NBC News, whose portfolio includes Today.com, CNBC and MSNBC, doubled the clickthrough rate (CTR) on its branded content when it used tech that fine-tuned distribution of the content on its sites.
The branded content tech, Polar, automatically tested different pairings of headlines and images, optimizing how it pulls readers into a story, and automating more of the branded content creation process.
To further optimize, the tech looked at what parts of the site – like the finance section within a mobile app at the bottom of the page – performed best and put more native ads in those slots.
Over the first 24 to 48 hours of an ad campaign, it will start to have enough intelligence to move toward the ad creatives, sections of the site and locations on the page that perform the best.
The improvement in NBC News’ CTR happened at the beginning of Q4 2018, when it switched native content providers from Sharethrough to Polar. The integration took three weeks.
NBC News switched because of Polar’s focus on branded content. Its previous provider, Sharethrough, also ran a programmatic native business that didn’t align with NBC News’ needs, said Mike Rucker, VP of branded content for NBC News.
The smarter distribution improved engagement with NBC News content, setting it up to meet brand KPIs that increasingly look at engagement, Rucker said. With strong performance on its own sites, the tech also makes NBC News’ own distribution more powerful, in an era when publishers want to be less reliant on outside platforms like Facebook for paid distribution.
These improvements were especially critical as branded content became more integral to NBC News’ business. Rucker sees the digital ad space segmenting itself into two buckets: programmatic and branded content.
“The majority of RFPs from agencies request a branded content element,” he said. “Branded content is going to be a significant driver of digital revenue as we go forward in the next several years.”
NBC News only launched its branded content initiative two and a half years ago. It added native promotions not just to its desktop and mobile web experiences, but to newsletters, Google AMP, Apple News and apps – which Polar enabled.
These efforts have grown its branded content footprint and its organic reach. In the first nine months on Polar, NBC News served 500 million branded content promotions.
The improved click-throughs and expanded reach of NBC News’ branded content is ensuring that the content is reaching more people with a more efficient cost of distribution.
“I believe content is the best way to create a relationship with consumers, and we want them to read that content and watch the videos,” Rucker said.
Plus, better engagement with branded content improves a publisher’s bottom line – an area they are increasingly focusing on. “Ultimately, we believe these changes will make our branded content more profitable,” Rucker said.