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For years, consumers have been bombarded by poorly targeted, irrelevant and repetitive digital advertising. And, more recently, they have been at the receiving end of fake news and untrusted content pushed out through social media. Consequently, trust in media, advertising and content in general is wavering, and consumers have become more cautious and selective about the content they consume, where they get it, and what information they choose to share. They are now less tolerant of intrusive advertising, which explains why 45% of global consumers use an ad blocker every month.

Global marketers are finally sitting up in their seats, and we are seeing a rekindled interest in the consumer and what they actually want, or expect from content providers and brands. Two-thirds of global CMOs now believe that ‘marketing decisions should be based on how they impact the customer, rather than the business’. This growing interest in the consumer brings an increased focus on content marketing and branded content (an important subset of content marketing). Both functions are not just seen as mechanisms to bypass the blockers, but services that can deliver relevant and engaging content to the consumer when they need it most.

Almost eight in ten global CMOs are now using content marketing, and this is one of the fastest growing marketing services in terms of time investment and budget growth. More businesses are doing more content marketing than ever before, and for many, it now represents a major marketing revenue stream estimated to be worth over US$300bn globally by the end of 2019.

A new global research report by Reuters, Content Connect II, reveals that consumers also welcome this form of content, and while 86% can tell the difference between branded content and editorial, 75% claim to be interested in content if it is ‘relevant to them’, whether it is branded or not. In addition, 73% prefer branded content to traditional forms of advertising. Other research shows that branded content is considered more engaging and trustworthy than traditional forms of advertising. With this in mind, brands should have a clear content marketing strategy in place that targets consumers with engaging, relevant content, delivered in an appealing format in the right environment. This will encourage consumers to ‘lean in’ to content, rather than ‘opt out’ of advertising.

Today’s content marketer has one clear goal in mind, to build and deliver exciting and engaging content to the right people, at the right time and in the right format to entertain, inform and excite. If a consumer enjoys the content or formats they are exposed to, they are more likely to respond to it positively, stick with the content for longer and be receptive to more.

  1. Understand the audience

 The most successful content marketers use audience research and data to craft stories and messages that will resonate with consumers. The first stage is to set objectives, define a purpose and identify target audiences. It is then important to understand their needs and behaviour by using a mix of consumer research and data analytics to help create good content that consumers are interested in.

Content marketers need to explore potential audience demographics, psychographics, attitudes, personalities and consumer behaviour. It is also a priority to understand what media and content types they are consuming and how often, and then align content types and tone with their requirements.

Data provides information to determine where users are coming from, and how they interact with different platforms. Website, video, social media and blog analytics can then help content marketers to tailor the output based on engagement data like buyer behaviour, habits and preferences. It can also be used to follow a potential buyer through the purchase funnel, and identify the required content that leads the customer through each stage of the decision-making journey.

  1. Choose the right context

 The content marketer needs to consider how, when, where and why a piece of content should be placed, and make sure it is created and shared in an effective way. They need to consider contextual targeting in terms of the right environment, and content should be leveraged across a variety of platforms and formats that align with the target audience at various points in the purchase funnel. Many brands aim to engage and interact with target audiences in trusted and authentic environments. So with this in mind, branded content should be placed within carefully selected trusted websites, matching relevant content areas in appropriate sections, pages and articles to maximise engagement.

The survey shows that the right contextual environment increases content appeal. 64% of global consumers agree they are more receptive to branded content when it appears on a trusted online news brand. Brands that can create and build trusted relationships with consumers using carefully selected authentic content partners can build favourability and engagement. This sentiment is reflected across the industry, with 92% of global marketers agreeing that ‘a brand appearing in a relevant contextual environment will increase its appeal’.

  1. Focus on relevance and quality

Content marketers need to deliver high-quality content that is relevant and has purpose. Despite the recent rise of fake news and freely distributed misinformation, consumer interest and appeal in branded content in a trusted environment remains stable. Content Connect II reveals that 75% of global consumers are more receptive to sponsored content if the subject matter is of interest, and consumers increasingly think their favourite brands can benefit from sponsoring quality and relevant content (68% agree in 2018 vs. 60% in 2017).

