Content marketing is one of those vague terms that means nothing and everything all at once. In this growing discipline there is no single expert, no one guru with all of the answers. We know that better than most. While our platform analyzes thousands of stories every month, we continue to learn something new about storytelling every day. Pressboard is a story company. We set out to make it easy for brands, publishers, influencers and agencies to use data to create incredible content, instead of ads. In that same collaborative spirit, we created this guide to combine the wisdom of the greatest content minds in publishing today and turn it into actionable advice. We hope you can apply this advice to your brand, whether you’re a marketer, publisher, creator or technologist.
We can’t wait to hear the stories you’ll tell.
The guide has been divided into seven chapters. You can jump ahead to each section using the links below:
Chapter 1: Understanding The Value of Branded Content
Brands and marketers alike have struggled to come up with a definition for branded content, partly because the industry is constantly changing. At Pressboard, we define branded content as any published media that a brand has had a hand in producing. This means content created specifically for the purpose of publication with a publisher, such as NBCUniversal, USA Today or Bustle. Brands leverage the trust, expertise and reach of premium publishers, allowing them to connect with new, highly targeted audiences.
Keeping up with an evolving industry
Branded content has become way more than a buzzword. This form of advertising has transformed since the early days of advertorial, with more publishers and advertisers investing in it than ever before.
Whether you’re a startup aiming to disrupt an industry or a Fortune 500 company like IBM or JP Morgan Chase trying to build relationships with new generations of customers, both small and large businesses are looking for innovative ways to engage with audiences — and the best way to do that is through stories, not ads.
In addition to being a tool for relationship-building, branded content is proving to be an answer to concerns of long-term sustainability by becoming a major revenue opportunity for most publishers. The biggest names in the business have overhauled their teams to make branded content an essential part of their digital ad revenue.
Banishing the banner ad
Regardless of what you create, your content must strive to do more than traditional advertising. Why? Because consumers are no longer interested in banner ads (and possibly never were).
Data shows that an estimated 25% of internet users use ad-blockers; between 2014 and 2018, Netflix, which is ad free, grew from 50 million to 125 million subscribers. The simple truth is that people just don’t like ads, and they’ll pay to avoid them both online and while watching their favorite shows. So marketers need to provide them with something that communicates their brand values in a way that truly resonates with them.
Consumers like branded content because it’s less about selling products and more about providing value. Ascend Integrated Media reported that 70% of consumers wanted to learn about products through content, and responded positively to brands that provided them with thoughtful subject matter expertise.
Branded content is the new way to build relationships. It intentionally serves the reader without interrupting them. It aims to communicate what the brand stands for, the kinds of stories it likes to champion and the kinds of ideas it wants to stand next to. It’s marketing for the 21st century.
In the name of branded content love
Why are more and more companies investing in branded content? It’s not just a vanity tool — though having your byline on Fast Company or The Wall Street Journal is an amazing feeling. Branded content is the most effective way to capture the attention of and build trust with new audiences — and as all marketers know, time (a.k.a. attention) is money.
"We’re writing stories for our partners, a story about something they’re passionate about, and we’re utilizing that storytelling tool to educate or inspire someone else. It’s not necessarily a digital product or a print product, it’s just a storytelling tool – and everyone understands that.
Alison Pfaff, President Hearst StoryStudio
Branded content is often a premium product with prices ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 and above depending on your partners and the size of the campaign. As such, more teams have taken it upon themselves to prove the effectiveness of branded content. The good news is that beyond being a powerful awareness tool, content can translate directly into more eyes on your brand’s website and more cash in your till.
A booming business
Publishers have turned to branded content not only to manage revenue, but also to create brand studios. According to Alison Pfaff, President of Hearst StoryStudio, Hearst StoryStudio’s revenue stream is expected to grow by 30% this year due to branded content, and will only continue to increase from there. “No one is clicking on banners anymore,” she says, noting that branded content is by far the product that’s the most talked about.
10 Stats That Prove Branded Content Works
1. Branded Content is 22x more engaging than display ads
Readers spend an average of45 secondsengaging with written branded content, which is significantly higher than the average1.6 secondsthey spend with a banner ad.
“Banner blindness” is a real issue for marketers today. Users have become so used to ignoring the ads that frame their content that click-through rates for banners has fallen toless than 0.1%. These ads are generally considered annoying and disruptive, so it’s no wonder that they’re less engaging than branded content, which offers information readers are already seeking out.
2. Branded content drives higher brand recall than pre-roll ads
While video remains a strong tactic for digital publishers, branded content outperforms it when it comes to brand recall. According to aNielsen report, branded content resulted in 86% brand recall, while pre-roll resulted in only 65% brand recall.
3. Branded content drives consumer intention and interest
An IPG Media Lab-led study found that consumers are14% more likelyto seek out additional content from an advertiser after being exposed to branded content. That said, Forbes chief revenue officer Mark Howard says branded content and banner ads can work in tandem in this process, reminding users of the brand they were exposed to and pushing them down the funnel.
4. Brand recall is 59% higher for branded content than other digital ads
According to that same IPG Media Lab-led study. The report also showed that branded content recall hasimproved 17%compared to when it was first conducted back in 2013. It seems either consumers are becoming more used to it, or we’re getting better at it. Or a bit of both.
5. Branded content distributed through premium publishers sees 50% higher brand lift
It pays to partner up. Marketers who distribute their branded content through a publisher’s network see50% higher brand liftthan those who publish on their own.
The science behind this comes down topattern recognition. Humans are really good at recognizing patterns, and when a brand is associated with a trusted source like a publisher, our brains take that as a signal that the company shares the same values and reputation.
6. 90% of media groups expect their branded content revenue to increase over the next 12 months
The branded content space is booming. In a survey of20 North American media groups, almost all of them said they expect branded content to grow — that’s more than any other revenue stream, including subscriptions, video or display advertising.
7. Native advertising is predicted to exceed $402 billion by 2025
Those publishers might be right, too. Native advertising firm AdYouLike suggests that the industry will grow from $85.83 billion in 2020 to$402 billion by 2025.
8. 74.5% of communications professionals include branded content in their campaigns
And of those,67% expecttheir clients to spend more on branded content within the next year.
11. Young viewers will watch ads to support their favorite celebrities
Even though millennials hate ads,58% of themwill watch them if they support their favorite digital personalities. The content still needs to feel authentic, entertaining and useful, however.
12. More consumers trust premium publishers than trust news content on Facebook and Twitter
The “Fake News” issue has had a serious impact on consumer trust in social media. According to a survey conducted through Qualtrics in the UK,79% of respondentsthink it’s important to know the source of news content. The same number reported having trust in the BBC, while 55% trust news in TimeandThe Guardian. Only 36% trust news on Facebook and Twitter.
13. Readers prefer to see ads blending in with the page
Most respondents to aVerizon Media studysaid that they accept advertising as a form of content, with79% of themsaying they’d rather see ads that blend into the page than obtrusive banners.
14. Viewers react more positively to branded video content than regular commercials
People who watch branded videos are62% more likelyto show a positive reaction compared with those who watched 30-second ads. Happy people remember your brand and aremore likely to buy, so keep that in mind next time you’re planning on your media spend.
15. Users who feel a connection to a brand spend 2x as much money as those who don’t
So say70% of respondentsto a study by Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute. What’s more, 81% of those respondents then promote their favorite brands to family and friends. Finding a way to connect emotionally with your audience is simply good business sense.
16. Consumers want brands to take a stand
It’s not just about catchy taglines and good product. A majority of consumers want brands to have an opinion about social and political issues, according toSprout Social’s recent study. We’ve already seen companies like Nike and Gillette bring this into theirColin Kaepernickand “The Best Men Can Be” campaigns, respectively, with mixed results. If your company is planning to do the same, make sure your position is genuine and values-driven. Sales will come later, but only if the public believes your message is authentic.
It all goes to show that branded content is an important tactic, no matter what stage of the funnel your customer is in.
How To Close The Deal
What businesses need to keep in mind when starting any content marketing initiative is that it’s not about simply creating entertaining content. Like the entertainment industry, you’re trying to acquire an audience, get them interested and cultivate a feeling of loyalty. However, content marketing has a business goal behind it, which is to get your audience to eventually buy your products and services and to drive sales.
