It is now well established that branded content (aka native advertising) can help brands connect with customers. 

In fact, 58% of U.S. Millennials prefer that publishers use native ads over other types of digital ads, according to a Sharethrough published study conducted by Qualtrics in Q4 2015.

Millennials prefer native advertising over other types of digital advertisements.
Millennials prefer native advertising over other types of digital advertisements.

Given the size of the U.S. Millennial population, that speaks volumes.

However, it’s not just in the United States that branded content is taking shape as one of the more effective digital advertising options.

Based on a December 2015 survey conducted by Warc and King Content, advertising and marketing professionals across 16 Asia-Pacific countries cite the following as the top three reasons for using native advertising:

  1. Increases consumer engagement.
  2. Aligns brand and messages better than traditional advertising.
  3. More credible than traditional advertising.
Partnerships between corporations and publishers have many advantages.
Partnerships between corporations and publishers have many advantages.

Partnering with a publisher can take that one step further by helping you build a successful native ad campaign based on customer insights and marketing strategy, combined with a trusted content platform and a bias towards digital optimisation.

Following is an example of how partnering with a news media company allowed a utility company to be successful with a different type of brand advertising.

Building awareness

Louisville Gas & Electric (LG&E and KU, PPL Companies) is the primary utility company in the Louisville, Kentucky, area in the United States, with a metro population of 1.7 million. LG&E serves the metro Louisville area and 16 surrounding counties.

For many years, LG&E has offered services and educational programmes beyond the core utility services. These include energy conservation programmes, appliance recycling, and energy efficiency tips.

Additionally, LG&E has engaged in major projects to upgrade its infrastructure. These projects were of potential interest to LG&E customers, and the utility company wanted to build awareness of the diverse array of programmes.

Bringing ideas to the table

While LG&E has always had a high level of communication with the Courier-Journal newsroom to provide information and updates related to its core business as a utility company, there was not a deep partnership on the advertising side.

“We have done advertising, more in the traditional sense, with the Courier-Journal, but this was the first time we really stepped in and had done something completely new,” said Brian Phillips, director of brand, advertising, customer and digital communications at LG&E.

As LG&E worked to grow awareness of its energy conservation programmes, among others, the company needed a new way to tell the story to a larger audience.

Courier-Journal Media client strategy and digital teams delved into the key business goals for LG&E around telling this story, developing a marketing strategy with branded content as a key component.

“You worked very closely with us first in identifying — even before we talked topics — what was our overall strategy with what we were wanting to achieve,” Phillips said.

By partnering with a publisher that is part of the USA Today Network, LG&E benefited from a trusted content platform with a large reach in the market, research, customer insights, digital optimisation expertise, and almost 150 years of experience in both storytelling and helping local businesses tell the right story to the right audience.

Strategy and content focus

Focusing on key business objectives to shape the strategy, Courier-Journal Media helped LG&E maximise the reach and engagement on the stories it wanted to tell under the umbrella of Energy Matters.

“We were able to share a campaign that would raise greater customer awareness of the projects we were involved in to modernise our system and to raise awareness of our day-to-day safety efforts, energy efficiency programmes, and many other initiatives, ” Brian Phillips said.

The content platform in print and online helped deliver the right message to the right person at the right time: “We wanted a platform that we could use to cut through the clutter, and put out good information that would be interesting to readers — your audience, our customers — and work together to execute that,” Phillips said.

Continuous optimisation

The campaign also benefited from research, applied customer insights, and a dedicated, responsive client strategy and digital team that brought new ideas to the table in developing and optimising content.

The ongoing branded content campaign includes traditional print and digital native ad placements, as well as a dedicated digital portal and social media posts, including boosted content and continuous optimisation through testing headlines and other factors.

“We have built-in flexibility with testing alternate headlines for stories. We might submit three or four headlines with a story. If the first one isn’t gaining traction, we might switch out the headline,” Phillips said.

In addition to growing overall awareness, the campaign has generated some impressive brand stats:

  • 71% of Courier-Journal subscribers surveyed said they had a better understanding of the LG&E Energy Matters programme after reading the articles.
  • 42% of Courier-Journal subscribers surveyed said their opinion of the energy industry improved because of the articles.

The branded content strategy has worked so well, it garnered LG&E impressive industry recognition in the United States, including receiving the Chartwell Best Practices 2016 Bronze Award in Communications.