Today's column is written by Brian Fitzgerald, co-founder and president at Evolve Media.
Publishers are about to enter a phase of branded content fatigue from advertisers. In a world where automation is driving programmatic buying and ad units are scaled across devices from one set of assets, branded content is the digital version of a bespoke, hand-stitched shoe, custom-tailored to each advertiser.
Even the most native of content programs that piggyback on what editors are already doing – or would be doing if they could fund their ideas – requires laborious back and forth between clients, editors and the producers that sit between them as mediators.
No one has been able to streamline this process – not even BuzzFeed, whose recent revenue projections have been halved, it’s claimed, partially because of the unscalable nature of content marketing creation.
Media companies are starting to offer transparency and insight into content distribution and performance – Contently, BuzzFeed and many of the social platforms stand on this premise – but companies need to take a closer look at the environment in which that content supposedly performs.
Content In Context: Entertainment Vs. Intent
The editorial well has changed. “Native” can now mean that branded content articles sit in a stream of general audience-based editorial, ranging from celebrity gossip to profiles of Syrian refugees and other topics du jour.
The “Uptown Funk Dance Mashup” video, with Golden Age dance films set to the Bruno Mars’ song, was alone responsible for driving hundreds of millions of impressions to some of the most popular women’s interest sites in the last quarter of last year. There are countless examples of celebrity-driven content that account for the eyeballs clients pay for to reach their target customer.
Publishers measure the impact of environment on ad effectiveness, but what is the impact of viral-gold content on how readers take action with native advertising? It’s time to consider the qualification of this audience as it affects branded content campaigns.
Knowing Your Audience
Many sites today masquerade as special-interest or affinity sites focused on beauty, fashion, parenting or other areas of interest. But they are largely general entertainment sites that aggregate socially driven users to inflate their scale story. Advertisers pay a premium to reach a coveted, engaged consumer, supposedly delivered to them in an environment that is native to how they want to speak to and engage said customer. What the marketer gets instead are general interest consumers, teased in by and fed with celeb-driven content, horoscopes or other less compelling, less premium content that appeals to the masses and drives page turns and ad impressions.
Smaller, vertically focused sites producing content that is native to its environment and the consumer connection with the publishing brand may not scale as easily as general interest sites or content, but they do engage intent-driven customers looking to make purchase decisions.
Depending on the target KPIs and the ease of measuring them, marketers need to really evaluate what they want to accomplish. To answer this question, they need to decide if it is breadth or depth they seek.
This is audience dilution. Marketers are paying as much for the reader who arrives via viral video as they are for the reader who is ready to engage with your brand message. These are not the same qualified consumers of your product. The former is not a reader who is going to a passion-based vertical to deep dive into his or her interests and take action.
How effective can native advertising be in these environments, when it comes to purchase intent? When readers are watching Justin Bieber’s latest tantrum, are they really in the mindset to consider upgrading their hair care routines?
Without measuring the context of branded content, it will remain an unanswered, invalidated question for our industry.
Beyond ComScore: Proxy Metrics For Intent
Publishers ought to start thinking qualitatively and quantitatively about branded content ROI for their customers. Google is pushing us to consider the hundreds of “intent-driven micro-moments” that make up the consumer journey.
As it pertains to environment, I propose several key questions when considering purchase intent as a part of a media buy, especially if investing in branded content.
Publishers need to find the right answers for the branded content they create on behalf of brands. Marketers must also consider these questions for the branded content they want their publisher partners to create on their behalf.
Where are site users coming from? Why are users visiting the site? SEO is still the strongest proxy for intent. The SEO data typically bifurcates audiences into those who clicked on a viral video or link via social channels or those who were driven to the site because they were looking to take some action.
What is the claimed behavior of that audience? Are they in the market for your products?
What do they do on-site? Consider the content they consume, the pages they visit, engagement, time spent, bounce rates and internal searches within the site.
What are they sharing? This most-shared articles from Refinery29 – “It Took Six Years, but the Olsen Twins Finally Posted a Selfie” and “Makeup Tutorial: the Daytime Cat-Eye” – highlight two different reader journeys. One is voyeuristic, entertainment-based content, while the latter captures readers in an intent-driven micro-moment.
Where do they go next? A qualitative look at exit sites can tell you a lot about intent-driven content experiences – and whether actions benefit brands in the end.
Branded content can be an indispensable way to connect with audiences that eschew traditional digital advertising tactics. Making this content work harder to drive purchase intent will keep it a viable revenue stream for the foreseeable future.