Content marketing needs to grow up | M&M Global

Content marketing needs to grow up

Some people view content marketing as paid-for-content masquerading as editorial. Others think it’s the saviour of traditional advertising in an era of ad blocking. Whatever your view, as more marketing budget is allocated to content creation, it’s important for marketers to have a clear strategy and understand how effective it will be, writes Jane Ostler, sector managing director for media and digital, Millward Brown UK.


Branded content now means almost anything that’s not seen as an ad. It can mean everything from a short- or long-form video, a native article, or a branded emoji.

And it’s getting even more complex as marketers start to adopt artificial intelligence, with bots providing customer service on messaging platforms, new video formats like VR and live video, which present even further challenges for effectiveness measurement.

Branded Content is definitely a form of marketing: it’s been made a new category in the highly regarded D&AD awards for 2016. IAB UK reckons that content and native advertising accounted for a quarter of online display ad spend in 2015 and will grow even further in 2016.

High prices are now being charged for shareable content on messaging platforms: branded emojis, branded keyboards, and custom branded lenses on Snapchat. There are some highly creative examples: the Domino’s “Tweet to Eat” campaign in the UK let their customers order a pizza on Twitter using a pizza emoji.

Domino’s also did a “Dough to Door” campaign on Snapchat, telling a story about a delivery driver who encounters unbelievable obstacles on his journey. And for Super Bowl 50 in February, Gatorade created a Snapchat filter that replicated the real world experience of tipping a cooler of the drink over the coach’s head after a team win.

The industry is sprouting new specialist agencies, hiring journalists and creatives to generate editorial, video and messaging. Media owners are setting up content creation divisions to support advertisers, and many companies are doing it in house.

For a while, marketing innovation with low investment will be approved without too much interference from senior management, who are open to trying something new. But usually sooner than later with increased investment, marketers must show ROI. Brands need to ask if the investment in content is doing anything to boost brand awareness, attract a new target audience or drive sales.

One thing content is unlikely to achieve is reach, so there needs to be a clear objective in mind. Engagement isn’t enough – marketers need to be able to demonstrate this in the same way they would across other areas of marketing.

There are three approaches to measuring content:

  • Experimental content formats can be measured in a limited way, but if successful and budgets increase, more rigorous metrics will be needed
  • Different content channels need bespoke metrics, but these should not be at the expense of an overall assessment about what content is doing for the brand
  • Significant investment in content needs to show how it affects key brand metrics – it’s either doing something different from, or better than, other communications channels.

On one hand these are exciting times, as the creative possibilities are endless, and young marketers can have free reign to create the new paradigm. On the other hand, common sense kicks in and as content marketing grows up, it needs to justify its place in next year’s budgets and prove what it’s doing.

Content marketing may be new but that doesn’t mean that marketers should bypass the same measurement and analysis rules they apply to every other major investment channel. The foundation of a smart content marketing strategy has to be effectiveness measurement that tells us what’s working and what’s not.

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