7 Keys to Create Credible Branded Content:

Bridge Your Content Credibility Gap

Content is a powerful marketing tool, if organizations create credible branded content. After all, content is tasked with helping brands build credibility, among other things. If it can’t walk the walk the walk, it had better walk the plank. Do consumers trust branded content? If not, how can your organization change that?

Survey Says….. You Probably Have a Cred Gap

A post on the contently.com blog references a Kentico Software study that indicates, probably not so much. In fact, adding sales messages averages an ROI-killing 29% trust whack.

A key to content success is both help your audience and earn their trust. Here’s how to create credible branded content. There’ll be plenty of time for selling later. Once your credibility is firmly established, selling is much easier.

This is doubly important for early stage content. Since it’s meant to attract new audiences into your funnel, you’re battling to be both heard and trusted. Credibility speaks volumes here.

I wasn’t born into the content jungle yesterday, having penned branded content for over a decade. I’ve never being accused of knowing everything.


I spoke to a 6-pack of content marketing leaders on creating credibility, just to make sure I hit the high points.

  • Joe Pulizzi – CEO: Content Marketing Institute
  • Scott Baker – Head of Marketing Communications: Porsche Cars of North America
  • Barry Feldman – Feldman Creative
  • Randy Frisch – Co-founder / COO: Uberflip
  • Brian Honigman – Honigman Media
  • Amy Higgins – Sr. Content Marketing Manager: Concur SMB

7 Keys to Make Sure Your Organization’s Branded Content Isn’t All Wet

1 – Know Your Target Audience and Resonate With Them

Audiences today smell rats a mile away. Know your target audience and what makes them tick. Know what they growing branded content credibility [infographic]
want, why they want it, and how they like to get it. Yes, that’s straight from the redundancy department, but it bears mentioning again. It’s tough for impostors to sound credible or really bond with their audience. That bond helps create lifetime fans.

“Know Your Audience” is marketing’s number 1 rule, and content marketing is no different.

Barry Feldman, president of Feldman Creative

Barry is a content marketing consultant, copywriter, creative director, speaker, and author, who hopped on the content marketing trail well before it was trendy. Follow him on Twitter @FeldmanCreative. He noted audience understanding is a key to credibility.

Credibility begins with demonstrating you understand exactly what challenges your prospects and customers face. So before you create content, do a deep dive into studying the customer and identify how you can be useful to them by delivering content.

2 – Stick to Your Brand’s Strengths

Your organization has core expertise, so let it shine through. That’s easier to pull off if your content focuses on what you’re best at. Play to your strengths; we called them “core competencies” back in the ’90s. If you’re a tire manufacturer, creating content on fishing won’t instill confidence, even if your new product line is a dynamite, new fishing rod grip that looks like a radial. There are strong ways of using content to help break into new markets, but that’s one for another post.

I also spoke with content marketer extraordinaire, Joe Pulizzi, on this.

Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynote speeches, articles, and marketing conferences. He’s a leading author on the subject, writing several books. Joe’s latest book is Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill). He also runs The Content Marketing Institute , a leading content marketing research and training organization. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi

Pulizzi highlighted the importance of focus driven domination:

Focus on an area that no-one else is covering to a small, niche audience where you can become the leading expert/voice in that area.

3 – Be Highly Useful, Right Now

Deliver what your audience really needs and can use to help solve their immediate problems. Do a great job and your credibility takes a big step forward. Guess where your audience turns next time they have similar problem? It’s the way to position your brand as a “go to” resource, and drive social sharing.

An added bonus? Greater reach. People with problems tend to know others in the same boat, and they share solutions. It’s true no matter the environment: B2B or B2C. B2X?

Actionable is usefulness’ better looking partner. Actionable, as the name implies, are specific steps your audience can take immediately.

Keys to actionability, include:

  • Where to start
  • Specific steps
  • How to take them

Deliver something your audience can really use, then go beyond that. Tell them precisely how to use what you’ve given them. “Content Actionability” brings more value, and grows credibility, because you’re showing your audience that not only can you walk the walk, you can show them how to as well.

