If millions of people see a piece of content but no one knows how they reacted to it, was it actually effective?
Richard Pattinson would likely answer with an emphatic ‘no’.
Pattinson, the Senior Vice President of BBC StoryWorks, thinks that the native advertising industry can be too hung up on quantity at the expense of quality.
“Quite often in native advertising, we measure the wrong things. Knowing what your reach was or how many page views a piece of content achieved doesn’t really mean anything unless people have changed their minds as a result,” Pattinson said. “The whole point of native advertising is changing people's minds about a brand.”
Changing perceptions through emotion
So how do you best measure changes in brand sentiment? Pattinson said that while overall reach is still important, "reach without meaningful engagement is an empty metric". The more important metrics are those that give insight into the time spent with the content, such as video completion rate, article dwell time and scroll depth. These measurements can in turn help brands drill down into which storytelling techniques are the most effective and start to understand the correlation between engagement and sentiment.
It's an area Pattinson knows quite a bit about. Not only does StoryWorks have access to all of the editorial data tools of the BBC to tell it what types of stories people are interested in, but it has also carried out a large-scale study using facial coding technology to measure the emotional impact of branded content.
Richard Pattinson's metrics that matter:
Rather than focussing on quantitative metrics like pageviews, Pattinson said brands should look at metrics that measure the quality of interaction like:
• Time spent watching a video
• Video completion rate
• Article dwell time
• Scroll depth
• Emotional response
• Brand sentiment
This Science of Engagement 2.0 study got over 9,000 participants in five markets to opt into installing a software programme that can watch their facial expressions and gauge their emotions as they consume branded content. Responses were grouped into five emotional categories – happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, and puzzlement – and analysed to measure how well over 200 pieces of video content from clients like HSBC, Mazda and Huawei performed on metrics such as awareness, positivity, brand image and consideration.
“Native advertising is creating stories that you want your audience to engage with and that will change the way the audience feels about a brand or its products and services in some meaningful way,” Pattinson said. “You can't prove that with page views. You can prove that you've had a lot of people click on the link, but if they're not meaningfully engaging with that content, and you don't have ways of measuring what the impact of that engagement has been, then what kind of ROI can you really demonstrate? How is it any different from just a banner ad or something like that?”
Interestingly, Pattinson said that the distinctions between the five types of emotional responses are less important than whether viewers had any response at all.
“For brands, any range of emotions is useful,” he said. “The point is that there is that emotional engagement and that people are going on an emotional journey and being drawn in on an emotional level to the story.”
Making memories and delivering value
The StoryWorks team followed up the Science of Engagement study with one dubbed the Science of Memory. With this, they could connect emotions to long-term memory, giving brands valuable insight into their content production.
“That's interesting when you think about brand integration in content. Are there moments of time within a piece of video content where it makes the most sense for a brand to be referenced or for a brand to be shown?” Pattinson explained.
But that doesn’t mean that brands should obsess over when and how to inject themselves into the content. In many cases, Pattinson said, less is more.
“At StoryWorks, a lot of our content is very light on the brands because we have found that the stories that work best are the ones where the brand has a legitimate reason for being in the content, rather than it being overtly about the brand or its products or services.”
While Pattinson believes that gauging emotional responses and memories provides much better insight than conventional measurements like page views and clicks, traditional metrics are still beneficial. When it comes to video, watch time is a good way of determining whether viewers took something of value from the content.
“I think that, by definition, if audiences are hanging around for a five-minute brand film, they're finding something of value there,” he said. “We are bombarded with content from every angle, so if people are not getting something of value from what they're consuming at that moment, they’ll go elsewhere.”
“Completely different and very similar”
Pattinson has been at the helm of BBC StoryWorks since it started in 2015. Prior to that, he held a number of editorial roles with the broadcaster. He said that working in journalism and native advertising is “both completely different and very similar.”
There is a very strict division between StoryWorks and the news side and Pattinson said there were some adjustments he had to make when going from one side of that divide to the other.
“As a journalist, you want to speak truth to power; you want to find things out. Obviously, with native advertising, you are effectively paid to create content on behalf of the client, and that client is going to want to get something out of that, whether it's improvements in their brand sentiments or whatever their particular KPIs might be. So on that level, they are absolutely night and day,” he said.
Then again, they might not be all that different. Pattinson and his team – which includes some former journalists – rely on the same basic tools as the editorial team.
“The techniques around storytelling that make for a compelling piece of journalism and the techniques that make really good native advertising are very similar: having a narrative arc, taking audiences on a journey and engaging with them on an emotional level,” he said.
Justin Cremer is the editor of the Native Advertising Institute. Originally from Iowa, he worked as an English-language journalist in Denmark for several years. In addition to his NAI role, he is also a journalist and copywriter for the Copenhagen content marketing agency Brand Movers.