On my desk is a full-color food magazine filled with gorgeous images, engaging stories and mouth-watering recipes that rival those in Martha Stewart Living. Unlike Martha’s eponymous magazine, however, this publication doesn’t sell advertising space or charge subscription fees.

Instead, FRESH Magazine is a brand content publication from Darigold. I picked up a free copy from my local bakery-slash-artisanal-coffee-shop (of which there are dozens in our food-obsessed city of Portland, Oregon).

Darigold, which is based in Seattle, has been farmer-owned since 1918 and is one of America’s largest dairy co-ops representing over 500 family farms across the Northwest. If you’re like me, you recognize the red Darigold logo—but you may not have given much thought to the company behind the milk, butter and cheese that is on your plate.

FRESH Magazine hopes to change that. From the inside back cover: “We hope FRESH volume six has inspired you to think differently about dairy.”

It has. It’s also inspired me to think about the effectiveness of brand content, especially for smaller organizations that don’t have the budgets to produce pieces as highly stylized as FRESH.

Content Marketing Basics for Every Budget

Be transparent.

Companies are increasingly taking control over the creation and distribution of their own content, and most consumers don’t seem to mind. People don’t have a problem with heavily branded content as long as the content is good—and its origins and intentions are clear. FRESH Magazine reinforces Darigold’s sponsorship throughout the publication, in written articles and through prominent placement of the Darigold logo. The less a brand tries to hide, the better it comes across.

Whether you produce your own print magazine, write a company blog, or sponsor an online post, your brand content is only as good as the level of trust that you establish with your audience.

Be relevant—and be real.

There’s content…and then there’s content that is relevant and real. FRESH Magazine features family farmers, executive chefs and recipes for every meal from breakfast to dessert. The common thread is dairy, which magazine editors describe as “truly indispensable to every recipe and story within.” Together, the stories support Darigold’s stated mission which is to help foster closer connections between dairy farmers and chefs in big cities such as Portland and Seattle.

Contrast this with “Let’s Gather,” a digital brand publication from Chick-fil-A. The company’s missteps are described in detail on Contently.com (“This Is What an Inauthentic Brand Publication Looks Like”).

Branded content must complement a company’s products and its values. Consumers can spot inauthentic content from a mile away—and it makes them cranky.

Be useful.

According to a 2014 content marketing survey conducted by Kentico Software, 74% of people trust content from businesses as long as it seems objective and interests them personally. That’s the good news. The bad news is that trust levels drop by 29% if a company simply mentions its product or service offerings at the end of a blog post, a newsletter or any other form of branded content.

The Darigold brand name in every single recipe is a bit obvious (1/2 cup of Darigold heavy cream, 2 sticks of Darigold butter, 1 cup Darigold sour cream, etc.). But overall, the recipes in FRESH are new and interesting (‘Highway to Heaven Bundt Cake,’ anyone?). I also learned a few new fun facts. For example: Butter made on a vacuum churn is filled with less air and has a deeper, richer flavor. Cows produce more milk when they are allowed to socialize with their friends. Who knew?

Nothing kills a brand’s credibility faster than self-promotion. Create useful content that educates, entertains and surprises. This will also encourage social sharing.

Be visual.

An oft-cited statistic claims that the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text.  This number (and its source) is up for debate, but the fact is that humans can only absorb a limited amount of information at one time—and the fastest way to the brain is through the eye. Research from MIT shows that it takes the human eye only 13 milliseconds to process an image (something my stomach can vouch for after my eyes process FRESH’s mouth-watering images of butter croissants and caramelized banana French toast).

Visual content keeps viewers interested and gives brands more creative ways to tell their stories. Plus, content that is easy to scan with the eye is easy to share with others.

There you have it. There is no single “perfect” piece of branded content. Find what works for you and what inspires your audience to want more.

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