Research findings in branded content marketing

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branded-content-measurementMarket trends

Dealing with branded content marketing can mean both great opportunities and great confusion. A variety of content forms can be communicated on a multitude of channels and platforms. But with all these possibilities at hand, what’s the best choice to make?

As so often, the most reasonable answer here might be: “It depends.” It depends on the brand’s goals, its products or services, its target audience, its resources and so on. But it also depends on the development of the market. Market trends may not provide a success guarantee, but they can help guide strategic decision-making in branded content marketing.

The Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2015-2019 by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) reveals six global key insights into Internet advertising:

  1. Internet advertising (including revenues from paid search) will become the largest advertising segment, and overtake TV advertising revenue in 2017.
  2. Mobile growth will make it exceed display in 2018.
  3. Internet advertising will increasingly become device-agnostic.
  4. Search will remain the largest single contributor to Internet advertising, but
  5. Video exhibits the fastest growth in wired Internet advertising.
  6. Measurement is getting better, but understanding how media is consumed will remain a significant challenge.

Looking at the development of branded content means looking at progress in both Internet and TV advertising. Within the PwC Outlook, Internet advertising comprises advertiser spending through wired Internet connection (including search, display, classified and video advertising), as well as mobile devices, with revenue that’s digital. The TV advertising segment includes broadcast and online – online here meaning revenues from broadcaster-owned websites only.

TV advertising will remain a significant segment to branded content. It’s clear, however, that growth in Internet advertising will be significantly higher, with mobile Internet advertising and video Internet advertising being the fastest growing sub-segments.

We’ve seen this coming, now the figures prove it: think about investing in mobile and video content when going digital with branded content. And apart from that, keep considering all possibilities in order to create a great project. Because it remains clear that each project is unique and requires new adjustments and a considered selection of content forms, media channels and marketing mix.

In order to create such an excellent and original project, branded content has to be engaging, relevant and customised, because expectations from today’s consumers and changes in technology make good storytelling increasingly relevant.

The latest study, ‘Return On Inspiration. New World Content Marketing’, by Yahoo Germany underlines this: the success of content marketing cannot only be measured by sales figures. Content that is perceived as inspiring and innovative by the consumer can lead to an increase in purchase intent, willingness to share the content, and attraction towards the brand. The study also detected six steps in developing inspiring content:

  1. The look and design is crucial to rouse curiosity
  2. Content should offer value that helps the consumer learn
  3. Convincing stories go hand in hand with honesty
  4. Put the consumer’s intentions in focus rather than the brand’s
  5. Authenticity can win the consumer’s trust
  6. The more entertaining the content, the more likely it will be shared

What current studies almost always have in common is that they discuss success dimensions and measurement needs in branded content marketing. Indeed, the more we invest in branded content and the more we learn about it, the more important it gets to find adequate measurement tools. But how can we move this process along if definitions and distinctions of terms such as content marketing, branded content and branded entertainment are still unclear? It seems there is no other way than for us to keep working on a conceptualisation of branded content marketing, in order to help measurement find its way in the future.

Framing branded content marketing

In the latest Horizont Content Marketing Report, the German trade magazine for marketing and media describes ‘content marketing’ as the production and distribution of content and a strategic approach of reaching target audiences. In fact, content marketing is often associated with the domain of publishing and/or the ability to build a marketing campaign around a specific piece of content.

Research findings from Oxford Brookes University and the Branded Content Marketing Association’s (BCMA’s) global research partner Ipsos MORI led to defining ‘branded content’ as “any content that can be associated with a brand in the eye of the beholder”. (The findings of phases two and three of this research are discussed in the 2015 Global Edition of Best of Branded Content Marketing.)

The findings also revealed four key strategies in the production of branded content: it can be entertaining, informative, educational, or functional (e.g. in the form of an app). Even though projects often focus on one of these strategies, they can also be combined.

Continuing to systemise at this stage leads to four forms of branded content: branded entertainment, branded information, branded education and branded function.

The term ‘branded entertainment’ has been studied by various academics over the past few years. My own research since 2008, and current research projects together with Uroš Goričan, have led to the following definition of branded entertainment: as an instrument of corporate communications, it encompasses any piece of content that entails the brand’s message, objectives, or personality. It is developed and produced by and/or together with the brand, and competes with existing media entertainment formats by focusing on the entertainment experience of the viewer. Branded entertainment formats include TV show, film, social film, short movie, event, or game on a multitude of channels such as TV, cinema, web, mobile, print, radio, or offline (also called real life – for example, events), being either fictional or nonfictional.

