Branded Content: The Next Frontier In The World Of Digital Metrics

By Sumran Kaul, Client Lead, Brand Metrics

Branded content campaigns are regarded as one of the more effective ways to cut through, with the hope of enjoying a halo effect in their chosen environment. Given the relatively bigger budgets, marketeers understandably want to know how effective these have been.

Working for a major media owner in recent years, I helped to measure the effect of branded content myself on countless occasions. And during this time, I often thought the way media owners measured these was, well, a bit weak. But no one offered a better solution and clients didn’t challenge it, so on we went.

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Three issues with panel-based measurement of branded content

The typical measurement approach – survey a sample of people on a research panel before and after a campaign, then compare the results – is riddled with issues. I’ve picked out three:

1)   Panels can be expensive

Media owners often have to cut into revenue margins or, worse, not measure at all, because the spend, particularly for digital-only campaigns, doesn’t justify the outlay.

2)   Results can be inaccurate

The panel-based approach of comparing results from a control and exposed sample can be worryingly inaccurate. Ultimately, you’re comparing results from two entirely different groups of people on the assumption they’re similar, when they’re really not.

3)   The results lack context

One of the most common questions from advertisers after seeing their results is: “So, is that good?” But you need context to gauge what is good or bad, and ‘pre vs post’ campaign measurements are mostly one-off, isolated studies.

A new measurement solution

I now work at Brand Metrics, which I describe as a tech company with its origins in research. They have developed a smart, simple, cookieless solution that allows publishers to measure brand uplift across digital advertising in a way that addresses the issues I identified.

The methodology, rooted in statistical analysis and academia, is highly robust. The solution is easy to implement and can measure any sized digital campaign. A fixed licence fee means it is highly cost effective – the more you measure, the cheaper each measurement becomes.

The approach uses a consistent single-survey question focused on four brand metrics: Brand Awareness, Consideration, Preference and Action Intent. As the same metrics are captured across every measurement, results are comparable and can be benchmarked against a database of over 10,000 measurements, split by advertiser category.

So, can you measure branded content? How?

This is one of the most popular questions from publishers. The answer, in short, is yes. The set-up we adopt is flexible and depends on the specifics of the campaign.

When we measure brand uplift from display activity, our calculations focus on frequency of exposure. With branded content, where people often only read the content once, we instead focus on engagement. Typically, we use a proxy – for example, scroll depth or time on page – but we also consider factors such as whether traffic is organic/from within a publisher’s site, or if these are one-off visitors driven from social media.

So, the approach varies, but it always works off the same principles – easy to set up, robust, can work on any campaign size. We’ve now measured a range of branded content campaigns for many leading publishers.

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The bonus – building first-party insights

As publishers can measure all campaigns, they’re able to capture information to effectively create their own proprietary database. Clients such as The Guardian and The Telegraph, for instance, have built up ‘metadata’ helping them understand audience engagement, analyse performance of different segments and proactively guide clients on the best ad formats. They now have insights to fuel commercial conversations backed up with evidence.

Time to consider change

As marketing budgets inevitably come under more pressure, publishers need measurement to help prove they deliver ROI. Click-through rates and impressions hold little value, panel methodologies can be deeply flawed, while results with no context have limited value.

Despite the pandemic, Brand Metrics is fortunate to have grown rapidly over the past year and we now work with many of the leading publishers worldwide. Over the next year, we’re looking forward to working with anyone else who has an interest in improving how the effects of marketing are measured.