Making content marketing work

May 30 2017

Making content marketing work

In recent years, as marketers have continually explored new ways to influence consumers, content marketing has boomed in popularity as a form of digital marketing.  According to the Content Marketing Institute, 81% of content marketers intend to maintain or increase their investment in reaching consumers through content in 2017.  But running these programs is no easy task as it is unlike any form of digital marketing seen in recent years. Content marketing is unique from other forms of advertising in that the exposure happens organically, on the consumer's own terms. Therefore, it is critical to ensure content that consumers love, while also serving advertiser’s objectives.

In order to evaluate our clients content marketing activations AOL partnered with Radius Global to deliver a hybrid of content and copy tests. This approach comprised many elements of traditional ad effectiveness research, such as brand metrics and message recall, as well as diagnostics on the content itself such as likeability, length & descriptors. In combination these two types of information allow us to understand both what works and then explore deeper to decipher why it works.

We have spent five years measuring over 60,000 consumer experiences against a breadth of brand measurements.  In that time span, we were able to gather insights to understanding key consumer content moments, evaluating and measuring the impact of content and developing tools and processes to support content creation. Below are some notes around what we have learnt so far.

Creating content consumers love

Many of the most frequent questions we receive are around content creation and development, after all attracting consumers and keeping them engaged is a fundamental prerequisite to content marketing success.

Within our test, one of the core measures for evaluating the user’s content experience is "content rating," which is how consumers rate the content they saw on a scale of one to five where one is "I hate it" and five is "I love it." By conducting regression analysis of the characteristics that drive "content rating" across all the activations we have tested, we were able to identify five "key ingredients" that are most important to keep in mind during content creation, ranked by descending importance.



  1. High Quality. Something of a hygiene factor. The content you publish represents your brand. High quality brands create high quality content.

  2. Inspiring. Consumers like to be inspired and creating inspirational content can represent a great opportunity to align with motivational moments.

  3. Personally Relevant. When consumers feel that content was created "for them" they are not only more favorable to it but also more likely to want more.

  4. Engaging. Capturing consumers attention requires content to be perceived as engaging to them.

  5. Fun. Consumers want content to be fun and when it is, they are more likely to share the content with others.

Creating content that marketers love

In addition to the above we have identified specific insights for content marketers around how best to activate in line with branding objectives and category.

For example:

  • The importance of being useful. We have identified a consistent trend that when content is perceived by consumers as having practical value it has a significant impact. Content activations that were deemed to be "especially useful" had resulting brand affinity and interest in learning more of more than double those activations deemed to be "not useful at all."

  • When to inform vs inspire. We have also seen a pattern emerge where industry verticals perform differently depending on the type of path to purchase and the role of the content being created. For higher consideration categories (Auto, Telco) we see the greatest impact to brand affinity being driven by informative content. This makes sense given that these products often have a high amount of differentiation and details to be communicated and a longer path to purchase. On the other hand, for lower consideration categories (such as CPG and retail), we see inspiring content significantly outperforms informative when it comes to impacting brand affinity.

*Data is based on the performance of an attribute as a driver of brand affinity versus the average for all attributes tested.

The "payoff" of getting it right

When content marketing activations work for marketers this success can be judged by two components: scale and impact. For scale, content publishers will have data readily available on the scale of the audience an activation reaches and as such this component is easy to understand. Understanding the second component - impact - is one of the main reasons we have invested in content marketing measurement. When we look at the overall impact the activations we have tested have on different metrics, we find consistent, significant increases to core brand metrics of affinity and purchase consideration, as well as interest in learning more.

Aggregated content marketing performance across all industry categories: (% lift)

The above are just some highlights from the rich data-sets we have created to date. For more information and custom insights you should engage with the Consumer Analytics & Research team at AOL.

Tags: Content, Brand content