Content That Can Also Breed Discontent
However, UVC is not without its flaws, and the practice has its share of detractors. Notable disadvantages include possible public mistrust from lack of sponsorship transparency and failure to disclose information about third-party financial support, consumer perception of biased or unbalanced information, and user abandonment due to excess persuasion or exaggeration of claims related to the sponsoring organization’s products or services.
“An organization’s brand reputation is at risk if its unbranded vertical sites are not positioned for what they were intended for—being educational, informational, and community-building,” says Goldring. Others believe that UVC’s faceless nature can be its own undoing. “Unbranded vertical content is essentially unsourced content. The reader probably doesn’t know whose interests are behind it, and it can lead to people feeling deceived,” says Smith. “Any content that covers up its source and pretends to be something that it’s not is really putting the brand at risk.”
For these reasons, Smith prefers content that comes with a name attached. “When branded content works well, responsibility for the sponsorship is evident, but the presence comes with a light hand—and the content provides real value to the consumer,” says Smith. “With this approach, you can create goodwill and tell users how to use your own products without being deceptive.”
Insiders point to another UVC problem: It’s counterintuitive to standard marketing practices that have a proven track record of success for some companies and sectors. “It goes against the grain of getting your name out there first and then building a case for it,” Miskin says. “It’s a strategy that works better when selling something people don’t think there’s a solution for. For this reason, it’s less likely to be successful in marketing food than, say, a nutrition plan that starts off by selling attraction and sex.”
Another caveat? Quantity as well as quality is expected. “The nature of this tactic is you have to expand and produce as much content as possible. So a big drawback is the time and amount of work it takes to produce that much content and the effect it could have on your brand,” says O’Brien.
Dollars and Sense
Consequently, those on a tight budget and lacking creative human resources need not apply. “This content marketing strategy can be expensive, as it needs to be managed and executed well or the audience will go in the other direction,” says Konik.
Kahn agrees. “It’s easy to send out an ad across 100,000 sites. But crafting relevant content that’s built around generating buzz is not so easy. You need to know what you’re doing or you’ll end up throwing money out the window,” says Kahn. “Everybody wants to hop on a new medium—first, it was banner ads, then search, then social. But with unbranded vertical content, you need to plan carefully and monitor your back-end numbers closely.”
Additionally, there’s a chance that your rivals may actually benefit from your UVC efforts. For example, if you’re a blood glucose monitor maker, creating an unbranded website about diabetes may inadvertently lead consumers to products offered by competitors, says Goldring.
“If it isn’t aligned with your brand strategy or the competitive advantage of your product or service over your competitors, it can backfire,” Konik says.
A Recipe for UVC Success
Considering content of the unbranded vertical variety? Give your goods the best shot at success by following these suggestions from the pros.
- Know your market and what excites your target audience. “Your goal is to create something that has the potential to go viral and attract a lot of eyeballs. That means spending more time being creative,” says Kahn.
- Develop worthy topics. Soza suggests brainstorming at least 10 article ideas with a group, then developing the strongest of those ideas until you have a concept that’s non-self-promotional and on-message. “Don’t create content for content’s sake,” she says. “Only push content out when you have something thought-provoking and meaningful to share.”
- Aim for honesty. Transparency is prized among consumers looking for authentic and balanced information online, per Goldring.
- Provide quality and value. “Your content needs to be high-quality for it to be attractive to a wider audience,” says David Bakke, a content expert with Money Crashers. “Make your topic more comprehensive, and provide examples for any points you make.”
- Avoid getting too granular on specific products and features. Instead, try to educate on an issue that converts to an emotional driver, and be sure your content aligns with your market segmentation psychographic factors, Konik advises.
- Seek to publish regularly. “If you write a one-off piece, it may not set the stage for long-term trust-building,” says Soza. “If you want to be an effective thought leader, publish on a regular cadence, participate in speaking opportunities, and engage in dialogue online.”
- Repurpose carefully. If you alter content for different users, take the time to ensure that it’s relevant and applicable to each particular audience, notes Bakke.
- Measure effectiveness. That means doing more than running social analytics. Employ A/B testing for content, key phrases, and audience segmentation, and see what’s working, Konik suggests.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one unbranded basket. “UVC should be part of an overall integrated marketing strategy that typically includes multichannel, multiplatform, branded, and unbranded messaging, and media,” recommends Goldring.
Worth a Try
Because UVC is a relatively newer approach, many think it’s too early to gauge how effective it can be at breaking through the content clutter bombarding consumers today. “In the near term, it should see some success,” Bakke says. “However, savvy consumers may be able to see through it if it permeates too deeply into the marketplace.”
But don’t let that hazard hold you back from jumping in the pool, says O’Brien. “I don’t see too many risks in experimenting with unbranded vertical content at this point, especially since it’s relatively new and covert,” he says. “Companies and publishers need to just dive in and experiment without waiting too long, as this is a marketing channel that’s here to stay.”