Data from CollectiveBias shows that one in three millennials have purchased a product after seeing a sponsored post. However, attribution challenges make it difficult to tell what impact branded content had on a sale that happened two months (or two years) ago.
When asked what it is clients care the most about when closing the sale, President of Hearst StoryStudio Allison Pfaff responded, “I have one answer [and] it’s guaranteed results and performance. We’re providing a two-way conversation between clients and their prospective consumers. You can’t have that [conversation] with a banner ad or a 30-second TV spot.” Making a connection with your audiences, and building trust with them, is an important start to the consumer journey. Educating clients on what branded content offers also contributes to how likely they are to invest.
When asked about Variety Content Studio’s approach to branded content education, Miles said: “When I talk to clients, especially when we’re talking about these [branded content] campaigns that we’re proposing, everybody has a different level of comfort with what they call branded content, and what they understand. So I think part of our initial conversation is always about education — education in a broad sense, about what branded and native content is — to make people feel comfortable with using it.”
Chapter 2: Getting Started
The content creation process has so many moving parts, which is what makes it one of the most challenging (but also fun!) aspects of branded content. You need to decide the right format for your story, be it video, text or imagery; you need to tell your story in a compelling and unique way; you need to collaborate with different partners in a positive and productive way; and you need to make sure that what you create is a good fit for the audience and site you’re placing it on.
Choosing a Partner: How To Decide If A Brand Needs Help
Well into the era of branded content, more brands are recognizing that consumers find content more engaging than traditional forms of advertising. Research from the Content Marketing Institute shows that 83% of marketers expect the amount of budget they allocated towards content marketing to remain steady or increase in 2020.
Should budgets be spent on creating and publishing content in-house, or moved towards sponsoring content created by media publishers? At Pressboard, we believe that any well-rounded content marketing plan needs to allocate resources to both. Brands must begin to see themselves as a media outlet while also leveraging the expertise of publishers that have spent years mastering the craft.
However, for each individual piece of content, the question remains: should this be created and published by your brand, or created with a publisher as sponsored content? While there are many circumstances specific to your brand that should factor into that decision, we created this simple decision tree as a framework that every brand can use to help make that decision.
Creating content in-house
Research shows that 92.34% of companies using inbound marketing see an increase in traffic. It can be as simple as a company blog or as robust as video series; but either way, content should be at least one part of your brand’s marketing mix if you have the resources to create it in-house.
Depending on the size and structure of your organization, inhouse content creation may be the best route for producing content that expresses your brand identity or campaign message. There are three critical advantages to having an in-house content staff: each team member is hired by you, ensuring they possess the right skills and experience; they work full-time, providing accountability and the ability to coach them over time; and they’re integrated with the rest of your team, which means a fast learning curve and good understanding of the company’s vision and brand.
Choosing a branded content partner
If you’re not confident you have everything you need to fulfill your content objectives, or if you would prefer to focus your time and resources on other business objectives, then you should consider sponsoring content.
When you work with a media publisher, you get more than a spot on their website; you get to leverage their content creation expertise. When collaborating, take their advice to heart and consider how you can balance their input with your brand’s needs. After all, the publisher wants your content to perform well as much as you do.
Outsourcing content creation to freelancers
By giving your audience reliable knowledge about your industry, you position your brand as a trusted leader in your field. If you already have voices within your organization that can offer helpful and interesting information to your audience, great!
However, there are many instances where brands can benefit from creating content that falls outside their traditional areas of expertise. A major bank is an authority figure on the topic of financial services, but they might also benefit from creating travel content to promote their new travel rewards card. In this instance, it might be inadvisable for the company to start publishing travel stories on their own blog or YouTube channel because audiences don’t view them as an expert on the subject. This is where hiring a freelancer can provide support.
An Inside Look: Variety Content Studio
Being the number one source for entertainment news, Variety knows how much the entertainment industry impacts culture holistically — giving them credibility to speak on cultural issues.
“We actually lean into entertainment in a big way, because that’s who we are. Our authority in the entertainment industry allows us creative license to examine critical and complicated issues impacting our culture. We can speak powerfully to important social justice topics such as gender parity, criminal justice reform, gun violence, and LGBTQ (issues).”
Drew Miles, VP Global Brand Partnerships, Variety Content Studio
Simplicity makes it easy
Everybody’s thinking about simplification now. We do try to make it easy for clients.
With collaboration comes the opportunity to make things turnkey as much as possible. When we talk about branded content, sometimes people have the image that it’s custom, which means we must go through clearances and legal (which, of course, we do). But if we can simplify the process and streamline it as much as possible, it gives a level of comfort to the client. They understand that at the end of the day, they’re going to get what they want, but the process doesn’t have to be complicated.
10 Ways To Start Making Creative Content
The branded content space is always evolving, and with86 percent of business to consumer (B2C) brandsnow employing content marketing, the quality of stories being told is at an all-time high. But with so many brands jockeying for audience attention, it's more important than ever to stand out from the crowd. Let's take a look at the most effective trends brands and publishers leveraged in their content partnerships. Which ones will your company capitalize on in the next year?
1. Show, don't tell.
Use your client's products to create your content or help the characters in your story accomplish their goals. If you work with a software provider, for example, consider what problem their technology solves, and tell a story about someone overcoming that same problem. Or, use their product as the storytelling medium itself. Uproxx and Intel did this in theirCRE8: Celebrate the Processcampaign by creating 10 hero pieces of content using a laptop loaded with Intel's Optane Memory. This tactic could be a clever way to showcase your client's products without turning your piece into an advertorial.
2. Turn fiction into fact.
When crafting content to promote a TV show, find a connecting thread between fiction and reality to add depth to the content. Do your characters live in an interesting city or have unique careers? Investigate what their life would look like in the real world and share those stories. We saw this in VICE and Amazon Prime's latest project, "The Real Jack Ryan." The videos follow former CIA operatives as they share thrilling stories from their time working for America's foreign intelligence service.
3. Get up close and personal.
Try thinking of your branded content not as just articles, but as human interest stories. After all, stories resonate with audiences far more than run-of-the-mill content. A great example of this trend isPoetry and Paint, a collaboration between Canada Keep Exploring and The New Yorker's TNY Studio, which tells the stories of poet Cleo Wade and visual artist Bareket Kezwer. The goal was to connect with viewers by showing them what Toronto, Canada's most populated city, means to these two creatives.
4. Connect church and state.
Publishers have incredible editorial programs that resonate with their readers, so why not capitalize on this by collaborating on popular editorial features? Look at publications with readerships that match your target audience, then ask if you can support an existing program. We saw the National Association of Realtors (NAR) embrace this in its latest collaboration with Apartment Therapy. Building on the success of the publisher'sHouse Tours, NAR worked with the publisher to add featured stats that homebuyers would find useful, such as median home price.
5. Go big or go home.
Leveraging the audience of a media network with multiple publications is a great way to distribute content to a wide range of readers. A large-scale example of a campaign like this in action is Ally Bank and The Studio @ XO'sWe're in this Together. This partnership produced financial advice content on the network's three sites: The Bump, The Nest and The Knot. By working with one studio across multiple sites, you could reach more readers without significant added costs or extra work.
6. Invest in brand journalism.
Journalists have been teasing emotional stories out of broad topics for decades, and that sentiment has carried over to branded content. Consider partnering with a publisher with a legacy of journalism, or task your team with finding unique stories within your company. A standout piece this year comes fromThe Washington Post'sWP BrandStudio, which partnered with Optum, a pioneer in the opioid prevention, treatment and recovery services space, todig deep into the nation's opioid crisis.
7. Seek out underrepresented voices.
Though the industry is evolving, marketing still faces challenges when it comes to inclusivity. By giving a platform to underrepresented groups, you position your brand as culturally engaged and forward-thinking. Just be mindful -- the partnership needs to be honest, or readers will be turned off. For example, Variety and Easterseals created a thoughtful series calledAbilities Unlimited, with the goal of encouraging those in the entertainment industry to work with people with disabilities.
