A Marketer’s Guide to Valuing Long-Form Content: Part 1

By Shaw Flick

Brand Affinity, Binge-worthiness and You


You’ve probably heard tales of brand affinity, what some marketers call the holy grail of audience engagement. And there’s a good chance you know it’s a powerful way to build relationships between your brand and your audience. If this is all new to you, here’s a quick definition: Brand affinity is a trust relationship, a deeper sense of connection developed over a longer period of time, whose desired outcomes are loyalty, repeat purchases and brand advocacy. But what is it in practical terms? And why should you, as a marketer, invest in it? And most importantly, how do you as a business develop those kinds of relationships? In this Part 1 of our blog series “A Marketer’s Guide to Valuing Long-Form Content,” we’ll address those questions and more as we introduce and explore how brand affinity figures into the planning and production of deeply engaging content. 

But before we do, here’s a quick disclaimer/CTA. Building brand affinity is easy to talk about, but hard to predictably execute on. In this blog series, we want to introduce you to some topics, which you can take and run with — but we also want to give you an opportunity to collaborate with an experienced team on the actual execution. At Matter, we do this all the time, because we love building brand relationships through content. So, if you read this and recognize a gap in your marketing capabilities, let us know! We’d love to talk strategy with you and see how we can help build deeper connections between your brand and your customers. Hit us up for a free strategy call HERE

Let’s begin with the engagement problem 

Today’s audiences have more choices than ever and are understandably picky about what content they consume – which can work to your advantage if your goal is to create high quality branded content that your audience loves. (Spoiler alert: that should be your goal.) Your customers, like most people, connect with content and brands they enjoy or align with, generally avoiding what they perceive as ads. But, if someone interacts with an ad enough times, they’re more likely to convert. However, do those conversions convert strangers into brand advocates? And does the number of impressions mean your audience is impressed by your brand or even the content? 

Brand affinity is a hot (and slightly counterintuitive) take 

Brand affinity takes the opposite approach: engage your audience with your brand first and let them choose your products because they want to, not simply because they’ve seen a targeted ad six or seven times. It’s about building advocacy more than awareness. And that means brand affinity comes from providing genuine value and entertainment to those within your industry or niche, not simply reaching as many people as possible. Take a beat, and let that sink in. 

Now that you’ve hopefully sorted out the existential crisis of whether you’ve spent all your marketing energy (and dollars) in vain – don’t worry, you haven’t – let’s continue. 

Whereas you may have invested deeply in creating brand awareness in the past, that’s no longer enough.

The new gold standard for engagement is more akin to advocacy and time spent than awareness and recall.

That’s not to say awareness isn’t important, but if you want to build relationships founded on customer delight rather than simple familiarity, you need a new strategy. Historically, these strategies have included compassionate/quirky customer support, user-centric product development, and (occasionally) novelties like celebrity endorsements. But with content aimed at building brand affinity – which elevates your interactions from delight all the way up to advocacy – you need to go beyond short-form ads. If you want to tap willing engagement founded in trust, you need to dive into the wild world of value alignment and highly focused niches. 

The proof is in the… long-form content? 

Over the last several years, we’ve noticed an interesting trend when it comes to the content people consume. It turns out modern audiences prefer long-form content to the short, punchy stuff. Again, let that sink in. We’ve been told for almost a decade now that shorter is better because audiences have the approximate attention span of a goldfish. Here’s the reality: audiences have very short attention spans for content they perceive as advertising and surprisingly long attention spans for content they actually care about. Content they willingly engage with can be as long as it needs to be to tell a full story. The operative term, of course, being “willingly.” 

Now, we could hit you with some of our own seriously long-form blog content about the preferences of modern audiences, but that’s not our focus here. (Instead, check out this article by the fine folks over at Wistia.) In this blog, we’re introducing some practical strategies for how to engage your audiences using long-form content like podcasts, video series and more.  

