Branded Content In 2021: Everything You Need To Know

eCommerce is a crazy-saturated market. It’s not always enough to offer the best product in the market, especially when competitors are undercutting your prices.

In the world of online retail, you’ve got to sell more than a product: you’ve got to sell your business with branded content.

The best way to sell a brand is to position your company as a reliable expert that customers trust. While you can make some progress with content marketing and PPC, nothing beats good content.

With more and more shoppers implementing ad blockers, you’ve got to think outside of Google Ads. And pumping out spammy press release-style blogs isn’t the answer, either.

Branded content helps you achieve your biggest marketing goals, boosting difficult-to-achieve metrics like brand affinity and authority.

Branded content isn’t new, but you can make it your own with the right toolbox of marketing strategies. Let’s dig into what branded content is, why it matters, and our 4 tips to write better content for building an engaged eCommerce audience.

What does branded content mean?

Although the term “branded content” first hit the airwaves in 2001, it’s been happening a lot longer than that. JELL-O kicked off branded marketing in 1904 with its JELL-O cookbook (which was a huge success in spite of featuring monstrosities like “JELL-O salad”).

In the decades since, more and more brands have jumped on the content bandwagon. But we often mix up branded content with other types of marketing, like content marketing and product placement.

Branded content is its own thing entirely. And no, not all of the content your brand creates qualifies as “branded content.”

Branded content is a type of marketing that sells your business without turning customers off with spammy messages. You create content that’s linked to your brand, but it isn’t necessarily about your brand.

The big goal of content is creating content that entertains, educates, or informs.

But you’ve got to meet other criteria, too, including:

  • Your brand is mentioned or at least featured adjacent to the piece. Adding your logo is enough.
  • The content is about your brand values, not about your brand or products specifically.
  • It’s valuable. Consumers are getting something out of your content.
  • It uses emotions. Branded content is ripe with storytelling, which is your one-way ticket to consumers’ emotions. Instead of focusing on numbers and data, you tell a compelling story that invites your audience to connect with your brand values.

This type of content can happen in any format, too, including blogs, Instagram Stories, videos, podcasts, and more.

Instead of talking about your USP and product features, branded content delivers awesome content that makes your audience want to come back for more.

Although it mentions your brand in passing, it’s not quite as self-promotional as other forms of marketing, and that’s why shoppers love it.

While you’ll likely see improved brand performance when you create branded content, that shouldn’t be your ultimate goal. Brand promotions and sales are a happy side effect of great content, but your focus should be on viewer needs first.

6 examples of branded content

We know it’s tough wrapping your head around content, so that’s why we’ve compiled our 6 favorite examples of branded content in the wild.

1 - Dove

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign focused on self-esteem and self-image. The brand hired an FBI sketch artist, who drew portraits of people based on their own descriptions and strangers’ descriptions. Dove compared the two drawings, showing that people don’t see their inherent beauty.

While buying Dove soap won’t necessarily make you feel more beautiful, this campaign was successful because Dove chose an issue tangentially related to its products.

By understanding its audience’s deepest insecurities, the brand was able to design one of the most successful content campaigns in history.

P.S. This was the most-watched branded content of 2013.

2 - The LEGO Movie

If you have kids, you’ve probably watched The LEGO Movie hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Did you know that this is actually a clever branded content campaign from the LEGO company?

By turning LEGO products into characters in a children’s movie, LEGO brilliantly marketed itself to its target audience by creating awesome content.

After the movie’s release, LEGO sales skyrocketed by 25%, so we’d say this was an effective campaign.

The LEGO Movie was successful because it focused on creating a great movie. It literally earned awards for being a great movie in its own right. By focusing on content quality, LEGO increased its audience’s trust in the brand while boosting sales.

3 - Apple TV+

Do you have an Apple TV? In 2019, you might have seen Apple’s clever launch for the product. Instead of doing yet another press-heavy campaign release, Apple created its own content.

To celebrate the launch of Apple TV+, Apple created The Morning Show, a quality talk show on Apple’s TV service.

Sure, the show snuck in a few mentions of Apple’s products, but the show quality was so good that The Morning Show actually won Emmy Awards.

As more and more consumers heard about The Morning Show, Apple also increased its user base through word-of-mouth marketing. Not bad, eh?

4 - Red Bull

Red Bull is a beast at content. Who hasn’t seen their “Skydiving From Space” campaign?

While Red Bull has been coy about the actual numbers, rumors say that Red Bull saw a 3X return on this insane stunt.

While you might not have the budget to pull a stunt like these guys, it’s still important to remember your audience and your brand personality. As a brand that caters to risk-takers and extreme sports, skydiving (from space, no less) was a perfect fit for Red Bull’s content campaign.

5 - Coca-Cola

Have you found your name on a Coca-Cola bottle? Coke’s Share A Coke campaign printed some of the most common names in the world on bottles of Coke, which was a sensational hit around the globe.

