Inventing a Way to Measure Sponsored Content

January 24, 2018
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When brand marketers have a story to tell – or want to facilitate a more engaging experience for their consumers – creating and distributing long-form sponsored content is rapidly becoming a key component of their marketing strategy. It allows them to explain product benefits or uses at length, educate consumers on relevant trends, and develop stronger and deeper ties with them.

Native advertising is one of the newer and most interesting types of content marketing. A native ad mimics the visual design of the website in which it appears. Viewers access the native editorial or video via links on a network of websites, and experience it as a seamless part of the site content.

Since consumers engage with native advertising organically, through their own actions and based on their own interests, it was thought to be particularly engaging. Marketers explored native as an interactive way to syndicate custom assets online and create a higher value experience for their key audiences. These experiences were often designed with upper-funnel brand metrics in mind; aimed at improving brand awareness, cultivating favorability and cementing central tenets of the brand by shifting consumer perceptions.

But no one really knew how well Native Advertising worked. Advertisers could measure the number of visitors who clicked through to the content, but everything after that was a mystery, at least quantitatively. Insights on effectiveness were limited to anecdotal successes and educated guesses.
The reason: Too few consumers engage with the article or video content for conventional brand lift research. While the links may be served to millions of consumers, an average campaign will only see a few hundred thousand interact with the content.

So the quantitative value of native advertising remained unknown. Then, in the fall of 2016, native advertising leader Nativo came to Research Now SSI with a question: Could we help them measure the impact of consumer engagement with sponsored content?

Besides the shared desire to deliver an innovative solution to the industry, solving for a facet of digital marketing that was often thought unmeasurable through standard ad effectiveness studies, there were 4 key strengths that fueled our collective optimism:

  1. Our strong, ongoing relationship with our first-party panel, with low turnover and high response rates, dramatically increasing the feasibility of measurement.
  2. The scale of our panel, which creates the opportunity to gain a large enough pool of exposed respondents to yield stable and reliable data.
  3. Our cross-device capabilities, which enable us to measure exposure seamlessly across all digital screens and devices;
  4. Our tracking capabilities, allowing us to append a pixel to passively track engagement with the content at the individual panelist level without relying on self-reporting.

Working cooperatively with the Nativo team, we came up with a framework that leveraged these core capabilities – and theoretically held real promise.

Nativo would serve its ‘True Native’ units directly to Research Now SSI panelists, who would see the ad units through the course of their daily web browsing. When the call to action was relevant to them, they would choose to interact with the content, and we would capture the exposure – attributing it back to the respective panelist. Exposed panelists would be recruited to a study via email, and a balanced control group would be recruited concurrently to understand the impact of the engagement by comparing the deltas between the two groups.

By surveying both exposed and non-exposed panel members, we could produce accurate metrics for the previously unmeasurable impacts of sponsored content, including brand awareness, purchase intent, and changes in favorability.

Only one question remained: Would it work?

See the outcome: Native Advertising Case Study

Nativo’s client for this pioneering effort was a new brand of food storage containers with patented technology to keep produce fresher for longer – a unique story that was a natural fit for native advertising. Find out whether this new advertising approach delivered for the brand.

Hint: If your marketing strategy currently works under the supposition that native content creation and syndication could be a great vehicle for cultivating brand affinity, and cementing key tenets with your ideal consumers, you definitely want to check out this case study!

Download Case Study

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