Building a well-recognized brand isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap either. But is the internet changing that, even if just slightly?

A recent study entitled conducted by YouGov on behalf of social media marketing agency The 7th Chamber hints that the answer might be ‘yes‘.

When YouGov polled more than 2,000 people in the U.K. and asked them about brands online, the most widely recognized brand was Compare the Market, and its Compare the Meerkat alter ego. 16% of respondents identified the price comparison site, which has won acclaim for its Compare the Meerkat viral video efforts. The second and third most recognized brands, according to YouGov’s figures, are Coca-Cola and Ikea, which were each recognized most by 10% of respondents.

While it’s quite debeatable what this really means in the overall scheme of things, and one might question whether Compare the Market/Compare the Meerkat is really more recognized that Coca-Cola and Ikea, the fact that something like Compare the Meerkat is even on consumers’ radar does hint that branded content has the potential to be an increasingly powerful tool for companies looking to gain wider recognition than they ever could have pre-internet. According to The 7th Chamber’s 2010 Study into Efficacy of Viral study, over half (52%) of 18 to 24-year-olds in the U.K. “regularly” share branded content and “23% of consumers believe that branded online content can improve a brand’s image.

To be sure, there’s a growing amount of branded content online, so it’s natural that those groups active online will increasingly be sharing it. And as we’ve seen, brands that hit the viral jackpot often attract a lot of positive attention, even if it’s short-lived.

But assuming this is all accurate and branded content can be a beneficial thing on paper, the question for brands, of course, is how to take advantage of this in the real-world. Developing branded content may not be the most expensive marketing exercise, but doing it well and standing out usually doesn’t cost peanuts. And there’s no recipe for success that can easily be followed. Plenty of ‘good‘ branded content doesn’t go viral, so brands looking for something predictable are likely to be uncomfortable with branded content, at least initially.

Over time, that’s bound to change. It’s harder and harder to push pure marketing messages online effectively, and as Nokia senior marketing manager noted in study, consumers want content that is “genuinely interesting…A great piece of branded content (such as the Meerkat) can reach tens of millions of people, and delight them with a branded message.

That may be true, but brand marketers should always remember that a strong, long-lasting brand comes from the brand being aligned with the value of the company behind the brand. There’s a fine line between using branded content to market a company and treating a company like a studio. It’s a lot easier to create a trendy piece of branded content that becomes a company’s new brand than it is to produce viral branded content that promotes the company’s value.