8. Let pictures paint a thousand words.
Including visuals can help to increase the likelihood that readers will engage with your content, but telling a story wholly through visuals creates a more immersive experience. This year, Great Big Story and Coors Light created a videoseriesto tell stories about photographers and artists exploring North America. Working with creators who can be featured in your content -- while also creating imagery for it -- is a win-win.
9. Repurpose events into content.
Seek out opportunities (like events) where you can collect content to use in a cohesive and extensive campaign. Decide what you want to create ahead of time, interview attendees and then use their responses to develop all kinds of videos, industry analyses, advice-based pieces and more. Synchrony did just that in itsState of Paycollaboration with CNBC, which featured interviews with thought leaders in the retail commerce space.
10. Stay on the pulse of social issues.
Speaking to the issues of the day through content is a great way to align your brand with important causes and show that you share your audience's concerns. A great way to do this is by connecting with individuals affected by an issue in person, such as at an event. For instance, NowThis and American Woman teamed up to createWikiWomen, which sought to increase the low percentage of female editors on Wikipedia by hosting a female-focused Edit-a-Thon.
There are many ways to tell an amazing story: It all comes down to who you're trying to reach, what resources you have, and then finding a unique message to share with your audience. Take these lessons from some of these top brands and publishers to make your content shine.
Chapter 3: Uncovering Your Story
All brands have a story they can tell better than anyone else. It may be the story of how their company was founded. It may relate to a challenge facing their industry. It could be about a person who has used their services to overcome an obstacle. Or, it could be something completely different.
Whatever you come up with, the story idea is what will drive engagement from readers and ultimately encourage them to think about your company in a certain way. Due to this, finding the right idea is crucial.
How To Act Like A Journalist
By Fara Warner, Founder, Shokan Studios and formerly VP, Custom Content at The Wall Street Journal
As I shifted my career from traditional journalism into branded content, I began wondering what created the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between journalists and marketers. We seemed to be working toward the same thing: conceiving and creating great stories for our audiences. But we could end up at cross-purposes with each other as we aimed to reach that same goal. Simply put, I realized that we think differently because we have been trained differently.
I found myself saying to my team and willing-to-listen clients: “Marketers begin with the story already crafted, the message already written for what they want to tell their audience. Journalists don’t know what story they are going to tell until they report it out.”
We are likely to always find ourselves coming from different points of view. It’s part of the nature of the branded content relationship. But to better understand how a journalist thinks, this lesson derives from core journalism courses I’ve either taken or taught. Moreover, as a marketer who can think like a journalist, you’ll begin to better understand why branded content stands apart from other forms of marketing.
It’s often called the “5 Ws and an H”, referring to who, what, when, where, why and how. At its core, journalism is about curiosity and exploration, the desire to learn something you didn’t know and then tell that story to your audience. By asking these six questions, instead of coming to a branded content collaboration with your story already told, you’ll find you get a better story and a better relationship with the journalists with whom you are working.
Let’s start with the most important question: Why? First, why are you telling this story? Why is it important? These are the questions every editor asks of a writer when they come back with what they think is a great story. There has to be context and relevance, not simply the fact that you want to tell the story. A second “why” question for marketers: why are you telling this particular story through the medium of branded content? While branded content is a great medium to advertise in a different way, it’s not always the answer to a marketer’s “why” question.
Who are the main characters in your story? A page one editor at The Wall Street Journal suggested writers think about their stories as screen plays as a way to discover character. You may interview dozens of people, but only a few will be main characters. For marketers, this may mean that your executives and your brand message take a supporting, not a leading, role in the story because they are not the most important “who.”
What is happening in the story? Focus on events and actions and how they connect to each other. You may also align those events and actions to the characters to begin crafting a story outline. The “what” also gives you the chronology for how to tell the story. Even though chronological order is often the best, some stories benefit from being told in reverse chronology or even going back and forth in time, but it takes a deft writer or editor to make that work in either text or video.
Make note of when events happened. Often, we can see how “whats” are related to “whens” as we map out a timeline. Working with what and when together can help create patterns, and from patterns come stories. For example, when working on a story about Nike and its approach to women, I began by looking at their ad campaigns for women and then comparing it to when those campaigns appeared. I started asking questions about those patterns as well as why (which we’ll get to soon) they could create great ads for women, but their actual products for women failed to attract a bigger audience. Those patterns started to build a story.
Places — where people work, live, create — are great for adding richness and color to stories. For brands, the “where” is a great place to start a conversation with journalists because in branded programs, we often gain access to places we’ve always wanted to go, but aren’t allowed as traditional journalists. At Aol Inc., (now Oath), our team gained access to a number of plants and factories for the year-long series “This Built America” that we may not have gained access (or as much access) to if we were working as traditional journalists. I spent days at Nike’s headquarters as I interviewed dozens of people for a cover story until both the interviewees and I felt completely at ease with me being in design rooms and running labs.
I often think that the book series “How Things Work” is a secret favorite of many journalists. Understanding how something is created slakes our curiosity and our desire to discover new things. “How” is also a great storytelling device, which is why journalists focus on how things are created While researching the Nike story, I found out that for much of its history, the company created women’s shoes built off of a cut-down version of male shoe forms. But after looking at the biomechanics of women’s feet, Nike designers realized that they aren’t just small versions of men’s — in fact, they have very different bone structure. That led to the “how” part of my story: how Nike changed the way it made women’s running shoes, and how that led to growth in the company’s women’s apparel business.
When you begin a branded content program, consider applying the “5 Ws and an H” approach to the brand story you are bringing to the team. Can you answer all the questions, and do you find new patterns that can lead to better stories? At the very least, this core journalism practice will open up a conversation with your publisher’s branded content team about how these two very different disciplines can still get to the same place through storytelling.
How Important is Imagery?
By Anna Plaks, SVP Creative Development & Innovation, POPSUGAR and formerly VP Branded Content, Refinery29
Visuals absolutely must be original and authentic to the story, the publisher and the brand. At Refinery29 we never used commercial or stock images in our branded content – we created visuals ourselves to cater to our visually-driven audience. Having a strong visual identity and retaining this aesthetic throughout content helps maintain an authenticity that is important to your audience.
Stand for something deeper and have purpose in your storytelling, no matter how subtle. Emotion is the key to a true connection and therefore will lead to a conversation and loyalty.”
Anna Plaks, SVP Creative Development & Innovation, POPSUGAR
How To Write A Killer Headline
By Ian Dorion, Product Manager at Verizon Media
A good headline is about more than just a click-through rate. Clickbait titles or tacky images might perform well, but they’re not always the best way to represent a brand. Ensure you’re clear on what the content is about, but other than that, don’t stick to any one rule. Experiment live with two or three different options — the more the better — and then settle on the style that’s proven to perform best on your platform. Learn from that. There are many tools that third party options that will optimize on the fly, so take advantage of technology. Regarding the length of a headline, in most cases you’re limited to a character count — so make sure you stay within it. Know your platforms that you’re planning to publish on. Headlines that drop off or end in ellipses due to character constraints will suffer.
Maximum Headline Chracter Length Across Social Platforms
Google AdWords – 25 characters
Facebook – 25 characters
LinkedIn Publisher – 25 characters
Twitter Summary Card – 70 characters
How To Choose The Best Images And Headlines For Paid Social (Case Study)
What would inspire you to click on a Facebook ad? Is there something compelling about the attention-grabbing headline or the caption that accompanies it? Is it the adorable image of a puppy or the vibrant color scheme that draws you in?
Regardless of what it is that causes you to stop, stare (and click), most of us would be lying if we said we’d never been lured in by a well-crafted social post. There’s something magnetic about a headline that feels as if it was written specifically for you.
To better understand what’s behind this magnetism, we analysed the text and images of 11,709 sponsored Facebook ads. We focused on Facebook because we’ve found that of all the social platforms, it’s the best driver of quality traffic.
After sifting through thousands of these posts, from all different types of brands, we’ve come to one key conclusion: everything about a social ad, from the punctuation marks to the images used, influences how the reader interacts with it.
