Brands Start to Tell Their Own Story / by Dan Weingrod

Are branded content sites part of a new future for brand storytelling?

I was happy to see an article recently about manofthehouse.com, a site launched by Proctor and Gamble. Happy, but not surprised, because what P&G is doing with this site is part of a recent and positive trend of brands becoming content creators.

Manofthehouse.com is a site that dispenses information to men about a variety of topics, from cleaning toilets to middle aged fashion tips to cooking. The site’s target audience seems to be “family men of a certain age” who may not find appeal in the sophomore hi-jinx of sites like axe.com or the soft core guidance available at askmen.com. The question is: Why would P&G want to launch a feel-good self help site for men?

Part of the answer goes back to P&G’s roots. They were, after all, among the early sponsors of radio soap operas. The similarities between that time and today are that brands need new platforms tell their stories. Specialty magazines are folding, the television landscape is continuing to fragment and content publishers are no longer stepping up to provide new and robust platforms that communicate to niche audiences. So instead brands are moving forward to develop customer focused content that allows them to deliver value to consumers. In this case a valuable and potentially underserved market.

The other part of the answer is that brands are beginning to understand that the Web gives them an opportunity to create unique, measurable and exclusive brand experiences. Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer stated that: “We are now as much a media-content company as we are a design company, because it’s all part of the overall experience.” This commitment has lead Burberry to create live streaming fashion events and custom iPad apps. These experiences have the capability of building deeper attachment to the brand through the use of custom content.

Converse has taken a number of different approaches to branded content including the recent creation of “Rubber Tracks”, a recording studio in Brooklyn where local bands can create and record work. The results, (i.e. the content), is then licensed to Converse and promoted on the Converse Web site. Cisco provides branded content through the myriad of video blogs that they produce. The key in these examples is that it is less about product placement than providing value and interesting content for their customers. While manofthehouse.com is not pulling in as much traffic as sites such as askmen.com, it still attracts 500 thousand monthly unique visitors and its content distribution architecture allows for many opportunities for readers to share and recommend content through social media.

One of the reasons that I like this robust approach to content is that fights what I like to call the “lazy microsite syndrome”. All too often microsites have become an excuse to create empty Web content for subjects that don’t fit into corporate sites or need linkage to an offline campaign. By using high quality content, brands can get past this syndrome and build valuable lasting, experiences and tell their stories at the same time.