Coca-Cola tapped into the inherent virality of content. After all, how cool is it to see your name emblazoned on the side of a Coke bottle?

When you make branded content shareable, people will share it.

Just sift through Instagram and you’ll see tons of Coke selfies.

6 - Guinness

Here’s a fun fact: Guinness the beer-maker is the same Guinness that runs Guinness World Records. Founded in the 1950s, Guinness World Records made headlines by turning life into one big competition.

And yes, this was done to boost Guinness sales.

Based on the idea of common pub arguments over who is faster, better, and stronger, Guinness has become a renowned authority around the world on world records.

While most people forget that an Irish beer-maker is behind Guinness World Records, it’s been successful at turning Guinness into a household name.

Why is branded content important?

Not convinced that branded content is right for your brand? We get it. You’ve got to justify any big change to your marketing strategy with your boss first.

Branded content helps eCommerce businesses stand out from the crowd in 5 ways.

1 - Earn word of mouth referrals

Word of mouth (WOM) referrals are marketing gold. 92% of shoppers trust recommendations from friends and family more than any other form of marketing or advertising.

Plus, WOM marketing is dirt-cheap, which is a huge win for your bottom line.

The problem is that WOM is hard to achieve without a strategy. Fortunately, branded content is one tactic that skyrockets word of mouth referrals.

Consider this: branded content has a 59% higher recall rate than spammy display ads.

That’s because shoppers straight-up ignore a lot of banner ads. They’re annoying and they certainly aren’t going to encourage engagement.

Content works for eCommerce because you’re sharing content that shoppers find interesting. The content is informative, entertaining, or educational, which increases the likelihood that your audience will share the heck out of your content—for free.


2 - Deepen customer loyalty

Yes, every sale matters for your bottom line. However, instead of chasing after shiny, new customers all the time, you can use content to deepen customer relationships and encourage ongoing sales.

As much as 65% of your revenue is coming from existing customers.

Branded content deepens relationships and improves loyalty with your repeat customers because it’s more emotional.

Since 80% of emotionally loyal customers will promote your products to their friends and family, this is an ROI goldmine.

Basically, if you want to keep people around, content helps them actually absorb what you’re saying.

3 - Cut through the ad clutter

Look, we don’t have anything against PPC or any other type of advertising. It can be a really effective strategy for many businesses.

However, ads aren’t always the most effective way to get your point across. Since the average person sees 5,000 ads in just one day, it’s really hard to cut through the noise.

People just don’t like ads. They look ugly, interrupt the user experience, and sometimes make it hard to navigate a website.

If you’re pumping more and more money into ads and just aren’t seeing results, you need content. It works because:

  • 79% of people want to see promoted content that blends in with their platform. Branded content flawlessly fits into a Facebook or Instagram feed instead of interrupting the experience with spammy ads.
  • People want to see cool content: Your audience is going online to find answers or entertainment. Branded content fills that gap, delivering a one-two punch of useful content that also mentions your brand name. It’s a win for everybody.
  • Consumers are in the driver’s seat: Advertising forces your brand down people’s throats. But branded content gives your shoppers more agency. You earn their attention by making content that’s truly good. If you invest in high production quality and good content, consumers will be more curious about your brand.

So no, you don’t have to pause all of your advertising campaigns to do branded content. But if you’re not getting results from ads, branded content is a great (affordable) addition to your marketing strategy.

4 - Improve your brand authority

“Brand authority” is a flowery metric that everybody wants, but nobody is sure how to get it. It’s tough to measure something like brand authority because it’s how the public perceives your brand.

If you’re on the hunt for more brand authority, you’ve got to do more branded content.

Branded content boosts authority because you’re sharing valuable content without asking for anything in return. Over time, users will reward you for creating awesome content by referring other people in their network to your branded content.

Yes, this is a long-term strategy, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Whether you’re trying to clean up a previous PR catastrophe or you’re just a small brand trying to make a name for yourself, branded content will boost your authority.

5 - Increase sales

Sales isn’t really the endgame for content, but it’s usually a pleasant side effect.

After all, branded content is 22X more engaging than display ads. Sales are bound to happen with that level of audience engagement.

Keep in mind that the purpose of branded content isn’t to boost sales. You should always deliver on user needs and aim to increase your authority first—the sales will come only after you put in the hard work.

4 tips for creating branded content

Branded content is a must-have for any brand, but especially for scrappy eCommerce businesses that are trying to claim their piece of the pie.

Thanks to social media, though, content is everywhere. Your customers are getting beat over the head by content everywhere they go online.

Shoppers can choose whose content they read. It’s on you to write amazing branded content that people will actually engage with.

Not sure how to do that? Don’t sweat it. Follow these 4 tips to do branded content right.

1 - Show your personality

Please don’t write a bunch of corporate jargon and slap it together in a gross blog post. “Blah” content just won’t interest consumers enough to bother clicking on your content.