Here’s what every media buyer needs to know:
Excitement is addictive! Facebook ad copy that ends in an exclamation point is less expensive to promote than ad copy that ends in a period or question mark.
Positivity is paramount. Ads that included short, snappy trigger words like “easy” were cheaper to promote than those that contained negative words like “cost.”
Person, place or thing? On average, images of people will cost you the most to promote, whereas images of objects that we connect with emotions or sensory experiences (like food or home décor) are the cheapest.
As it turns out, it ain’t easy beingblue. Ads containing blue images (a ‘cool’ color often associated with emotions like sadness) were the most expensive to promote.
With six million companies actively advertising on Facebook, the ability to get scrollers to stop, stare and click on your content is imperative. Thankfully, there are some science-backed tips and tricks to help you stand out amongst a sea of other content.
Our data shows that when promoting your sponsored content on Facebook, you need three key elements to be successful:
First, powerful ad copy that is both exciting and positive. Use phrases that suggest the article will offer quick advice that’s easy to implement, and try to use trigger words like “easy” and “healthy” in the copy.
Second, imagery that uses warm, less common colorsand features subjects that create a personal connection. Think of objects that have a sensory association (food, a cozy bed, well-loved plants) or that stir up emotions (individuals).
And of course, a compelling storythat your audience will want to read. No matter how you try to tweak your ads, if you don’t have great content to work with, you’ll run out of options quickly.
Don’t waste your money promoting ineffective Facebook ads. Instead, put your dollars behind posts that capitalize on the insights in this report to better connect with your audience.
How To Find And Tell Great Stories (Case Study)
Brands need to create content that people are likely to remember, while also proving their ads work. So how do you stand out to customers in such a competitive crowd? The answer, according to Volvo, is to build a connection with them.
It’s a difficult goal to achieve, but for Alexander Lvovich, Managing Director of Volvo Car Canada Ltd., it’s one that he knew his company had reached when their online content was driving people to tears — in the best possible way. Instead of focusing purely on the vehicles themselves, Volvo wanted to connect with the people who drive them every day. They decided to eschew the traditional marketing model in favor of one that created characters who the audience cared about, showcasing the experience of driving a Volvo rather than the specific features the cars contain.
“We created this emotional story, and when you have this reaction, it triggers a discussion… I can’t tell you how many people approached me and discussed the piece and how it made them think about not just Volvo, but transportation and their families in general,”
Alexander Lvovich, Managing Director of Volvo Car Canada Ltd.
By using their content to provoke an emotional reaction, Volvo not only discussed the benefits of their vehicles, but also stayed true to the core value of their company: to protect customers’ loved ones.
When asked what drove Volvo to create their “Moments” campaign, Lvovich said: “When you create a story that connects people to more than just Volvo — it connects them to their life — that story stays in their mind. Then, hopefully when the time comes to look at and choose a vehicle, they will have the same memories in their minds.”
Finding Inspiration in Unusual Places
By Fara Warner, Founder, Shokan Studios and formerly VP, Custom Content at The Wall Street Journal
More years ago than I care to count, I was a young reporter working at the Salt Lake City bureau of the Associated Press. Finding stories amidst non-stop, always-on deadline work at the AP wasn’t easy. There was always a task to be done — writing radio scripts and editing newspaper stories for AP style as examples — that took precedence over finding and reporting new stories.
But after work one day, I was visiting my grandmother and saw a 3x5 index card taped to the wall next to her phone. Written in her neat cursive, it read: Gang Hotline. A tollfree number was written in bold, block lettering. “Gangs in Murray, Utah? Grandma you’ve got to be kidding,” I said.
But she wasn’t, and neither was the citywide gang task force that was facing an influx of groups like the Tongan Crips and Samoan Bloods moving from Southern California into Utah I wrote the number down and asked my bureau chief the next day if I could follow up on the idea. “Do it after you’ve finished everything else,” he said. That phone number led to a three-part series on gangs and the city’s task force. It also landed me on the front pages of newspapers in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
Finding stories in unusual places isn’t difficult. But it does take commitment, time and being very curious about small things.
Why Great Stories Don’t Just Happen
Finding the untold and the uncommon story is at the core of journalism. It’s also what clients are looking for when they decide to move into branded content, especially with a publisher’s studio. But as this area of advertising has matured, the uncommon and untold stories don’t happen as often as they should. A common reason: most clients haven’t had the time or inclination to get out of their own company. Instead, they have to rely on existing stories and boilerplate marketing messages. But the best stories are found by looking in unusual places, being open to any idea and most importantly, getting out of the office — literally and figuratively.
Book a Story-Finding Trip
On the literal side, consider a story-finding trip that puts you and the creative team directly in touch with consumers and customers. Leaning too heavily on social media means you’ll be swayed by the people who are actively engaged with your brand already — plus, “likes” and “followers” are lazy stand-ins for on-the-ground reporting with real people. It also helps to get out of the office with the publishing partner you’ll be collaborating with for the next few weeks, if not months. Here’s an easy way to start organizing that trip. First, poll the team on where they think the best places to find your consumers will be. Then go out and find them — in their own environment, not yours.
While working on the Defy Hunger Together project with MINI USA, I learned that the marketing team uses its bi-annual MINI Takes the States rally to get closer to MINI Cooper owners. Thousands of drivers show up over the course of two weeks and offer insights and stories that couldn’t be gleaned from staged focus groups or online surveys. While a weeks-long rally may not be in your budget, go to where your consumers are: retail stores, offices that use your software or investors seeking information from your financial analysts.
Take Reading and Listening Breaks
Next, read what the media, analysts and others are writing about you and your competitors — the bad and the good.
Steeping yourself in what others say about your product and company will help you understand how others view your brand. It’s also a great way to see how journalists write about you as you prepare to apply journalistic storytelling methods to your content.
Simply listening can also be a good way to start the story finding process. Sign up for a conference that your consumers attend, not your colleagues. If your company is considering promoting a social responsibility message, make sure your focus will be authentic by attending protests, meetings and other gatherings where people involved in the movement will be. Once you’re back from reading and listening, make certain you keep all that honest and authentic feedback front and center when you start the next part of your story-finding process: the idea session.
No Story Idea Is Off Limits
Now it’s time to convene a no-holds barred idea session where any story idea — gleaned from the two tasks above — is worthy of consideration. Pay particular attention to story ideas that the team either feels very strongly for or against. There’s good tension in those stories. I wasn’t happy that my grandmother could tell me where she’d seen gang symbols spray-painted in the neighborhood I grew up in. The articles I wrote about gangs were as much about me wanting to report on an important story as they were about me wanting to protect my grandmother. The more I reported, the more I could tell her about what was happening in our town.
But let’s say fact-finding trips aren’t possible for your team. Getting out of your own company can be as simple as putting aside all marketing and branding materials you have created and offering your team the opportunity to talk honestly about the company, the brand and your products. A team’s authentic opinion about where they work can be a great jumping off point for finding great stories. Two simple questions can help get the ideas flowing: “What do you wish we could tell our audience, but we haven’t?” and “what stories do you tell your family about where you work?”
In the end, great stories don’t just happen. They take time, energy and commitment. But if you’re building a long-term relationship with your audience using branded content as the medium, then it’s worth it to invest in getting outside of your own company.
Chapter 4: The Science Behind Stories
There’s a scientific reason why stories can convince people to do things they thought they’d never do, like vote for Trump or buy a hybrid car.
Advertising is about telling stories, be it through commercials or billboards. And while audiences today are still watching shows, reading articles and lining up in droves to see the latest movie, ads themselves don’t seem to be working like they used to.
Why are we skipping commercials, but still watching the shows? Why are we blocking banner ads, but not articles? And why do we throw mall flyers in the trash, but pay $20 to go to the theatre to watch what is essentially a two-hour animated LEGO catalogue? While half of our team members at Pressboard are content experts, the other half are software engineers and data scientists. This means that when we come up with a question, we turn to data to solve it. It also means that we’re constantly investigating the scientific reasons why human beings are still so in love with stories, but increasingly turned off by ads — and the results are unforgettable.
