Measure it and they will come: increasing investment in branded content

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The branded content marketing sector is experiencing terrific growth. A growing number of advertising campaigns incorporate elements of branded content and some of the most successful are centred on – or even wholly composed of – advertiser-produced content. The creative work involved becomes ever more impressive, whether through a greater beauty in simplicity or breathtaking ambition. There are many fine examples in this third annual global edition of the BOBCM.

Despite this impressive progress, some in the sector express their frustration at the ongoing struggle for branded content to emerge from the shadow of more traditional advertising. On the surface, it’s hard to see what’s holding it back: consumers tell us that they appreciate getting entertaining or informative content in return for corporate involvement, with no sign of any backlash to come.

As we’ve said, this content is sophisticated and rewarding, with some of the finest creative minds in the business involved in its production. Marketing departments are on board, with numerous requests for branded content elements in their campaigns, and media owners are happy to incorporate these elements on their platforms.

If there’s a meeting of minds between the three parties involved – consumers, marketing and media owners – then we have to look elsewhere for the cause of our content-producing colleagues’ frustration. How can we, as an industry, help branded content be a more regular focus of a campaign, grabbing the spotlight from more traditional advertising methods?

As with most things, the answer probably lies with money. To grab the spotlight requires a greater share of the budget. With a greater share of the budget comes a need for greater accountability (this was, apparently, the first draft of Uncle Ben’s speech in Spider-Man until Stan Lee went in another direction). Even the most forward-thinking brands, with the greatest marketing budgets, rightly demand some evidence to support the investment they make in any marketing vehicle. Branded content can’t claim a special exemption on this front.

At Tapestry Research, we maintain that measuring the value of branded content campaigns and providing this level of accountability has the greatest potential to accelerate investment in the sector. It’s something that everyone is familiar with when it comes to regular TV advertising, and it’s important that branded content can demonstrate its own value in a similar fashion.

To do this, we all have to push the importance of measurement across our campaigns. In discussions with a client, it’s often so difficult to fight for any increase in the small budget allocated to branded content that arguing for more money for testing on top of this can feel like a battle best avoided. This creates something of a vicious circle, as the research budget goes on the bigger spending elements of the campaign, enabling their value to be demonstrated. Next time around, an even greater share of the pot goes to the proven-value generators, leaving branded content further out in the cold.

How should we approach this measurement task? 

The world of web analytics and social media is attractive here – it’s fairly cheap and it offers seemingly ‘real world’ facts and figures. There’s a lot you can learn from data points such as the number of people sharing it on social media or ‘liking’ it on Facebook. It gives you a sense of reach, a sense of social buzz, and it’s always good to aim for something that trends on Twitter or is shared many times over.

This is not, however, the be-all and end-all. If branded content has any hope of attaining the status of the campaign elements with the biggest budgets – which, even in this brave new world, is still usually TV – it needs to be evaluated on a similar basis. This involves considering metrics such as cut through, recall, or purchase consideration. We also need to be able to look at the impact on brand image – whether positive or negative. Altering perception is arguably the most significant outcome of a branded content campaign. Failing to record this simply masks its true potential. Until this is regularly measured, branded content will remain under-valued.

Finally, we must also examine the content and demonstrate its appeal. How do people react to it and what are the most attractive parts of it? If people connected with the content at all, was this emotionally, rationally, or both? Did they find the content entertaining and/or informative? Without this information, it’s impossible to understand why one campaign may have appeared more or less successful than another. Without this information, it’s difficult to know what best practice in branded content could possibly look like.

Measurement of branded content is currently far from the norm, however there are companies and measurement tools on the market trying to address this. The Branded Content Marketing Association’s contentmonitor (of which Tapestry Research is a provider) is just one example of this. This tool goes beyond social media and brand tracking metrics to provide a deeper understanding of what branded content is doing for a brand and, importantly, why.

Designed for both single and multi-platform campaigns, it uses a test and control design to strictly control exposure to the different creative elements. All of the metrics most craved by budget holders can be covered (including awareness, purchase intent, advocacy, affinity and brand perceptions), and contentmonitor also has the power to investigate the emotional response to a campaign in one of two ways:

1. The CEP® Test (developed with Dr. Robert Heath, author of The Hidden Power of Advertising) measures the emotional and cognitive reaction to content, with the underlying, proven theory being that content that’s strong in both respects has the greatest potential for long-term brand building and for imparting information.

2. The use of facial coding (provided by Realeyes) offers the opportunity to measure levels of emotional engagement while respondents are actually viewing the content – providing an entirely objective response that can identify the strongest points within the content as well as overall.

For multi-element campaigns, contentmonitor is also able to analyse how successfully each creative element has performed in isolation and the level of synergy the elements have with each other. Through our partnership with Pointlogic, providers of strategic planning software to agencies around the world, we can model the data and illustrate what outcomes could have been possible with a different media spend and/or marketing mix. This provides another way to learn for future campaigns, using the same approaches as more traditional advertising platforms, and it will boost the power of branded content going forward.

The design of these kinds of measurement tool will no doubt continue to develop over the coming years. As these tools are used more frequently, the power of branded content should start to shine through even more brightly. The effectiveness of branded content to move metrics that are less influenced by alternative advertising methods will also be difficult for marketers to ignore. Once branded content’s potential becomes more evident to those with the purse strings, we should quickly see it emerge to at least share the spotlight – if not steal it outright!

About the author

Stewart Thomson, Client Services Director, Tapestry Research