Branded content is all the rage. However, this marketing darling du jour actually dates back to the advent of the radio soap opera. That's right, consumer giant P&G created the genre to give it a direct gateway to its prime demographic: the women of the house. Fast-forward five decades to the 1980s and Hasbro turned merchandising on its ear by creating the G.I. Joe show to fuel doll sales. While I've seen content marketing take many guises (and labels) over the years, I learned about its early origins from a presentation given by CNN's VP of Ad Sales Research David Iudica at a members-only Digital Content Next event. He went on to offer a slew of useful tips to help maximize the  effectiveness of content marketing initiatives.

Iudica's insights were based upon CNN's research "The Rise of Branded Content: Cross-Platform Insights You Need to Know," which was officially released today. Conducted through a mix of consumer surveys in partnership with YouGov and biometric testing with Nielsen, the research focused on two areas: analyzing consumer perceptions to cross-platform branded content (video) and creative best practices based on recent industry campaigns.

CNN found that nearly 80% of consumers are familiar with branded content, and (lucky for us) across generations, they like it. In fact, branded content is preferred over standard advertising across all devices (streaming, mobile, social, desktop, TV). And consumers actually have a higher emotional response to branded content as compared to traditional ads.

It is significant to note the definition that Iudica used to kick off his presentation. Citing Forrester, he said that branded content is that which is "developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education." Note that absolutely nothing is said about promotion or overt advertising of any kind. The baseline here is that the content offered by a brand stands on its own as entertaining or educating. So let's all start there too, shall we?

Now, here are 5 tips based upon Iudica's presentation and's research:

1. Think like a content provider. Well, this one shouldn't come as a shocker, considering the source. Modeling your efforts after content that people actively seek out -- even pay for -- does seem like a good plan. The news and entertainment categories are considered the most effective in delivering branded content, though health and lifestyle also ranks pretty high.  That said, even if your brand doesn't fall neatly into one of these categories, consider what sorts of narratives or informational services are most popular in your category. Listen, watch, read and learn.

CNN found that half of consumers don't discriminate against branded content; if the content is good, they enjoy it. In fact, almost 60% say that they enjoy a good story no matter where it comes from. So tell them a good story, or provide them with essential information. These are things content providers do every day and it must be at the core of content marketing creative.

2. Context matters. Consumers prefer to see human-interest, corporate/social, and educational brand narratives in a news environment, for example. Within health and lifestyle channels, the branded content they welcome most are things like recipes, educational information, and, again,  human-interest stories. Essentially, they want branded content to fit seamlessly within the context of the site or other programming in which it appears. And, while CNN does not cover it in their research, context also matters in terms of brand perception. Your branded content will be seen in a more favorable light by consumers if it appears within a trustworthy content context.

3. Brand identification is important. No one wants to feel duped. And when it comes to creating optimal content marketing experiences, it is key to be honest and open with consumers about who created the content. CNN found that, across nearly all devices, consumers prefer a brand/logo to be identified throughout the video. So while it may be tempting to opt for a "subtle" mention of your brand's involvement in the creation of branded content, it's better to be straightforward. And really, if you are creating content that isn't about your brand--but instead created for your customers and their needs--that persistent branding creates the positive association that all content marketers are looking for.

4. Feature the face of a hero. Given that 63% of those whom CNN surveyed favor inspirational content, it isn't surprising that consumer response increases and is sustained in content sections that feature a main character undergoing hardship. However, eye tracking also revealed that viewers direct attention to faces, which drives engagement. Thus, when considering your approach to creating your narrative, it is optimal to identify the "hero" of your story and feature them face to face with viewers throughout your branded content.

5. Engage with satire cautiously. Many marketers would sacrifice a limb to create a viral meme or a breakout comedic hit. But not only is comedy difficult to create, it is highly personal, subjective, and easily misunderstood. After testing a documentary-style satirical video, CNN found that only 20% of consumers understood the parody. The remaining 70% assumed the video was discussing a serious topic. This doesn't mean you should stay away from satire completely, but consider some testing before you expend significant resources creating risky content.

And one bonus point: Content marketers, the future is up to you. CNN asked consumers if they look forward to being exposed to more branded content in the future. Eleven percent fall into this dreamy category. However, 15% are not looking forward to that possibility, and 40% aren't sure how they feel about a future with more branded content. Thus, we have the opportunity to create experiences that will inform, surprise, and delight. Let's do it.