If relevance is key, what kind of content do consumers want to see? Over six in 10 prefer informative and intelligent content, and within the industry, 67% of global marketers feel that timely and unique information makes branded content campaigns more meaningful.


  1. Create an emotional connection

Creating an emotional connection with the consumer is an important consideration for the content marketer. Stories that trigger an emotional response are more likely to be consumed and shared. For brands, triggering the right emotions through content can help build brand interest and engagement, which can ultimately lead to consideration and purchase. Within the industry, 97% of global marketers agree that ‘content is more effective if it makes an emotional connection with the consumer’. In order to engage consumers, it's not just about the subject matter, tone and style of content should also be considered. Content Connect II reveals that 64% of global consumers consider sponsored content more appealing if it is thought provoking, imaginative (58%), humorous (55%) and innovative (51%).

Content marketers need to understand which emotional reactions are likely to have a positive impact on a brand. They should put themselves in the shoes of the consumer and consider content that ‘excites’, ‘surprises’ and ‘intrigues’, and if content, or creative can trigger these emotions, there is a potential 'doubling effect’ on certain key brand metrics, including favourability, brand image and purchase consideration.

  1. Align with audience personality types

As part of understanding audiences, marketers should consider the mindset and personality of their target consumers. While different content subjects often attract similar demographics in terms of age, gender or income, our survey reveals that different subjects of interest can appeal to ‘very different’ personality types.

Top indexing personalities:

Content subject

#1 personality (index)

Business & finance


Arts & culture







Forward thinking


Globally minded

Health and wellbeing



Career oriented




  1. Focus on personalisation

 Content personalisation was cited as a top five priority for global marketers in 2017, and continues to increase in importance. This is being driven by the need to deliver ‘ever more’ relevant and ‘ever more’ personalised content to consumers, in the right format, at the right time, via the right distribution channels. Digital personalisation of articles and videos is continuing to improve. Personalised content can now be very precise using varied data sources and user behaviour, artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive algorithms and better content syndication tools, and all this can now be automated.

The most relevant content any marketer can provide is ‘personalised’, and Content Connect II reveals that 77% of global consumers expect to see more personalised content in the future.

Branded content campaigns can increase their effectiveness if they include personalised elements, with 63% of global consumers agreeing that personally relevant content improves how they feel about the brand associated with it, and 58% see brands in a more positive light if they provide them with content that matches their interests. Furthermore, within the industry, 4 in 5 global marketers consider personalised branded content to be more effective than unpersonalised.

77% of global consumers expect to see more personalised content in the future


  1. Use engaging formats

 Consumers no longer tolerate intrusive content and advertising formats containing irrelevant messages and products. They want high quality, useful, relevant and engaging content delivered in interesting and innovative formats. Consumers expect visual stimulation, interactivity, and the ability to pause or close when they choose, and by offering this variety and flexibility content marketers can enhance the user experience and build brand appeal.

Consumers are open to new and innovative ways to engage with content, and there is increased demand for enhanced visualisation, sound and movement via the formats and platforms they connect with. So, selecting the right mix of formats is hugely important. Content Connect II revealed a mix of appealing formats for consumers with short articles (64%), in-depth analysis (60%), video (55%) and infographics (45%) the top choices.

Technology will continue to dictate how consumers engage with content in the future. Content marketers are likely to see an increase in high-end media formats that encourage interactivity. Interactive formats are considered more ‘fun’, ‘engaging’, ‘different’, ‘stimulating’ and ‘creative’ than standard formats, and these are the attributes that are likely to encourage action, and the ones that most brands strive to deliver through their content campaigns. Voice tech interfaces and more immersive formats such as VR and augmented reality will continue to develop, and a range of engaging formats will become increasingly popular in the content marketing field including 360-degree output, full page experiences, parallax scrolling, video storytelling, live video and interactive formats.