How To Efficiently Mention A Brand In Sponsored Content
It’s a question that brands and publishers have pondered for a long time: how and when should a brand be integrated into sponsored content?
Thanks to a study of over 300 pieces of sponsored content, we have the data to answer it. When done well, integrating a brand can supplement sponsored content with the company’s expertise to create something meaningful and valuable for audiences.
When done poorly, it can result in a Frankenstein-like mix of the brand’s and publisher’s voices that feels more like a traditional ad than actual content. We all know how quickly readers can figure out which is which. We see it in the comments section or in the amount of time readers spend on the page. So, we turned to the experts (the readers) to see if we could learn a thing or two from them.
Pressboard collects tens of thousands of data points every day from the sponsored content created through our platform, most of which is related to how readers are interacting with the content. To understand the impact of brand mentions in content, we dug through that data to answer the following questions:
How early in a piece of sponsored content should a brand be mentioned?
How many times should a brand be mentioned in a piece of sponsored content?
The results finally prove what content experts’ instincts have been telling them all along:
If the brand is mentioned too close to the start of a sponsored article, engagement levels will be negatively affected. On average, readers spent 12 seconds longer reading articles when the brand was mentioned halfway through the article as opposed to when the brand was mentioned in the first 100 words. When the brand’s name appears multiple times in a piece of sponsored content, it negatively affects the amount of time readers spend engaging with it.
When a brand was mentioned only once, readers spent an average of 69.6 seconds reading the article. As more brand mentions were added, reading time fell dramatically. The study also highlighted a few insights that we didn’t expect.
As it turns out, sponsored content in which brand mentions are placed sparingly and strategically actually perform better than sponsored content devoid of any brand mentions. Many in the industry have often assumed otherwise: that sponsored content performs better when the brand isn’t mentioned at all. However, it appears that a thoughtfully placed brand mention can engage readers and encourage them to read more of the content.
Sponsored articles without any brand mentions performed well (with an average scroll rate of 78%), but still failed to outpace content with one brand mention.
That said, two words here are key: sparingly and strategically. Where and how many times the brand is mentioned can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of sponsored content, so it’s important to get it right.
How Memory Contributes To Effective Branded Content
StoryWorks tested six branded videos on over 2,000 respondents in four markets: the U.S., Germany, Australia and Singapore. Facial-coding and eyetracking tools were used to determine which aspects of the videos triggered emotional responses in viewers. The findings from this study now inform how StoryWorks advises brands to create content that people are likely to remember. With the help of emotion technology firm CrowdEmotion and neuroscience firm Neuro-Insight, StoryWorks will also offer long-term memory measurement as part of postcampaign analysis.
The Science of Memory study confirms some suspicions. For instance, the bigger the emotional spike elicited in the viewer, the more likely they are to commit the video to long-term memory. It also concludes that branded content videos containing over 10 emotional moments score high in consideration and in how the brand ranks against competitors. Also, videos where emotional states are established in the first third of the film are better at triggering long-term memory.
Chapter 5: Getting your Story Out There
No matter how great your content is, it won’t matter if you don’t share it with the right audiences. To benefit from the power of your stories, you need to amplify them far and wide. While the story itself is obviously important, how and where you choose to promote your story will affect how readers engage with it. The platform you use to reach readers — be it Facebook, LinkedIn, email newsletters or otherwise — will significantly affect how much time they spend reading and scrolling through your content. By better understanding how users of these different networks interact with content, you can combine that knowledge with audience and demographic information to reach an extremely targeted and qualified set of readers.
Where To Share Your Story
Without a proper distribution plan, even the greatest content can languish unseen. It’s essential to understand the distribution options available and select what’s right for your content. What that mix is will depend on the type of content, your target audience and your budget.
Distribution options fall under three main categories: owned, earned and paid, which can be broken down as such:
Social media profiles
Email lists and e-newsletters
Press and blog pickup
Social media ads
Content distribution networks
The Art of The E-Newsletter
By Paul Josephsen, Chief Strategy Officer, UPROXX/Warner Music Group
The goal in crafting a compelling e-newsletter should be to create consistent value for an audience. Too often we see newsletter or email delivery as a way to “push” a message to people and wait for them to respond by interacting with what we said, or what we thought they would like. By understanding your audience and creating a product that serves a real need (not a perceived need), you can very naturally bring brand messages to life though that delivery.
Creative testing will be critical on every platform, but focusing first and foremost on a consumer need and building a product and a message that serves that need will create a very positive relationship with your audience.
Mailchimp's Tips For Subject Lines
When it comes to subject lines, boring works best. When you write your subject line, don’t sell what’s inside — tell what’s inside.
Best Subject Lines (60-87% Open Rate) 1. [Company Name] Sales & Marketing Newsletter 2. Eye on the [Company Name] Update (Oct 31 – Nov 4) 3. [Company Name] Staff Shirts & Photos 4. [Company Name] May News Bulletin! 5. [Company Name] Newsletter – May 2019
Worst Open Rate Subject Lines (1-14%) 1. Last Minute Gift — We Have the Answer 2. Valentines — Shop Early & Save 10% 3. Give a Gift Certificate This Holiday 4. Gift Certificates — Easy & Elegant Giving — Let Them Choose 5. Valentine’s Day Salon and Spa Specials!
By Arnon Sobol, VP Global Business Strategy and Data Solutions, Outbrain
In a time where consumers are being bombarded with advertising messages across different platforms and devices, marketers are at an inflection point of better understanding what truly drives engagement and interaction with their advertising in a meaningful way beyond traditional age/gender demos and a onesize- fits-all approach to creative.
At Outbrain, we have worked for over a decade to better understand what consumers on the open web truly find engaging through deep analysis around the organic content created by the world-class news organizations that we work with to power their content discovery experiences.
We’ve been able to take those learnings and help marketers connect more successfully on the open web by taking that interest and engagement data and applying it to their brand campaigns using native advertising, a non-intrusive ad experience that seamlessly blends into the publisher platforms that we power.
Too often, consumers turn a blind eye to the numerous ads they encounter daily. What they’re missing is the reason for them to engage with the content; what benefit does it provide? The most successful marketers invest in advertising that tells a story and speaks to consumers’ true interests just like publishers. When our marketers have invested in creating custom native content, we’ve seen 50% longer time on their site versus leads from Search and 50% lower CPCs than Social. Interest targeting is another leading driver of engagement and click-through rate (CTR). By taking advantage of consumers’ interests, both in content creation and behavioral targeting, interest turns into action. When analyzing our campaigns utilizing interest targeting, we’ve seen a 15% increase in CTR on average and a 278% increase in conversion rate.
In taking the extra step to personalize content based on a target audience and reviewing their engagement metrics, brands and publishers are able to create unique and lasting experiences with readers. The bottom line: No matter the brand or publisher, those who provide the ability to create, update and personalize their messages and creatives will see much higher CTR’s and engagement than those who don’t.
How The Washington Post Makes Branded Content Front Page News
The Washington Post is one of a select few publishers that continues to see incredible levels of direct traffic, with nearly 50% of all desktop traffic being direct. So, we decided to discuss the effectiveness of native ads with Elana Luppino, Operations Director at The Washington Post’s WP BrandStudio, for further insight.
Q: In what ways is The Washington Post able to leverage that direct traffic to support your sponsored content programs?
A: “At least 75-80% of our traffic to branded content pages arrives from our onsite promotions targeted to our readers across The Washington Post platforms. The majority of the remaining percent of traffic comes from highly targeted social efforts leveraging our @wpbrandstudio handles, reaching Washington Post followers across social platforms. Since we do not have to buy traffic like many of our competitors, we know our branded content initiatives are reaching our valued readers on behalf of our clients.”
Q: How do readers feel about native ads and sponsored content on The Washington Post?
A: “We see high performance with our branded content and branded content advertising promotions among our readers. Due to the diversity of topics we cover and our native and high-quality approach to the content experiences, we find that our engagement metrics for branded content are comparable with the performance metrics our analytics team sees for newsroom content pieces. Our subscribers are often some of our most engaged readers.”
