Why SME’s and branded content are a great match.


Sourcing branded content isn’t about finding the ‘me too’ solution it’s become. It’s about finding out what you really want to say, and here’s how.

Sourcing generally, by definition, has become box tick city. We want a neat administrable solution for this or a promise for that. But when did your organisation last purchase a metre of believability, a gallon of trust, or a standard emotional engagement service contract?

That’s exactly what the impact of bespoke content can achieve for your business.

Ok it’s not an exact science, but treating branded content commissioning like loo paper purchasing, will not yield results either.

In fairness, the ubiquity of digital channels, technologies, jargon and most of all – and I can’t stress this enough – of myths, that relate to branded content mean we have reached epic levels of hyperbole. In spite of this, everyone thinks they need some of it. That somehow generic terms adequately describe branded content in its richness of applications; and ergo, briefing ‘it’ in – is then set on a path that follows the conventions and usual power games and pre-emptive specifications – designed to ‘lock-down’ a supplier. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Guys, lighten up. Film – and do I pejoratively dismiss ‘video’ for a mo’ – is a beautiful thing. We are talented people that understand both business and visual storytelling. It needs space, authenticity and a mindset that punishing business conventions do not ordinarily afford. Read on?

To really oxygenate your brief – and in turn, your whole organisation –you will get better results, or at the very least, fantastic insights, if you believe in the process. I wouldn’t advise you spend a dime, otherwise.

Unusually, at The PublicSquare for over a decade we have produced long and short form formats and strategies for both B2B business and entertainment markets. We produce branded content, for a large SME constituent, but also working alongside; Bafta winning, mainly factual, television programming. From this fusion – our deep passion for business and brand marketing, and for best-of-British factual TV – has given us a vantage point from both sides of the commissioning table.

But it was actually our experience of working with SME’s (small and medium sized enterprises) that gave rise to wanting to share what we learned working with them specifically, from which the larger corporates’ and their agencies can learn a thing or two about enjoyment, shooting from the hip … and ultimately results.

The first thing to acknowledge is; it’s an honest process. You may not like sharing, searching questions, or be born under a Virgo moon and crave ordered boxes: at least until a brief has emerged, you should treat embarking upon a new film with at least as much candour as a re-brand might entail. Root and branch. Opening all the doors, and gaining access to all the nuggets of interest that may inspire a genuine basis for a film, which is of course much harder with many layers of risk-averse management to contend with. Running up and down the permission ladders of management within a corporate structure contrasts with the £5 to 50+ million turnover boss figure, who really has no time for sugar coating. (Often scary but likeable) but says it how it is.

No one likes to show their knickers, but you have got to trust your producer. If you are not going to be open as an organisation and pinpoint weaknesses as well as the rehearsed strengths, think twice. The benefit of the buy-in straight from the top is immeasurable too. SME’s are much tighter and organic, and when the nod is given, doors open. Passion soon permeates throughout the business, and the relationship becomes less adversarial, and expectations less speculative. As a trusted strategic marketing partner, the strength of honest revelations help anchor the film’s motivation, and the value it can deliver. The first ROI is also delivered, before we even shoot a frame: highly motivated staff, looking at their business through a new prism.


The second thing is customisation. The polar opposite to ready-made solutions. As extremely vital beasts, successful SME’s, whether in construction or office supplies, naturally err, to push higher if a case is made, or a new revelation, is evident. The thinking becomes more fluid, and budget holding in-step is therefore much more flexible, relative to ambition (within broad limits of course), and money is not the only topic of conversation. This makes the iterative and exploratory basis of the most important topic: why? easier. With the right mind-set and buy-in established, perhaps this is the trickiest part. Helping SME’s understand what it is that we want to help them capture. It is a bespoke process, and for all the permutations of choice, rigour; between spend and ambition, results and marginal benefits, must be evident. But fluid. Ultimately, the need must be clear and the right execution sought – transparently.

On the one hand the right story and production solution, commensurate to a bespoke business need, divined, understood and identified – together.

Do they want to leverage the brand equity of an advertiser funded Red Bull type balloon race to display their muscularity on TV direct to consumers? Do they want their own branded YouTube cooking show spots? Do they want content to make the jobs of their prospective customers’ easier? Do they want content to act as ‘virtual salesmen’ for their distributorships? At the top or bottom of the (sales) funnel?

The choices and applications are manifold. But assuming we all understand branded content in the same way just makes things harder. SME’s don’t pretend and we don’t assume. We also bring fresh eyes to the business. Collaboration is a two-way street, and a critical process to draw out something engaging and germane.

What you want to say about your company, is key. SME’s intuitively commit to things they understand simply, that serve a clear purpose – it works; they can sell it. So putting each format possibility into the context of the business, fluidly, is usually gratefully received. We can be brutally honest, but indulgence and proverbial smoke blowing, is seldom tolerated. Each boss, universally, a lithe BS-detection machine, commits when the benefits are demonstrable, and much chicken-and-egg heartache, familiar to many, is averted in double-quick time, in favour of exploration then brief.

The SME tribe are much less prescriptive at the outset. The final brief, and its attendant ambition and budget to deliver it, follows after. Prescription, as we all know, can kill passion.

Without access, openness and collaboration, how can the brief be anything but a two-stage affair: a pre-amble/ outline invitation, followed by the real one -produced together. It needs time to think about. To distil the essence, and get the tone, impact and purpose right as you would for any key brand marketing activity.

A custom story, delivered in the right way, sets them apart from their peers and usually makes a significant impact on the business. Why hamper the process of finding out what works?

Distribution and performance is the final plank. Advertising practices and the conflation of ‘content marketing’ and ‘branded content’ is important to substantiate in terms of the delivery medium. Content marketing is the housing – the marketing campaign or strategy – used to “seed” content in appropriate environments: email list, blogs, fora, video servers, etc. It is an active editorial process, not just posting to YouTube and hoping for the best. So set aside resource. Costs can be, advisedly, up to a half of the production budget.

Branded content relates to the production of the film and its strategic input in creating it, whereas it’s useful to think of distribution – as the principal purpose of content marketing.

Advertising convention dictates that click through or interaction metrics help justify the high cost of advertising, and that it I somehow a more reliable medium. The idea of “owning” media is relatively new and some ‘success’ metrics may seem nebulous, but SME’s are striking in their reaction to the new “mood” content creates, even if ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and structured campaigns are yielding sales. Brand awareness and demand generation are standard metrics which tend to justify content spend for corporates’, but the SME’s like hard sales. This drives their attitude to financing and spending that is also interesting. Publishing a brochure or buying ephemeral advertising space is soon disregarded for the permanence, presence and performance of engaging content – for an equivalent spend. Making branded content budgets accessible to SME’s, and the process and results exciting.

The openness of SME’s bringing content into the business, and finding ways to absorb its costs are equal in its courage, as it is in its ingenuity. Hitting 100% ROI, before we launch, by licensing to subsidiaries is one method SME’s are open to.

Letting us get on with ideas that connect to audiences, and seeing rewards flow in for SME’s, is eminently gratifying for all concerned. It just works.

Painting by numbers it certainly isn’t.



Barret Stanboulian

Branded content specialist and Bafta winning TV producer/ founder of The PublicSquare