Content marketing has long been a key element of media. We've all heard the stories about how soaps got their start. We've seen advertorials and product placements.
This all started with a simple belief, which still rings true today: Making your brand a part of authentic content can provide a more engaging path to your consumer's heart. Which in turn will help you sell more products.
It is a belief that has prevailed, despite limitations on actually proving it. Traditional media has generally done a good job proving it can change consumer perceptions (a.k.a. the "where there's smoke, there's fire" approach). But it has struggled to show a direct line to actual behavior and to actual product sales.
Riding the Wave
The current content marketing boom has been particularly generous to new digital and social players. The platforms are awash in data, and some of it can help draw a direct line to product sales (some of it is garbage, but that's another story). The data advantage has been an important one, as marketers are under increasing pressure to prove the results of their investments.
Here's where it gets interesting. Data and analytical capabilities are migrating from digital pure-plays to the industry's strongest television players -- who still command the lion's share of video viewing.
These companies have big advantages in content marketing, starting with great content and massive reach. They also have top talent (in front of, and behind, the camera), powerful storytelling, growing social media capabilities and fully staffed integration teams. Add it all up and it's a potent combination for content marketers.
So, what happens when traditional media companies begin to master the data side? What happens when they can connect their efforts directly to their clients' sales?
Old Dog, New Tricks
A few big media companies now have results to show, shedding light on this question.
At Turner Broadcasting, for example, we've studied over 30 multi-screen content marketing partnerships with advertisers. Using newly available data and analytics, now we can measure the consumer purchases and outcomes we are driving.
Here's what we've found:
On average, our bigger and even mid-size marketing partnerships cause a 5-10% increase in our partners' product sales. They also cause 20-40% increases in online exploration for the brand (search, brand site visits, social engagements, etc).
These are big lifts. When you apply those percentages to the sheer number of people we are reaching, the impact to our clients' raw sales figures is significant: Even our mid-size partnerships are regularly reaching 25-40 million people.
Even more impressive: The results have been consistent across content genres (from news, to sports to entertainment) and demos (from kids to boomers). They've held true for multiple categories as well: autos, CPG, mobile phones, consumer electronics, retail, insurance and QSR.
To clarify: We're talking about causation, not correlation. In each study, our research and analytics teams compared the exposed group to an identical control group (unexposed), to make sure the increased consumer spending was caused by the actual partnership.
OK. But Why is a Content Marketing Guy Writing an Article about Data?
Two reasons. First, a ton of effort goes into creating each partnership. It's rewarding to see confirmation of our belief: These partnerships move the needle for our clients.
Second, learning from the data is rewarding and critical in its own right.
With every study, we understand more about how to develop creative partnerships that deliver sales results, while remaining authentic to the environment.
We find out, for example, if we drove new customers to purchase, or caused existing customers to purchase more. (The answer depends on the partnership, and the product).
We find out if exposure on multiple screens or channels is more effective than single-screen exposure. (Yes, universally).
We learn that, yes, the biggest creative executions drive results. But less ambitious efforts can work well, too. The key is finding the right creative approach for the audience and delivering it with the right frequency and reach across screens.
And, back to the original belief behind content marketing: We learn that the branded content pieces drive more ROI for our clients than their own ads, when tested separately. However, if you pair the client's branded content with their ads, the results jump even higher.
So Now What?
We're in a new era of content marketing, where data and analytics play an essential role. Brands will increasingly demand creative partners who can deliver big ideas and prove their impact to the bottom line. Going in, they expect a partner to know their audience and how they respond to branded content.
Competition is fierce, and "new media" companies may have had a head start on the data side. But data doesn't deliver results -- it measures them. As companies like Turner Broadcasting and our peers combine their traditional content advantages with new analytical capabilities, clients will get a fresh look at what truly drives their business.
It's going to be interesting.
The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com management or associated bloggers.
[Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net]