A recent study from inPowered and Nielsen entitled The Role of Content in the Consumer Decision Making Process presented some intriguing findings about the differential effectiveness of Branded Content, User Reviews, and Expert Content.
The study was based on an experimental design with a sample comprising 900 casino visitors in Las Vegas, who were then invited to Nielsen’s MediaLab facility there to participate in pre- and post-exposure measures to various types of content for several product categories (the casino intercepts might seem a bid odd to the research-uninitiated, but Las Vegas is unusual in that it’s one place where large numbers of geographically and demographically diverse respondents can be sampled in one locale.)
Respondents were first surveyed to determine their awareness of, affinity towards, and intent to purchase a number of different types of product. They were then exposed to various types of content, and the measures repeated. The graph below shows the “lift,” or difference between the pre- and post-exposure measures, for each category:
To me, this is the money graph for the entire study.
You can get caught up in the stories of the various categories: the elevation of users as experts for Video Game purchases; the greater importance of Expert Content for high-risk purchases; the relative unimportance, period, of content on Auto Insurance decisions. But if you step back and look at the totality of the graph, there are two fairly obvious conclusions.
First of all, with the exception here of Car Seats and Video Games (areas where Parents and Gamers are likely to be perceived as “experts,”) User Reviews as a category of content are relatively less important than branded content.
Does this mean they are unimportant? Not necessarily—they are clearly part of the mix, and they do play a role in the relative lift for product affinity. In other words, it might be that the most effective user reviews are the ones that establish what kind of human the reviewer is first, so that the consumer can decide if the product is appealing to “people like me.”
But in terms of intent to purchase, user reviews might serve as a tiebreaker—the last thing consulted before a purchase that was going to be made anyway, but the purchaser wanted to make one last “sanity check.”
The other conclusion is this: the variance in the lift differentials by category is a clear indicator that there is no one-size-fits-all content marketing approach, no received wisdom that can be applied to every brand, and no universal best practices.
The key to winning at content marketing when it stops working so well is to do some version of this research for your own brand. Only then can you prioritize your efforts to produce branded content AND determine who your real influencers are.
The inPowered/Nielsen study reminds us, in other words, that there is no one correct strategy for content marketing—but there is a unique strategy for your brand, and the key to that strategy is to start where your audience is, and not with where “the industry” is.