When done well, sponsored content advertising can help brands expand their exposure and reach, build trust and credibility, and gain preferred status — all essential marketing tactics to convert target audiences into customers.

sponsored content

A little trivia: Sponsored content is the reason we have the term “soap opera.” In the 1920s, radio was arguably at its peak as a medium for serial entertainment programming. To pay for these programs, radio stations turned to consumer goods companies for sponsorship. Among the first was Procter & Gamble, which sponsored episodes as a means to advertise its soap laundry detergent, Oxydol.

Sponsored content has come a long way since then and continues to evolve and adapt to meet the needs of consumers who are accessing an ever-growing number of media distribution platforms. Why is sponsored content still going strong more than 100 years later? It remains an effective tool to put brands in front of their desired audiences in a way that feels organic and not invasive.

What is sponsored content?

Sponsored content is content a brand pays for that is produced and published by a partner. The partner can be a publisher, an influencer or another brand. To be effective, the content has to be relevant to your target audience and appear in a format they will appreciate on the platforms they frequent. It also has to align with the brand paying for it and the people or platforms distributing it.

Simply put, sponsored content is paid advertising that doesn’t feel like paid advertising but is clearly identified as such. Even though consumers know it’s sponsored, they should come away feeling the content has helped them in some way. This will help build credibility.

Sponsored content formats

There are several phrases that highlight to consumers that they are looking at a paid advertisement. These include paid post, sponsored by, presented by, partnered with, promoted and powered by. Just as there are many ways to introduce brand sponsored content, there are also many forms it can take.

Sponsored content can be:

  • blog and social media posts;
  • articles and whitepapers;
  • influencer recommendations and reviews;
  • infographics;
  • podcast episodes and series;
  • webinars;
  • events; and
  • videos.

Your objectives, budget and resources will dictate the format.

The difference between native advertising and sponsored content

It’s easy to see why native advertising and sponsored content are often confused. Both are designed to look like they naturally fit in the publication, feed, channel or website where they are placed. However, native ads are editorial content that is created by and focused on a brand and what it’s trying to sell. Sponsored content is typically not produced by the brands paying for them. Instead, brands pay partners to produce and share content that covers a broad range of editorial topics that are aligned with the brand but focus on the needs and interests of consumers. Sponsored content does not directly promote the brand’s products.

Benefits of sponsored content

Sponsored content:

  • allows brands to share in the goodwill their target audience already has for the channel, platform, publication or other platform where the content is being distributed.
  • gives brands exposure without disrupting the user experience.
  • can take many formats and appear across all types of media.
  • drives traffic to the brand’s website.
  • is a win-win for both the content creator and the brand.

Research from IPG Media Lab and Forbes shows branded content is perceived as being consumer centric, rather than promotional, and this drives higher engagement rates, which makes it more memorable.

Best practices to create effective sponsored content

Know your target audience

Understand your audience, their pain points, interests, and how and where they like to consume information. Connect this understanding with who you are as a brand, the value you bring and how you can help your potential and existing customers. This will help you hit on the topics, format and tone that will generate the most positive interactions.

Defining your ideal customers and crafting messaging that speaks to their needs is key to aligning marketing efforts and high conversions. 

Put the consumer first

This is not a hard sell. Sponsored content should present information your target audience wants in an informative, interesting and compelling way. Choose topics that are original, enhance your brand as a thought leader and showcase the unique value you bring.

Create a list of subject matter experts for sponsored articles, webinars and podcasts.

Understand the focus of the website/publisher/platform distributing the sponsored content

Choose partners that are aligned with your brand’s purpose and serve a similar audience. For example, partnering with a publisher allows brands to be linked to premium content in an environment where users can safely engage and interact with other users, content creators and brands. Businesses working with Postmedia benefit from the depth and variety of content — regional, audience-specific industry verticals, news and newsletters. This is complemented by our strong custom content teams, which have significant experience partnering with agencies and brands to develop unique, integrated campaigns based on content-driven reach and relevance.

Measure performance

Establish your objectives and what success looks like. Do you want immediate or long-term results? Are you trying to drive engagement, raise brand awareness, expand your reach or establish yourself as a thought leader? This will help you determine the appropriate performance metrics. For example, referral traffic, page views and social engagement are all indicators of brand awareness and reach.

Sponsored content is a tried-and-true opportunity to build interest and engagement. Unlike other forms of paid advertising, consumers appreciate sponsored content when it’s done right. Take the time to create sponsored content campaigns designed to help you reach new audiences, and build credibility and trust.

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