The Science of Engagement – The truth about content-led marketing is staring you in the face


Content-led marketing is now an established part of the marketer’s armoury. Over the next few years, it’s anticipated that this area will account for a greater and greater share of advertising budgets, and spend will increase significantly. However, around half of marketers say they find it challenging to measure the effectiveness of their content-led campaigns. This is partly down to the way media owners and advertisers use analytics data as a means of proving effectiveness – anything from click throughs to impressions and dwell times. These numbers are important of course, but they only tell a partial story. In some cases, standard advertising effectiveness techniques are also applied. But all too often, the content itself gets ignored. Content-led marketing isn’t like a pre-roll or banner, and shouldn’t be treated as such. In order to plug the measurement gap, we wanted to establish a new, more rounded measurement framework. So we spoke to over 5,000 consumers in six markets to understand how they really engage with content-led marketing and what this means for brands.

For something as complex as capturing true engagement, we knew that using normal research techniques might not tell us the full story. We decided to test content-led marketing using facial coding. The concept of facial coding is that we reveal our true emotions by our facial expressions. We were confident that this would provide the truest measurement of engagement because it’s what people actually feel, rather than what they claim to feel.

Through the use of facial coding, we found that consumers were much more receptive to content-led marketing where brand involvement was fully transparent. Consumers displayed an emotional rejection of 18% above the average for non-labelled content, and 7% below the average where the content was fully labelled. Increased transparency also drove heightened engagement across a wide range of emotions. This response was further backed up by two thirds of respondents, who stated they would be happy to read content-led marketing as long as it’s clearly labelled. This gives us two very important findings. Firstly, transparency is absolutely vital to ensuring the content drives the emotions it sets out to achieve. Secondly, the industry has an important role to play in increasing transparency and therefore maximising the impact of content-led marketing.

The emotional response demonstrated that content-led marketing is very engaging for consumers, but why is this? To put it simply, it’s all about quality. 63% are happy to read the content as long as it’s the same standard and quality as the provider’s editorial content. We also found that it works in very much the same way as good editorial content does, because it’s persuasive and helps to form opinions. Consumers are also 30% more likely to agree that premium providers will produce more informative and accurate content-led marketing than non-premium providers.

The results show us that the content is effective, but does this impact how consumers feel about the brands themselves? The research found that content-led marketing deepens the emotional relationship between brands and consumers (+14% uplift in subconscious positivity) whilst also driving traditional metrics such as brand image (+14%), recommendation (+14%) and consideration (+16%). In addition, we also found that integrating the brand in the narrative of the content delivers greater results for the advertiser because clear labelling, adjacent advertising and brand integration leaves the consumer in absolutely no doubt as to what they’re reading.

So what does that all means for us as an industry of content creators and what lessons can we learn from this research. What are the key things we need to think about before we embark on a content-led marketing campaign?

Here are our five tips:

1. Be transparent and educate your users

2. Match the editorial quality

3. Identify your aim and how emotional engagement 
    can support it

4. Integrate the brand within the narrative

5. Place in a premium environment

These guidelines have been embedded within the content making process in BBC advertising, and have led to emotional engagement forming the basis of every content marketing campaign it produces. The BBC’s premium advertisers will be offered the chance to set KPIs against the emotions the content sets out to trigger and this will be measured using facial coding. This data will work in tandem with digital analytics and traditional advertising effectiveness techniques, to create a new framework for measuring the success of content-led marketing.