A study by Vibrant Media surveyed consumers attitudes toward online content, revealing some interesting findings.
Consumers Have Contradictory Feelings Toward Editorial & Brand Content
While survey respondents said they trust content from publications slightly more than from brands, they also said they distrust content from publications they know much more than from brands.
So what gives?
It’s tough to get at the why without seeing the questions the respondents were asked but I suspect these findings may be a symptom of:
- The nature of how content is consumed online,
- The changing nature of the news media, and
- The relative “newness” of the practice of content marketing.
1) How Content Is Consumed Online
The content in a social newsfeed typically consists of a visual element, a headline, a short description and a link. The source of the content is not emphasized in that chunk of content and is therefore often overlooked. I think the distinction between publisher and brand content is often lost on the person consuming that content.
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2) Traditional Media Has Become More Partisan
We are at a point in history where the traditional journalism that arose from a philosophy of objective, unbiased reporting (and their Boomer and to some extent Gen X viewers/readers who have expected that objectivity) is clashing with a new, partisan opinion-saturated form of journalism.
Due largely to cable television news, mass media journalism has become far more openly politically partisan and when coupled with explicitly ideological online news outlets, consumers have become trained to view news media content generally with a degree of skepticism.
I think the contradictory numbers reflect that tension and clash between the two types of journalism.
A moderate liberal may watch Fox News and therefore know the outlet yet be fairly skeptical of the content, just as a moderate conservative would with MSNBC.
Conversely, brands that publish content typically don’t express a partisan point of view through that content. As Michael Jordan is alleged to have said: Republicans buy sneakers, too.
Good brands consistently deliver on their brand promise, so the experience with brands is far more consistently positive. If they are delivering the same consistency and quality in their content, then the seemingly contradictory results of the Vibrant Media survey don’t particularly surprise me.
3) Modern Content Marketing Marketing Is A Relatively Novel Concept
While, it’s true that content marketing is hardly a new practice, it has been, until recently, relatively rare. The addition of easy-to-use and inexpensive self-publishing tools and the distribution infrastructure of the Internet is making the practice increasingly more common.
Nevetheless, content marketing by brands to date remains a fairly new concept and therefore, in the large scheme of things, few brands are really doing it. The idea of buying space in a publication to place an article rather than an ad, or working with a media outlet to produce video content, is a fundamentally different type of relationship most marketer have thus had with media.
Consumers, too, have not yet had a great deal of exposure to brand content in the context of media publications or broadcasts that hasn’t come in the familiar form of overt advertising.
How To Develop Trust In Publications & Brand Content
With the rapid demise of advertising revenue, publishers are diving into the deep end of branded content and native advertising to replace that revenue. There will be missteps and mistakes by publications and brands alike in branded content efforts that will have the effect of creating skepticism among the public.
A backlash has already begun, as evidenced by the 5.6 million views Jon Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment on native advertising has earned.
Here are a few tips on how publishers, content providers, and marketers can build trust in publications and branded content:
Publications should resist the temptation to use click-bait headlines that that might earn high click-through rates but for which the actual content doesn’t deliver. If you’re getting high click-through rates on social but low time on page, that should tell you something.
Publications need to clearly label branded content as just that. It must be obvious to those consuming the content that there is a commercial relationship at work. Consumers are not inherently averse to branded content but they will be if they feel if there is some sleight of hand at work. No one likes to be duped.
Marketers need to intimately understand their target audiences so they understand what content is valuable and compelling to those consumers. Find a way to create content that is helpful, valuable, compelling and/or entertaining to your target audiences but that is also naturally related to your brand’s business.
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