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What it Takes to Define Branded Content

Jordan Kelley, Content Director,

The term “branded content” is bandied about widely, but often is not an accurate description of a brand’s relationship with that content. Brands have their hands in all sorts of non-interruptive content forms today, but definitions are lacking. There’s a prescient need to create definitions around brand-funded content categories. Difficulties in the ability to articulate the nature of the content being created at any stage of production or distribution can turn a once-promising piece of creative into a major miss. In fact, terms like branded content and its synonyms have even begun to become dirty words in meetings, forcing storytellers to communicate the value and position of their stories in ways that, creative as they each may be, aren’t universally adopted.

David Beebe (Founder & CEO, STORIFIED) and members of the Elevate Summer Session recently gathered to discuss this need to define and label the various content forms brands are engaged with today. What they found was that setting out to define non-interruptive brand work is an undertaking requiring its own set of parameters.

The act of defining different modes of branded content is one that first requires acknowledgment of the purpose a definition serves, and second, understands the categories that need to be considered when determining that definition.

Defining modes of branded content serves the purpose of communicating clear expectations about budgets and results to the decision makers. It’s not enough to call it all brand storytelling. “Brand storytelling is a skillset that is applied, not a category”, says Beebe. “A traditional ad can be driven by storytelling and be created by brand storytellers and still be an ad.” The ability to communicate the amount of money you’ll need, length of time production will take, and the value of your anticipated results to the powers that green light your content, all in a universally accepted term or set of terms, will make it easier for storytellers the industry over to get more stuff made. However, the act of creating this accepted set of terms is dependent on more than a few factors.

There are a number of categories that come into play and need to be considered when seeking to define branded content. A good place to start is with purpose. What is the purpose of the content? Next there’s the method of distribution. What is the vision for the way the content will be distributed and thus received? The format of the content should also be communicated in this definition. By what method is the story being delivered? Finally, there’s funding. Not only is there the question of amount, but what department does funding come from? Each of these items is to be considered when seeking to define a piece of branded content to the C-Suite.

It’s clear that the act of creating definitions for modes of brand storytelling is and will continue to be an involved process but recognizing who definitive terms are for and the parameters by which those terms are qualified is a start. The number of non-interruptive projects being put forth is rising, and with it will hopefully come more concise input on clear definitions of branded content. And for those lucky folks facing no barriers from the C-suite wondering why it matters? David Beebe says, “It matters to get stuff made.”

Do you have input on defining brand storytelling? Let us know! Submit your definitions at


About Jordan Kelley

Jordan Kelley is a versatile creative intent on mapping new media trends and disseminating the most relevant information in the world of branded content.  He is a lover of stories and an avid consumer of visual media.


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