? What are your core values?

Company Challenges

Not every story needs to solve a problem, but if the goal is to quantify the ROI, every story needs to be solving a problem. What business challenges are you addressing? Which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are you aiming to improve? Often clients we work with are trying to improve one of the following: Brand differentiation, audience growth/retention, and brand affinity.

Marketing Strategy

Generally, your marketing strategy will be based on the business challenges or product launches. What strategy do you have in place and how is branded content a piece of that strategy?

Content Strategy

With a marketing strategy in place, then what types of content need to be created? What message do you aim to convey with each piece of content? How does this chosen message ladder up to a company challenge?

For a story to be impactful, and to effectively quantify its ROI, this foundation is indispensable but is often ignored. Telling a good story isn’t just about characters or plot development, it’s ensuring that everything surrounding the story itself is thought out, planned, and intentional. Ultimately, when answering the question: What is the ROI of branded content, it depends. The first step is to ensure that your ducks are in a row before you begin. Then the answer gets a little simpler: If you know what problem you're trying to solve, what is the cost of not solving that problem?

Storytelling is like a cairn. While the story itself might be the final stone resting on top of the pile it’s supported by a strong foundation of other stones. It’s this collection of stones that makes a cairn stand out on the trail. However, an individual rock (or story by itself) will be trampled underfoot. While these foundational elements might seem basic, their absence is a common tale, leading to aimless and unintentional storytelling projects. Only with these details in place is it time to talk about the story. The details above will help inform: concepts, characters, locations, concepts, and ideas.