Randy Frisch – co- founder and COO of Uberflip

Uberflip is a content aggregation platform that helps marketers leverage content to grow engagement and bring new leads. We talked on the importance of actionability as a way to build credibility. He’s on Twitter @randyfrisch

Brands should not simply report opinion, they need to also give actionable insights. Some of the best sites for content like Entrepreneur.com, Fortune or FastCompany all ensure to go beyond editorial to add ideas that readers can execute from. As an example, say you were writing about content marketing: don’t just talk about why it will be the biggest trend in 2015, rather speak to 5 steps a marketer should take to stay ahead of the curve or ways to secure budget from your boss. If you can offer these actionable insights you’ll become a true expert associated with the best content.

Feldman commented on content usefulness and it’s credibility effects, too. I asked him straight up how to grow cred. His answer?

Be useful. Call upon the resources required to create the most informative, useful, and entertaining content in your niche

4 – Don’t Lie, Fudge, or Embellish

Yeah, this one should go without saying, especially in a credibility conversation….. but you know it doesn’t. It’s doubly important now. We live in the Google age, where fact checking is but a mouse click away. Puff up your balloon a few extra breaths and you’ll probably get smacked in the face for it Get caught but once… BAM! All your hard-earned cred is done for. You’ll spend forever earning it back, if you can.

Have any doubts? Ask the plethora of athletes, business leaders, entertainers, and politicians who’ve been nailed by this one. Sure, the public loves forgiving the flawed, but why risk it?

If you’re spouting anything that really is true, but sounds incredible, be sure to back it up (see #1, above).

5 – Show the Facts… and Where they Came From

Connect to the research. This goes hand in hand with #3, above. Do your assertions hold water? Where’s the proof? If your blog post or white paper cites (and links to) peer-reviewed studies, or basic research, you gain credibility. As an added bonus, notify the study authors you used their research in your material. That drives relationships and can lead to more social activity, and opportunities down the road.

Citing research is doubly important if your assertions fly in the face of convention. Controversy is great for gaining exposure, but bucking headwinds slow down the plane. Solid facts give the power boost necessary to overcome the wind and get where you’re going on time.

Conduct your own basic research, if needed. Doing research is time and resource intensive, but can pay big dividends. Do well here, and you could get referenced and linked to by others. You know where that leads. You’ll not only get more links and traffic, but credibility too. It further cements your position as a go-to resource in your market, helping establish yours and your organization’s credibility on future content.

6 – Consistency is Golden

What’s a sure-fire credibility killer? Disappearing for extended periods or jumping from one thing to another. Your audience wants to know they can count on you as a reliable source. To make matters worse, vanishing kicks you right in the Jimmy when it comes to audience building, a goal of most content marketing campaigns. It’s a double whammy, your audience doesn’t grow, and your existing audience doesn’t trust you as much as they otherwise would.

Joe Pulizzi hit on consistency as a content credibility builder:

Be consistent. Content marketing programs fail, for the most part, because they (brands) are inconsistent or stop publishing.

Brian Honigman – marketing consultant, a freelance writer & a speaker.

Brian specializes in identifying problems & opportunities for big brands like Dell & hot startups like Sumall, to better align their goals with social media, content marketing and search engine optimization. You’ve read his work in Forbes and Wall Street Journal. He’s been named a “seasoned digital marketing expert” in Forbes and an “SEO expert to follow” by Search Engine Watch. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianHonigman

Brian went so far as to name inconsistency the biggest credibility killer brands face:

The biggest credibility killer a business can make with branded content is not being consistent with your approach. By changing the focus of your topics too often, not supporting your arguments properly and not establishing a voice and style guide can quickly confuse your audience and leave them with more questions than answers after seeing your content.

7 – Collaborate

Quoting directly connected sources powerful credibility enhancer. Nothing works like the straight poop, right from the horse’s mouth.

Interview people directly connected with your information. Their expertise adds value and bolsters credibility. Include their direct quotes in your content. In so doing, you’re leveraging their expertise to create value for your audience, and also content credibility. It’s a great idea to expand on what they’ve said too, but including their direct quotes direct connects your audience with them, and you as well.

Even if you or someone in your organization is a subject matter expert, reach out to those on the outside. It adds perspective and builds value. They may say something similar, but in a way that resonates better with your audience. They may also have insight you’re unaware of that bolsters your position or fills in a piece of the puzzle.

I got a great take on this from Scott Baker, Head of the Marketing Communications group at Porsche Cars North America.

At PCNA, he champions the strategy and execution for all advertising, media, brand integrations, digital, social and relationship marketing for Porsche in the United States. His work has been covered by The New York Times, Automotive News, AdWeek and highlighted in the book Data-Driven Marketing, in addition to garnering multiple Effie awards, and recognition on AdvertisingAge’s annual Marketer A-List, whew!

