This is the third installment in a series exploring attitudes to brand-produced content, brand journalism and brand publishing, based on a survey of 1,007 digital content consumers conducted by Toolkits and National Research Group.
- 43% of digital content consumers say they are more likely to engage with brand content if it tells them something new or innovative, and 37% if it contains practical recommendations.
- The most useful types of content include how-to content (67% finding this “very useful”), recipes (66%), news & journalism (57%), analysis (56%), and podcasts and audio content (54%).
Consumers are most receptive to content from brands when it’s useful and when it tells them something they don’t know, according to new research by Toolkits and National Research Group.
In a study of 1,007 U.S. digital content consumers, 43% said they’re more likely to engage with content from a brand if it contains new or innovative information. Forty percent said they are more likely to engage with content from brands they already know and trust, and 38% said they’re more likely to engage with content that contains useful or practical recommendations.
What didn’t matter: Who produced it. The least important reasons for engagement if it features a creator they like, it’s produced in partnership with a media brand, or it’s produced by a professional journalist.
The types of brand content consumers find most useful include how-to content (67% finding this “very useful”), recipes (66%), news & journalism (57%), analysis (56%), and podcasts and audio content (54%).
Key implications for brands
New information matters
Content comes in a variety of shapes and forms. But for consumers, what is likeliest to catch their eye and engage them is content that is new to them. One way to do this is through reporting and research. One of the key tactics brands have used is to borrow from journalism organizations, and hire reporters that can go out in the field and find new information. Having reporters as part of a brand publishing team can lead to more engaging content, specifically because they can engage in original research or reporting to produce that content.
“New” can take a variety of forms, of course. For some brands that have a plethora of expertise in-house, having a team that can “interview” subject matter experts and turn that material into content can be a way to provide new information to audiences. Others may wish to explore how they can interview sources from outside their companies to find new information, similar to reporters. And in some cases, it may simply be a matter of knowing exactly what is new to their target audiences, and then orienting content around that.
One side-effect of these tactics: Brands that focus on new information also have to put in place processes that ensure fact-checking, analysis and editing, which can mean editorial rigor that leads to overall high-quality content.
Brands must think audience-first
One of the key differences between the current era of brand publishing vs. prior eras of content marketing has been the shift from brands to think carefully about who their audiences are and what they need. The data implies that this shift is extremely critical for success. Brands must carefully consider what exactly their audience considers new, and what this audience may find useful, then put in place strategies to meet those needs.
Generative AI makes expertise an important differentiator
We’ve noted before that generative AI posits a fork in the road for brand marketers. AI will fundamentally upend how consumers search for and consume content, and may make it very difficult for publishers to attract audiences to their websites. In response, brands have a choice: They either have to commit to creating new, useful, high-value content or simply focus on paid distribution.
Against this backdrop, “expertise” takes on a key role. Publishers that can position themselves as experts and their content as backed by expertise will find that this can be a differentiator for them – one that can enable them to stand out in a sea of sameness, and critically, provide information that isn’t found elsewhere.
The data implies that focusing on newness, originality and usefulness isn’t simply a way to engage customers, but will also be the only way brand publishers can win in a newly competitive arena where information has become a commodity.
Consumers are open to brand-produced content – as long as it’s engaging
One of the overarching findings of this research has been that consumers are open to consuming and engaging with brand produced content – perhaps more than they have been before. Prior published data suggested that audiences could not care less about whether a brand or media organization produces the content, as long as it is of high quality – and that audiences have permission from the audience to truly act as authoritative publishers.
This new data indicates that consumers are truly open to engaging with brand content, and the reasons for engagement are focused on the quality of content itself, not who produces it. The least important reasons for engagement were if content features a creator they like, it’s produced in partnership with a media brand, or it’s produced by a professional journalist.
‘News fatigue’ could be real
Traditional publishers have nodded to news fatigue on the part of consumers as a key reason to invest in creating content that isn’t tied to current events. It explains why companies like the New York Times have seen success in selling audiences access to content that includes recipes, reviews and games.
It’s a lesson brand publishers may also wish to consider: While brands are not in the business of reporting the news, they also may see great success in focusing on useful and practical content such as how-tos, recipes, or instructive articles versus opining on current events or developments.
Methodology: Research was conducted by Toolkits and National Research Group, a global research and insights firm that works with the world’s largest content creators and marketers. The study surveyed 1,007 U.S. consumers aged 18-64 who reported having a current or previous subscription to at least one digital publication and was conducted in October 2023. The audience for this sample was weighted to reflect the pool of total subscribers to digital publications in the US, based on a larger market-sizing study of 6,562 consumers.