Inject some personality into your content! Zhuzh up your content with an interesting concept.

You don’t need to copy Red Bull’s crazy skydiving campaign, but you should think outside the box and take risks.

Showing your personality also means:

  • Fitting your brand: It’s okay to spice things up in your branded content, but don’t be someone you’re not. It would be weird if a brand like Red Bull hosted a cooking show or knitting competition. That’s because those activities don’t fit with Red Bull’s brand. When you create branded content, make sure it still fits within the realm of your business.
  • Being consistent: This is tough to do, especially if you’re creating branded content as a team. But brand consistency can increase revenue by 23%, and that’s why you’ve got to have a consistent tone and personality throughout your branded content. Create a strict set of tone and brand guidelines to keep your personality consistent. You can also try using just one content creator for your branded content to keep everything consistent.
  • Telling a story: Branded content works because it’s a great vessel for storytelling. Bonus: stories are 22X more memorable than bland facts. But your story has to be compelling. That’s why you should use the hero’s journey as a framework for a good brand story.
  • Using emotions: Remember Dove’s branded content campaign? It was successful because it tapped into shoppers’ feelings of insecurity. Storytelling and emotions go hand in hand, but you need to make sure your story actually tugs at the heartstrings.

2 - Choose the right format

Okay, so you know you want to create branded content. But should you make a blog, podcast, Instagram Reel, or something else entirely?

The answer depends on your audience. If you haven’t already created buyer personas, now’s the time to do it.

When you understand your buyer personas, you’ll have more direction on the types of content your audience likes to consume. For example:

  • If your persona is a middle-aged mom, you might get more traction creating branded content for Pinterest.
  • If your persona is a college-aged social media junkie, TikTok is probably your jam.

Know where your people are online. From there, you can choose the content formats that will speak most to your audience.

3 - Do a collaboration

Did you know that shoppers are 14% more likely to check out your other content after they see your branded content? That might sound like small potatoes, but you need every advantage you can get to stay competitive.

Even if you create the best branded content on Earth, you won’t get any traction if nobody sees it. That’s why it’s a great idea to collaborate on branded content.

In the real world, that looks like:

  • Co-creating content: Is there another brand in your space that you’re friendly with? For example, if you sell high-end sneakers, you might partner up with a sock brand to create content together. Collaborations cut the work in half and give both brands access to each other’s audiences. If you have a great relationship with another brand, give collaboration a go to increase your visibility.
  • User-generated content: User-generated content, or UGC, is such a powerful medium for branded content. It’s super affordable to put together. UGC is also incredibly persuasive because it invites your buyers to promote your brand. You’ll likely see more engagements and referrals when you use UGC, without generating any of the content yourself!

Oh, and you can also partner with Trend! We specialize in influencer collabs to max out your branded content efforts.

4 - Sign up for Instagram Branded Content with influencers

Here’s the deal, guys: 90% of Instagram users follow business accounts. That means your Instagram followers want to hear from you on the platform.

While you should post content from your brand, you can also partner with content creators or influencers for your Instagram branded content.

Since 89% of marketers say Instagram is an important part of their strategy, you need to get more eyeballs on this platform.

Branded posts are seeing 76% more engagement, so Instagram is the perfect platform to connect with influencers.

Instagram allows brands to create Branded Content posts for influencer collaborations. The post will say “Paid Partnership” at the top, feature on the influencer’s account, and tag your business in the post.

Here’s the nitty-gritty on how Instagram Branded Content campaigns work:

  • Create a partnership: Instagram wants to protect brands, and that’s why you have to pre-approve your relationship with an influencer before they can create branded content for you. Use the Approved Accounts feature to allow partners to tag you in branded content posts.
  • Set up Brand Collabs Manager: This is a shared analytics tool that allows both you and your influencer to see how the branded content post is performing. See your reach, likes, and comments to optimize post engagement.
  • Run the post: Instagram will notify you when an influencer tags you in branded content. The platform allows you to see and review the post before it goes live. If for whatever reason you don’t want it to go live, you have the power to remove the post before it goes out. Nice, right?

Instagram Branded Content marries the beauty of content with the efficacy of influencers. If it’s time to get more traction on your content, partner with a trusted influencer to get results.


Content is the best way to get into consumers’ hearts and newsfeeds, but there’s so much content out there. In the crowded eCommerce space, you need to add branded content to your marketing playbook to win.

Branded content is a must for earning more referrals, deepening customer loyalty, standing out online, becoming an authority, and even increasing sales. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution: you’ve got to evaluate what content moves the needle for your brand.

You need a resilient brand to survive a cutthroat environment. When it’s time to do branded content right, get in touch with Trend.

Our influencer marketing platform is perfect for sourcing authentic, high-quality content that your followers will love. See the difference for yourself; sign up for your free Trend account now.