Q: Do you see any significant differences in the quality of engagement levels in audiences based on how they found the sponsored content? Which distribution channels receive the highest levels of engagement?
A: “This really depends on the content medium, topic, promotional strategy and the target audience. We generally expect to see our highest engagement metrics coming from readers arriving to content from native promotions on desktop devices—but video engagement can be higher when select social tactics are leveraged, and highly interactive pieces can find their most active audience among our readers on mobile devices.”
Q: In what ways are you able to optimize the native ads on your site? Do you have any interesting tips you can share?
A: “We use our proprietary targeting technology, Zeus Insights, to target our readers based on first-party data on their consumption habits across The Washington Post platform. We also leverage A/B creative testing strategies across distribution tactics and platforms, optimizing for the highest performing creative, devices and ad units over the course of the campaign.”
Native Ad Promotion Done The Right Way
By Vitaly Pechersky, Co-Founder Stackadapt
Make sure your ad delivers on its promise once a user clicks through. Consumers often become disappointed when they click on a native ad that appears to be editorial and are then redirected to a company landing page that isn’t what they were hoping for.
Avoid using text on images in a native ad and instead capture your audience’s attention with a striking visual; this will ensure the ads don’t look cluttered. Native ads see up to 10x better clickthrough rates than display ads, so maximizing their effectiveness is key.
Chapter 6: Mastering Social Media
As of 2019, there are over 3.4 billion users on social media (40% of the world’s population), and the average user spends two hours and 22 minutes on social networks every day. To look at it more holistically, 90.4% of millennials, 77.5% of generation X and 48.2% of baby boomers are active social media users.
In the past year alone, 366 million new people started using social media. When divided by the number of days in a year, this results in more than one million new users joining social media daily. Not only does the internet offer you access to more than half the global population, it also provides a variety of advertising channels to choose from. Therefore, as marketers, there is great flexibility to reach your target audience on multiple fronts.
Facebook and Instagram
“I have two tips that are easy to understand and difficult to follow. The first is for any evaluator to take off their work hat and put on their consumer hat, and simply evaluate the content or message as any consumer might. The main question to ask is: would I share this? This is different from “would I read or watch this?” because it forces you to dig into the mechanics of sharing — for instance, “am I willing for people to know that I connected with this content?” — which helps govern the content itself.
The second tip is to recognize that virality is difficult to achieve. Content and ideas need to be supported through paid promotion. Without it, your investment is unlikely to succeed, regardless of the quality.”
Eric Korsh, Head of Studios at JellySmack
74% of Facebook users check it daily
96% of Facebook users access is on mobile
Facebook usage among teens has dropped from 71% in 2015, to 51%
Instagram has 1 billion monthly active users, and 500 million of them use it daily
59% of Instagram users are under the age of 30
Ad spending on Instagram is 23% higher than on Facebook Videos get 21.2% more interactions than still images
Facebook launches the News Feed, and the algorithm is very simple: different posts receive different points depending on the content created. For example, if a post is just text, it’s worth less points than a post with a link in it. Facebook then generates a ranking system which determines the order posts appear in the News Feed.
The News Feed algorithm evolves to consider the timeliness of posts, as well as the relationship between the user posting and those who interact with their content. This algorithm is known as EdgeRank.
Facebook abandons EdgeRank for a more complex algorithm that incorporates machine learning to adapt to individual user preferences. Meaning, if you interact with certain users more than others, Facebook takes that into consideration and learns to rank content based on who you interact with most.
Facebook adjusts the News Feed algorithm to prioritize content from friends and family over Pages and users.
Facebook tests an ad-free News Feed that users can switch to, dedicated to publisher content rather than personal content.
To brands, it clearly foreshadows a Facebook that separates Pages content from friends and family content. Today, that “alternative News Feed” is known as the “Pages” option on the left-hand sidebar of a user’s News Feed.
Just days after Facebook launches this alternative News Feed test, a social media manager for a newspaper in Slovakia reports that 60 of the largest media pages in the country saw their likes, comments and shares decrease fourfold.
Facebook’s involvement in the misuse of data (Cambridge Analytica) urges the platform to address privacy issues. The News Feed is updated to focus less on the content from Pages and again focus on friends and family; however, it sets different priorities for which content gets prime real estate in the News Feed.
Shares and comments are considered “active” interactions, which Facebook considers more “meaningful” when slotting content on a user’s News Feed.
Twitter is a powerful distribution tool for nearly all types of content. Your content is guaranteed to appear in your followers’ feeds thanks to Twitter’s use of a historical timeline. However, this real-time firehose results in tweets having shorter lifecycles.
Unless you already have a large, engaged audience, driving organic traffic through the platform can be challenging. Twitter’s variety of paid campaign options should be part of most marketers’ distribution plans because of the ability to drive a high click-through rate (CTR) from a highly targeted audience. Consider targeting relevant hashtags and people that engage with your competitors as a starting point.
10 Twitter Best Practices
1. Do your research before engaging customers 2. Determine organizational goals 3. Utilize either a branded or personal profile 4. Build your Twitter equity and credibility 5. Track metrics and conversation trends 6. Don’t go overboard; less structure is better 7. Listen and observe before engaging 8. Be authentic and believable 9. Track, measure and iterate 10. Don’t just strategize — execute!
It’s safe to say that YouTube dominates the digital market when it comes to video. Since its initial launch in 2005, its mission has been to provide fast and easy video access, while allowing users to share and interact with one another. YouTube opened avenues for brands to advertise and made it incredibly easy for creators to share content with audiences.
Out of all the social platforms, YouTube has the most active monthly users. With close to 2 billion users reached each month, there’s an ocean of prospective consumers out there for marketers to hook. However, it’s also important to take into consideration that this statistic only includes users signed into Google accounts. There are still many who use YouTube daily but don’t have an account.
79% of Internet users have a YouTube account
YouTube can navigate in 80 different languages (95% of the Internet population)
70% of YouTube watch time comes from mobile devices
90% of people discover new brands or products on YouTube
YouTube is responsible for 37% of all mobile internet traffic
Another popular social media platform, Pinterest is a search engine that users can navigate to find inspiration to help them become their best selves. This includes planning for the future, decorating their homes, searching for baking recipes and discovering new ideas.
Numbers show that Pinterest users engage with branded content because they actively appreciate it.
250 million people use Pinterest every month
Pinterest reached 83% of women 25-54
50% of new sign-ups in 2018 were male
80% of users are on mobile
59% of millennials have discovered new products on Pinterest
90% of users go to Pinterest to make purchasing decisions
Quality vs Quantity: Does Facebook or Native Advertising Offer Better Paid Content Promotion?
Facebook or Instagram? Banner ads or e-newsletters? Outbrain or Taboola? People often ask us what methods they should be using to promote their content. And since paid promotion is more important than ever, it’s crucial that your team is using the best tools available. Since we’re a team of content experts and data scientists, we did what we do best: looked to the data for answers.
For this study, we wanted to know how two traffic sources — Facebook News Feed and native ad networks — compare when it comes to engagement and converting customers from the article page to the client’s website. We used data from over 1 million unique reads tracked using Pressboard’s platform and promoted through either Facebook or native ad networks from April 2018 through April 2019. We analyzed engagement metrics including Average Attention Seconds (time spent), Average Scroll Depth (percentage scrolled down the page) and click-through rate (on links in the article) to determine which traffic source delivered the most engaged audience.
In comparing the data between Facebook and native ad networks, we identified two key findings that support our hypothesis:
Facebook Delivers Better Engagement Than Native Ad Networks
When it comes to both Average Attention Seconds and Average Scroll Depth, Facebook significantly outperforms native. Readers spend twice as much time actively engaged with the content and scroll through 19.4% more of the page on average.
More Americans use Facebook as a news source than any other social platform, so it could be that these users come to the site to consume content, and are therefore prepared to spend more time with sponsored content.
Average Attention (seconds)
Average Scroll Depth
Facebook Converts Readers at a Higher Rate Than Native Ad Networks
Not only does Facebook reach more engaged readers, it converts them more effectively, too. We measured the percentage of readers who clicked on links in the article that lead to the sponsor’s page. Facebook converts at almost 2x the rate of native, making it an impressive method for both reaching the right audience and moving them down the funnel.
