If marketing is a tasty trail mix, then branded content marketing represents the raisins – essential to the marketing mix, according to a recent survey of brands and agencies. A survey of over 600 online marketing executives shows that 66 percent of brands and 65 percent of agencies  believe that branded content marketing is very important to the marketing mix. Hence, the raisins.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of brands and 77 percent of agencies have used branded content marketing in the past year.

So what is branded content marketing? The most extreme example is from energy drink maker Red Bull. Their Red Bulletin magazine includes a plethora of articles for their target audience, ranging from information on sports like skateboarding and mountain biking to profiles of up-and-coming musicians. It’s useful content for a target audience carrying a company’s name, but it’s not an advertisement for the company. The keyword is useful: something that helps them do their jobs better or is interesting to them. In the case of the Red Bulletin, that branded content is interesting to people who might drink Red Bull: generally younger, active people who listen to new bands. It creates an image for the company and implies that by drinking Red Bull, the average consumer can live a fun, active, cool-person lifestyle.

While most companies don’t have the resources for a Red Bulletin, they can create their own e-newsletters, blogs, video series, or e-books that don’t sell but inform. Branded content marketing puts companies on the tip of customers’ tongues, which helps them when making decisions. Even B2B companies can do this: HP generates e-newsletters that offer business and technology tips. While they’re thinking like publishers, they’re also promoting their brand, which is the ultimate goal of branded content marketing.