As marketers, we’re acutely aware that there is more content being produced today than ever before — with the rate of content production doubling each year. Content marketing has progressed from buzzword to doctrine in many organizations, despite the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding “content shock” — the highly debated idea that too much content is being produced, and that consumers are becoming too overwhelmed to engage in it.
And let’s face it: If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already a content marketing convert. We may all be riding the same wave, but as the CMI and MarketingProf’s annual B2B Content Marketing Trends Report shows, only 42 percent of us who have embraced content marketing feel like we are being effective. And when you consider that the same report shows that only 44 percent of marketers have a content marketing strategy, the reason why our efforts we feel so ineffective becomes clear.
In particular, what many seem confused about is which types of content to leverage in their content marketing efforts. When people hear “content marketing,” they primarily think of their own branded content — the content they produce themselves. And that is where most of us start to feel overwhelmed because there is only so much content that brands — especially smaller brands — can produce based on the time and budget they have for content production.
However, successful content marketing is not simply about how much content you can produce and distribute yourself. There are existing sources of content — like the press coverage your brand receives from your PR efforts or the user-generated content that your satisfied customers produce — that can also be utilized. But how, and in what order? Which types of content should we, as brands, be focusing on?
In an effort to help clarify where brands should focus their content marketing efforts, my company decided to get some more data to help inform the approach.
Our goal was to determine which types of content were needed at different stages of the consumer’s decision-making process, so we could develop a successful content marketing strategy that pairs the customer with the right content at the right time. We commissioned Nielsen to do a live, in-lab study to measure the effectiveness of the following types of content:
- Expert content: Credible, third-party articles and reviews from unbiased journalists. This is the earned media that is often the result of your PR efforts.
- User-generated content: Content created by your brand’s fans and followers that communicates a brand’s value in their words rather than the company’s own or that of a neutral party (like a journalist). This can include reviews from users (like product reviews on Amazon.com), as well as other customer-contributed content (like posts on social media). Ideally, this type of content would come from satisfied customers.
- Branded content: Any content developed and owned by the brand. This can include blog posts, white papers, research reports, infographics or any other of content that a brand produces for itself.
For the study, these three content types were each measured against their ability to lift the following stages of the consumer buying cycle:
- Brand familiarity
- Brand affinity
- Purchase intent
And to ensure that these results would be relevant across all business types, Nielsen studied the impact of different content types across a wide range of categories, including automotive, home appliances, insurance, video games, electronic toothbrushes and more.
We also decided to undertake this research as an in-lab study, which means that participants were evaluated live in a lab setting. This was critical to ensure that they actually read and interacted with the three types of content being studied. A Nielsen researcher physically sat in the room with each participant to make sure he or she read the different types of content. We felt this in-lab element was important to determine the real-world impact of the content types. Online surveys in this realm are easy for respondents to click through without reading the content, and answer questions based on their existing opinion, not their opinion after exposure to the content.
What Nielsen revealed throughout the months of in-lab surveys is fascinating and provides important insights for marketers who want to focus their collective content energy and budget in the most efficient and effective ways possible.
It’s all about trust
One key finding from the Nielsen research indicates that the credibility and unbiased nature of content was important to consumers:
- 85 percent of consumers regularly or occasionally seek expert content — such as credible, third-party articles — when considering a purchase. This means they like to read articles and information from those who have in-depth, unbiased knowledge of the brand or product they are considering.
Overall, the Nielsen research showed that expert content was the only content type to exhibit a strong lift in all three areas of the purchase cycle. It provided the most familiarity lift for seven out of the nine products, the most affinity lift for five of the nine products, and the most purchase intent lift for six of the nine products. On average, expert content lifted:
- Brand familiarity 88 percent more than branded content and 50 percent more than user reviews
- Brand affinity 50 percent more than branded content and 20 percent more than user reviews
- Purchase intent 38 percent more than branded content and 83 percent more than user reviews.
Though it may seem like the only takeaway is that expert content is the most effective, this isn’t necessarily the case. The study found that each type of content had varying levels of impact — depending on the stage of the buying cycle and product type. The table below shows the exact lift of each type of content across each stage, for each product type:
So, what does this mean for your content marketing strategy?
A content mix focused on building trust is critical
What the Nielsen study reveals is that there is no single one of the three main types of content that can cover all of your content marketing needs. Instead, it seems that all brands — no matter what category — should employ a mix of expert content, user-generated content and branded content to establish trust, educate consumers and help them navigate the decision-making process. Specifically, we recommend that all brands implement a blended content marketing strategy in three stages:
- First, build trust and cut through the noise: Begin by working with credible, third-party experts to create content that establishes a foundation of trust with consumers.
- Then, share your story: Once trust is established, use branded content to share your brand’s story in a unique, engaging way. This helps your brand to forge deeper connections with those consumers you’ve captured the attention of.
- Finally, you should continually reinforce your messages and stay above noise: Maintain your efforts by encouraging customers to generate user reviews and other consumer-based content, and by continuously working with experts who can produce more content about your brand.
Where does this content come from?
Branded content: We all know that branded content is the only type that brands themselves can control —at least, to the extent that they have the time and budget to produce it. But what about expert and user-generated content? How does a brand go about securing this press coverage from credible, third-party experts (journalists)? And if a brand is involved in securing press coverage, can it still be considered unbiased (and, therefore, credible)? And how can brands inspire greater quantities of favorable, user-generated content creation?
Expert content: The path to securing expert content is usually via PR efforts. This is the process where your PR, communications or marketing team reaches out to reporters/journalists directly to provide resources and pitch them stories, with the goal of getting them to write about your company as part of those stories. Because you do not pay the reporters to write about your company, if they choose to write about your brand as part of your PR efforts, that coverage is not biased and is consider “earned media.” Content marketers can play a key role in their PR teams’ success because one of the best avenues for earning press coverage is to provide relevant reporters with useful data, content and other related resources.
User-generated content: The positive reviews your brand or products receive are the result of satisfied customers; but as we all know, just because someone is satisfied does not mean that the individual instantly become a champion or ambassador for your brand. So how can you inspire satisfied customers to generate positive reviews or other user-generated content? The best place to start is to simply ask. This is where you can leverage your social media channels and your customer-focused content marketing (such as email newsletters, blog posts, etc.) to ask customers to help out by posting their reviews. Give them clear links to the channels you want them to post reviews on, and let them know why this is important to your brand. By clearly informing customers of the value of their reviews, you are including them in the success of your brand, which helps nurture their investment in and emotional connection with your brand.
Without a baseline of trust, your content marketing efforts will fail
The Nielsen data clearly shows that each of these three types of content plays a role in the consumer’s decision-making process; yet, the data also shows that there is an optimal order to follow to ensure success. A baseline of trust is critical to your brand’s success with consumers, and the quickest route to building a solid foundation of trust is to lead with credible, expert content (what credible journalists say about you, instead of what you say about yourself or what you incentivize others to say about you.) But it doesn’t end there. Once trust is established, you need to maintain that trust while also empowering consumers with additional information — via user-generated and branded content — that helps educate them, enabling them to make informed decisions.
If you begin by spending your time and money producing branded content, but you haven’t established trust with the consumer, that content will fall on deaf ears. Likewise, without a foundation of trust, you’ll be hard pressed to compel consumers to generate positive reviews or other content on your behalf.
Simply put, begin by building trust with the consumer, and your content marketing campaigns will find success. If you ignore trust, you’ll continue to be among the 42 percent of marketers who feel like their content marketing is ineffective – no matter which types of content they use.
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Cover image via Bigstock.