How Data Helps Create Successful Sponsored Content

The following is a guest post from Péter Szántó, the founder of and product manager for SpringTab

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Data and content are undeniably linked.

Creating successful content requires analyzing the behavior and the preferences of your audience. You have to understand what type of articles interest the people you are writing for and their reactions to the posts you publish.

Melanie Deziel is one of the world’s leading experts on native advertising. She has composed branded content for both The New York Times and The Huffington Post. She believes that in order to create truly outstanding sponsored content, brands and publishers have to work together, and they both have to analyze several data sources throughout their collaboration.

“Great sponsored content is relevant not only to the target audience of the brands, but the audience of the host publishers, too,” she said during a Skype chat. “What you're looking for is the overlap between those two audiences.”

She says you want to gather information from the brand about who it is trying to reach and what it is trying to accomplish, and that you also need information from the publisher about what content has worked well in the past.

“If you can align those things, that's when you get the kind of content that is going to work for the biggest overlap of that audience, and produce the highest [return on investment],” Deziel said. 

The brands are usually well aware of the characteristics of the consumers that are most likely to buy their products—their gender, age, location and more. What they don’t always know is where to find those people, who will engage most with their content, and in what context their articles or videos will work effectively. These are the kinds of questions publishers can help advertisers find the right answers to when they’re creating sponsored content together. 

Sourcing Topics

According to Deziel, the data that publishers collect about their audience’s behavior can also inform them about the type of brands they can collaborate with. For example, if a fashion website knows that its audience usually likes articles about lipstick, but is less interested in content about eyeshadow, it could use that insight to pursue partnerships with lipstick advertisers.

Deziel says publishers need to create sponsored content that echoes what they are already accustomed to. “If the content is going to live on your site, you want it to fit in. You want it to be similar to what your audience tells you they visit you for, and similar to what they tell you they trust you for,” she said.

What publishers can’t figure out using only their own data sources is what exactly the sponsored content should be about. To find that out, they need additional information from their partners.

Brands and their agencies have access to feedback from customers that can be very useful for inspiring content ideas. For example, a customer service or sales division likely receives customer questions, and the brand’s social teams track questions and conversations on its social media channels. In that data, they will likely find inspiration for engaging content ideas that customers need and want. 

For example, if a car company gets a lot of questions about car seat installation on their customer hotline, or complaints on social media about difficulty when so installing carseats, that could be a signal that instructional content would be valued by customers. 

Measuring the Results 

The key performance indicators of sponsored content depend on the goal of the campaign.

Page views and impressions are the most important metrics for brands that create content in an effort to raise awareness. But if a campaign's goal is engagement and shifting the perception of a brand, then other metrics may be more relevant.

Metrics like time spent on page or the social actions taken by readers—the number of shares, tweets and comments—show a deeper level of engagement. And if you analyze the word choice of visitors who comment on a post, you can find out about the emotional response your content generated.

Deziel noted that not all content formats are created equal, and that metrics for success should be chosen based on the format the content is presented in. One topic might bring great results if presented as an infographic, for example, but might prove dry if it’s presented as a video. Carefully choosing your format to align with your goals, and then measuring it appropriately, can help paint a clearer picture of successful measurement. 

Optimizing Sponsored Content

Rather than trying to create a single “one-size-fits-all” content piece or campaign, it's better to create several different content pieces and campaigns that appeal to different subsets of the audience.

The insights gathered about the audience in the discovery and creation process can also help optimize the content’s performance. For example, knowing which devices the audience consumes content on or which social networks they prefer can help in developing a strategic distribution strategy.

Perhaps the car seat installation video mentioned in the previous example is a great piece of content for marketing to the parent subset of the audience, but a list of road trip tips is a better fit for the adventurous under-30 subset of car buyers.

Since the parent group most often consumes content on desktop and spends a lot of time on Facebook, a longer video format distributed in the Newsfeed could be ideal for them. At the same time, the adventurous millennial group consumes content mostly on mobile, so a short and mobile-optimized article is more likely to appeal to them.

But regardless of the story you want to tell and the format you ultimately choose, the best content comes to life when each partner brings the best data and insights to the table.