The measure of success: The struggle to prove ROI on branded content

Measurement is the latest challenge for brands investing in content, as Angela Haggerty discovers.

Measurement: How to assess success in branded content isn't clear

With marketing budgets being pushed and pulled in a myriad of directions, increasing attention is turning towards how brands can be absolutely sure that they are gaining adequate ROI to justify spend through respective methods. The recent developments in online ad viewability and the eventual setting of an industry benchmark to work with is an indicator of the demand from brands to begin holding these digital opportunities accountable and gain a clearer idea of what success really looks like online. For content marketing, the question is becoming more urgent following brands’ heavy investments in the space, but the question of how success can be nailed down when brands step outside of traditional marketing frameworks is not easily answered. “Measurement is one thing, but in terms of ROI it is a challenge,” says Tom Laidlaw, CEO of Videojug Networks. “I’m not totally convinced that there’s one answer to the question. “Yes, campaigns need to be justifiable, but actually the real win of content marketing, I believe, is in the longer term, to see audiences build up, so that the investment in the longer term will prove to be much more cost-effective than if you just take a four week view of however long the campaign was technically open for. That needs to be part of the value judgement that brands draw.”A recent report from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) showed that while 76 per cent of marketers in the UK are producing more content than they did a year ago and 56 per cent plan to increase content marketing spend in the next 12 months, 28 per cent admit that an inability to measure its effectiveness is posing a problem. Content marketing is enjoying a crosschannel, cross-platform boom, and the trend of video’s rising popularity is presenting yet more opportunity for brands to create engaging content that develops a deeper relationship with consumers than traditional advertising. According to Red Bee Media planning director Kath Hipwell, the diverse range of ways in which brands can distribute branded content isn’t problematic for measurability, instead the challenge is being realistic about what they are trying to achieve and being patient. “While brands, and our clients, are increasingly investing more in content, they cannot always so easily find the money to do the very important research into its effectiveness,” she explains. “With the right research in place they could quickly find out a lot about the effect content is having: is it changing perceptions, driving preference or creating a rounded brand personality better than any other medium? “In some ways it shouldn’t be that hard. Content can deliver the same objectives as other media and so should also be tracked in the same way, too. It’s too easy to go straight to the YouTube views – freely and instantly available – and think that tells the full story when the picture is actually much more complex. Dwell time, shares and completion rates, for example, can tell you a lot more about the success of a piece of content than simple views.” According to the CMI, 87 per cent of content marketing in the UK is carried out through social media, while Twitter is the most popular platform for distributing all types of branded content. The social network is closely followed by LinkedIn, which beats Facebook and YouTube for distribution popularity, and the social platform for professionals has responded to that popularity by trying to fill the measurability gap for its clients. Earlier this year, LinkedIn launched its Content Marketing Score tool to take the “guess work” out of content marketing and give users more concrete statistics to grapple with. “It enables marketers and communications professionals to quantify the impact of their content on LinkedIn,” says Josh Graff, head of LinkedIn’s marketing solutions in EMEA. “It allows them to both measure engagement with their content and benchmark their company’s influence against competitors over time.” LinkedIn isn’t the only business trying to muscle in on the gap in solid benchmarks. The Branded Content Marketing Association launched its ContentMonitor tool, developed by Content Wax with assistance from Ipsos and Pointlogic, to service clients, while DigitasLBi recently announced a partnership with analytics firm Simple Reach to launch a branded content performance-measuring index. According to Graff, if brands want to get the full benefit from their content marketing efforts it requires a genuine shift in thinking and expectation in the short-term. “Content marketing refers to building relationships with your target audience through engaging them in an ongoing conversation, whereas branded content usually means a piece of advertorial, or a destination that’s live for the duration of a campaign,” he says. “It may sound pedantic, but content marketing requires a shift away from campaign mentality to an always-on approach – brands effectively become publishers. “Effective measurement therefore means tracking your efforts over time and paying attention to long-term trends, as well as the performance of individual pieces of content.” The increasing awareness of quality content, Graff predicts, will see a rise in in-house teams dedicated to content as well as agencies “establishing content divisions to support their customers who don’t have the resources inhouse to develop compelling content at scale.” Graff also expects some consolidation in the content space, with smaller agencies being acquired by the major holding companies, while the “war for talent” will continue and likely see more people from a journalism background shift to commercial. “Native advertising will play an increasingly important role as more and more content is consumed via people scrolling through their feeds on mobile devices,” he adds. “Video is heavily consumed on mobile and this trend will continue at pace. Overall, marketers will increasingly recognise the need to publish or perish.” Accurate measurability is further complicated, according to Max Garner, managing partner of Carat, by the nature of marketing industry roles and the need for quick results as marketers jump between positions. “Marketing is quite transient,” he says. “It’s the lack of immediacy of ROI that often causes problems for content in the eyes of clients. A recent study I saw said it takes 18 months on average before brands generate more leads from their content than they were from paid search. “If marketers spend on average about two years at junior level, 18 months before you can produce a solid result is going to be a problem.” Finding an industry standard in the way the IAB has for online ad viewability will be a much harder task for the content marketing industry, although the CMI is looking at it with a view to developing benchmarks. Moving ahead, Laidlaw says that the likelihood of agencies springing up offering expertise in content measurability is likely in much the same way that social analytics firms created a space for themselves to prove that the medium had an influential effect for brands. However, for brands desperate to capitalise on the content marketing spike, trust that the ROI will be worth it in the end may require a financial leap of faith before the world of real-time statistics and data can give them a definitive answer.This article first appeared in a content marketing supplement in the 11 June issue of The Drum.You can purchase the full magazine here.

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