If you want to reach a highly engaged audience that’s likely to click through from an article to your page, Facebook is the clear winner. Our research indicates that readers are spending an entire minute engaging with content when they reach it from a Facebook ad. That’s almost two times higher than traffic coming from a native ad network and 37x higher than the average 1.6 seconds they spend with a banner ad. They also convert at almost two times the rate of what we’d expect from a reader that clicked on a native ad.
If you value quality versus quantity when it comes to your content, the data shows that Facebook is by far your best option.
The Demise of Organic and The Rise of Paid Social Reach
As social media continues to evolve, organic reach continues to decline. Many point the blame to Facebook’s algorithm constantly changing.
Publishers spent years honing their Facebook promotion skills and building a larger, more dedicated audience through the platform, only to have that effort made to feel pointless. Reaching the same readers they used to suddenly cost significantly more, making content amplification a loss-leader or many sites.
As the number of users on social platforms increases, the amount of content produced increases, creating more competition for your content to be visible on feeds. But the algorithm didn’t only change on Facebook; all platforms modified their algorithm in one way or another.
The CEO of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, claimed users are likely to miss about 70% of posts on their feed. On Facebook, the average post reach is roughly 10.8%. Twitter adopted an algorithm that sorts tweets based on the importance to and interest of the user, without taking time into consideration. And LinkedIn is no exception, as they also have an algorithmic timeline.
There are over 100,000 factors that influence the Facebook algorithm and a majority of these take into consideration the user’s likes, interests, and interactions with their audiences. It’s become a challenge to understand who will be exposed to what seeing as user behavior is constantly changing.
Overall, there is no question that organic reach has been on a decline for quite some time. With the world’s largest social media platform (Facebook) opting to give users more content from friends and family in their newsfeeds, this leaves little to no room for content to gain any attention. Cue the rise of paid promotions. Now, social media advertising has become the “pay-to-play” game across the board for all brands. The days of posting organically and expecting all your followers to see your content is over.
Chapter 7: Measuring Branded Content Performance
Branded content succeeds when readers engage with your story: they read it, connect with it and share it with their networks. To get your values and messaging across, you need readers to spend significant time with your content.
We marketers wouldn’t be much without our numbers. Metrics allow us to evaluate our content once it’s published and receiving traffic, answering question such as: who’s reading? How are they reading? Where are they engaging? And perhaps most importantly, where are they meeting friction and choosing to leave the experience altogether? There’s only so much you can do with a piece of branded content without data on your readers. Once a piece of content is starting to draw data, you can begin the intricate process of optimization. Regardless of the amount or quality of the data collected, you can be sure that you’re going to learn something. In fact, you can often glean as much (if not more) from a failed test as you can from a successful one.
Understanding How Your Story is Performing
There’s a reason why Pressboard’s unofficial motto is “Stories are better than ads.” Whether spoken, written, photographed or filmed, stories are a powerful bonding tool. Storytelling is how we make sense of the world around us — but more importantly, it’s how we connect with and build empathy for others.
As with any paid advertising, deciding how to promote your branded content requires careful thought and consideration. Branded content succeeds when readers engage with your story: they read it, connect with it and share it with their networks. We’ve worked with over 350 digital publishers across North America to distribute content to reach millions of people, which has given us a constantly growing database of information on how branded content performs.
What to Measure
Over the past few years, branded content has rapidly evolved; and if content is king and distribution is queen, then measurement is the throne they sit on. Without the support of measurement, content distribution would fall flat rather quickly.
When deciding your business goals or objectives, it is crucial to determine what and who you’re trying to reach or target in the digital ecosystem. Once you’ve established who your target audience is, you can analyze distribution key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics which focus on the effectiveness of your social media marketing. However, when it comes to branded content and the constant shift of social algorithms, publishers are finding it increasingly difficult to get their articles in front of more users.
In paid media, not all metrics are created equally. Traditional advertising metrics focus on impressions, clicks and video views, whereas the best branded content metrics follow the actions taken after the click and consider the user’s attention, time spent and reading behaviors.
No matter how great your content is, it won’t matter if you don’t share it with the right audiences. To benefit from the power of your stories, you need to amplify it far and wide. The trick is finding a solution to get articles in front of the right people, at the right time, for the right cost.
How To Reach The Right Audiences
Placing the perfect piece of content on the ideal publication doesn’t guarantee that you’ll capture readers’ attention. With organic reach on the decline, even the most engaging articles may need a little boost to maximize their potential reach and connect with as much of the target audience as possible.
From paid social posts to native advertising, there’s no shortage of ways to reach the masses. And increasingly, companies such as Facebook and Twitter are making it easier for everyday business owners to access these vast audiences through their userfriendly, self-serve ad platforms.
But massive scale doesn’t equal campaign success. Rather, the focus should be on connecting with the intended audience who are most likely to take the desired action.
Distribution Metrics vs Content Analytics
When it comes to measurement in branded content, it is important to separate distribution metrics from content analytics.
Distribution metrics include social and native ad measurement KPIs following the user’s journey from the beginning, which include clicks, views and engagements. These metrics are analyzed when trying to anticipate a user’s motive or intent.
Content analytics instead study the user’s behavior after being exposed to (and then engaging with) the ad, such as the number of reads, average scrolling percentage and time spent.
Though millions of pieces of content are published online every day, only 10% are ever seen. From fake ad impressions to the death of organic traffic, the digital maze that your content needs to navigate its way through before appearing on the newsfeeds of your target audience is becoming more and more complex.
What's a View To You?
Video is one of the most powerful forms of content marketing formats available, with 71% of consumers watching more video content online now than ever before. A study by HubSpot showed that 45% of people watch an hour or more of video per day.
Video is no longer considered a piece of the marketing plan; now, it dominates the entire social and digital landscape. The combination of sight, sound and motion caters to the brain’s visual and auditory systems and is one of the best formats for sparking emotion.
However, when using video formats, it becomes easy for advertisers to become heavily focused on view count as the primary metric.
A “view count” is measured based on the number of times your video has been viewed, and is ideal when trying to increase brand awareness. However, each video hosting platform, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat, measure views differently.
YouTube – 30 seconds
Facebook – 3 seconds
Instagram – 3 seconds
Twitter – 3 seconds
SnapChat – Measures completed views (10-second maximum length)
Which to Click?
Clicks are often used a signal for how well display ads are performing. While we prefer content metrics such as reads and attention, clicks are still a useful metric when it comes to content promotion.
Measuring the rate of people that click through from a social share, native ad or e-newsletter to the content can be an important indicator of how effectively your creative or headline draws readers in. When clicks are used in conjunction with deeper analytics, such as reads and attention, they can be a useful top-of-funnel metric.
To better determine how your audiences are more likely to engage with your content, we recommended experimenting with multiple creatives and headlines. Once you’ve established which article is performing the best, you can use that for campaigns going forward.
The majority of branded content is created for awareness purposes and sits at the top of the marketing funnel; but because of the nature of digital marketing, it’s possible to track conversion goals as well.
Brand links within content can be tracked for click-through rates. By adding a conversion pixel to your brand site, you can even measure visitors that may not have immediately clicked from the content, but did so at a later date. We built both clickthrough and view-through tracking technology right into Pressboard’s content campaigns. Here are some conversion goals that Pressboard’s technology measures.
Click-through to landing pages
Page per visit
Attention! Attention! You Need Reads!
The performance of content shouldn’t end with how many people saw your article’s headline appear in their news feed. This provides little to no context as to whether the audience is interested in your article.
At Pressboard, we’ve discovered exactly how to measure the amount of people who have read an article. By measuring unique views combined with time spent, you can more accurately gauge if users have read through the entire article, or where they may have dropped off and lost interest.
Companies such as YouTube, Chartbeat and Medium are proactively moving towards viewing time and attention as the preferred performance metric. Pressboard has taken this model even further, building those metrics right into their reporting platform.
Once you’ve established reads as a core content metric, you can begin to further analyze attention signals such as time spent, average scrolldepth and active reading time. These attention metrics provide deeper insight into the quality and value of your content to the reader.