Whatever you make, make it binge-worthy 

As a marketer, you know that if you have an opportunity to engage with your audience, you’d better take advantage of it. And while ads often attempt to grab attention or interest when their target audience isn’t expecting it, binge-worthy content has a privileged position at the center of their attention. That is, your audience willingly engages with it because they enjoy it — not because it’s forced in front of them. This willing engagement means people will remember your brand better because they trust you and your association with topics and themes they value. And that presents you with more nuanced opportunities to present your brand and values to your audience without them instinctively tuning out your message. 

In the world of brand affinity marketing, “long-form” and “binge-worthy” are almost synonymous, because long-form content that isn’t binge-worthy probably isn’t worth making. You want your audience to love it – not just notice it – and the goal is that they’ll binge it and share it with others. That means the resources that go into making any long-form content worth binging will only return your investment if the audience loves it. Now, that’s a complicated kind of relationship to build, which is why you should follow some basic guidelines when you’re developing long-form content for your brand.

Matter’s 5 basic rules for building brand affinity 

To say, “getting your audience to trust you is as simple as applying these 5 rules to your content development process” would be a bit of a stretch, as each step can be labor-intensive. But there are proven guidelines for brand affinity, and you can follow them to develop awesome long-form content that builds relationships and grows your brand’s reach.  

  1. Start with an original concept – something niched to your business and its customers
  2. Focus on a specific yet flexible theme your customers care about – specifically don’t focus on your own products/services and their benefits 
  3. Incorporate your branding and set a consistent release schedule to maximize re-engagement opportunities
  4. Tell a story in each episode that ties into a bigger series story – use every tool in the business storytelling toolkit
  5. Spend some time with your audience – episodes should be at least 10-15 minutes (and upwards of 30-40 minutes) long so you can tell those stories in full  

Now that you’ve gotten a taste, let’s dive into a couple of the stickier rules.  

The need for a niche 

Alright, you already have a great idea for your long-form venture. You pitched it, your bosses are into it and you’re setting yourself up for success with a killer brand affinity marketing strategy. Heck, you’ve even got a sizeable advertising and PR budget for this project. Nicely done! And your great idea just so happens to be the great idea we hear more than any other: 

“I want to make a podcast about leadership.” 

Whoa, that is a great idea! But, real talk, it’s such a great idea that there are literally tens of thousands of other people who’ve gotten budget to develop and create it. Does that mean you should scrap your concept? Not necessarily. What you need to do is get more creative, more targeted to your audience and more niched with your content. 

It’s all about positioning 

The three essential elements to guiding your great idea into successful, niched content are audience (including subculture), their needs (or problem specific to that subculture) and the themes that define your project. From these, you can formulate a positioning statement that acts as your north star throughout the execution of your idea. As a guide, your positioning statement should look something like this:  

Our [format] connects with people who [audience] but [need/challenge], by [theme].  

That may seem like a vague structure, but seriously once you pin down your niched audience, the rest will fall into place. 

Now you’ll need to define your target audience by digging into what your business stands for. A good place to start is with your core values and how they translate to lived experiences. Once you’ve surfaced these and created a target audience profile, you can tap into a likeminded subculture of customers and prospects. That is, your niche. The needs, challenges and interests of your newly niched audience are at the core of your positioning statement, which means they’ll light the path to successful development and execution. Those needs may not be very close to what your product or service actually does, and defining them will likely take some research. But remember that the connection you’re building with the audience goes deeper than your sales team’s immediate wish list, and that connection is what drives and gives meaning to your content’s themes. Believe us – it’s worth the effort. And then, before you know it, you’ve built yourself a positioning statement! 

Go forth and conquer (or keep reading) 

With that north star defined, you can confidently jump right into the development and execution of your idea. There are obviously lots of logistical considerations to bear in mind, but with your positioning statement in place, you’re off to a great start. 

If you’re still wondering how to break into the long-form content game, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. In the next part of “A Marketer’s Guide to Valuing Long-Form Content,” we’ll be digging into the pros and cons of the two most prominent long-form formats: podcasts and video series. And, in the meantime, if you have an idea but are struggling with a plan, fill out the form below. We’re always willing to talk strategy and help apply what we know to accomplishing your goals.