Porsche has done some very interesting content marketing recently, which is how Scott attracted my attention. The brand produces a video interview series with entrepreneurs and business leaders on business and success principles. It’s brilliant on several counts.

  • The interviewees fit the mold of a perfect Porsche customer.
  • They are high value for the audience, with business insight they can use immediately.
  • The videos aren’t product focused.
  • The discussion topics fit perfectly with the Porsche product, brand, and business model attributes.


Developing authentic partnerships is critical to the success of branded content. The beliefs and values that are conveyed must both be in alignment with your brand and the subject or personality that is featured in the branded content. Because of this, branded content opportunities must be approached as a true partnership. The best branded content stories develop in an organic way, allowing the brand and other parties involved to create value in a mutually beneficial way.

Amy Higgins – Content Marketing Manager for Concur SMB NA.

In addition to her work at Concur, Amy has helped companies such as Google and the San Francisco Opera understand and engage their customers.

Amy echoed Baker’s sentiments, and brought up a vital point:

Build content with your customers and other thought leaders. Credibility is built externally, not internally. Don’t preach. Share. Preaching on your “soapbox” worked in colonial America, but those days are long gone. Today, the best brands share information, education and community.

This post on advertising blog Digiday highlights the importance of expert collaboration, finding it a healthy 88% more effective than straight branded content without expert collaboration. That’s nothing to ignore.

A Final Note / Pet Peeve….. More Content Cred Killers

Much branded content tends to be strongly product and/or brand focused. That erodes credibility. Audiences think: “Oh, they’re just selling something / They want me to give them money.” In early stage content, that’s a huge credibility killer. Shifting to a customer focus strengthens the bond builds the relationship that will ultimately result in a sale…. and another …. and…

There will be time for product focused content in later stages. Product oriented content works best when audiences progress farther into the decision making process, and need to differentiate solutions.

Frisch went so far as to say product focus is the biggest credibility destroyer brands make with early stage content.

It is so tough to separate your product from content, but so essential. If people want an infomercial they can watch late night TV. At the outset people seek content that provides insight on a topic, not how your product solves their problem. Try your best to remain non biased and keep your product out of your content.

He clarified this.

This does not mean your product is not part of the journey or experience. Your genuine insights will build trust among your audience who will begin to explore the brand behind the content more with time. This is where it is essential to have the right call to actions surrounding your content which can take someone to product related content or even better contact options when they are ready.

Baker weighed in on credibility killers, too:

Brands can go wrong by grabbing onto shiny objects (trendy concepts or personalities) that aren’t truly in alignment with their brand values. This might lead to a lift in initial exposure, but often makes the message feel phoney and not believable. Crafting great branded content takes thought, time and concerted collaboration. When brands try to shortcut this process and simply brand-wash the content, the results can often feel very contrived.

That sounds good. Don’t sell out your brand’s values; stay true, despite the inevitable temptation.

Higgins offered this gem on credibility killing:

Stop selling. Start partnering. Many brands miss the mark with their content by trying to sell their product. If customers wanted that approach, they would actually read spam emails. Creating content that will actually be used is all about creating valuable content and experiences for your customer. Be a partner with your customers. Be their friend. Be their trusted adviser. Only that way will your content work for them and your sales leaders.”

It’s difficult for many marketers to turn their backs on a life of product-focused content. After all, it’s all about the product, no?

No, these days, it’s all about the customer.

How does your content help them solve their problem? Audiences are cynical today. They’re marketed to 24/7. Make them notice your brand by helping them first. There is a place for product focused content, but it’s after the audience has decided your brand has made it to the top of the mountain.

Key Content Credibility Takeaways

1 – If your content doesn’t resonate, your revenue doesn’t generate, largely due to a credibility deficiency.

2 – Run with what you’re best at, and to a lesser extent, known for.

3 – Answer “What Can You Do For Me Right Now” as completely, actionable, and on point as possible.

4 – Speak the truth and only the truth.

5 – Show the hard facts and number, then link to the source.

6 – Consistency in both quality and frequency paves the way to credibility.

7 – Leverage others’ credibility by working together to create excellent content.

It’s easy for audiences to mistrust branded content. After all, it’s got an ulterior motive, no? You can turn that around and become not only a credible source, but THE credible source in your market. Nail the builders, avoid the killers, don’t look back.