Trust and Transparency is Key
Since the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) took effect in 2016, social platforms have been making an effort to make measurement more transparent and easier to understand for both publishers and advertisers. Knowing exactly where user data lives has become the forefront of several political conversations. Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, social platforms like Facebook are continually seeking advertiser feedback to make sure that they’re able to provide useful tools that can evolve with the platform. There’s also a greater emphasis on committing to third-party verification and accreditation to protect user information. All third-party integrations are privacy-protected and act as an additional safety net for advertisers, ensuring the value of their investments are validated.
Some common third-party verification partners for social platforms include Moat, Integral Ad Science, Comscore, DoubleVerify, Nielsen and Meetrics.
How To Accurately Evaluate Your Content Marketing
Today, branded content is the most effective way to capture the attention of and build trust with new audiences – and as all marketers know, time (a.k.a attention) is money. For years, the best way to reach people who may be interested in your products or service was through pop-up ads, pre-roll or tv commercials. However, with an estimated 25% of internet users employing ad-blockers and DVR devices allowing people to easily avoid intrusive ads, it’s become a marketers job to establish what and how to capture their attention. What we do know is, although audiences are steering clear of advertisements, they still want to enjoy the things those ads aim to interrupt: the stories.
Since releasing our first Branded Content Benchmarks Report in 2016, we’ve received many messages from marketers and media companies who found it helpful for understanding what metrics they should be using to evaluate their branded content campaigns. Using data pulled from nearly 4,000 pieces of sponsored content created by brands and publishers through Pressboard’s platform, we’ve compiled an updated Branded Content Benchmarks Report, which details how well branded content performed in 2019. The report aims to help marketers go beyond mere impressions and clicks and to better understand the metrics they should be considering when measuring branded content.
Paid Social Metrics
The following paid social benchmarks were produced by AdStage during Q3 of 2019. Their benchmark metrics report on clients who utilize their products and reports on advertising accounts for all of North America.
Facebook News Feed Ad Benchmarks:
These benchmarks outline how ads perform on average in the Facebook News Feed placement.
CPC: $0.57 (decreased 24% since 2018)
CPM: $8.19 (increased 10.21% since 2018)
CTR: 1.45% (increased 46.5% since 2018)
Instagram Feed Ad Benchmarks:
These benchmarks outline how ads perform on average in Instagram’s Feed placement.
CPC: $0.83 (decreased 38.1% since 2018)
CPM: $7.00 (increased 8.7% since 2018)
CTR: 0.84% (increased 90.9% since 2018)
These benchmarks outline how ads perform on average on LinkedIn.
CPC: $3.49 (decreased 9.7% since 2018)
CPM: $8.23 (increased 24.1% since 2018)
CTR: 0.26% (increased 44.4% since 2018)
These benchmarks outline how ads perform on average on Twitter.
CPC: $0.40 (decreased by 38.5% since 2018)
CPM: $6.54 (increased 5.8% since 2018)
CTR: 1.59% (increased 65.6% since 2018)
Display Advertising Benchmarks
The following display advertising benchmarks are taken from Smart Insights and AdStage, both from Q3 of 2019.
Banner and display ads are an extension of search ads. Instead of a text-based ad, banner ads are typically horizonal boxes on top of a web page, and display ads appear as smaller advertisements on the web page.
Google Ads Display Network Benchmarks
These benchmarks outline how display ads perform on average with Google from AdStage.
CPC: $0.40 (decreased 16.7% since 2018)
CPM: $2.57 (increased 29.1% since 2018)
CTR: 0.64% (increased 52.4% since 2018)
Display Ads Across Placements
These benchmarks outline the average CTR across all ad placements from Smart Insights.
CTR: 0.05% (All Placements)
CTR: 0.06% (MPU Units)
CTR: 0.04% (Leaderboard Units)
CTR: 0.04% (Skyscraper Units)
Looking Beyond The Surface Data: Brand Lift Studies
Brand Lift Studies are used to measure consumer-brand interaction based on your marketing campaign, which typically includes a consumer survey which one group of people are exposed to an ad and the second group are not. Once seeing (or not seeing) the ad, the user can choose to participate and answer honestly or avoid the survey altogether. The purpose is to help advertisers identify positive changes in the consumer’s journey, from awareness to perception, consideration and the likelihood of purchase.
Branded content is one of the fastest growing forms of marketing. Within the past few years, brand lift studies have become the most effective measuring tool for ROI. Seeing as brand lift studies have become a key marketing resource, social platforms have adapted and evolved their services to accommodate advertisers’ needs. Facebook continues to offer brand lift studies to users, Google has two measurement models (brand lift studies and brand lift studies 2.0), and SnapChat also jumped on the trend to offer brand lift studies for premium buyers.
When conducting brand lift studies, advertisers can directly determine the answers to questions such as:
Are audiences able to recall the ad?
Do people like what they see in our ad?
Did the ad influence people to consider your brand or product?
Are consumers more likely to purchase the product or brand after seeing the ad?
All of the above are surveyed at different parts of the consumer’s journey in order to avoid brand fatigue and poor user experience.
At Pressboard, we’ve used several advertising platforms to promote our clients’ content as well as our own and have accumulated a wealth of data on traffic source performance. We’ve found that LinkedIn is incomparable for reaching working professionals, with an average active attention time of 74.5 seconds. This highly engaged audience comes at a high price, however, which may be out of reach for the average marketer. Twitter is great for reaching news seekers with timely and relevant articles, with average active attention time of 65.7 seconds, but not necessarily for the lowest possible cost. And we’ve used several native platforms, but poor traffic quality and low average attention time have consistently driven us back to paid social time and time again.
What we’ve concluded is that the most cost-effective way to promote content to an engaged audience is through Facebook News Feed ads, where we see an average attention time of 52.1 seconds. Facebook is a great starting point for promoting content because the ad platform is approachable, offers in-depth ad targeting options and doesn’t require a sizeable budget.
Thinking Long-Term Brand Lift Benefits?
A user can be tracked through several social touchpoint metrics: post engagements, shares, link clicks and impressions. The overall goal is to remain memorable to your audience; so, how does an advertiser become memorable in a market full of saturated content?
According to Business.com distribution metrics such as CTR, impressions and clicks have lost value as true internet currency. When building brand awareness, advertisers can earn intuitive feedback on their audiences through their behaviors; active reading time, scrolling percentage, ad recall, consideration and likelihood of purchase. However, the lack of granular insight produced by clicks, views, impressions and CTR makes it quite difficult to understand what an audience is really interested in. Which is where brand lift studies fill this gap, allowing you to fully understand your consumer’s intent and preference.
A reason why more companies are choosing to use brand lift studies as a reliable resource when marketing is because they provide direct feedback from consumers within days of audience interaction. This gives advertisers the ability to actively optimize their campaigns, whether adjusting creatives, or specific targeting, in order to maximize their ROI.
Through our research, we’ve established that the how and when to reach your target audience can be pivotal for your campaign to succeed to its full potential. Publishers should be sure that, when working with marketers on content or social-based campaigns, they understand audience behavior patterns. These patterns can be measured with metrics like active reading time, scrolling behavior and brand lift studies are the most accurate indicators when measuring campaign’s overall performance. Not only does it provide you with real time results, but it informs advertisers exactly how well your content delivers your message, and it it’s the right fit.
Branded Content Benchmarks Report
Pressboard's benchmark data is aggregated from nearly 4000 branded content pieces published by more than 350 major media publishers. All data is measured via the Pressboard Studio platform.
Now that you know the value of branded content, how to find your story, ways to create it, distribute it and even measure its performance, it's time for some inspiration from the best in the business. Pressboard regularly rounds up the top branded content campaigns in the world. Here are some of our favorite campaigns, to inspire you to create your own incredible branded content!
"Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.
Andrew Davis, Bestselling Author and Keynote Speaker
We hope that this step by step guide to branded content has given you valuable insights into the business of branded content, uncovering your story, getting it out there and measuring it's performance. Branded content is a powerful way to share your brand story and leads to deeper relationships with your audience and customers.