Taking content marketing, branded content and branded entertainment as different elements but also closely linked to each other, a conceptualisation of branded content marketing could look like this:


Within this concept, branded entertainment is a form of branded content, together with branded information, branded education and branded function. After being developed and produced, any form of branded content needs to be distributed through media channels and communicated with appropriate tools. Therefore, branded content can be seen as a part of content marketing – without content there is nothing to market. Depending on the company, content marketing will include or exclude the development and production of branded content, which is why the boundaries between branded content and content marketing need to be seen as flexible.
With the constant flow of content and its constantly changing marketplace, we may have to accept that definitions of terms will remain somewhat vague or discordant. Measurement tools will be changing and evolving in the same way. In the end, the only assumption all marketers and academics may agree on is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ to measuring branded content marketing. However, several helpful tools do exist on the market, and it’s essential to continue developing new ones that complement them, in order to broaden the understanding of how media is consumed.

Measurement perspectives

“Measurement is getting better, but understanding how media is consumed will remain a significant challenge.” This key insight from the PwC Outlook supports one of the trends in current German entertainment research: evaluating how content is perceived is a major topic here.
One suggestion deriving from the Concept of Branded Content Marketing and Measurement is that a branded content project can be called a success if both the advertising value and campaign objectives have reached the expected results. In most cases, campaign objectives are measured on the level of the campaign with and for the content (content marketing), and the advertising value is measured on the level of the content offer (branded content). This is the case for all four forms of branded content: entertainment, information, education and function.

Now in the case of branded entertainment, current research leads to the following suggestion: the success of a project is not only defined by the campaign objectives and the advertising value, it also occurs when the entertainment experience is assessed as positive by the audience. Because in branded entertainment, it does not suffice that the brand message gets across (branded), the recipient also needs to like what s/he sees (entertainment). If the brand message is well transported, a powerful entertainment experience has the capability of further strengthening the advertising value.

Measurement tools already exist that manage to evaluate both the advertising value created by the content and the achievement of the advertising goals by the marketing campaign. The BCMA contentmonitor, for example, measures the advertising value of branded content by using key metrics such as cut through, recall, awareness, consideration and purchase intent. The CEP® Test developed with Dr. Robert Heath evaluates the emotional and cognitive response to the content, as it states that a strong emotional and rational persuasion tends to have an impact on long-term brand building as well as imparting information. On another level, the contentmonitor evaluates campaign objectives by analysing if different campaign elements have met their goals, and by detecting lessons for the media plan and marketing mix.

Concerning branded entertainment, the question is: how can we evaluate the entertainment value perceived by the media user; how do we measure the entertainment experience?

We all have different opinions on what is entertaining to us and why one particular piece of content appears more entertaining than another. This is one of the reasons why it’s impossible to simply ask “Do you feel entertained by this piece of content?” and expect an answer that’s comparable to others. It’s also difficult to use a definition of entertainment in order to make it measurable, because even academic researchers in the field are struggling to find a universally functional description. The way out of this dead end might be to understand the psychological relationship the media user has with the content and to evaluate the influence this has on the entertainment experience.

The Concept of Branded Entertainment Experience Evaluation, developed together with Uroš Goričan, helped identify potential evaluation steps in measuring the entertainment value of branded content. This was done by linking transmedia storytelling tools to relevant phases in the reception process. Survey tools are currently being developed to evaluate the intensity of: the attention to the storyworld, the identification with the character, the personal relevance originating from the conflict, and the interaction on and with the channels. Research findings show that a positive assessment of these four elements in the reception process represent a positive entertainment experience.


Where to go from here?

There might not be a one-size-fits-all method to measure the success of branded content. However, defining specific dimensions (the campaign objectives, advertising value – and, in the case of branded entertainment, the entertainment experience as well) can help provide anchor points for decisions about measuring a project’s success: How do I evaluate my campaign objectives? How do I evaluate the advertising and entertainment value of my project?

We’ll need to continue developing measurement methods, in order to have different tools at hand that work for different project types. It will also become more and more relevant in the future to make the analysis of the entertainment experience of a project possible.

In the end, the better we can measure, the more we can learn from our mistakes, create better projects, make wiser investments and encourage the future growth of the market.

This article by Sophie Berke at HMKW Berlin (University of Applied Sciences for Media, Communication and Management) was original published in the 2015 DACH Region Edition of Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM).


About the author

Sophie Berke, Research Associate, HMKW Berlin (University of Applied Sciences for Media, Communication and Management)