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5 key steps to effective content marketing for publishers, from The Economist

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The Economist has released a new white paper, “Cracking the Content Code” that offers insights to publishers and brands looking to maximize their content marketing ROI.

The average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day, interacting with a brand six to eight times before becoming a customer. Content allows advertisers to cut through the noise by focusing on their audience rather than on themselves. That means being helpful rather than promotional and adapting the narrative for each step of a customer’s journey.

Cracking the Content Code

The white paper is a result of The Economist Group’s year-long global content marketing study. The publisher’s analytics and insights team analyzed the performance of its own content marketing programmes. They include over 50 microsites created for brands in the US, EMEA and APAC, as well as all media units across a broad range of industries, from luxury to consumer to finance.

Source: The Economist Group’s Cracking the Content Code

The white paper highlights five essential guidelines to achieve more successful content marketing campaigns. They include:

Promotion in trusted environments performs best for engagement

The study found that content promoted on-domain, regardless of the brand on the content, gets better engagement than when retargeted elsewhere. The time spent on such content is on an average 40% higher compared with off-domain or social media content.

According to Mina Seetharaman, Chief Strategy and Creative Officer at The Economist Group, “Some of that has to do with the mindset of the audience and the credibility of the domain that you are in.” For example, she says readers of The Economist, “know they can trust our editorial content and have also come to learn that we put quality branded content in front of them as well. As a result, that halo of trust translates into strong engagement with our client programmes.”

Source: The Economist Group’s Cracking the Content Code

Custom content delivers the highest engagement

The credibility carries through to bespoke content. The research shows that custom content created by a publisher on behalf of a brand performs better for engagement than repurposed content from a brand.

While distribution capabilities are important, publishers can also offer unparalleled insights into their audience, and in the instance of The Economist Group, provide a psychographic match through custom content.

Adam Morton, Managing Partner, Client Services at UM London, a media and advertising agency, advises his clients to work closely with publishers: “taking their advice, not trying to shape things too much and make content too brand-centric. There needs to be an element of trust—providing brand guardrails to the publisher that aren’t too constrictive, which allows the content to feel native to its environment.”

Add paid social to achieve the content ‘sweet spot’

Engagement and reach are often considered opposing KPIs, which is a common pain point for advertisers. Compared to on-domain traffic drivers, paid social amplifications deliver higher reach but lower engagement.

“Reach is simply a measure of how many people had the opportunity to see your content; in other words, the content passed through their Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook feed,” says Hal Thomas, Content Director at creative communications agency BFG.

According to Ricardo Diaz, Director of Digital at creative agency Zambezi, “Reach versus engagement is equivalent to quantity versus quality. Both approaches have their benefits, depending on what your main goal is. Reach costs more money and engagement is harder to attain. Having a solid understanding of your brand’s objective can help you choose which approach is best.”

The study found that the best-performing hubs tend to follow a media split of 50% traffic delivered through paid social and 50% through on-domain media. The combination creates a content “sweet spot”, where engagement, as well as awareness, can be achieved offering the best outcome—since the more time consumers spend with a brand, the more likely they are to remember and come back to it.

Source: The Economist Group’s Cracking the Content Code

Interactive data tools and bespoke videos perform best

The analysis goes on to show that content programmes hosting an interactive data tool or video offer the best performance across reach and engagement. The study found a 3x higher average read time on interactive indexes, and a 41% higher average completion rate on custom videos, compared with the benchmark.

Defining KPIs early in a programme is critical, and the study highlights how publisher data can help determine the right approach for success.

Leave room to experiment

The study found that while data can offer insights that spark creativity, ultimately analytics can only take us so far since they evaluate what has gone on in the past.

I think that creativity benefits from data at some level, but not if you are handcuffed to it or held prisoner by data. Sometimes a gut feeling is a really important thing. Would a person care about this? It’s not just data on our platform that matters; what people do in the real world is a form of data input also.

Mina Seetharaman, Chief Strategy and Creative Officer at The Economist Group

In an environment of content overload where the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day, producing something that surprises and delights the user might get a lot of traction. The white paper says, creativity and risk-taking are what will make a brand stand out and brands that want to innovate and to try new things need to experiment, need to allow enough room in the budget to do that.  

“At UM London we look to adopt a 90:9:1 framework when it comes to innovation. 90% is about optimizing what you know works in areas of high maturity; 9% is experimenting in areas that are smaller and less developed but still have scale; then 1% is allocated towards media futures, the unknown, where the focus is on exploration and education, not instant return,” says Morton.

The paper concludes asserting publishers’ unique role in content marketing: from content that appeals directly to readers and distribution that effectively reaches them, to the quantifiable impact of the publisher’s credibility, reputation, and in-house expertise. It also acknowledges the role of data analytics in pin-pointing insights and fine-tuning a set of variables to produce a successful campaign with demonstrable return on investment.

Click here to download the white paper
Cracking the content code: Guidelines for maximizing content marketing ROI