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Branded content failing to deliver? Here’s the reason why…


So, you’ve created some online branded content, but the dwell time could be higher, or perhaps you’d like more CTAs? Here’s why content design and structure in the editorial environment is crucial to its success…

It’s a well-worn stat that branded content is 22x more engaging than display ads. Compared to pre-roll ads, branded content drives higher brand recall.

Branded content is effective because it contains compelling and useful information that audiences are already seeking out. Also, it’s distributed in a familiar editorial environment – somewhere audiences can trust. Indeed, served in premium publisher environments, Nielsen found, on average, a 50% brand uplift. But results aren’t guaranteed – every piece of content will perform differently.

If you’re not seeing the kind of actions and outcomes you want from your branded content, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. You need to reassess the purpose and design of your content. Try reviewing it with the following questions in mind:

Where does the content sit in your funnel?

Has the copy been written with user outcomes in mind?

What are the main actions you want users to complete?

Is the copy digestible and mobile friendly?

Are CTAs included throughout or just at the end?


What is content design?

Content design ensures your writing and page structure has intent and purpose. As the Government’s Digital Service puts it: you are “designing content, not creating copy”.

You could call it user experience (UX) writing. Content design considers the behaviour of users interacting with your content, providing a UX which matches expectations and guides them through the copy towards those CTAs.

While brands have long thought about UX when designing their own websites, it can be something of an afterthought for brand content in third party environments – perhaps because it’s not owned?

However, in the age of content saturation, it’s surely about quality, not quantity? Content in the editorial environment needs to be meticulously designed, otherwise it risks underperforming.

What are the principles of effective content design?

We’ve mentioned a couple of them already. But let's look at the primary principles of effective content design in a bit more detail:

  1. Purpose: You need to be clear on why you’re creating the content; what you want users to feel; what success will look like; how the content supports your audience research etc.
  2. Consistency: With branded content, you don’t always know where in the customer journey a user might be – but you still need to ensure brand consistency and consistency of message.
  3. Context: Consider the context your work will be consumed in. If users are viewing branded content on their mobile phone, how is it going to look to them? Consider using bullet points and other typography devices to make the copy more digestible.
  4. Accessibility: How are you going to break your content up to make it more accessible and engaging? Make the most of the standfirst to grab the reader’s initial attention - then use strong visuals, sub-headlines and CTAs to keep them tuned in to the end of the copy.
  5. Clarity: It’s important to be clear when a user needs to do something. Keep CTAs simple — use verbs and not passive language.
  6. Flexibility: Testing and iterating is important, so that you’re able to continually optimise your branded content and build better outcomes.

It’s fine to get the odd thing ‘wrong’ with your branded content, if you learn from it – and learn fast. At the same time, you don’t want to drastically misjudge the UX. Brands have been known to lose as much as $300m on a simple UX mistake!

Human AND data-driven

At TAN, content design starts in a very human way, with a decade’s experience producing content for some of the UK’s biggest brands. But while we might know a fantastic starting point, some of our greatest successes come through long-term partnerships where we can test and refine campaigns. We might, for example, test longer and shorter content against each other to produce the highest possible CTA for a performance client. We may test more product-led copy against a softer, more content-marketing style approach for a brand campaign. Using a range of performance data, from scroll depth rates to CTA heat maps, we’re able to ensure we hit desired KPIs for clients.

In summary, do use your own experience to design content that answers users’ needs while delivering the outcome your campaign requires, but don’t stop there – test, review and optimise using data-driven insights to deliver the full impact we all know branded content can deliver.